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Growing prevalence of mobile-based research signals new era for libraries according to latest findings

AvatarBy Michelle Silvestre
Category - News

Monday 17th December 2018

Sponsored by OpenAthens, the research gathered information from more than 900 librarians working in different sectors across the globe in Spring 2018 and was designed to gain an insight into current thinking on identity and access management.

According to the new research growing numbers of students and researchers are working from home, on mobile devices or in off-site locations, which is causing a huge surge in the demand for remote access to library resources.

98 per cent of librarians have witnessed this increased demand and nearly two thirds (62 per cent) of respondents to the survey also said they expected remote access to continue growing over the next 12 months.

Librarians cited a number of reasons for this shift including the technology-driven rise in ‘flexible’ working, the growth of distance learning and other new learning models and time pressures forcing people to limit their research to the evenings and weekends when they are at home.

This increasingly flexible mobile approach to working has seen librarians forced to adapt in order to provide digital content that can be accessed and consumed from anywhere, creating both opportunities and challenges.

Library staff require greater technical expertise than ever before to support the rise in ‘off-site’ access, according to 77 per cent of librarians.

Staff are now expected to help users with technical, access and authentication problems from remote locations, often with limited information, it was claimed. But more than half (54 per cent) said the skills implications of the changing landscape were not recognised by those in charge of hiring and training staff.

One librarian stated:

“Not only must staff have more technical skills, but these skills must involve troubleshooting access problems from afar, sometimes without adequate information about the problems and often with the inability to reproduce the problem.”

The move to remote access means library staff often require an understanding of numerous complex systems and platforms through which their content is accessed and delivered, the survey revealed.

It throws up complications around licensing and copyright which demand that some content is only accessible by certain individuals with specific ‘permissions’ online.

One librarian said:

“Systems can have complex layers that can have failures; supporting and managing these complex systems requires teams to understand each other’s parts in these processes.”

But end users also require greater technical skills to ensure they get the most out of their institutions’ resources, according to 71 per cent of respondents.

The need to help users enhance their digital skills and literacy came through in the comments, together with more online support being made available by libraries to reduce user frustrations.

However, several potential benefits of remote access were recognised, including the opportunity to increase use of licensed library resources, according to 88 per cent of librarians, as users are freed the necessity of travelling to visit a physical building within certain hours to access content.

It can facilitate increased engagement with users, 56 per cent of respondents said, while 55 per cent believe off-site access can help them gain a better understanding of what users do with the information available, assisted by increasingly sophisticated tools for tracking and analysing user behaviour online.

There was almost universal agreement – 99 per cent – that access management is ‘critical’ if librarians are to meet end-user needs, maximise investment in resources and improve outcomes.

But less than a third of librarians (31 per cent) feel that decisions about access management are given the necessary priority by other stakeholders within their organisation.

More than three quarters of librarians (79 per cent) said creating a seamless user experience is the top priority for the future while 59 per cent believe the provision of effective personalised online services is more important to users than protecting their anonymity.

Jon Bentley, commercial director at OpenAthens, said:

“This research highlights just how much advancing technology has changed the library industry with the majority of people now choosing digital content they can access from anywhere even when visiting libraries in person.

“While this creates technical challenges for library teams trying to provide content to those who need it while protecting it from misuse or access by the wrong people, it also opens up big opportunities to increase and widen use of digital library resources.

“The move to ‘access anywhere’ frees users of the need to travel and visit a physical library building in person at certain times and enables them to reach the information they need at any time.

“It also allows librarians to track and analyse user behaviour to get a better understanding of what resources are most popular, what formats work best and much more so they can keep developing their offering around the behaviour of their communities.

“But underpinning all this is identity and access management. Libraries need to ensure they have an effective and reliable identity and access management system in place before they will be able to capitalise on these opportunities.”

Download the report.

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