Moving from Shibbotleth to OpenAthens - students working in a library

Implications for online library resource access following the introduction of single sign-on at the University of Leeds

16 March 2018 • Trevor Hough, service and support coordinator

Trevor Hough, service and support coordinator at Leeds University Library discusses moving from Shibboleth to OpenAthens.

Last year we moved the University of Leeds library system across from the existing Shibboleth authentication system to OpenAthens single sign-on.

This was driven by the portal and single sign-on project manager who was familiar with OpenAthens and felt it had a number of key advantages over Shibboleth.

The first stage involved moving the student portal across to OpenAthens last summer.

While this was being done, our library team had six months to prepare for our own transition. It was vital that we had plenty of time to get ourselves and our extensive e-resources ready to move across to OpenAthens.

For the library, the key to this whole transition was about making sure we could make the necessary preparations to ensure our resources were still accessible when we switched over.

We had a lot of help from OpenAthens to switch the URLs over from Shibboleth to OpenAthens’ version, so that everything was ready and it was just a matter of transferring to the new system.

This long preparation time was absolutely vital for a smooth transition.

OpenAthens has a number of advantages over Shibboleth.

1) Integration

OpenAthens can integrate with lots of things so that everything can be brought under one single sign-on authentication system through the student portal. Once the students or staff sign in, that is carried through to the library so they can go straight through to access the library resources without having to sign in again.

At the moment, we still use a proxy server with a completely different screen to access certain university services but we will look to move it over as soon as possible so everyone has just one log in.

2) Reporting

OpenAthens offers more reporting tools so we can track usage and see which resources are being accessed the most, or not at all, and when, in order to refine and improve our services.

We can see a list of different resources being accessed month by month. Where there are peaks in usage, we can plan better for future busy times. If we can see some resources are not being used, we can tweak our systems to provide smoother access or perhaps replace them with something more useful or relevant.

This all helps us get the best value for money out of our resources and ensures we provide the best possible services to staff and students. We can get the most out of all our subscriptions.

3) Security

OpenAthens is a very secure system. Its infrastructure is well set up to protect the content against inappropriate usage as that is vital to its trusted relationship with publishers. There are people who will try and use the university system to get access to things they shouldn’t and OpenAthens is effective at preventing this or flagging any unusual behaviour early.

Shibboleth was based here at the university on our servers whereas OpenAthens is a cloud-based system so it is more secure and any issues are often spotted and dealt with by its technical support team before they even reach us.

If there are problems they can be more easily fixed remotely with less disruption.

OpenAthens is new to us so we are still learning about the system. But the transition from Shibboleth was really smooth and it appears to be working well.

The transition is a process that cannot be rushed. It needs a lot of communication between OpenAthens and the customer organisation which we had all the way through. It’s harder to fix things once they are live than it is to make sure they are correctly set up in the first place.