Photo by High Contrast, CC BY 3.0 DE.

It’s Open Access Week! The annual event, now in its tenth year, supports research and publishing that is free for anyone to read or even re-use. This year, the Wikipedia Library is participating by asking people to help ensure that Wikipedia citations are free and open for anyone to use.

Some of the citations on Wikipedia are currently behind a paywall. However, there’s now a new tool that helps convert those closed citations to open ones. We sat down with Jake Orlowitz, the head of the Wikipedia Library, to learn more about the tool and why it’s important that information—including cited links—remain free and open for anyone to use.

Q: Why is Open Access Week important?

Jake Orlowitz: It’s important because much of the world’s knowledge lives behind a paywall and is expensive or difficult to access.

How is the Wikipedia Library participating?

The Wikipedia Library is participating in Open Access Week with our #OAwiki campaign.  The goal is to make citations on Wikipedia free to read and verify. Wikipedia is open access by nature, but it’s important that our citations be free to read as well. For readers to use Wikipedia as a starting point for deeper research, it’s essential that our citations lead to sources that are not behind paywalls.

How does the #OAwiki campaign help people find reputable source material that is not behind a paywall?

The campaign works by using a simple tool called OAbot. OAbot scans Wikipedia citations, finds one that is closed access, looks up and presents an open version for you to review, and lets you add the open link in the citation (if it’s a good fit).

So is OABot a plug-in? Do I have to be a Wikipedia editor to use it and help convert closed sources to open ones?

OAbot is a website.  Go to http://oabot.org.  It will ask you to log in with your Wikipedia account (which you can create anytime for free on the spot).  Then you get presented a single citation and a single suggested open citation to add to the Wikipedia entry.  You can always skip an entry you’re not sure.  Or you can make the edit with a single click that helps you make the change to the encyclopedia.

So I’m presented with source material that’s not behind a paywall? How might I assess that source to determine whether it’s appropriate to add to Wikipedia?

There are four simple questions for deciding whether to add a link.

  1. Is the original citation closed access (or lacking any link)?
  2. Is the new link free to read?
  3. Do the two sources match?
  4. Is the new link likely copyright compliant?

If you get four yes’es, you add the link. If you’re unsure or there are some no’s, you skip that link.

Does it show me how to add the link?

All you have to do is click ‘Add link” for the change to go live. The link is added automatically and OAbot moves on to the next suggested addition. You never have to physically go to Wikipedia or click publish on Wikipedia to improve our links.

Who built the tool?

The tool was built by French developer and open access advocate Antonin Delpeuch. We met at the WikiCite conference in Berlin in 2016 and decided to collaborate.

Melody Kramer, Senior Audience Development Manager, Communications
Wikimedia Foundation

This post has been updated to correct a small error in how to add a link.