The movement to expand access to scientific and scholarly research got another push forward this week with an update to a tool designed to connect users and authors.
“I wish there had been a tool to help me access the research I need as university student,” said David Carroll, one of the organization’s cofounders and a medical student at Queen’s University Belfast, in a press release. “I couldn’t afford to pay for all the articles I needed, and ultimately I couldn’t continue my research. We built the Open Access Button so other students wouldn’t experience the same problem.”
Supporters of the Open Access movement want more research articles made available for free on the Internet. The effort gained international attention when programmer Aaron Swartz was arrested in 2011 for downloading academic articles from a paid journal at MIT. In the middle of a federal prosecution effort, Swartz committed suicide in January 2013.
The original version of the button, built by some students in the United Kingdom and launched back in February, aims to carry on Swartz’s crusade. The original browser-based tool would record any time a user hit a paywall that prevented them from accessing a research article. The tool would attempt to find a version of the article elsewhere on the Web.
The expanded version, which now also works on mobile browsers, attempts to broaden the effort by pulling the author of the article into the process.
Now, the button will attempt to send a notification to the paper’s author to inform him or her that someone was prevented from seeing their work. The author will be asked to send a link for a free online version of the research. If the author responds with a free version, that will be catalogued so it can be seen by anyone else using the button.
Users also have the option to explain why they want access and how they hope to use the research in their own work. The hope is that it will help persuade more researchers to make their work available for free.
“The Internet gives us the chance to make research available to everyone who needs it,” said Joe McArthur, another cofounder of Open Access Button, in the release. “We must seize this opportunity if we’re going to continue to innovate.”