Thanks to 20 years of OA innovation and advocacy, today you can legally access around half the recent research literature for free. However, in practice, much of this free literature is not as open as we’d like it to be, because it’s hard for readers to find the OA version.
“If you do not have subscription access to academic journals through an institution then to access a large proportion of academic journals you will be charged a fee for each paper; fees of $30 or more per article are common. And if you need to access a lot of papers then the cost quickly adds up. Needless to say many people don’t have the means to pay. Of course you could stick to open access journals i.e. free to read and download (Head to the directory of Open Access Journals for easy access to a whole range of open access journals), but by doing so you will miss a lot of what’s happening in the academic world*. If you can’t afford to pay then you have a few options to get around the paywalls.”
Musings for the future-
The infrastructure underpinning the access of scholarly publications will be defined less by database packages & more by decentralized repositories hosting OA versions. Tools like UnPaywall and OAbutton will form the bridges on which the system depends.
Clarivate Analytics has recently announced a partnership with Impactstory. Under the agreement, Clarivate Analytics will help fund Impactstory’s oaDOI service. This should make it easier for researchers to find open access content. The Clarivate Analytics grant will help Impactstory to offer about 18 million full-text articles to the research community at no charge. The arrangement … Read more
A new, free, open source browser extension, Unpaywall, indicates whether or not there is a free open access (OA) version of an article when users encounter a paywall. It may be particularly useful to researchers whose workflows don’t include Google Scholar, those who are concerned about copyright compliance, and those who are not privileged to have access to subscription resources. Researchers may use Unpaywall in combination with other tools. I encourage librarians to recommend Unpaywall to researchers, especially since its color-coded tabs educate users about the different types of OA. Published on 2017-05-04 00:00:00
Willi Hooper, M.D., (2017). Review of Unpaywall [Chrome & Firefox browser extension]. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication. 5(1), p.eP2190. DOI: http://doi.org/10.7710/2162-3309.2190
There seems to be something in the water. Out of the blue, interest in helping users find free/open access articles seems to have blossomed since earlier this year when Unpaywall was unveiled. Continue reading “Getting serious about open access discovery — Is open access getting too big to ignore?”
There seems to be something in the water. Out of the blue, interest in helping users find free/open access articles seems to have blossomed since earlier this year when Unpaywall was unveiled.
With all the intense interest Unpaywall is getting (See coverage in academic sites like Nature, Science, Chronicle of Higher education, as well as more mainstream tech sites like Techcruch, Gimzo), you might be surprised to know that Unpaywall isn’t in fact the first tool that promises to help users unlock paywalls by finding free versions.
Predecessors like Open Access button (3K users), Lazy Scholar button (7k Users), Google Scholar button (1.2 million users) all existed before Unpaywall (70k users) and are arguably every bit as capable as Unpaywall and yet remained a niche service for years.
And yet Unpaywall is getting breathless headlines like “How a Browser Extension Could Shake Up Academic Publishing” from Chronicle of Higher education.
The Gold rush of services built on/around open access
To be fair, Unpaywall was built around the very cool oadoi.org service, which when given a doi, could give you a link to a free version. It even has a nice API service. But even that wasn’t unqiue as a predecessor service — doai.io service existed that did the same thing.
Still for whatever reason, suddenly services built around helping users find free full text began to emerge all at the same time. Canaryhaz a commercial service that helps direct you to articles you have access via your institutional affiliations and open access versions was the next logical step.
Similarly, lean library (a company founded by former librarians and targeted at libraries) is now offering a browser extension that focuses on making access to articles behind paywalls more seamless via institutional subscriptions. But in a nod to the times, it also helps find free articles when institutional subscriptions fail.
The return of the browser extensions
As a librarian, who came into librarianship almost exactly 10 years ago I find this development pretty amusing. Back in 2007, libraries was in the middle of experimenting with browser extensions (as perhaps part of “Library 2.0” movement)
I remember playing with opensearch plugins, browser toolbars (anyone remember Conduit toolbar? Google toolbar?) and of course the proxy bookmarklet (of which Lean library’s extension is meant to be a clear improvement on). All in the hope of giving quicker access to library services for our users.
Back then I draw inspiration from the great Dutch Medical Librarian, Guus van den Brekel who was in my book leading in the exploration & use of such tools for his users. To this day, you can find my earliest blog posts were on such subjects, but by 2010 interest began to cool.
Browser toolbars were seen to be clunky and worse mostly sources of malware and we turned out attention towards social media and handling mobile. Today the only survivors of those days are Libx which itself seems to be barely afloat and the idea of proxy bookmarklet , though in both cases they are not usually well known outside the library community.
Library discovery of open access gets serious
The main drawback of browser based extensions if you ask me is that you could never get even a large minority of your userbase to install and use it.
Hence it is important that your discovery service cover open access and free items.
Sadly, library discovery tools had never been good at this.
I always thought it was a supreme irony that a outsider tool — Google Scholar did discovery of open access better than our own library search tools — in particularly making contents of institutional repositories properly discoverable (only showing full text items).
Over the years, as I got better at understanding Library discovery , I could see many reasons why. Due to quirks of history, our technologies didn’t consistently require full text to be identified making it difficult for aggregators to combine them. (The NISO standard appears to be very new and unsupported).
Even with that overcome, traditionally, our link resolvers and knowledge bases worked at the package or at best journal level and not article level unlike Google Scholar and hence gets fits when trying to deal with hybrid journals with a mix of paywall and open access articles in the same issue or worse yet Green OA articles hosted in institutional repositories.
We just weren’t doing well at what I dubbed Library discovery and the open access challenge.
As any librarian familiar with the situation can tell you, while in theory Discovery services like Summon, Primo allow you to add a lot of open access material from various open access sources, in practice you wouldn’t do so because there were many issues such as inability to reliably identify full text items among non-full text items in open access collections as well as outright broken links. This was particularly bad for institutional repository contents (if they were even included, indexed individually or as part of a aggregator).
Things seems to be changing though. First off, Scopus and Web of Science began to tag articles as open access. Still initially this was done crudely based on whether it was in a Open access Gold journal. But this still missed out hybrid articles and even more seriously Green Open access material.
More importantly Proquest (which owns the two main library discovery services Primo & Summon) announced their serious intent to improve this aspect of discovery.
They recently started to solicit feedback from Primo and Summon customers on open access discovery in their discovery services with interested users given access to a online (Basecamp based) special interest discussion group.
Besides indexing in discovery services , link resolvers are getting into the act too. oaDOI intergration for SFX resolver exists and it seems the same will be coming for Alma Uresolver as it has been added to development plans.
What how will it actually look like? Recently Proquest updated their 360 Link link resolver to integrate with both oaDOI and the open access button to find free full text.
More exactly, it will query the two systems to check if there is a free full text item and display the buttons only if available. This check only occurs I believe if the link resolver is unable to find suitable access via Library subscriptions.
As hinted above getting discovery of open access to work well given the way our systems are currently designed isn’t easy and the documentation of the open access filter in Summon gives you a taste of the issues.
More services around discovery of open access are emerging
Besides traditional companies in the library field, I’m also looking with interest the rise of companies like 1Science which offers newservices around effective indexing of open access items (Oafinder), automatically fill your Institutional repository with open access items by your authors (Oafinder+), help decide on subscription decisions based on amount of existing open access items out there for the title (OAfigr)
Is Open access getting too big to ignore?
The two developments above are actually quite remarkable. When commercial services start sprouting up or caring about something, I tend to sit up and take notice.
The emergence of such tools that try to find Open Access articles is an implicit recognition that open access articles are in such numbers where they can no longer be ignored and it is worth the effort to install such tools to find them.
Go back 10 years or maybe even as recently as 5 years, most mainstream researchers and many librarians (those not directly in Scholarly communication) would consider discovery of Open access articles as at best a second thought if at all but it seems things have changed. Either there is now such a big pool of open access articles that they can’t be automatically ignored and/or there is much faith and belief that the percent share of open access articles is going to continue to grow.
A virtuous cycle ?
I’ve often noted that there Green Open access (and in particular institutional repositories) tend to faces two issues.
One is the reluctance of researchers to deposit their articles.
Secondly, even if the article existed in Green OA form , there was the difficulty of discovering whether such articles exist as a substitute to the paywall article and many Institutional repository contents would be missed if not for Google Scholar.
I am perhaps trying to be controversial to say that Google Scholar alone has done as much if not more than most librarians or open access advocates to raise awareness of Open access by making the content in Institutional repositories discoverable. Even more controversial would be to credit the likes of Mendeley, ResearchGate, Academia.edu for making sharing/depositing of papers online by researchers a norm.
Both forces together of course with the hard work of open access activists and librarians have perhaps managed to push up Open access to a level where it cannot be ignored and be worth searching when faced with a paywall.
Tools like Unpaywall and its cousin further work to create a virtuous cycle. When more researchers find it easy to get open access/free alternatives , the more likely they will see the point of putting their papers online which will further increase the effectiveness of such tools. Non-academics who do not produce papers, will see better the value of open access.
Implications for libraries
For a number of years, I have wondered about the possible impact of open access on libraries. Assuming open access is inevitable (I would say this is still not 100% settled, particularly the final level open access will stop at ), a very important question to consider is how fast the transition will be.
As a librarian I would prefer a more gradual transition , giving libraries and librarians more time to adjust to our new roles and new environment and to phase out old functions but ideally how and when open access happens shouldn’t be influenced by our selfish desires.
In any case, I’m always on the lookout for possible signs pointing to the speed of transition .
Would the fact that we are now seeing the emergence of commercial services that using discovery of open access articles as a major draw, tip us off that open access will dominate or at least be a big part of the future? Certainly these commercial services are betting on such a future and we would be foolish to discount it.
In my next post, I will consider options librarians have in a mixed, hybrid open access-paywall world . I will argue that, in a world where open access cannot be ignored, a lot of interesting discovery options open up and we librarians will have some interesting decisions to make.
With the current interest in browser extensions like Unpaywall to help access open access material, it may be easy to forget that the majority of scholarly content is still locked behind paywalls and there is a need to provide seamless access to them for our users. One interesting solution to this is Lean Library’s browser extension. Below is a guest post by Johan Tilstra, founder of Lean Library, also former librarian at Utrecht University Library explaining the background of Lean Library and the functionality of the browser extension.
Continue reading “Lean Library’s browser extension – Seamless delivery for users”
“In 2014, Gomez, a wildlife management researcher, ran afoul of US copyright law in what can only be described as the most incidental of ways. Then a master’s student at the University of Quindío in Colombia, Gomez found a thesis in a library that he liked and decided to forward the article to colleagues by sharing it on the website Scribd. That move proved unfortunate. The author of the article claimed that by sharing the paper, Gomez had deprived him of “economic and related rights.”
That assertion is, of course, absurd. The outraged scientist sued under a law governing copyright issues that Colombia created to establish better trade relations with the United States, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which has been advocating on behalf of Gomez. The penalty for the alleged crime: a prison term of as many as eight years. Given that no one was likely to have ever seen the thesis, sitting in a library, and that therefore no one was ever likely to have cited it, it seems like a thank-you note would have been more appropriate than a summons or a cell block.”
When a library cancels journals, then recommends faculty read em free w @unpaywall, that’s the game getting changed. http://www.bib.umontreal.ca/communiques/20170504-DC-annulation-taylor-francis-va.htm … pic.twitter.com/YSYGrZhcHW
Willi Hooper, M.D., (2017). Review of Unpaywall [Chrome & Firefox browser extension]. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication. 5(1). DOI: http://doi.org/10.7710/2162-3309.2190
A new, free, open source browser extension, Unpaywall, indicates whether or not there is a free open access (OA) version of an article when users encounter a paywall. It may be particularly useful to researchers whose workflows don’t include Google Scholar, those who are concerned about copyright compliance, and those who are not privileged to have access to subscription resources. Researchers may use Unpaywall in combination with other tools. I encourage librarians to recommend Unpaywall to researchers, especially since its color-coded tabs educate users about the different types of OA. Published on 2017-05-04 17:49:27
Open-access advocates have had several successes in the past few weeks. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation started its own open-access publishing platform, which the European Commission may replicate. And librarians attending the Association of College and Research Libraries conference in March were glad to hear that the Open Access Button, a tool that helps researchers gain free access to copies of articles, will be integrated into existing interlibrary-loan arrangements.
Another initiative, called Unpaywall, is a simple browser extension, but its creators, Jason Priem and Heather Piwowar, say it could help alter the status quo of scholarly publishing….
Martin P. Eve, a professor of literature, technology, and publishing at Birkbeck College, University of London, said in an email that while Unpaywall is “impressive,” its power to change publishers’ business practices might be limited. “Unpaywall is dependent upon the uptake of green OA,” he said. “That is, it is only ever effective if an academic has deposited a copy of a paper in a repository. At present, there is no evidence that green OA leads to subscription cancellations.”
Read full story by Lindsay McKenzie in The Chronicle of Higher Education