Friday, April 17, 2015

Making electronic resources accessible from my home or office - some improvements

I've recently been involved in analysing  LibQual+ Survey at my new institution and one of the things recommended nowadays when doing LIBQUAL analysis is to do a plot of performance of various items versus how important those items are to users.

Above we see sample data from Library Assessment and LibQUAL+®: Data Analysis

We proxy importance of a factor by the mean desire score on the vertical axis and the how well a factor is performing by the adequacy mean score on the horizontal axis, so the higher the dot the more important it is.

In the above sample data IC 1 or "Making electronic resources accessible from my home or office" is the 2nd to 3rd most important factor, and I suspect this is typical for most libraries.

Also do note that the analysis above is for to *all* users. Undergraduates traditionally have high desire for space, if we include only faculty, it will probably be even higher ranked.

LibQual questions can be hard to pindown on what they mean, though in this case, I would suspect it is the accessibility from home that is the issue. Currently, most forward looking academic libraries try to make access as seamless as possible by ip authentication in-campus so users don't need to use proxy methods within campus. (Expecting users to start from the library homepage to access resources is a futile goal)

Off campus access is more tricky since not all users will be informed enough or bother to VPN even if that is an option.

Meeting Researchers Where They Start: Streamlining Access to Scholarly Resources 

Is seamless access to library resources particularly off-campus really that difficult? Roger C. Schonfeld in the recent Meeting Researchers Where They Start: Streamlining Access to Scholarly Resources believes so. He wrote ,  "Instead of the rich and seamless digital library for scholarship that they need researchers today encounter archipelagos of content bridged by infrastructure that is insufficient and often outdated." 

He makes the following points
  • The library is not the starting point   
  • The campus is not the work location
  • The proxy is not the answer
  • The index is not current  (discovery services often have lag time compared to Google/Scholar)
  • The PC is not the device (despite the mobile push in the last 5 years, publisher interfaces are still not 100% polished) 
  • User accounts are not well implemented
Most of these points are not really new to many of us in academic libraries, though it is still worth a read as a roundup of issues researchers face.

Still the listing above misses one very important issue, that is the classic problem of the "Appropriate copy problem" that the openurl resolver was invented to fix. The key problem is that openurl still isn't widely implemented and while Google Scholar, supports it , Google itself doesn't and it is extremely easy to end up on an article abstract page without any opportunity to use openurl to get to the appropriate copy. More on that later.

BTW Bibliographic Wilderness responds to Roger Schonfeld from the library side of things, pointing out among other things the appropriate copy issue and difficulties of getting vendors to improve their UX (aka we can't cancel stuff based on UX!).

Shibboleth and vendor login pages

So what should be ideal view when a user lands on a article abstract page and needs to authenticate because he is off campus and/or without proxy? 

One way is Shibboleth but that is not something I have experience with but it seems it is poorly supported and as poor usability.  Without Shibboleth is there a way for vendors to make sign-ins easier when users are off campus and land directly on the article page without the proxy?

The way JSTOR has done it (for last 1-2 years?) has always impressed me. 

JSTOR will intelligently look at your ip and suggest institutions to login from. As far as I know you don't have to have Athens/Shibboleth or do anything special for this to work.

Recently Stephen Francoeur brought to my attention the following announcement from Proquest

Essentially the Proquest login screen is redesigned to make it simple to allow users to enter their institution and the system will attempt to authenticate you using the usual method.l

"Today we are debuting a simplified login experience for institutions that use a remote login method such as Proxy, Shibboleth, OpenAthens, or barcode to authenticate users into ProQuest ("

"To reduce this confusion, we've redesigned the login page ( as shown below to make it easier for remote users to authenticate into ProQuest by adding the "Connect through your library or institution" form above the ProQuest account form. Further, remote users can select their institution on the login page, instead of having to click through to another page as they had to do previously. After users select their institution, they will be re-directed to the remote authentication method their institution set up with us."

Though it doesn't seem to suggest institutions, it's still fairly easy to use, just type in your institution and you will be asked to login (via ezproxy in my case).

Ebsco is another one that seems to make it possible to select your institution and login for full text but like the Proquest one above, I could never get it to work either at my old institution or new. This could be some configuration setting needed.

It's really amazing how few publishers follow the lead of JSTOR and Proquest. If the Elseviers/Sages etc of the world followed a similar format, I am sure there will be much less friction for accessing to paywall articles. Let's hope Proquest's move will lead to others converging to a similar login page, the way now many article databases look pretty much similar.

Appropriate copy problem revisited

Say most publishers start to wise up to UX matters and implement a login page like JSTOR so our users can select a institution and quickly get access. Will that solve every problem? Arguably no,

At my old institution, we had great success with promotion of the proxy bookmarklet, Libx etc to overcome proxy issues (part of it is because ALL access is through proxy whether in campus or off so the proxy bookmarklet would be essential all the time as long as you did not start from the library homepage) 

But even if a user was smart even to add the proxy string , that still led to a common problem.

Often even after proxying full access would still not be granted. The reason of course is because we may not have access to full text on that particular page but may have access somewhere else on another platform.

A classic example would be APA journals, where access would be available only via Psycharticles (which can be on Ovid or ebsco platform). Google results tend to favor publisher rather than aggregator sites, so one would often end up on a page where one would have access only via another site.

The more a academic library relies on aggregators like Ebsco or Proquest as opposed to publishers to supply full text the more the appropriate copy issue arises.

As mentioned before this issue can be solved if the user starts off searching at a source that supports openurl such as Google Scholar and access via the library links programme or even a reference manager like Mendeley. But with multiple ways of "discovery" you can't always guarantee this.

In fact, I am noticing the rise in number of people who tell me they don't even use Google Scholar but Google to find known item articles. Interestingly enough the recent ACRL 2015 proceedings Measuring Our Relevancy: Comparing Results in a Web-Scale Discovery Tool, Google & Google Scholar  finds that Google is even better than Google Scholar for known item searching. Google scored 91% relevancy in known item queries while Google Scholar and Summon both scored 74%!

If so, we will have ever increasing number of users who will land on article abstract pages without the opportunity of using link resolvers to find the appropriate copy.

Another example, I find many interesting articles including paywall articles via Twitter.  From the point of someone sharing, what is the right way to link it so others who will have different options for access will be able to get to it?

There's doesn't seem to be a obvious way (link via doi? link to a Google scholar search page?) and even if there was this would be troublesome to the sharer, so most of the time we end up with a link to a publisher version of the article which others may not be able to access.

 Lazy Scholar and the new Google Scholar Chrome extension

So what should we do, if we end up on a article page and we want to check access via our institution?

I've wrote about Libx before but my current favourite Chrome extension is Lazy Scholar, which I reviewed here. 

It exploits the excellent ability of Google Scholar to find free full text and also scrapes the link displayed by Google Scholar for the library link programme.

With more and more providers cooperating with Google Scholar (see the latest announcement by Proquest for Google Scholar to index full text from Proquest), Google Scholar is by far the largest storage of scholarly articles and every Scholar's first stop to check for the existence of an article.

Lazy Scholar automatically attempts to figure out if you are on a articles page and will search Google Scholar for the article and scrape what is available. In this case there is no free full text so it says no full text. But you can click on Ezproxy to proxy it or click on "Instit" which triggers the link resolver link found in Google Scholar (if any).

There are many other functions that the author has added to try to make the extension useful , I encourage you to try it yourself.

Interestingly in the last few days, Google themselves had a similar idea to help known item searches by exploiting the power of Google Scholar. They created the following Google Scholar Button extension.

It is very similar to Lazy Scholar but in the famous Google style a lot simpler.

On any page with an article, you can click on the button and it will attempt to figure out which article you are looking for an search for the title in Google Scholar and display the first result. This brings in all the usual goodies you can find in Google Scholar.

If the title detection isn't working or if you want to check for other articles say in the reference, you can highlight the title and click on the button.

It's interesting to see the future of both extensions, see here for a comparison between the features of Lazy Scholar vs Google Scholar button.


 "Making electronic resources accessible from my home or office" isn't as easy as it seems. A approach that combines

  • improved usability of publishers login pages
  • Plugins to support link resolvers and the ability to find free full text via Google Scholar
is probably the way to go for now, though even that doesn't address issues like seamless support for mobile etc. 

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