Books stacked on shelf in a library

Top tips for implementing OpenAthens

17 May 2023 • Lauren Harding, senior marketing officer

Liberty University‘s Jerry Falwell Library has a big job on its hands when it comes to managing online resources and access to them.  The library has more than 400 subscriptions for the university’s 130,000 enrolled students (including 700 international students and 27,000 military personnel) in 70+ countries, studying across 700 programs.


Formerly an EZproxy user, the Jerry Falwell Library began implementing the OpenAthens federated access solution in December 2021.

Why? In his talk at Access Lab 2023 David Leffler, the university’s discovery and access librarian, told delegates he wanted to make the switch because he knew the library would benefit from better security and the need to do less maintenance. Now the implementation is complete, he says:

“Proxy stanza updates are a thing of the past.  It’s wonderful.”

And, crucially, he wanted better information about resource use. This is already proving valuable:

“We’re thrilled about the usage reporting, especially the granular information from federated access.”

Key steps

The OpenAthens implementation kicked off in December 2021, with an email from the library asking ProQuest to add its federated details. This was the first step towards moving the library’s five key electronic environments into OpenAthens: the CANVAS learning management system (LMS), Alma integrated library system, Concourse Syllabus, the A-Z directory of subscriptions and databases and the libguides.

In February 2022, the library started testing database access and then switched the database to OpenAthens in July. After the summer break it commenced link testing in the LMS (that’s more than 10,000 links!), and in December it switched the LMS, integrated library system, the syllabus management system and libguides into OpenAthens.

It was a meticulously planned and managed process, completed without disrupting library services for students, researchers and staff.

David’s top tips for implementing OpenAthens

Use a virtual machine

When testing, he says using a virtual machine is invaluable, helping you check that off-campus library users get a good experience, because it lets you bypass your institution’s network proxy. Then later, if you need to troubleshoot issues with developer teams, they’ll be able to screenshare and resolve the issue faster.


He says it’s essential to communicate clearly with resource providers so they add your OpenAthens details and change permalinks in a timely way. Similarly, in conversations with institutional stakeholders plan carefully to keep things brief and jargon-free:

“Don’t talk about ‘federations’ and ‘proxies’ but reassure stakeholders that the resources they want can be added,” says David.  “This is what they want to know, and in my experience with OpenAthens it’s never been a hard ‘no’.

“And create libguides for them. They’re super helpful for things like creating links.”

Harness institutional expertise

The university’s IT team will make short work of some big tasks. For example, managing the thousands of links the Jerry Falwell Library needed to change:

“IT wrote a script for us to replace the old links with OpenAthens ones. It was essentially a giant ‘find and replace’, saving us so much time.”

Explore OpenAthens’ troubleshooting tools

“Whether your implementing OpenAthens or working with it on an ongoing basis it has lots of helpful tools,” says David.

“For example, I use the Administrator Console for checking link formats and deep linking functionality, and HAR Files to pull up developer tools. They let you define a difficulty so developers can get to work on sorting it out. “And the Open Athens Ticket Submission Portal lets you log a request for some speedy support. We get really quick responses.”

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