Library ezproxy Access to Authenticated Subscription Content

I didn’t make it to ILI this year – for the first time they rejected all my submissions, so I guess I’m not even a proper shambrarian now :-( – but I was reminded  of  it, and the many interesting conversations I’ve had there in previous years, during a demo of the LEAN Library browser extension by Johan Tilstra (we’d first talked about a related application a couple of years ago at ILI).

The LEAN Library app is a browser extension (available for Chrome, Firefox, Safari) that can offers three services:

  • Library Access: seamless access to subscription content using a Library’s ezproxy service;
  • Library Assist: user support for particular subscription site;
  • Library Alternatives: provide alternative sources for content that a user doesn’t have access to in one subscription service that they do have access to in another service.

Johan also stressed several points in the demo:

  • once installed, and the user authenticated, the extension rewrites URLs on domains the library has subscribed to automatically; as soon as you land on a subscribed to site, you are redirected to a proxied version of the site that lets you download subscription content directly;
  • the extension pops up a branded library panel on subscribed to sites seamlessly, unlike a bookmarklet that requires user action to trigger the proxy behaviour; because the pop-up appears without any other user interaction required, when a user visits a site that they didn’t know was subscribed to, they are informed of the fact. This is really useful for raising awareness amongst library patrons of the service that is being provided by the library.

I used to try to make a similar sort of point back when I used to bait libraries regularly, under the mantle of trying to get folk to think about “invisible library” services (as well as how to make folk realise they were using such services):

The LEAN Library extension is sensitised to sites subscribed to from the library from a whitelist downloaded from a remote configuration site. In fact, LEAN Library host the complete configuration UI, that allows library managers to define and style the content pop-up and define the publisher domains for which a subscription exists. (FWIW, I’m not clear what happens when a journal on a publisher site that is not part of a subscription package is the one the user wants to access?)

This approach has a couple of advantages:

  • the extension doesn’t try every domain the user visits to see if it’s ezproxy-able, it has a local list of relevant domains;
  • if the Library updates its subscription list, so is the extension.

That said, if a user does try to download content, it’s not necessarily obvious how the library knows that the proxy page was “enabled” by the extension. (If the URL rewriter added a code parameter to the URL, would that be trackable in the ezproxy logs?)

It’s interesting to see how this idea has evolved over the years. The LEAN Library approach certainly steps up the ease of use from the administrator side, and arguably for users to. For example, the configuration site makes it easy for admins to customise the properties of the extension, which used to require handcrafting in the original versions of this sort of application.

As to past – I wonder if it’s worth digging through my old posts on a related idea, the OU Library Traveller, to see whether there are any UX nuggets, or possible features, that might be worth exploring again? That started out as a bookmarklet and built on several ideas by Jon Udell, before moving to a Greasemonkey script (Greasemonkey was an extension that let you run your own custom scripts via the extension):

PS In passing, I note that the OU libezproxy bookmarklet is still availableI still use my own bookmarklet several times a week. I also used to have a DOI version that let you highlight a doi and it would resolve it through the proxy (DOI and OpenURL Resolution)? There was a DOI-linkifier too, I think? Here’s a (legacy) related OU Library webservice: EZproxy DOI Resolver

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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