It’s a too familiar scenario for any researcher: you have a question in your research, you search the internet to see what is already known, you read an abstract and think that is the perfect paper to answer your question, but the journal asks you to pay before letting you download the rest of the article. The library at your institution doesn’t have a subscription to that journal, so you have to submit an interlibrary loan request and wait till your librarian finds it from another library.
However, even paywalled journal articles might have a version that’s free to read somewhere in the cyberspace; for example, researchers funded by the US National Institutes of Health are mandated to make their peer-reviewed manuscripts publicly available. Here comes our tool, Unpaywall, which can search for the free-to-read version and bring it to you.
Unpaywall is a web-browser extension that can be installed in Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. Go to https://unpaywall.org/ and click on GET THE EXTENSION; after a few more clicks, you’ll have it installed and ready to use. Do a literature search the way you normally do, and a little Unpaywall button with a lock icon on the side of your browser will tell you if it has found a free version. If the button is green and the icon an opened lock, you can click on it and download the full-text paper. It’s just that easy. It’s also free and legal.
Unpaywall is more than a tool for individual researchers to download full-text articles. It is a database of nearly 20 million freely available scholarly articles. This database can be integrated into libraries, citation databases, and other systems. Impactstory, the non-profit that developed Unpaywall, is not stopping here. A recent Nature news article, gives us a glimpse of the future for Unpaywall: “Impactstory … to create a search engine aimed at non-scientists. It will also use artificial intelligence to summarize journal articles in its database in plain language, so that non-specialists can understand them.” That will truly be open access for the public. It’s something to look forward to.