NISO Releases Draft Recommended Practice on RA21: Seeks Comments

The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) seeks comments on a new Recommended Practice draft for improved access to institutionally-provided information resources. This document details the findings from the Resource Access for the 21st Century (RA21) initiative and provides recommendations for using federated identity as an access model and for improving the federated authentication user experience.

For several years, scholars have expressed increasing frustration with obtaining access to institutionally-provided information resources against a background of changing work habits and the expectation of always-on connectivity from any location, at any time, from any device.

“Given today’s geographically dispersed workforce and variety of online connection options, traditional institutional IP address recognition is no longer a satisfactory means for authorizing access to scholarly information resources,” notes Chris Shillum, Co-Chair of the RA21 Initiative and Vice President, Identity and Platform Strategy, at Elsevier. The difficulties in navigating today’s remote access solutions impede research, frustrate users, and may encourage fully entitled users to resort to illicit, pirate websites. These sites in turn compromise the trustworthiness of the scholarly record and pose broad information security risks to institutions.

The RA21 initiative was launched by STM and NISO in 2016 with the aim of greatly streamlining the user experience for access to scholarly information resources and research collaboration services regardless of the user’s location or device.

RA21 evaluated the remote access capabilities in existence toward the end of 2016, and quickly concluded that SAML-based federated authentication held the most promise to provide a robust, scalable solution for remote access to scholarly content.  However, users find the process for locating their home institution onerous and are often faced with disparate and complex implementations across publisher sites that frequently employ inconsistent terminology and visual elements.  This poor user experience has held back widespread user adoption of this technology.

Since then, RA21 has fostered collaboration among stakeholders from academic institutions, corporations, identity federations, and scholarly publishers to conduct pilot and test prototypes with practicing researchers.

This research has led to the development of recommendations offering guidance to Service Providers (SPs), such as publishers, tools vendors and research infrastructure providers, Identity Providers (IdPs), including libraries and institutional Identity and Access Management systems, and Identity Federation operators.

“By greatly streamlining the user experience with federated Single Sign-On solutions, such as Shibboleth, RA21 will provide convenient one-click access in a wide variety of scenarios, such as access to scholarly content, institutional discounts for payment of APCs for Open Access, and authorization for accessing shared research infrastructure,” explains Ralph Youngen, Co-Chair of the RA21 Initiative and Director, Publishing Systems Integration at the American Chemical Society.

The NISO Recommended Practices for Improved Access to Institutionally-Provided Information Resources is available for public comment between April 17 and May 17, 2019. To download the draft document or to submit comments, visit the NISO Project page at:  All input is welcome and encouraged.