Vendor and librarian partnerships

Vendor and librarian partnerships matter more than ever before

06 June 2023 • Jane Charlton, senior marketing manager - community and content

A distinguished former systems librarian, Emily Singley joined Elsevier in the new role of vice president North American library relations in October 2022. With her insider knowledge of what makes librarians tick, she’s building alliances that will improve the library user’s experience (UX). In her keynote at Access Lab 2023 she explained more about the benefits of vendor and librarian partnerships.

As a librarian I spent years working to give library patrons a great user experience. I saw what frustrates and challenges them when they’re looking for resources. And however hard they try, librarians can’t fix all these things. They can’t change the fact that people are moving between multiple databases and vendor platforms that all operate differently. There’s no consistent experience and that makes their journeys complicated.

But when librarians work with resource providers we can start to address some big challenges together.

We can make it easy to identify and access reliable resources

The sheer volume of information online can be confusing and even dangerous. For example, remember the outpouring of pandemic-related information and comment a few years ago? The World Health Organization described it as an ‘infodemic’. They stressed how hard the torrent of content made it for people to access high-quality, sound health messages. Library users need simple ways to identify information that’s reliable and authoritative.

At Elsevier researchers tell us they still value peer review as one way to do this. But they also recognize it has its flaws, so they need more support.

OpenAthens’ recent library user experience report showed that global access to research is complex and fragmented. I have a friend who is a career researcher in neuroscience and, recently, he wanted to read a specific article. But because he couldn’t get hold of it easily he made do with a preprint. It was a sub-standard version and he knew it, but he was willing to compromise on quality for ease of access.

As resource providers and librarians I think it’s up to us to work on easing these frustrations. Federated authorization is a highly effective way to smooth out the access pathways. Open access and other initiatives to make content more openly available will also help us get there. We can work together on these, too.

We can help researchers to access everything easily

The research ecosystem is complicated and library users don’t only need to be able to access books, journals and artifacts easily. They want to use all kinds of systems without friction, for example, the learning management system (LMS), data repository, collaboration tools, citation managers and perhaps clinical care systems. Again, we can help them.

In fact, we are already doing so. Recently, I heard about a librarian working in a hospital that uses our ClinicalKey database. They learned that clinicians working offsite couldn’t get into ClinicalKey even though it integrates with the hospital’s patient management system (PMS). And they realized that, while both systems use OpenAthens, only the PMS used single sign-on. ClinicalKey relied on IP authentication. And as soon as we moved ClinicalKey to single sign-on the problem disappeared.

Consistent access practices across platforms are essential in making the user experience easier and more efficient.

We can support all users, everywhere

We all know that research is increasingly collaborative, involving academics around the world and partners in business and special interest groups. These collaborators won’t usually have institutional credentials but they still need access to resources, so authentication services are essential. OpenAthens enables non-affiliated users to be authenticated via single sign-on. And its federated access solution does more. It provides granular information so research partners can be given reliable access to specific, relevant databases and resources.

In future, we will see this kind of use case develop further. As it does so, authentication services must evolve with it to become more flexible and sophisticated in ways that work for users, libraries and resource providers.

Vendor and librarian partnerships can support inclusion

Similarly, we can work together to support equitable access for all – for example, those with different physical or neurological abilities. At Elsevier, when we develop resources we consider accessibility from the get-go and we rely on librarians to help us. They connect us with users who can test our resources to make sure they really do meet everyone’s needs.

Librarians sit at the center of the research endeavor. Resource providers don’t have the same holistic view, and that’s why I think a partnership approach is essential. Librarians are the experts on user experience. When librarians and vendors work together we can make the user experience more seamless and connected, even when our users are more diverse, more likely to be hopping from platform to platform and even when they’re spread out around the world.

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