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Why proxies deliver a poor remote access experience for library users

07 December 2020 | Emma Wilson-Shaw, e-resource manager

2020 has brought us many challenges, not least trying to work remotely away from our university, school or office.  Libraries have stepped up to the challenge by providing seamless access to e-resources no matter where their patrons are working, however, some users are finding their remote access experience to be a poor one.

At OpenAthens, we’re able to offer libraries the technology to underpin great user experience to patrons if they are onsite or working remotely. This is a result of the shift away from using a proxy as an access method. When the option to access resources from an IP range at your place of work or study becomes virtually redundant in a pandemic, a proxy is often the next solution libraries look to. And that can be problematic.

Security issues with proxied access

From a technical standpoint, the proxy has security and stability issues. We discuss these issues further in our guest blog for EBSCO ‘IP vs SAML authentication in the battle of security.

Managing the proxy

From a resource management perspective, a proxy is difficult to manage. Publisher and vendor websites are constantly changing and updating, this means access can break easily. With many resources to manage, proxy access is not scalable. This was further demonstrated during the global pandemic as the increase in users meant that for some the proxy service couldn’t cope and wasn’t reliable. Ralph Youngen at ACS discusses this in The Scholarly Kitchen blog ‘Seamless Remote Access During a Global Pandemic: An Indispensable Necessity’.

User experience is key

Most importantly, proxy access does not provide a positive remote access experience. This is because it only works via library curated routes such as your library catalog/discovery layer, reading list system or VLE. We know that patrons use these routes but it’s more likely they’ll start at Google or Google Scholar. It can be difficult and occasionally impossible to sign-in via a proxy to access content from a Google search. In my experience, this leads library patrons to a long, frustrating route of access. Either by going back to the library catalog/discovery to locate and access the content or using unlicensed ‘alternative’ providers. In addition, personalization must be done on a site by site basis, with the patron handing over personal details.

The benefits of Federated access

In contrast, federated access solutions such as OpenAthens provide a great user experience. It’s compatible with library curated routes and allows libraries to work with publishers and vendors to provide a simple institutional sign-in at the publisher or vendor website. Our infrastructure is cloud based, and when implemented properly provides scalable seamless access.

Importantly, we also offer the advantage of patron privacy, whilst offering the ability to also personalize their experience. All via an easy to use management interface, with access to a highly experienced technical support team.

How can we help?

To find out more about how OpenAthens can provide federated access to resources for your library users, please get in touch.

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