While a lot of the academic literature is still paywalled, meaning that it can be hard (and expensive) for independent and non-traditional scholars to access, much of that literature is actually publicly available. Many authors post their articles on academia.edu or researchgate, or even on their own websites. Often, this self-archiving is even permitted under the terms of publication.
If you’re just a little bit ambitious with your web searches, you can typically find these, but it does require an extra step or two, which can fell like a bit of a drag.
Enter unpaywall, a new browser extension currently available for chrome and firefox that will tell you if there is a free version of the article you’re looking for somewhere out there, even if it is formatted differently (like an arXiv preprint). Check it out!