Off Campus Access Dilemma

How do students and employees at an institution access resources off campus? From my experience, many library staff members will say many people use Google Scholar but the students really should start on the library homepage because that’s the best way to access library resources.  Is this really an answer librarians should be satisfied with? Is that the confines we want to limit people to? Have you ever tried to access scholarly material like a student or faculty member would?

I recently attended a talk at ENUG by Rich Wenger entitled “IP Filtering is Dead. What’s next?” which touched heavily on this topic. Rich mentioned a fascinating video on the Scholarly Kitchen blog that presents a real life use case of the stumbling blocks faced by students and researchers and what a poor user experience that can be. It’s worth watching especially if you’ve never tried to access articles off campus. To address some of these issues by taking an entirely new approach to access, Rich talked about an exciting collaboration forming between subscribers and vendors called RA21. I look forward to future directions and outcomes from this adventure.

Meanwhile, I’ve been frustrated myself with accessing resources off campus, which is particularly agitating since I know the systems quite well and am still hitting friction and pain points in accessing stuff my library subscribes too.

So earlier this year I took a stab at making access slightly easier and discovered  something called LibX as well as a GettingThingsTech blog post about different proxy re-direct options. This was great information and I diligently set out to try many of these options. Essentially the options allow you to click an addon or something and have a page re-direct through your institutions proxy. I found that the Chrome extension works great but it’s only available on larger screen devices which isn’t useful on phones. I won’t install outdated addons, so the Firefox and Safari options were a no go.  However, the Zotero customization is something I recommend to everyone who actively uses Zotero.

As for the LibX addon for Chrome and Firefox, I successfully set one up for my institution and, while it works and has many possible features like a direct search of your discovery service or catalog, I wouldn’t recommend most libraries tinker with this option. It took me a few hours to get the configuration correct and I think there are better options that require less clicks.

I continued my search and I discovered a bookmarklet option described by UCSF Libraries that uses a bookmark with javascript in the url field to redirect pages through your proxy server. If you have javascript enabled on your device (and you probably do unless you’ve turned it off), this is a fairly simple option that works on any browser and any device. I simplified the directions and made them a little more browser agnostic before sharing with some faculty. The response so far has been a resounding appreciation for the simplicity of this workaround. So, an acceptable option but not preferable has been found that makes for a slightly more seamless user experience but the journey will continue.

Can the library community make this user experience better? I know we can, it’ll just take some time, collaboration, and imagination.

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