Information Scotland logo

Information Scotland

The Journal of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

ISSN 1743-5471

skip to page contentIssue contents | Journal contents | About the online edition of the journal

February 2008 Volume 6(1)

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

Digital environment

Managing access

Further Education institutions are soon going to have to make important decisions with regards to the authentication systems they are using. Tony Donnelly and Paul Gorman explain why.

In July 2008 the JISC subsidy for the Athens authentication system currently in use in much of the UK education sector comes to an end. Athens is an Eduserv product that provides secure access to e-resources to those with an entitlement to use them by right of attendance on a course or membership of staff at a particular educational institution. E-resources that the institution subscribes to (usually library electronic subscriptions) are placed behind the Athens authentication system and users can access these resources either remotely or on campus by use of a single logon. There are two types of Athens systems commonly used:
1 Classic Athens. The user sets up their own account through self-registration upon receipt of an access username and password from staff (usually library staff).
2 Athens DA (Devolved Authentication). The organisation creates Athens accounts centrally and integrates with a local application such as a VLE or an organisation’s authentication system such as an LDAP.

In light of the forthcoming cessation of the JISC subsidy, institutions are going to have to make important decisions with regards to the authentication systems they are using. The JISC is promoting Shibboleth technology. Shibboleth is an architecture that enables organisations to build single sign-on environments that allow users to access web-based resources using a single login. The JISC summarises the main benefits as:

Organisations that use Shibboleth to access resources must join or create a federation: a group of institutions and organisations that sign up to an agreed set of policies for exchanging information about users and resources to enable access of resources and services. The federation combined with identity management software within institutions is referred to as federated access management (FAM). In the UK it is called the UK Access Management for Education and Research.

It is imperative that institutions decide soon how to respond to these developments. As librarians tend to be responsible for the institutional management of Athens, we are well placed to ensure that key decision makers within our respective institutions are appraised of the situation. The crucial point here is that this is not a library-specific issue. The move towards Shibboleth affects the institution as a whole. It manages access to all institutional resources such as networks, virtual learning environments, email, and e-resources. As such, network managers, IT managers, e-learning technologists and librarians are all clearly affected. It may not be obvious to key decision makers and stakeholders within institutions. Indeed, there is a possibility that as soon as key decision makers hear that the Athens subsidy is ending, they may imagine that they are dealing with a library-specific issue as librarians manage Athens. Therefore, it is vital that librarians ensure that these decision makers are fully aware of the impact these developments will have.

What are the options, then, for institutions once the JISC subsidy for Athens ends? Options (not exhaustive) include:

Each institution must determine its own response, we but must also recognise the importance of raising awareness of this issue. It is of the utmost importance that librarians, network managers and senior management work together in addressing the issue of FAM.

Tony Donnelly e: tony.donnelly is Chief Librarian and Paul Gorman e: is Librarian at Glasgow Metropolitan College.


JISC Access Management

Level A conformance icon, 
          W3C-WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0

Information Scotland Vol. 6(1) February 2008

© Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

Information Scotland is delivered online by the SAPIENS electronic publishing service based at the Centre for Digital Library Research. SLAINTE (Scottish libraries across the Internet) offers further information about librarianship and information management in Scotland.

Last updated: 16-Jul-2008