What is Open Access and how can it help me?

Library resources are not free!

The Library pays hundreds of thousands of pounds every year for subscriptions to online journal collections and databases that provide you with access to original published research.  This subscribed content is crucial for completing coursework and carrying out research.  It is available via LibrarySearch, direct from the publisher platforms (see links on our Resources A-Z or Subject Guides) and we have chosen to make much of it available via Google Scholar.  However, these Library subscriptions are not freely available; they are behind a paywall that your Abertay login credentials allow you to unlock. 

Our resources are also set up to recognise when you are on-campus (IP authentication) so you will easily get to our full-text subscriptions via Google when in the University.  If you try this from home you would not get to the full-text without logging in.

No University has access to all published research and sometimes you will need to obtain something that is not covered by our subscriptions.  Open Access research outputs complement our Library subscriptions and are a valuable resource for all staff and students.

What is Open Access?

Open Access (OA) refers to the unrestricted, online access to published research outputs.  It allows published research to be made freely available online rather than only being available to those who can pay for access.  The Government and most research funders support OA believing that increased access and reuse of research outputs are beneficial.  OA publishing is consistent with the highest standards of quality and is now a well accepted route for publishing research outputs. 

Where should I search?

You should always begin your search with LibrarySearch as it is the quickest and easiest way to search our large collection of resources simultaneously.  LibrarySearch contains a mix of subscribed (paid-for) and Open Access content.  You will see that there are icons in the results list for both peer-reviewed and OA content.  However, if you don't find what you're after in LibrarySearch, there are also some additional tools you can try to find an OA version elsewhere.  Although these tools won't always give you the access you require, they are a useful addition to your research toolkit when you need instant access to something.

There are many OA tools available but we have selected four of the best for you to try.  Just as LibrarySearch simulateously searches multiple Library resources from a single search box so you don't have to repeat the same search in various databases; these OA tools search thousands of sources to instantly locate an OA version for you.  OA content is harvested from many sources including repositories run by governments and scholarly societies but the main sources are University repositories and OA journal content hosted by publishers themselves.

  • Open Access Repositories hold digital copies of published research outputs that are then freely accessible - like our Abertay Research Portal 
  • Open Access Journals make their articles available for free but sometimes require the author to pay a fee to support publication costs.  The journal and article are then freely available to the general public and not locked behind a paywall.  OA journal articles are also peer-reviewed.

What if I still can't find what I'm after?

If you can't gain access via our Library subscriptions or through the tools suggested below, you can submit an inter-library loan request.  And please remember that if you have any queries about accessing resources for coursework or research please contact us: library@abertay.ac.uk


Please note: by installing the extensions listed below you are agreeing to that company's terms of service.  Please read the terms or use and privacy policy carefully before installing any browser extension tools and if you don't agree to anything mentioned, don't install it!

Search for OA articles now using this search widget powered by the Open Access Button:

Open Access Button

Open Access Button: Find free, legal, full-text articles! Open Access Button

"Legally crushing paywalls since 2013. Instantly find and request research articles and data with the Open Access Button"

The OA Button finds free, legal research articles instantly by searching thousands of sources with millions of articles in order to link to the full-text.  Their sources include all of the aggregated repositories in the world - such as Unpaywall Data, BASE, and CORE.

The added advantage of this service is that if the OA Button can't access the article you're looking for, they will request it from the authors, and guide them on making their work openly available.

  • Click the Open Access Button browser extension on any webpage, or search using the Open Access Button homepage search box.

  • OA Button browser extension is available for all major browsers. From the homepage you'll see a one-click download option for the browser you're currently using (where available) - no need to sign up for an account.

  • Get the Chrome browser extension here 

  • Or, go to https://openaccessbutton.org/ and start searching.

You can search for articles using all kinds of information including: title, article URL, citation, DOI, Pubmed ID (PMID), or Pubmed Central ID (PMC ID)  And if there's a free, legal version available from any of the sources, OA Button will instantly find it for you!

The OA search box widget above this page is powered by the Open Access Button so you can try it out there too!

Helpful hints:

Examples of what a DOI looks like: 10.1007/s10964-013-9913-9 or 10.1126/science.196.4287.293. or 10.1016/j.chb.2016.12.060

Example of what a PMCID (Pubmed Central ID) looks like: PMC4167664

Examples of what a PMID (Pubmed ID) look like: 17756097 or 19514818 Version:1 

Please read the OA Button Terms of Service - By using this service, you are agreeing to be bound by these Terms and to accept their Privacy Policy.  If you don't agree to anything then please do not use or install.


Unpaywall: an open database of over 18 million free scholarly articles!    Unpaywall

Unlock free, legal scholarly PDFs as you browse.  Available for Chrome and Firefox, made by Impactstory.

Unpaywall finds free, legal full-text articles by harvesting content directly from over 50,000 journals in open access repositories all over the world.  They also use open data from Pubmed Central, Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), Crossref, and Datacite.  Unpaywall harvests content from legal sources including repositories run by universities, governments, and scholarly societies, as well as open content hosted by publishers themselves.  They do not harvest from ResearchGate or Sci-Hub.

It is also worth noting that Web of Science has Unpaywall data integrated into its databases. 

Unpaywall is available as a browser extension for both Chrome and Firefox. 

  • Go to https://unpaywall.org/ and click on 'Get the Extension' - you will then be guided through installing the plugin into your browser of choice.  
  • Once the plugin is downloaded, you'll see the Unpaywall padlock icon display in your browser toolbar
  • After Unpaywall is downloaded to your browser you'll see the padlock will appear about halfway down your screen when viewing journal articles.  If the padlock is green this means there's a free version available.  If the padlock is grey there is no OA version available.
  • Clicking on the green padlock icon will take you immediately to the free version of the article - this is really useful as sometimes you'll land on an article page asking you to pay for access but there are also OA versions available.  In those cases you'll see the green padlock and can click through to the free full-text.

Unpaywall Available

If you click on the Unpaywall icon in your browser toolbar you will see links to instructions, settings and an FAQ.

If you click on settings you can switch on the 'Opean Access Nerd Mode' - this will colour code the padlock for different types of OA: Green, Gold, or Bronze

Unpaywall Nerd Mode

Please read the Unpaywall Terms of Service - these terms apply when you browse use the Unpaywall website. If you don't agree with any of the conditions, don't install the extension or use the service.

Google Scholar Button

Google Scholar Button: Look up scholarly articles as you browse the web Google Scholar Button


The Google Scholar Button is an official Chrome extension by Google that adds a button to your browser toolbar and gives easy access to Google Scholar from any webpage.  Like other browser based plugins, the Google Scholar Button will indicate whether an article is available online from one click.

Click the button to:

  • Find full-text freely available on the web or available via Library subscription using our link resolver 'View it @ Abertay'
  • Transfer your query from a web search to Google Scholar. Press the Google Scholar Button in your toolbar to see top three results; click "full screen" in the lower left of the popup to see them all.
  • Format references in widely used citation styles. Press the quote button in the popup window to see a formatted reference of the selected article.
Even if you don't start your search within Google Scholar, you can click the button from any webpage you are on and it will work out the article title you're looking for, run the search in Google Scholar then display all available versions:
Google Scholar Button Popup
Download the button browser extension from the Google Chrome web store 

By installing this extension, you agree to the Google Terms of Service and Privacy Policy - please read this carefully before installing the extension and if you don't agree to anything mentioned here, don't add the plugin or use the service.

Lazy Scholar

Lazy Scholar: Finds free scholarly full-text, metrics, and provides quick citation and sharing links automaticallyLazy Scholar

Lazy Scholar is another browser extension available for both for Chrome and Firefox.  It can automatically find freely available full-text as well as full-text provided by our institutional Library subscriptions.  It can also show various citation metrics, shows comments (from systems like Pubmed commons), and can make recommendations based on the articles/topics read.

Lazy Scholar currently checks the following sources for freely available full-text: Google Scholar, PubMed/PubMed Central, EuropePMC, DOAI.io, Dissem.in

Lazy Scholar Features include:

  • The infobar automatically appears when an article is opened and tells you if a free full-text version is available.  It also provides various metrics and comments, along with citations.
  • If you prefer, the infobar can be turned off in settings and you can click the browser button to show if full-text is available etc.
  • You can type "LS" into the address bar and quickly query Google Scholar, PubMed, or Web of Science.
  • Get new PubMed listing recommendations - Lazy Scholar learns your research preferences automatically based on what articles you open.
  • When you search PubMed, Lazy Scholar checks its database for journal rank, citation metrics, and full-text links.
  • Auto generated sharing links for Twitter, email, RefWorks, etc.
  • Citation count (Google Scholar, Web of Science, and Altmetrics score)
  • Automatically checks Beall's list of predatory journals and notifies you if there is a match.
Go to http://lazyscholar.org/ for more details of functions and settings and to download the Chrome or Firefox browser extensions.