Resource: Open Access Tools from Impactstory

Open access and the issue of paywalls continue to be major topics of discussion in academia. Journal subscriptions, and subscriptions to online databases like JSTOR, continue to get more and more expensive, and, increasingly, many university libraries and other such institutions have simply decided to stop paying for certain services. While the Internet has dramatically altered the scholarly publishing scene, eliminating the problems of limited space on paper or on shelves, and allowing for the proliferation of Open Access journals, paywalled journals have proliferated as well. More than ever before, we have access to hear about, read about, see cited, articles from an unimaginable variety of journals, and while many of those are open access – or are at least included within databases our institutions subscribe to – many remain behind paywalls, and many (especially journals published in Japan) are not online at all.

Enter Impactstory, an organization which describes itself as “a non-profit that helps scientists learn where their research is being cited, shared, saved and more.” There have long been operations like Sci-Hub and LibGen which seek to help make information more free – and specifically with the intention of aiding researchers in gaining access to the fuller body of scholarship that’s out there, in order to help them produce better research to benefit us all. But while neither I nor Impactstory are opposed to efforts like Sci-Hub, Impactstory works more clearly within the legal boundaries of copyright law, etc. Unlike Sci-Hub and LibGen, which simply provide links to PDFs and e-pubs of books and articles, wherever those digital versions may have come from, Impactstory’s resources specifically focus on finding legal versions legally posted online, e.g. in an institutional repository rather than through a paywalled service like JSTOR or ProjectMUSE.

Okay, enough introduction. Here are the two services Impactstory has recently rolled out:

(1) Unpaywall is a plug-in for Firefox or Chrome which automatically adds a little lock icon to the side of the webpage when you’re in a database like JSTOR. If the article is not freely available for you through that database, a green “unlocked” icon appears; clicking on it should lead you to another site, such as a different database, or an institutional repository, where that article is freely, legally, available.

(2) oaDOI runs off of the same system of web-crawlers and such, finding legally freely available versions of an article in alternative places. The key difference is the interface: instead of starting from a journals database, you start with just the DOI: a unique string of letters and numbers that identifies a specific journal article.

For some years now, you could enter followed by such an identifier, and it would bring you directly to that article. For example, type in, and it will immediately bring you to Robert Borofsky’s article “Cook, Lono, Obeyesekere, and Sahlins,” from Current Anthropology 38:2 (1997), whether on the University of Chicago Press Journals website, or elsewhere.

Now, in theory, you should be able to type in (note the added “OA” for Open Access at the beginning of the URL), and it should lead you instead to a freely available version of the article, on a different database or website.

Admittedly, I’ve had a surprisingly hard time finding an example to show you here – I’ve gone through five or ten different articles that I myself still don’t have PDF copies of, in the hopes that Impactstory’s services might provide a link around to a freely available version. Sometimes, as it turns out, Google Scholar remains the better tool. Trying for Kwame Anthony Appiah’s article “Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?,” which I definitely recommend, just led me back to the U Chicago Press Journals page, with a greyed-out “locked” icon from the Unpaywall plug-in, while searching for the article on Google Scholar led me immediately to a free PDF of it on

But, maybe you’ll have better luck. It all depends on what field you’re in, and what articles you’re searching for. I’m glad to learn of two new tools to add to the toolbelt. And, hopefully, oaDOI & Unpaywall will continue to learn and grow, expanding the number of journals and repositories they cover.

About Travis

I am a scholar of Japanese & Okinawan history with a particular interest in the history of arts and culture, and inter-Asia interactions, in the early modern period. I have been fortunate to enjoy the opportunity to live in Okinawa for six months in 2016-17, and in mainland Japan on multiple occasions, including from Sept 2019 to now.
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