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Browser Extensions for Point-of-Need Open Access

How often have you run across a paywalled journal article and then either taken a detour to Google Scholar to see if there’s a freely available version or just shrugged and decided not to pursue that article?

No matter your role at CUNY (or elsewhere), I’m guessing pretty often.

Did you know there are two browser extensions that make it easier to find legally available open access (OA) versions of articles…and harder to shrug and give up? Unpaywall and Open Access Button: learn a bit about them below and then add them to your browser!

Unpaywall

Unpaywall detects when you’re looking at a paywalled journal article and adds a small color-coded tab to the right side of the page.

Green Unpaywall tabA green tab with an image of an unlocked lock means that Unpaywall can connect you to an OA version of the article. Want the article? Just click the green tab, and it’ll lead you to the OA version. A simple, single click, and you’re there.

(Do you consider yourself an OA nerd? If so, you can select “OA Nerd Mode” in the extension settings to have the unlocked tab display in different colors: green if the article is “green OA” (i.e., posted in an open access repository), gold if the article is “gold OA” (i.e., openly licensed on the publisher’s site), and bronze if the article is “bronze OA” (i.e., free to read on the publisher’s site but not openly licensed). Interestingly, bronze OA seems to be the most common “flavor” of OA.)

Grey Unpaywall tabA grey tab with an image of a locked lock means that Unpaywall can’t connect you to an OA copy. Either there is no legal OA version, or, if there is, Unpaywall isn’t aware of it (i.e., if none of its data sources include it).

Once Unpaywall is installed, the tab automatically appears when you’re on a publisher’s site — no need to do anything to check the status of a given article. It’s there when you need it and easy to ignore when you don’t.

Open Access Button

Open Access Button iconThe Open Access Button is a very similar extension, with three key differences from the user’s perspective:

  1. The extension adds a button to your browser’s toolbar, and you need to click it when you want to check for an OA version of an article. In this way, the Open Access Button is slightly less convenient than Unpaywall — you have to make the (extremely small!) effort to click the button.
  2. The Open Access Button’s data sources include the Unpaywall database but also numerous others (e.g., SHARE and CORE). This means that the Open Access Button is more likely to be able to connect you to an OA version of the article you seek.
  3. If the Open Access Button can’t find a legal OA version of an article you want, it can send a request to the article’s author. It makes sending an email to the author quicker and easier than it would otherwise be, and gives the author easy-to-follow instructions for how to proceed in making the article OA. In other words, it lowers the barrier to act for both the researcher and the author!
Screen when Open Access Button determines that there is no accessible version of an article
When the Open Access Button cannot locate an OA version of an article, it presents the researcher with the option to initiate a request.

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