Tech-savvy guests celebrate online users at OpenAthens 2018 Conference

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With Cambridge Analytica and Facebook high on the agenda, around 140 guests attended OpenAthens’ international conference for librarians across the publishing, education, medical and corporate sectors.

Online user data and privacy were a major topic at the event at the British Library in London, which attracted attendees from as far as Canada, the United States and Australia.

Speakers discussed the theme of the event ‘Championing the user’ and how to improve sign-on access without creating barriers for students, professors, librarians, medical staff and business people who use federated access management specialist OpenAthens.

Guest Emmanuel Natale, of London-based business management consultant LexisNexis, said he attended the conference to find out more about user analytics. 

He said: 'I’m here to find out more about how analytics can be collected and used in the future. It’s a great event and an opportunity to discuss changes.'

The conference was kicked-off by a welcome address from Mike Brooksbank, chief commercial officer at OpenAthens’ parent company Eduserv, with the opening keynote speech by William Bowes, director of policy and general counsel at the Publishers Association, who highlighted the balance between digital transparency and privacy.

Jon Bentley, commercial director at OpenAthens, spoke about the ‘Authentication landscapes of tomorrow’, underlining the importance of trust by revealing his own Facebook data.

With ‘biscuits’ near the top of his downloaded list, he described the data as 'cringeworthy'.

He said: 'These are the ads they think I’m interested in. But there’s no validation in that, they haven’t come to ask me. They have this image of who I am. It’s cringeworthy.'

Mr Bentley added he was 'delighted' with feedback from the event and that trust was a major factor for online users going forward. 

He said: 'Libraries are changing, they are evolving. This is about trust between the end user, the library and the publisher. 

'We are delighted with the outcome of our conference and the interaction between the variety of guests who attended from many sectors. This level of communication is something we are determined to take forward to ensure the best outcomes for online users.'

A lively panel discussion on federated access management took place before break-out workshops, which included measuring user access, data protection and transforming library experiences.

Leading one of the sessions, Kristina Botyriute, international technical pre-sales at OpenAthens, said the company’s research could transform library user experience. 

 She said: 'Library portals are not easy to use. Students look for search boxes because they are used to Google. Library apps are now very popular. Most students know if their library has an app. It’s about having empathy for users and understanding their needs.

'Guerrilla research is cost-effective and quick to plan, it helps you understand users better.'

Meanwhile, Adam Snook, product manager at OpenAthens, highlighted that many libraries are now completely digital.

He said: 'A lot of libraries are 100 per cent electronic, with no books. 

'We have gone out and spoken to students, people who work in hospitals and others. We have found students are passionate about their studies and use rich content. 

'The log-in experience on publishers’ websites varies greatly. Students often don’t know if a resource is available to them and will not attempt to log in. But research off-campus means log-in is required. 

'This is so important because if students cannot access quality content then their research may be marked down and they do not get the great experience they are paying for.

'There are simple choices to make life easier for users who are signing in, such as having a search bar instead of having to select from a big drop-down list, plus other ways to minimise options for them.'

Discussing the company’s ‘Where are you from’ (WAYF) page, for organisations using the service that need to identify themselves, Mr Snook added consistency and ease were vital.

He said: 'It’s important to make the journey as intuitive and consistent as possible. There needs to be a halt on using technical terminology.

'Most searches are via Google and users should not hit barriers during their research.'

With OpenAthens Wayfinder, users can find their home organisation to log-in through geolocation or type their home organisation or email into the search bar.

Mr Snook explained how the user journey varied hugely across the industry but there were automatic filters for identity, which helped content providers by making articles more open.

Main speakers included leading figures from across the publishing, education and research sectors including Don Thibeau, chief executive at OpenID Foundation, Torsten Reimer, head of research services at the British Library and David Orrell, application architect at OpenAthens.

Discussing the banking sector, Brexit and whether UK banks would follow EU regulations or look at the American system, Mr Thibeau said trust was 'increasingly rare'.

He said: 'Trust is an increasingly rare phenomenon. If you move resources online, you have to sort out identity. OpenAthens is providing you tools.'

Another highlight was the panel session in the main lecture theatre, called ‘Has federated access management failed the end user?’

Participants included Tasha Mellins-Cohen, director of publishing at the Microbiology Society; Richard Northover, project director of Elsevier; Dr Sandra Tury, head of library services at the University of London; and Catherine Micklethwaite, library and information services manager and staff governor at Torbay & South Devon NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr Tury said librarians wanted an 'easy system to manage'.

She said: 'Librarians want to get experience for their students. Library staff shoudn’t be troubleshooting all the time.

'They don’t want big overheads. They want an easy system to manage that’s easy to secure.

'Every country has different expectations. Here, you need to convince American students that their data is secure, they are very security conscious. 

'Students like OpenAthens because they are used to it.'

Further workshops were led by Andy Anderson, business analyst and Neil Scully, head of development and service delivery at OpenAthens, Tim Lull, vice president of sales and SaaS at EBSCO; Chad Smith, chief technology officer at Stacks and Trevor Hough, service and support coordinator at the University of Leeds.

Jon Bentley is commercial director at OpenAthens