Logo of jmlaJournal informationSubscribeSubmissions on the Publisher web siteCurrent issue of JMLA in PMCAlso see BMLA journal in PMC
J Med Libr Assoc. 2008 Apr; 96(2): 176–177.
PMCID: PMC2268217

Athens Access Management

Reviewed by Michelle A. Kraft, MLS, AHIP

Athens Access Management. Eduserv Athens, Queen Anne House, 11 Charlotte Street, Bath, BA1 2NE, United Kingdom, ku.gro.vresude@selassnehta ; http://www.athensams.net ; contact for pricing.

Many academic medical libraries have the ability to authenticate their patrons using Internet protocol (IP) ranges or proxy servers. However, many hospital libraries are unable to use IP verification or establish proxy servers. The only way for these librarians and their patrons to access online resources is through user names and passwords. Usually, this means distributing multiple different passwords for many resources to patrons, often leading to more confusion.

Athens Classic Access Management System gives these hospital libraries the ability to provide off-site access to resources without the need to manage and distribute multiple user names and passwords for multiple resources. Athens Access Management System is a service of Eduserv Technologies and was developed in 1994. The UK higher education community has used it since 1996, the UK National Health Services has used it since 2000, and its use in the United States began to emerge 2006.

Athens Classic service operates similar to other access management programs, like Shibboleth, in the sense that both serve as a way to provide authenticated access to protected online resources. However, Athens Classic is a managed service providing a directory and comprehensive management tools for the librarian to administer users and resources. It also offers single sign-on and a simple access portal called MyAthens. Unlike with proxy server access and Shibboleth, no installation or additional hardware is required for libraries to use Athens. All the librarian has to maintain are the patron and resource databases.

Once a library subscribes to Athens, it is given an Athens ID number that the librarian then gives to the online database and journal providers. Many online content providers are Athens enabled, including Ovid, EBSCO, Gale, Elsevier, American Medical Association, and BMJ Publishing. A full list can be found at http://www.athensams.net/dsp/. While the list is large, not all vendors are Athens accessible. Librarians must contact each subscribed online resource and ask that they activate Athens authentication for off-site access. While this is done only once during set up, it can be a rather time-consuming task, depending on the number of online resources a library subscribes to. While it is a simple process for most databases, the task seems to be more cumbersome with online journal publishers and providers. This is because libraries usually own more journals than databases and because the appropriate and knowledgeable contact person is often difficult to reach. Unfortunately at the present time, there is not an easier more streamlined method for establishing Athens access to library resources.

Librarians must also set up and maintain their patron database in Athens. Librarians can populate the patron database in several ways: local authentication system, bulk upload, manually, or patron self-registration. All patrons in the database are given their own unique username and password, which is used to log into the library's online resources. Libraries serving multiple unaffiliated populations will be interested in creating permission sets. A permission set defines the set of resources that specific users have permission to access using their Athens account. For example, a library serving two hospitals would be able to create user subgroups, allowing employees access only to their own hospital's online resources.

Once library patrons are added to the database, they are able to view their account and accessible online library resources using the MyAthens portal as well as the MyAthens toolbar application, which can be downloaded and installed on Internet Explorer or Firefox browsers. These help patrons use Athen's single sign-on feature, enabling them to conduct research without the need to constantly log in to each resource. The MyAthens portal can be customized by both the patron and the librarian. The librarian controls naming of the resource and its description, while patrons can customize it by moving panels and grouping favorite resources. Cross-searching online resources is not yet available to patrons on MyAthens, but Athens is investigating it for possible future use. However, librarians might find that the library website is still the best location for listing online resources for patrons. Patrons can also go directly to a resource and log in using their Athens username and password. However, they should be reminded to always click on the Athens login link on the resources page. Often patrons forget to click on this link and try to log in directly to the resources, not to Athens, often causing the resource to deny access. This is often a source of frustration among patrons who erroneously think the resource login page is the correct page to input their username password, instead of using the Athens login page. Even if they remember to click on the Athens login, that link can be anywhere on the resource's page as there is no standardized location for it.

Despite some of these drawbacks, Athens is ideal for hospital libraries to provide their patrons the privilege of using the online resources from campus. Patrons already inundated with multiple usernames and passwords in their daily lives will be happy to have only their own personal Athens log in and password for using the library's online products. Using the Athens Access Management System, librarians can now reach patrons regardless of where they access the Internet.

Articles from Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA are provided here courtesy of Medical Library Association
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