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I have a proxy, why do I need OpenAthens?


There are many issues surrounding the complex nature of accessing digital content and at OpenAthens we are often asked our view.

We recognize the need to look at the topic of access from the users’ perspective in parallel with the librarian’s vital role in curating published works so they are readily available to those who need them.

The way we all use technology, both as consumers and in business, has dramatically evolved since the current access methods were designed.

We have created this resource hub full of educational content and to raise awareness of the three key issues around IP-based access: security, poor user experience, and lack of personalization.

It’s a poor experience – for everyone

For users: personalization features can only be obtained via a separate log-in, requiring users to set up separate accounts with every publisher so they can access their search history, favorites and recommended content. 

For content providers: it’s not possible to recognize individual users. This means it’s difficult to investigate potential misuse  and usage reports have little meaningful information as IP addresses describe organizations, not users .

  • Watch our webinar with Sari Francis, director of content protection services at Elsevier, to learn about the link between user journey and piracy.


Any access route which relies on IP recognition/proxy, referral URLs or shared username/passwords is not secure – these methods can be exploited so publisher content can be made available on pirate sites. This could lead to publishers raising subscription prices to recover lost income. 

  • Read our guest blog: IP vs SAML in the battle of security to discover the differences between SAML and IP and insight into why IP is not the most secure method of authentication.

Enhanced privacy for users

OpenAthens fully support the NISO-approved RA21 recommendations for improved institutional access to scholarly content and the overarching aims of Seamless Access which acknowledges that personalized access can be consistent with user privacy. 

For subscribing organizations: it’s not possible to proxy video and other non-text content, so you’ll end up paying for a workaround. With federated sign sign-on you will be able to differentiate between individual users along with details in regards to what sort of content users are accessing and how they are using it.

The subject of privacy was explored during our Access Lab 202o conference and we have a range of in-depth presentation recordings available on our youtube channel including:

  • Saying ‘no’ to publishers personal data gathering – Access Lab 2020. Presented by Sally Hoadley, Jerome Farrell, Hannah Wise, University of Surrey. This session details the university’s own experiences of challenging these requests using examples of three suppliers, and the outcomes they managed to achieve.
  • Panel debate: Privacy vs Personalisation – Access Lab 2020. Presented by Jon Bentley, commercial director, OpenAthens (panel chair) – Sebastian Kohlmeier, senior manager of program management and business operations, Allen Institute for AI and Semantic Scholar – Peter Reid, digital services librarian, Bath Spa University – Ganesh Gupta, student partner, Jisc. This panel session explores some of the issues around privacy and personalization and shares ideas on how we can improve our service offer to researchers and students, wherever they are in the world.
  • The challenges and opportunities of personalization in access management – Access Lab 2020. Presented by Peter Reid, digital services librarian, Bath Spa University. This talk argues that librarians should be a leading and robust participant in identity and access management.

Supporting your business needs

As a leading provider of single sign-on (SSO) software, we can help you to provide library users with secure, seamless access to your content wherever they are in the world.

  • Our standards-based software gives you the flexibility to offer licenses based on organization, department or individual and the ability to scale up to a global customer-base.
  • Library patrons can also benefit from personalization features such as favorites, saved searches and annotated content which is not possible with IP recognition.
  • You can also discover more about how learners and researchers are using and engaging with your content so you can develop relevant services they’ll benefit from.

Find out more about the services we provide to publishers and service providers.