Open Access Button v. Unpaywall: Is there a Winner?

This post was guest authored by Scholarly Communication and Publishing Graduate Assistant Paige Kuester.


A few months back, the Commons Knowledge blog featured a post about a new feature from Impactstory called “Unpaywall.” Read that article here. This is still a relatively new tool that aims to find open access versions of articles if they are available. You can click on the lock that shows up on an article’s page if it is green or gold, and Unpaywall will take you to an OA version of that article. If only a grey lock shows up, then there is no OA version of that article that this feature can find.

Similarly, the Open Access Button’s goal is to get you past paywalls. This is an older extension than Unpaywall, but is still being updated. This one works by bookmarking the button, and once you happen upon a paywalled article, you click on that bookmark. It also has a feature for when the article is not available: emailing the authors directly. The authors are then encouraged to deposit their articles in a repository, and either send a link to that or send the article directly to OAB so that they can upload it to a repository. Of course, if the author’s rights contract does not allow them to do this, then they can decline. OAB is also working with interlibrary loan departments in order to utilize this tool in those systems, which is supposed to eventually reduce the cost of sending articles between libraries.

I decided to test out the Open Access Button in order to write a fantastic blog post about it and how it compares to Unpaywall, and honestly, I came out a bit disappointed.

Maybe I just picked the wrong articles or topic to search for, or I’m just unskilled, but I had little success in my quest.

My first step was to install OAB, which was easy to do: I just dragged the button to my bookmarks for it to chill there until I needed it.

I used Google Scholar to search for an article that I did not have access to through the University. We do have a lot of articles available, but I did manage to pin one down that I could not get the full text for.

The Google Scholar results.

So I went to the page.

And opened my bookmarks to click on the

Open Access Button.

A screenshot of the bookmark for Open Access Button.

And then it loaded. For quite a while.

A screenshot of the loading screen.

And then…

A screenshot of how to request an article.

The article wasn’t available. But it gave me the option to write a note to the author to request it, like I mentioned above. Awesome. I wrote my note, but when I went to send it off, I arrived at another page asking me to supply the author’s email and the DOI of the article.

Screenshot of the website asking for a DOI.

An unexpected twist.

Okay, fine. So I searched and I searched for the first author but to no avail. I did, however, find the second author’s email, so I put that in the box. Check.

Next, the DOI. I searched and I searched and I looked up how to find an article’s DOI. Well, my article was from 1992 so the reason I couldn’t find one was probably because it didn’t have one. There was no option for that, so what next?

I installed Unpaywall to see if I would have more success that way. First, I had to switch from Safari to Chrome because Unpaywall only works on a couple of browsers. It was also easy to install, but I could not get the lock to show up in any color on the page, which is something that has happened to me many times since, also.

I ended up interlibrary loaning that article.

Additional experiences include OAB saying that I had access to an article, but sending me to an institutional repository that only members of that school could access. Unpaywall was more truthful with this one, showing me a grey lock. Another article let me send a message to the author in which they had thankfully found the author’s emails themselves, but I never heard a response back. Unpaywall would not show me any type of lock for this one, not even grey.

Both of these applications are still rather new, and there are still barriers to open access that need to be crossed. I will continue to try and implement these when I come across an article that I don’t have access to because supporting open access is important, but honestly, interlibrary loan was much more helpful to me during this venture.