Turning Paywalls into Opportunity: The Open Access Button has Arrived

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November 21, 2013

Earlier this week, at a satellite meeting of the Berlin 11 Open Access Conference, an innovative new tool to help enable access to research was unveiled. The Open Access Button, brainchild of undergraduate medical students David Carroll and Joseph McArthur, was designed to tackle the frustration shared by millions of individuals who search for research articles online, only to have their progress slowed – and often halted – by paywall pages requesting payment in exchange for viewing the article.

Paywalls are so ubiquitous that most people simply take for granted that they are simply an unavoidable part of the status quo. McArthur and Carroll, however, do not. After meeting Nick Shockey (SPARC’s Student Advocacy lead, and the Director of the Student Right to Research Coalition) at meeting last Spring, the two were convinced that they could take action to “turn those individual moments of frustration into opportunities for positive change,” and constructed a simple, elegant solution for doing exactly that.

The Open Access Button is a bookmarklet that you can download for free and add to the toolbar of your web browser. When you are next confronted with a publisher paywall page requesting payment for viewing a journal article, you simply click on the Open Access Button bookmark. The OA Button does two things: First, it instantly records rich information about your experience – the article you wanted to access, your reason for wanting to access it, your location – and second, help you to find a free, author-deposited version of the article using Google Scholar.

The Open Access Button is designed to raise awareness of the problem of paywalls, and to add to the growing call to make Open Access the default mode for scientific and scholarly journal publishing. McArthur and Carroll are confident that the data collected by the button will help to illustrate the global impact of paywalls and have already created a visualization that pinpoints each use of the button on a world map. The map is updated daily and is housed on the Open Access Button homepage.

The Open Access Button is a creative, easy-to-use tool that has the potential to transform the way people think about barriers to accessing research results, and provides an immediate chance to begin to break down those barriers. Visit the Open Access Button website, download the button, and ask your colleagues to do the same.  Support McArthur and Carroll in their laudable goal of “tearing down barriers to accessing research – one paywall at a time.”