(Open Access Week) How can I find Open Access content?

Open Access is about ensuring that anyone anywhere (with a connection to the internet) has free, unimpeded access to the published outputs of publicly funded research. At Durham University, we pay around £3 million each year to provide access to our staff and students to journals and databases. Much of this content is not available to those not at a University – whether that is health workers, teachers, commercial companies or charities working in areas of social welfare.

Even at Durham, staff and students can not access everything they want to. In 2018/19, just under 5,000 requests were made through our Document Delivery Service for items not covered by our current subscriptions. Students and staff at other universities, without the same level resources than Durham has, will face difficulties accessing all of the published research which is out there – they may be faced with paywalls which regularly require the payment of a fee.

“Every year, JSTOR said, it turns away almost 150 million individual attempts to gain access to articles.”

‘JSTOR Tests Free, Read-Only Access to Some Articles’, Chronicle of Higher Education, January 13 2012

Rising to this challenge, policies from research funders, national governments and universities, coupled with support and action from academics across all disciplines, is making more and more research available for free. It still can be tricky however, when hitting that dreaded paywall, to see if there is an open access version of the research available to you.. so lets look at some of the options available to you, whoever you might be.

The Paywall

Staff, students and members of the public alike will regularly hit a paywall when attempting to access some published research they find via Google, a link on a web page, social media or the well-intentioned inclusion of a DOI to a paywalled article in a press release announcing a recent publication.

Open Access from a Publisher's Perspective
A somewhat unfortunate example (given the title) of a paywall facing someone who wishes to read an article. In fairness to the publisher, this article was made open access (after some criticism), so everyone can now read all 432 words of it without having to pay $41.95 for the pleasure.

Here are some (legal – not SciHub) solutions for getting round that barrier.

Google Scholar & Google Scholar Button

Google Scholar is used by all of us for quick and easy searches of what might be available on any given topic.

In most cases, this will take you straight to the published version of the article, where you may hit a paywall (for example if you aren’t within the Durham University network). But if you click on the link marked Versions just below the result, you may find there is a free to access version of the article, on an author’s personal profile or in an Open Access Repository such as Durham Research Online.

Google Scholar: Versions

Even better, why not install the Google Scholar Button into your own web browser? Then, if you find a reference to a paper in something you are reading online, you can quickly search Google Scholar for a subscription or open access version.


I use this almost every day, and it saves so much time!

For more help with Google Scholar, see our pages here.

Unpaywall and Open Access Button: Browser plugins

Depending on your web browser, you may also be able to use additional plug-ins which make it easier to identify if there is an open access version of an article you are after.

Open Access Button, and UnPaywall, are two examples of free browser extensions you can install with some web browsers, which then at a click of a button will search for and try to open any free to access version of the article you have found.

OA Button and Unpaywall

Know of any more useful browser tools you use? Let us know and we can add it to our pages to share with other users.

There is also information on these pages about other tools which can be useful for accessing full content of individual articles (viaDurham or Kopernio), or using simple API tools to identify from a list of DOIs for online publications which might be available open access.


CoreCore is a service provided by JISC, and hosts the worlds largest collection of open access full texts. Whilst most of the services listed above will often direct you to content found in Core, CORE offers additional services which include:

  • Recommend papers to read based on your selections and search terms
  • Allow others to develop new services based on content in repositories
  • Enable text and data mining by offering the aggregated content to everyone for free.


What is Open Access Week? Open Access week is a global event, aimed at promoting and informing the academic and research community about the benefits of open access. Open Access is the free & immediate online access to the results of scholarly research, and the granting of rights to share, use and re-use those results.


  • You can see other activity at Durham University here, or follow our blog to learn more.
  • You can find out more about Open Access at Durham here.
  • Remember: any full text research publication you access from Durham Research Online, an author at Durham has made the effort to ensure that research is available for free to anyone, with the assistance of colleagues from Durham University Library and Collections, and departmental administrative staff across the University. Thanks all!

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: