AbsAccess to the scientific literature is perceived to be a challenge to the biodiversity conservation community, but actual level of literature access relative to needs has never been assessed globally. We examined this question by surveying the constituency of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a proxy for the conservation community, generating 2,285 responses. Of these respondents, ~97% need to use the scientific literature in order to support their IUCN-related conservation work, with ~50% needing to do so at least once per week. The crux of the survey revolved around the question, “How easy is it for you currently to obtain the scientific literature you need to carry out your IUCN-related work?” and revealed that roughly half (49%) of the respondents find it not easy or not at all easy to access scientific literature. We fitted a binary logistic regression model to explore factors predicting ease of literature access. Whether the respondent had institutional literature access (55% do) is the strongest predictor, with region (Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and gender (male) also significant predictors. Approximately 60% of respondents from Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have institutional access compared to ~50% in Asia and Latin America, and ~40% in Eastern Europe and in Africa. Nevertheless, accessing free online material is a popular means of accessing literature for both those with and without institutional access. The four journals most frequently mentioned when asked which journal access would deliver the greatest improvements to the respondent’s IUCN-related work were Conservation Biology, Biological Conservation, Nature, and Science. The majority prefer to read journal articles on screen but prefer to read books in hard copy. Overall, it is apparent that access to the literature is a challenge facing roughly half of the conservation community worldwide.