top tips on OpenAthens implementation

Top tips on setup for OpenAthens

28 April 2020 • Karen Abel, research data management advisor

Karen Abel, subscriptions and e-resources coordinator at University of Leeds gives us her top tips on OpenAthens implementation.

Setting up OpenAthens involves good communication between your institution, OpenAthens and your publisher providers. We discovered this when switching to OpenAthens for user authentication to our library resources here at Leeds University Library.  Sometimes, the set up with certain providers is more complex than others. And sometimes, although we think we have things in place, we are alerted to issues by our users who have found OpenAthens isn’t working as expected. This blog highlights our top tips on OpenAthens implementation.

Along the way, we’ve become better at understanding the problems and more efficient at supporting their resolution.  We increased our understanding about what the OpenAthens technical team need to know and we’ve started to amass a toolkit to help us identify and resolve issues.   So, here are some tips and tricks for getting to a quicker resolution if you encounter issues with OpenAthens setup:  

Screenshots are great but a Screencast is even better.

OpenAthens technical team often need to understand the exact stages that lead to a problem and explaining these can take time.  Screenshots will only capture one part of this; say, the final error message, but not how the user arrived there.  A screencast however will capture it all without the need for lengthy explanation.  We’ve been using screencast-o-matic and can recommend it as it’s easy to use. 

Using VPN

OpenAthens is the gateway to your users gaining access from outside your IP range. So when trying to replicate the issues they are experiencing, you need to also be outside of your IP range.  We find a great way to do this is to use a VPN. Specifically, we take advantage of the free VPN service that comes with the browser Opera.    

Identifying identity federations

The Refeds website is a great way of discovering which identity federations a provider’s site is registered with.  This is handy as sometimes the cause of an OpenAthens issue might be related to a mix up in federation registration. It’s also great when a provider thinks they are only compatible with Shibboleth. Because if you can see they are already registered with another identity federation, you know they will be compatible with OpenAthens too.   This is because Shibboleth and OpenAthens use the same technology standard so they work well together. 

HTTP headers extension

Following a user’s journey when they experience an OpenAthens error can be helpful in pinpointing where a problem occurs.  We’ve found the HTTP Headers extension a great way of doing this. 

Happy troubleshooting!  Thanks to my colleague Trevor Hough, Subscriptions and E-Resources Coordinator at Leeds University Library and Rob Smith at OpenAthens for helping me build up this little stash of tips. 

Student using laptop for taking notes to study