Why User-centred Design Must be the Focus of the Information Industry

Publishers have a genuine interest in ensuring that valuable online content can be accessed quickly and easily by those who need it, but they are also responsible for protecting these resources from abuse or misappropriation.

It’s important for publishers to understand user behavior so they can improve and develop their services for on- and off-site access. So, as IP-based access can’t solve these challenges, the login was born.

But instead of helping users to get access to the quality content they need for work or study, publishers struggle to provide an easy and consistent user journey to their content, creating frustration and a major barrier for researchers who often give up and go to free or piracy sites.

Users now demand a better experience when they are researching and that includes getting access to the valuable content to which their library or organization subscribes. With the steep rise in UK higher education fees, this has become particularly true of the student experience.

According to extensive research carried out by OpenAthens in 2018 which provided revealing insight into the challenges faced by the modern librarian, 98% of respondents reported an increase in demand for remote access to library resources among students and researchers.

The increasingly flexible mobile approach to studying has meant librarians need to adapt in order to provide digital content that can be accessed and consumed from anywhere. This has required them to have greater technical expertise than ever before in order to provide users with streamlined authentication and access experiences.

Dwindling library budgets are also having a major impact on which resources an organisation might subscribe to, as are the prevalence of pirate sites which steal content that academics and publishers work so hard to provide.

One of the first and largest hurdles users face is authenticating their session when they try to log in on a publishing website. This reflects why there was almost universal agreement – 99% – among the librarians who participated in OpenAthens’ research that access management is “critical” if librarians are to meet end-user needs, maximize investment in resources, and improve outcomes.

The NISO and STM-led RA21 initiative has made progress towards resolving some of the fundamental issues associated with accessing online content via federated single sign-on.

As an active participant of RA21, the OpenAthens team has collaborated through the initiative to inform the pilot work on improving the user journey and has developed an organization discovery service alongside the project using agile methods and user-centred design.

Wayfinder enables users to log in by entering their home organization or email address into the search bar. It can either be a hosted service or a component that can be embedded in any publisher or library website.

A user’s search automatically covers all known identity federations a publisher is a member of, without the user needing to be aware of them. This means learners and researchers can log in securely just once to all the multiple online resources that their organizations subscribe to, with user privacy being preserved.

Advancing technology has changed the face of the library industry with the majority of people now choosing digital content they can access from anywhere. Ensuring that valuable online resources can reach as broad an audience as possible, and when required, has to be underpinned by user-centred design in the technology that facilitates it.

Libraries need to ensure they have an effective and reliable identity and access management system in place before they will be able to capitalise on these opportunities. This creates technical challenges for library teams trying to provide content to those who need it while protecting it from misuse or access by the wrong people, but it also opens up significant opportunities to increase and widen the use of digital library resources.