This is an old question, but here is a general answer.
Depending on location, there are several Patent and Trademark Resource Centers (PTRC) across the U. S.. I remember the Sunnyvale Public Library used to be a PTRC. They had computers with direct access to the USPTO databases. Searching for prior art was something I could do very quickly. I came out with a list of 30 related and not-so-related patents in 90 minutes. You can find more about the centers in this USPTO link, including PTRC locations. The computers at the PTRC were ready to go and the GUI easy to use. I bet you can do the same via a USPTO search but I can't confirm if the format is the same. There you can find both patents and filled applications. Consider WIPO - Search International and National Patent Collections to find international patents.
I've seen the scholars are somewhat divorced from the patent system and they barely mention one or the other. The references are always either scholar in papers or patents in patents. Therefore, I also recommend looking into School research papers. You can find quite a bit of information on the "linked in of research" Research Gate. A great source for prior art are school papers. Science Direct has scientific publications. Finally, there is Google Scholar.