A reader of this blog sent me an email with this question:

I’m looking for a public library that authenticates its remote users when they click on results, rather than before they do a search. Most sites I’ve found, both public and academic, authenticate before the user can do a search. … Do you know of any public library that follow this model?

The short answer is that I don’t know of any public library that follows this model and that I would be delighted if one of you can inform all of us by way of a comment. You’re not the first to ask this question and I’ve not heard a satisfactory answer. I do, however, have a few thoughts on the matter.

1. Searching first and then authenticating, when a user clicks on a search result, is not a technical issue, assuming the architecture of a particular federated search application supports this behavior or that it could be modified to support this behavior.

2. Some publishers don’t allow free searching of their content. Thus, implementing this behavior against such sources would be in violation of their licensing agreement.

3. There is the question of how libraries get charged for accessing publisher content. If a library pays in any way that is related to the number of queries it generates against a source or is related to the number of results returned, then the library would need to pay for some search activity in which the user would not be able to authenticate after the search and would thus not be able to retrieve documents.

4. Libraries have constituencies. Is it in the best interest of the entire library community to allow free searching? Some non-patrons, for example, will be unhappy that they can search and then not authenticate. How will the library handle ongoing complaints? Does the library even want to dedicate staff time to supporting use of the application for users who won’t be able to authenticate?

5. There is a middle ground. A library could commission a federated search vendor to build a custom solution that presents the user with one of two search forms, depending on whether the user is authenticated or not. The non-authenticated user would be able to search public sources via the public search form while the authenticated user would be permitted to search both public sources and those requiring authentication. The application could also present the non-authenticated user with a message that his access is limited and that by logging in he could gain full access to all sources. The application would present a login form that would authenticate the user for that session. Implementing such a solution requires interaction with a proxy server or other authentication mechanism, a mechanism for selectively redirecting a user to the full or the restricted search page, and ideally a single federated search application that can present one of two views of available sources. Not all vendors can do such customization work.

Does anyone have real-world experience addressing the “search or authenticate first” question? I’d appreciate your comments on the matter.

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This entry was posted on Monday, March 10th, 2008 at 11:37 am and is filed under technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or TrackBack URI from your own site.

3 Responses so far to "Search or authenticate first?"

  1. 1 Jonathan Rochkind
    March 10th, 2008 at 2:42 pm  

    Many of our licensed content providers that we federated search don’t allow public searching. I’d say this is the rule rather than an exception. This is of course universally true of citation-only providers like Scopus. Search resulting in citations (rather than full text) is their whole service, if they gave it away for free they’d have nothing left to charge for. But even providers with full text often consider the search itself to be a for-fee service, not just the full text.

  2. 2 Jonathan Rochkind
    March 10th, 2008 at 2:44 pm  

    PS: Your 5 option is pretty much exactly how Ex Libris Metalib works. An unauthenticated user can (and can only) search public/free resources.

    But Metalib doesn’t distinguish between “fully public” and “public is allowed to search but not to click on results”. It’s either fully public, or it’s not public at all, to Metalib. Again though, I think that the for-pay resource whose license would allow non-paying customers to execute a search would be rare.

  3. 3 Jason Stirnaman
    March 13th, 2008 at 7:17 pm  

    Terry Reese and Oregon State’s LibraryFind searches their Ebscohost databases prior to authentication: http://search.library.oregonstate.edu/record/search. I was very curious about this myself. When I asked him, he told me that most of the providers they’ve spoken with don’t mind.
    I would also expect that full-text providers might not mind as much as index and citation-only providers.

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