So I’ve been having an interesting conversation with that Dave Pattern about authentication this morning and why librarians like EZProxy so much. I’m not going to get in to the whole discussion about the problems of proxies, the issues with faking an IP authentication and the lack of personalisation. I want to talk about why we don’t just do EZProxy. It’s about user behaviour.
I’m going to make a probably quite unfair statement, that is highly generalised, but might help explain the problem.
Librarians think that user behaviour can be taught and controlled until the users learn to do things ‘correctly’. Developers realise you cannot control user behaviour and try to design for that.
What do I mean by that? Well the main problem with EZProxy is that using it is counter-intuitive to general discovery. In order to use a resource, I don’t need to know where that resource is, I need to know where my institutional EZProxy login is. So I have to search for something other than I want. It isn’t that easy to find. A Google search for ‘EZProxy Huddersfield University’ brings up this result.
Not useful. So OK, a student might not actually type EZProxy. They might just go to the library. So I try this. After 4 clicks, I can type ‘ScienceDirect’ in to a thing called Summon and it comes up with this. Hmmm, but I just wanted to search ScienceDirect. However if I click on one of those results, I then get pushed out to another strange URL (http://rc4ht3qs8p.search.serialssolutions.com) – oh god, where am I going, I don’t know….and then there is another screen – do I hit login? Do I hit article? What do I do?
Or we could just use Google. Just put ScienceDirect in to Google. In one click, I’m searching ScienceDirect. Yes at some point I am going to have to log in and that has to be as easy as possible (it certainly isn’t right now) – but don’t be so sure that your portal approach is any easier. There are just as many clicks, just as many breaks in user experiences, just as many things to learn. That’s the important thing – being forced through the library is an entirely LEARNED behaviour.
So these are some of the arguments Dave put to me.
- EZProxy is seamless when used with a discovery service. Well I think I have just shown it isn’t that simple.
- We tell our users to configure their google scholar with our link resolver. Well again that’s something you have to learn, and think to do. That takes a fairly sophisticated user. I’m sorry, I’m not a sophisticated user. I just type ‘ScienceDirect’ in to Google.
So give us a break please librarians. There is a reason why we are doing what we are doing and I think it makes good sense.
So yes we know the authentication discovery area is horrible at the moment. It’s terrible! It’s horrible! We are working hard on it. I’d urge you to look at Rod Widdowson’s presentation from the REFEDS meeting (coming soon) and the work Andreas Solberg has done on DiscoJuice. It can look so much better.
We also need your help. We can’t design the publisher’s interfaces for them. Us techie people have a horrible time trying to explain to publishers that we want their interfaces to be better. Only their customers can do that, and guess what – that’s you! So don’t complain to us that the ‘authentication’ system is broken. It isn’t. Get out there and tell the publishers their interfaces are broken and there is something they can do about it. There is something YOU can do about it. Anyone willing to take up that challenge?