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Opportunities and challenges for librarians created by technology: a podcast discussion with OpenAthens’ Kristina Symes

AvatarBy Michelle Silvestre
Category - Blog

Tuesday 8th January 2019

Creating a seamless user experience is the biggest challenge facing librarians following the move to digital access, according to OpenAthens’ technical solutions lead Kristina Symes.

The variety of publisher login requirements was cited as the root of confusion for users trying to access different online resources.

Speaking in the Long Overdue podcast by EBSCO, Kristina also acknowledged that library users now expect a more user-friendly system tailored to their needs but said current technology was capable of delivering this service.

EBSCO’s podcast for librarians explores the impact technology has had on the library industry, looks at current trends and examines what the future could hold.

During a discussion on authentication and digital resources, Kristina, who authored Access to Online Resources: A Guide for the Modern Librarian, said:

Starting at the library portal may have been good enough ten years ago but the new generation of researchers has much higher demands.

In my opinion we’ve been spoilt, in a good way, by the likes of Netflix and Amazon and this is what modern researchers expect. They expect seamless, secure and personalised experience, the internet revolving around them. And dare I say, with current technological capabilities that is a reasonable demand.”

Outlining the different IP or federated access solutions, Kristina advised librarians to look for a solution with a comprehensive support package:

The solution itself should save librarians time, not consume it.”

So, if you have to learn how to read EZProxy logs or if you have to do something with Shibboleth XML files, that is already a waste of your time as a librarian. I think having a dedicated support team would be at the top of my considerations list.”

Problems can arise when the different digital products upon which librarians now rely do not work together, creating barriers to transferring useful information and creating a seamless user journey. Kristina explained:

One of librarians’ main headaches is that products often do not talk to each other.”

Kristina outlined how OpenAthens, as a SAML based solution, integrates with anything that supports this protocol as well as having a redirector prefix to help integrate with link resolvers. It also supports IP based access using an in-house developed proxy module:

We try to do as much as we can to integrate with as many tools as we possibly can to help out the librarian.”

She highlighted the importance of ensuring authentication systems are secure and protected but recognised the contradiction between the need to protect user anonymity and the need to collect personal data to tailor and personalise the service:

There are good reasons for the library to want to collect information about their patrons.”

For example, usage by group can be used as a mighty tool for negotiating a subscription price. It also helps to gauge the demand for certain resources from promotion campaigns, if an expensive subscription is underused, adjust the budget accordingly.”

She expands further:

From the users’ perspective, there are good reasons for users to want to release some of their data to vendors too. They don’t have to in the SAML world, certainly there is no need for that, but if they do, certain providers could unlock a wider range of personalisation features for them.

Some providers have gone so far as to provide personalisation without using any personally identifiable information whatsoever.”

A move to the cloud, the growth of open access, new forms of content delivery with a greater focus on video and improved user experience were all trends that Kristina said were likely to continue.

She also forecasts that artificial intelligence (AI) would play a role in improving the library services of the future:

It may provide a great opportunity to automate mundane tasks and become a little bit more user-centric.”

She dismissed concerns that open access would threaten the future of authentication systems:

More and more publishers will take part in the open access initiative but the main part of the website often remains protected by authentication and the need for statistics also remains.”

Someone needs to curate the content and make it presentable to the world which costs money. Unless some major economic reform happens, I cannot see how open access will take over the world while still retaining high-quality content.”

Listen to the EBSCO Long Overdue podcast.

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