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Many academic libraries have invested in web-scale discovery systems such as EBSCO Discovery or Primo (to name just two) and many will have also built lists of library resources for library users, whether in LibGuides or in other bespoke systems.  Often these products will be combined with IP authentication systems (such as EZProxy) to connect directly to library resources.  But for that approach to work requires library users to be on-campus and/or logged into the campus network or have found their way to (and through) the relevant library system that can give them the direct link to that resource.    But that approach essentially forces users to go through a library gateway that seems to me to replicate the print-based concept of a library, where the user has to be physically present to make use of the resources.  And that approach doesn’t really seem to gel with the multi-device, network-scale, digital world that our users inhabit with their need to access what they need to from wherever they are.

If your users aren’t starting their search in the library, but are finding resources via google, or from references, how do they get access to the resource?   We’ve seen often enough in almost any of our discovery system testing that what users want is to find the thing they need and straight-away get a link to the PDF.   How do libraries get closer to that? There is the federated access approach where users login at the point of access to the resource.  But users can often struggle to notice the relevant login link on the publishers ‘paywall’ page and then have to tackle the ‘where are you from’ federated access management game.  Feedback from users suggests that users are pretty frustrated even to see the paywall page asking for an amount to view the article and don’t always even realise that there might be a route there to to the article without paying.  The publisher-led RA21 initiative is piloting improvements to this experience with some proof-of-concept work to look at ways of making the experience better for users.  It’s an approach that has raised some concerns, particularly around privacy implications.

For a while now there have been some other approaches.  A number of libraries (including the OU) have offered tools (typically bookmarklets that plug into a browser) to help users find the right link by rewriting the publisher URL as an ‘ezproxied’ alternative.  Such tools have had a small take-up but require some maintenance to cope with continued updates to browsers.   Utrecht, one of the pioneers of alternative approaches offer such a tool with their Get Access button.   Arising from the Utrecht work the LEAN Library Access browser extension has been developed as a commercial product and has already been taken up by Manchester and others.  As well as connecting users to the ezproxied version of the resource, the browser extension also offers Library Assist to provide customised support messages tailored to different resources and Library Alternatives, linking to open access versions.  One of the advantages of the LEAN approach is that maintaining the tool to cope with browser changes doesn’t have to be done by the library.

Kopernio is another approach.  It has been around in beta for a little while and is another browser extension.  It offers integration with Google Scholar and PubMed and will add a PDF link into Google Scholar for example.  It also offers a place to store your PDFs ‘MyLocker’.  You can also associate it with an institution and once you login in it looks like it stores login details in the browser.  Kopernio also searches for open access material, stating that it indexes ‘a range of additional data sources from which PDFs can be retrieved: Open access publishers, Institutional repositories, Pre-print servers, Google Scholar and your Kopernio search history’.  It’s a freemium model, so there are limits on the free version (storage limits for example) and there’s a premium version coming soon, aimed at both researchers and institutions.  It has been developed by the original creators of Mendeley, so it comes from a different perspective to the library-derived apporaches.  It has certainly picked up on the researcher need for one-click access to PDFs and it offers a Library Guides feature that gives a customised guide to using Kopernio for your institution.   Kopernio seems to be available for Chrome at the moment.

It will be interesting to see what the take up of these types of browser tools might be, and particularly with there being two different models, with LEAN targeting libraries to buy into a subscription while Kopernio offers a freemium route to drive adoption.  What I think is particularly fascinating with the tools is the way that open access content is embedded into these tools and therefore into the workflow of users.  We are seeing it to an extent with discovery systems, in that they are adding more open access content into their knowledge bases, in some cases by harvesting open access content aggregators such as CORE.  With open access increasing in importance it is good to see that innovations are appearing that pull open access and subscription material together.

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January 2020
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