Every once in a while, questions about (very) old papers or books pop up and the inability of the OP of said question to find them, e.g. this one or this one, posted recently only a day apart. The answer to such questions are always very similar:

  • Go to your librarian
  • Check Google Books
  • Try to find and contact the original authors / the original publishing entity

On top of that, people often try to find the paper/book in question online themselves and post in the comments.

In most cases, these questions stay open although IMHO, they are

  • Borderline shopping questions (OPs asking for a concrete source)
  • Borderline duplicates of each other
  • Much too specific for the scope of Academia SE

For me, it would make much more sense to make a canonical "What are strategies to find old and very old papers, books, theses, etc." question and consistently close all the specific questions as a duplicate of that canonical question.

Because as nice as it is to help an OP out with a specific paper, this is not the right platform to do so (again, IMHO).

What are your thoughts?

(If there is agreement that a canonical question would make sense, I could set that up but I don't really know how that is done...)

  • Rather than write a new question, look through the existing ones to see if an existing one should be "canonized". But, I support the idea.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 18:41
  • 4
    Perhaps this one could be a candidate? What do you do when you find yourselves with an unreadable/inaccessible paper?
    – Ian
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 19:14
  • @Ian That seems like a very good candidate indeed.
    – Sursula
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 6:53
  • 2
    Also, if there are other, functionally-equivalent posts with good answers, we can merge them into the above post. They just have to be similar enough so that all the answers on both posts still make sense after the merging and editing is done.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 15:23
  • It is probably a good idea, though I hope people will still be allowed to ask new questions if they have tried everything in the canonical answer and failed. I think the title should include "obscure" or "hard to find" sources, not just "old" ones. The answer should include some examples of how you can find things yourself by clever googling of elements of the citation information, looking at other citations of it, etc.
    – gib
    Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 9:59
  • @gib but then they would be asking a shopping question?
    – Sursula
    Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 12:02
  • @Sursula-they- I don't think asking for help finding one source is shopping, though perhaps it is against another SE rule. I just think we shouldn't be too strict. Anyway it is unlikely to happen, as in most cases a librarian will find it.
    – gib
    Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 12:37

1 Answer 1


This seems like a good idea. It looks like we already have two questions that essentially cover this ground:

So, I suggest that we:

  1. Merge the latter into the former. We'll probably have to generalize the question a bit, and perhaps edit a few of the answers so that things make sense.
  2. Add this to our list of canonical questions
  3. Add a note to the question. Something along the lines of "I asked for help with finding a specific article; why was my question closed as a duplicate of this? Sorry, we are not librarians and it is not our role to hunt down individual sources for you. All we can offer is this advice about how you might proceed with your search."
  4. Close all relevant historic and future posts as a duplicate of this. Personally, I don't intend to hunt-and-destroy dozens of old posts, but people can flag them as they come across them. We'll be particularly happy to close old posts without any upvoted answers; may as well get them off our backlog.

Update: this is done.

  • 2
    I like this idea. Maybe also look for phrasing-fodder at the answers posted to the two questions that are linked in this meta question. Also, some of us are librarians, but in this venue we would still refer you to your local university or community librarian.
    – shoover
    Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 19:07
  • This is done. Further edits to this post, and flags to hammer other posts as duplicates, are welcome. If any further discussion is necessary, let's do it here on meta rather than on the linked post.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 6:06

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