By Rebekah Kilzer, Elizabeth L. Black and James Muir
Since the increase in the need for distributed access to library resources, libraries have been struggling with methods to provide seamless, intuitive access for people who are not at the physical library. Users expect to be able to do their work from anywhere, including being able to access library resources such as paid databases. Some libraries offer remote access via Internet Protocol (IP) authentication, but that alone does not address the needs of the people who are out of the organization's IP range (Blansit, 2007). The Ohio State University Libraries, like many libraries, have addressed this need by using a proxy server to act as an intermediary between the user and the database. Webster (2002) offers a clear definition of a proxy server, pointing out that a proxy server makes it appear as though users are working from valid IP addresses associated with the University, instead of off-site.
The literature exposes a variety of issues involved with offering off-site/off-campus access to paid resources via a proxy server. Mikesell (2004) offered a discussion on some of the weaknesses of proxy servers, which is useful in framing the various options. In order to authenticate users through the proxy server, libraries often employ one of a few methods. One method is to require users to sign into the proxy server before beginning their search, which is The Ohio State University Libraries’ current method. Some libraries create an "off-campus users" portal through which all off-campus users are required to enter before using paid library resources (Hudock, 2003) but this does not address the important goal of offering tools to the users at the point of need (Ferguson & Bunge, 1997). Another method is to include the proxy string in the resource URL, so the user is prompted to sign in when they click on the resource URL. This approach offers the most seamless access at the point of need, but can be an obstacle when there are thousands of resources that need to be sorted out, and access levels assigned, as was the case at OSU. The Ohio State University Libraries subscribe to 450 databases and have purchased several thousand additional resources. Because OSU is a public university, there is a mandate to offer certain resources without requiring affiliation with the University, adding an additional layer of complexity. In addition, the size of the library catalog database would have made the updating of records a protracted and labor intensive exercise, even with the automated tools available for use.
The exception code was a necessary element to the political success of this idea. OSU is a public, land grant institution and the Libraries house many unique materials of interest to the community beyond the university. Therefore, it was essential that we have a method of keeping access to the finding aids and enhanced descriptions linked from the catalog records open to those who would not have the required credentials to authenticate. Exception codes were added to items in special collections, the institutional repository and government documents selected for their likelihood to be accessed by non-OSU users. Due to the unique challenges of identifying all government documents in the catalog, we did not attempt to retroactively add the exception code for all records but the code will be added to records for all government documents acquired in the future. We also added a feedback feature to the login page so users can report issues, including items that should be made exceptions.
There are four files available. Download zip (5.36 K).
NOTE: These files were designed for use with an Innovative catalog and the
library Web site, separately, but could be adapted for other library systems.
- offcampuscheck.js — This file should be included in the catalog template; it is recommended that it be included in the footer. It refers to URLs appearing in the catalog record.
- generic_offcampuscheck.js — This file should be included in non-catalog Web pages.
- footer_code.php — Insert this code in the bottom of your pages (we added it to our global footer file).
Blansit, B. D. (2007). Beyond password protection: methods for remote patron authentication. Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries. 4 (1/2), 185-194.
Ferguson, C. D., & Bunge, C. A. (1997). The Shape of Services to Come: Values-Based Reference Service for the Largely Digital Library. College and Research Libraries. 58 (3), 252-266.
Internet2, "About Shibboleth." http://shibboleth.internet2.edu/about.html (accessed May 13, 2008).
Mikesell, B. L. (2003). Anything, anytime, anywhere: proxy servers, Shibboleth, and the dream of the digital library. Journal of Library Administration. 41 (1/2), 315-326.
Webster, P. (2002). Remote patron validation: posting a proxy server at the DIGITAL doorway. Computers in Libraries, 22 (8), 18-23.
The authors wish to acknowledge Jason Thompson, the member of the IT team who had the original idea and without whom this project would never have happened.
About the Authors
Rebekah Kilzer is Systems Librarian and Assistant Professor at The Ohio State University Libraries. She is involved in several projects to enhance the discovery and delivery of library resources to patrons. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elizabeth L. “Beth” Black, is an Assistant Professor and Systems Librarian for the OSU Libraries. She leads the system’s Web Implementation Team, and is responsible for the Libraries’ web site, web applications and the university’s digital repository, Knowledge Bank. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.
James Muir is a Systems Developer/Engineer for The Ohio State University Libraries. He is involved with creating and maintaining many web applications for OSU Libraries. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org