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Unpaywall: Free, legal access to scholarly articles! (and a couple of other strategies)

Greetings from Computers in Libraries 2017  from which I’ll be sharing a few discoveries. One exciting share from yesterday was the limited release of  (The official release date is April 4.)

High school librarians and education researchers take note!

Installed as a  free browser extension for Firefox or ChromeUnpaywall allows searchers to legally access full-text research papers from its index of ten million, legally loaded, open-access articles. The project currently shares that it is retrieving full-text content approximately 50% of the time.

After installing the extension, if you are browsing for a research article click the little green tab and, if it’s available, read it free–even if you do not have access to a scholarly database or full-text research journals.  No need to go visit the site of the subscription journal to see if Green Open Access. is a project developed by Impactstory, a nonprofit working to make science more open and reusable online, supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  

In its FAQs, ImpactStory explains the motivation behind the effort:

We loathe paywalls. Now more than ever, humanity needs to access our collective knowledge, not hoard it. Lots of scholars feel the same; that’s why they upload their papers to free, legal servers online. We realized that the missing link is in getting these free resources to the people who want them, at the right time. By using a browser extension, we can do that, leveraging the toll-access distribution system to bring open access to the masses.Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 8.30.15 AM

So if you are searching on Google or on Google Scholar and you see a perfect article and you don’t see a happy HTML or PDF note on the right of the results, and you cannot get to the document without access to the wealth of a university library login, give this a try.  Click on the result and see if one of these little tabs floats along the right edge of the screen.

When you view a research article, you’ll see a tab on the right of your screen:

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 10.26.05 AM

a green tab means free legal full text is available

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 10.26.10 AMA gray tab means the search came up empty.

Note that the Nature article here would cost $32 to read on Shot 2017-03-29 at 11.28.31 AM

Note also: My personal testing reveal a whole lot more gray tabs than green ones and it seems that tabs appear more frequently for article in the sciences and social sciences.  Not so much yet for the world of library research. is a growing organism. Not all repositories have yet been included and it doesn’t yet pull from a few portals where researchers voluntarily upload content, like or ResearchGate.

Follow news and progress of the project on Twitter @unpaywallScreen Shot 2017-03-29 at 10.53.12 AM

Here are a couple of related options for getting full-text without access to an institutional library:

Open Access Button is staunchly open source and incubated within SPARC, a global library coalition committed to making Open the default for research and education.  Search on the website or install a browser extension to enter an article URL or DOI to check for full-text availability for articles or datasets.  The site also offers a convenient system to simplify an author request if the article is not immediately available. Open Access Button is integrated with BASE,  an index of more than 5.5 million Open Access articles, as well as the CORE repository.

oaDOI is Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 11.03.29 AMalso in development by Impactstory.  oaDOI links retrieve an open access version of an article rather than a paywall landing page.




Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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