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Seamlessness and other stories: Librarians’ views on Identity and Access Management

Jon BentleyBy Jon Bentley
Category - Blog

Wednesday 6th May 2015

There are now many aspects of delivering library services where the goal is essentially to “stay out of the user’s way.”

For medical libraries, this can be especially difficult: patron support must extend across a growing range of devices (for which specifications are rapidly changing) and “use cases,” many of which are “off-network” (whether in terms of patrons being off-site, or in terms of patrons being onsite but using a cellular device / network). Identity and access management is one area that creates particular challenges in healthcare. Obligations around data security, while focused on patient health records, can complicate the provision of access to other systems and services. How are librarians managing these challenges, and what expectations do they have for the future? This article presents key findings from research carried out in December 2014 by OpenAthens, a provider of single sign-on services that helps libraries connect patrons to online subscription content.

The research had over 550 participants, of which almost half were healthcare librarians. The majority – 98% – agreed that access management (or provision) is critical to meeting users’ needs and to maximizing the value derived from costly information resources. However, a high proportion of respondents considered themselves to be behind the curve in terms of the access management currently offered to patrons (43% agreed or strongly agreed with this statement). Many comments reflected concerns about the frustrations encountered by patrons when identity and access management systems are not flexible or sophisticated enough to support day-to-day user needs.

These needs are evolving rapidly – 98% of respondents agreed, for example, that demand for off-network access is growing. This was generally attributed to the fact that research is increasingly taking place on mobile devices, although a substantial proportion of respondents also indicated that this is likely because more research is taking place at home. Many people commented further here, pointing for example to problems with “on-site” technology, such as outdated browsers and slow connections. The changing nature of both library provision and patrons’ workflows mean that “on-site” is not even an option for some users. Access management was a source of friction for 62% respondents, primarily because of the limitations of current systems (67%), and the tension between the library’s desire to provide access and the IT department’s desire to secure systems (57%).

There were interesting views on the opportunities that off-site access can present, in terms of being able to redefine the role of libraries as a provider of virtual services, rather than a repository of physical content. While most respondents (86%) considered that enabling off-site access can lead to increased usage of licensed resources, it was also acknowledged that off-site access adds complexities that increase staff workloads and require librarians to have more technical skills and knowledge (80% respondents). Solutions that don’t require IT knowledge were preferred by most respondents (64%), and there is a lack of confidence around the technical language often used in relation to identity and access management; for example, only 6% respondents felt confidently able to define the term “SAML,” and this issue is exacerbated when “generalist” IT teams have to engage with language, licensing and use cases specific to the landscape of medical information provision.

Respondents’ clear priority is a seamless user journey, with 67% choosing this as their top priority. Easy off-network access and more granular usage statistics were also popular choices. Healthcare libraries were more likely than other respondent groups to choose “better mobile device options” as a priority that they would like to see better addressed by their access management system in future, perhaps indicating that support in this area is lagging among the identity and access management solutions most commonly used by medical libraries.

A discussion paper containing more detailed results is available to download.


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