Chapter 3: Searching
The open web and paywalls
The open web is composed of everything you can access online without logging in or paying fees. It is the public side of the Internet. The open web is anything that doesn’t have a paywall. A paywall is a system that limits access to content so that users must:
- pay a fee,
- log in (so they can collect data about you), or
- be members of a community (like NKU) that has paid subscription fees for them.
For example, Netflix is a subscription service that keeps its content (streaming movies and television shows) behind a paywall. The majority of scholarly resources are also locked behind paywalls. This means that people across the world are shut out from accessing many scholarly materials. The Open Access movement is a solution to making information like this accessible.
When you create a free account with a site to get more access, you’re providing information about yourself and your online activity. So, while access to a resource may be free, you are still trading something in exchange for this access. Companies collect information about you so they can target ads to your interests based on your activities or sell your information.
Librarians and scholars are working to develop more scholarly journals that are high-quality yet low-cost or totally free to access, allowing people to use them regardless of their ability to pay. Open access materials don’t require a subscription or login to use. Open access materials can be books, articles, theses, and even datasets.
Sometimes, an author can share an earlier version of their paywalled content. Before giving up on finding a paper, check if the author made an open access version available with a tool like the Unpaywall application.