Press the button in favor of open research

In November 2013 the World got a button to press when denied access to scholarly research – a button in favor of open access and open research. I had a talk with The Open Access Button Communications Lead, Chealsye Bowley, about the Button, libraries role and the importance of open access to research. A shorter version of the talk is published in Danish LIS-journal REVY.

What is The Open Access Button?
The Open Access Button ( is a student and early career professional run project that works to connect people to open research. The project has two apps: the Open Access Button and the Open Data Button. The apps allow users to find, request, and share both research papers and research data.

How it is organized?
The Open Access Button is primarily volunteer run by the student and early career professional team, and was founded by Joe McArthur and David Carroll who were both undergraduate students in the UK at the time. Presently Joe McArthur, Georgina Taylor, and David Carroll run the project as co-leads and the rest of the student and early career professional team (presently 6 active members) work on communications, advocacy, and technology. Our developers are Cottage Labs and we are supported by SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), which is where our legal home is.

What’s the purpose of the Open Access Button?
The primary purpose of the Open Access Button is to get people legal access to the research they need, and to support advocacy efforts for open research. We know there are so many people that get denied access to research through paywalls, but at the time that the Open Access Button was conceived there was nothing to track paywalls. The Open Access Button was originally developed to track the impact of paywalls and collect user stories that could be used to advocate for Open Access, but since then the Button has grown. Now we have in place an “email the author” request system that allows a user to request an author’s paper or data. We contact the corresponding author and publicly track requests and authors can either send us a link to their research in any Open Access repository, or deposit their paper or data through, Zenodo, or the Open Science Framework. Of course an individual can directly contact an author and the author may send them a copy of the paper, but this only benefits the one requester. The Open Access Button provides a solution to encourage archiving and connect any future requests instantly with the openly archived version after a successful request.


Why is the Open Access Button important?
I think any initiative that advocates for open research is important, but the Open Access Button is particularly important, because it’s a grassroots initiative run by an international team of students and early career professionals from various disciplines. Joe and David had an incredible idea and had the guts to make it possible. I’m still in awe of that! I joined the team six months after the idea was originally conceived and there was a beta version of the Open Access Button developed by volunteer developers. The team we’ve had throughout the last three years have been incredible — people have come and gone from the project, but everyone has made wonderful contributions and collaborating with such passionate people continually renews my love for the open movement. There are so much good students and early career professionals can do to support open research, contribute their perspective, and use their voice to advocate, and the Open Access Button is a fantastic example of student contributions to the open movement.

Additionally, I think it’s important that we are working on providing a legal option to get access to research, that we promote historical archiving, and now an option for users to request data through the Open Data Button.

Why is Open Access important?
Open Access is important because not everyone who needs access to research has it. People have the misconception, particularly in wealthy countries, that everyone who needs access has it and this simply isn’t true. This includes researchers around the world that contribute to scholarly knowledge but don’t belong to wealthy institutions that can afford publications, patients and doctors who need to learn about conditions, and even just those are simply curious. Knowledge should be accessible to all.

I came to Open Access from a human rights advocacy background and I would go as far to say that access to research is a human right. Article 27 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” The knowledge we gain from research and that we publish in scholarly journals contributes to scientific advancement and everyone – regardless of the reason they want to read it or where they live or what university they attend – should be able to benefit from the research.


What’s the Open Access Button’s relation with libraries concerning Open Access?
We’re working on a library outreach project and would love to partner with libraries, but we’re still in the development stages for this project.

How can the Open Access Button use libraries / librarians?
This is a great question, Christian! We’re thinking hard on this. Both as a librarian myself and an Open Access Button team member, I think libraries and librarians can be fantastic partners for the project.

One initiative that I’m thinking about is having librarian partners who we contact when we get a paper or data request for an author at their institution. This would allow us to have a partner in speaking with the author about sharing their research openly, and further support library efforts and institutional repositories.

Could libraries promote the Open Access Button more and how / where should they do it?
Absolutely! There are librarians that promote the Open Access Button in their library guides, include it within presentations, or even advertise it on the library or university Open Access website. This promotion is a great first step. I’d also recommend promoting it during your Open Access Week events, sharing that there is a tool available to find and request research papers and data. One of our team members could speak virtually during your event, or in person if one of our team members are nearby about the project and/or student involvement in the open movement.

An additional step is to actively promote the use of the Open Access Button and Open Data Button by installing the plug-ins on library computers. This option is simple to implement on computers, but requires a commitment to educate and outreach to the university community in order to make them know the tool is there in the browser. We’re going to be working on a library that will be useful for libraries that want to promote the Open Access Button.

How can libraries use the Open Access Button?
Two of the greatest benefits of the Open Access Button to libraries is the promotion of institutional repositories through our request feature, and ILL cost savings when used by university researchers and students.

When the Open Access Button beta launched I remember a negative comment from an ILL Librarian in the United States commenting people could just use ILL. This may be the case for many students at institutions in the United States, but ILL does not exist in all universities or in the same way. For example, when I studied in the United Kingdom my ILL request would require a portion of the fee being paid by me. Then in other countries ILL simply isn’t an available option. The Open Access Button has the potential to help lower ILL costs for a library if students and researcher uses the Open Access Button to find or request an openly archived version.

When does Open Access Button become needless? (because that’s the purpose in the end I guess?)
The Open Access Button would become needless when all research is Open Access, when academic culture changes to researchers by default sharing their papers and data openly. As much as I love working on the Open Access Button, we’d love for us not to have to exist! I think it’s doubtful that that *all* research will become Open Access, as that would take a huge amount of historical archiving, but I do believe there will be a future where the majority of scholarly research is being published openly.

Could the concept of the Open Access Button be applied on other subjects – e.g. like the Open Data Button?
I suppose it could, but at this moment I cannot think of another subject that would readily apply. The Open Data Button was a natural direction, but the Open Access Button concept could not simply could be copied to the Open Data Button. Some of our Open Access Button requests can be instantly fulfilled thanks to already archived research, but this isn’t as possible with data. There are technical and cultural limitations. It’s far easier to share a PDF online than a dataset that takes time to clean and curate, and there isn’t a data sharing culture in academia. The Open Access Button advocates, but the Open Data Button faces a greater threshold for successful open research data sharing advocacy. The same concept can be applied, but it does require tweaking the approach.

What’s your thoughts on national and international initiatives that aims to measure Open Access?
The Open Access initiatives that we are seeing at the national and international levels are what are going to make Open Access a widespread reality. We saw this with the NIH public access policy in the United States, which has now expanded to all US federal agencies with over $100 million in research and development. We’re seeing this with the policies coming from the Research Excellence Framework in the United Kingdom, and now the Netherlands’ push for open access in their country and in the EU. All great policies that create tangible change… but I sometimes do worry about these initiatives. In many ways they are an extension of of the audit culture in academia that has played a huge role in contributing to negative cultural aspects of academia. Audit culture monetizes academic and changes the values, it wants “value for money” and in many ways I see funding bodies, particularly in the case of the UK’s REF, seeing Open Access as a value for money, getting more return on their investment. This is OK. It’s fine and understandable, but it isn’t quite the global good aspect of Open Access and in some ways just another extension of how universities are audited for efficiency, performance, and value for money.

Could the Open Access Button play a part in this?
Hmmm. That’s a very interesting question. I want to say perhaps. It would be great to partner with more people whether that be libraries, universities, institutions, funding bodies, or governments. Sander Dekker, the Netherlands’ Undersecretary for Education, Culture and Science, who has been doing fantastic work toward Open Access in his country has made incredibly kind comments on the Open Access Button. I cannot think of a specific example of a national or international initiative that we could readily plug into, but I think it’s a potential and we certainly would embrace another partnership to support the open movement.

What’s in the future of the Open Access Button?
We recently entered a new partnership with Jisc, the United Kingdom’s higher, further education and skills sectors’ not-for-profit organisation for digital services and solutions. This partnership will support further development on the Open Access Button and Open Data Button through July 2017. This partnership has enabled us to update the plug-ins, build new features, and we’ll be expanding our advocacy work. Additionally, we’ll be putting a heavy focus on partnering with libraries in the upcoming years. I think the future of the Open Access Button project will be rooted in collaborating with libraries and librarians.

What do you think is in the future for Open Access?
Oh, big question, Christian! I think the future of Open Access is rooted in collaboration, more shared repositories at regional and national levels, and innovative funding models for Open Access publishing.

So many of us, particularly in libraries, are doing our own thing, building programs, and having so-so repositories. Collaboration between libraries and also within the whole Open movement can provide more beneficial solutions. I would love to see more paper and data repositories at the regional, state, national levels. I’m a huge fan of the Open Library of the Humanities and I think the future of Open Access lies in an innovative funding model like this, allowing everyone (and every library! affordably) to participate in Open Access, and importantly flipping existing journals from a subscription model to Open Access.

About Chealsye  Bowley:
Besides her involvement in the Open Access Button, Chealsye works as a Scholarly Communication Librarian at Texas Woman’s University. She holds a Master in Library and Information Studies + an MSc Science, Technology, and Society. She’s a big fan of the Danish specialty flødeboller.

Chealsye Bowley with The Little Mermaid in Copenhangen.

In case you wonder what a ‘flødebolle’ is




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