Coventry University’s Lanchester Library is the go-to information hub for the university’s 35,000+ undergraduate and postgraduate students in the UK and around the world, and for its partner organizations in education, research and industry. With users on almost every continent, the library has had an ‘e-first’ policy for many years, and prioritises ensuring reliable, seamless access to resources for all accredited library users.
For many years the library achieved this via Shibboleth but it migrated to OpenAthens before the COVID-19 pandemic. Electronic resources manager Gavin Brindley talks us through the reasons, the journey and the benefits.
The Shibboleth deployment was aging and the library team decided against upgrading it, partly because they were concerned about its resilience; it was housed on a single in-house server. In addition, they didn’t have time to manage the in-house aspects of an upgrade, and a review of the alternatives led them to OpenAthens.
“Moving to a cloud-based service, with a helpdesk and 24-hour technical support has given us a much more secure, stable environment for authentication.”
Added functionality was another driver for the choice. For example, OpenAthens allows the library to manage access to content in a more targeted way, so staff can monitor and evaluate subscriptions accurately – particularly valuable for a fast-growing institution with an expanding roster of national and international partnerships.
"OpenAthens allows us to manage authentication for partners who have a complicated relationship with the university. We can create groups and subgroups to manage who has access to what much more easily."
"From an electronic resource perspective, we were fortunately placed when the pandemic arrived and we didn’t have to scramble to change anything."
With a mission to ensure equity of access for library users the library has had IP-access switched off for several years and there’s a relatively small number of providers who aren’t SAML-compliant or who can’t support WAYFless linking. Until mid-2020 the library provided access to these for off-campus users via a remote desktop solution, but it was “clunky”, says Gavin. Nevertheless it worked, until the university’s IT services team decided it was a security risk and needed to switch it off with only a few days’ notice.
Simplicity and speed made the OpenAthens Managed Proxy service the library’s preferred solution. With support from the OpenAthens helpdesk the library got Managed Proxy up and running without help from IT services, using our Redirector tool wherever it wasn’t possible to create WAYFless links.
"We had all the bigger stuff available in a week or so and the whole thing complete within a month.”
Gavin says that OpenAthens and the Managed Proxy service are supporting the discovery process, making it more robust and seamless – and this is crucial to the library’s mission.
Library users may see no obvious difference since the adoption of OpenAthens but, for the library, there’s a big change. Before, the tool they used created very long, fragile links but now they can convert URLs very simply. And, now that the main learning and teaching platform has also been put behind the OpenAthens login, students can usually log in at the start of a work session and get straight into the discovery layer without ever encountering another login request.
The library has content licences for most of its partner organizations and moving forward, plans are afoot to use OpenAthens’ in-depth reporting capabilities, both to support better budgeting decisions and to improve ongoing support.
“It will be good to see if the partners use what we pay for and, if not, to be able to help them get full value from all the resources we offer them."