The open access button

Paywalls reported by the OA button, 11/19/13-11/26/13. Creative Commons image courtesy

As researchers and librarians, we have certainly had the experience of running into a paywall.

We have been searching for information in the databases for ages with little luck, when we think of just the right keywords and come across an article that seems to be precisely what we have been looking for. We click on the article and read the abstract: yes, this is the one I need! But there is no PDF Full Text link. We click on the link resolver to see if it’s available in another database, and the dreaded message flashes on screen. Sorry, no online version available at UTA. Please see additional options below for finding this journal.

Or a student approaches the desk with an article in her hands, and points to the references. “I need this article.” We check our online holdings…I’m sorry, but we do not subscribe to this journal…How soon did you need it?

In any case, if the library does not own a copy of the journal in print, we must either place an interlibrary loan, physically travel to a nearby library that has access and is willing to provide guests with access, or simply do without the article.

The open access movement has been building for approximately the last decade in an attempt to erase paywalls for scholarly literature, so that it can be free to users and accessible anywhere there is an internet connection. It is about challenging the system of publication that keeps the work of researchers out of the reach of anyone outside of those willing to pay exorbitant subscription fees, and enabling all people to share in the fruits of research. See the list of resources below to read more about what open access is and what the movement seeks to achieve.

Logo of the open Access Button“Each paywall that I hit is an indictment of a broken scholarly publishing system, where people are denied access to research that they need, and ultimately paid for…Paywalls conflict irreconcilably with the power of the Internet.” These words were spoken by David Carroll (beginning at the 2:39:30 mark), a medical student and co-founder of the open access button. Last week a motivated group of students, seeing this broken system as one they would one day inherit, teamed with developers and organizations from around the world to create it and make it available for download. This is a browser-based tool that will enable us to collect information on “who is being denied access to research, where they were in the world, what they do, and why they wanted to read that research.”

Carroll continues, in the above linked video, to lay out the three aims of the open access button:

  1. To capture and visualize data on how often people hit paywalls and what the impact of this is
  2. Assist people to find legally available copies of papers behind paywalls using Google Scholar, open access repositories, and other methods
  3. To create a platform for the open access community allowing further innovation

The Guardian published an article on the launch date providing more context and instruction on what the button does:

The OA button is a bookmarklet that you simply drag to the toolbar of your browser. If you find yourself at a paywall, typically asking for $30-40 for a single article, clicking the button will log the details of the encounter — the article, your location and your reason for trying to access it — and will then help you to try to find the article using Google Scholar, which in my experience does a decent job of finding free author-deposited versions of the paper where these exist. If this should fail, the plan also is to facilitate a direct email request to the author for a copy of the paper.

Anyone who uses the internet to do research can download it. Their aim is for the button to be used globally, as those in underdeveloped nations are even more deleteriously impacted by paywalls, both because of their need for quality research and because their institutions are less able to afford to pay publisher subscription fees.

A screencap of the OA button on my browser

The button is very easy to use. The first day I (Clarke) installed it, I already genuinely ran into two paywalls. Reporting the paywall is easy; just click on the button, fill in a couple fields, and submit it. It does not redirect you to another page or require you to log-in.

Install it now! Use it, tell students and faculty about it, and advocate for it!

Open Access Resources & Websites

Crawford, W. (2011). Open access: What you need to know now. Chicago: American Library Association.

Directory of Open Access Journals

SPARC: The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resource Coalition

Suber, P. (2012). Open access. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

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