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Federating Makes ScienceDirect Available from Anywhere

Moss Landing, ScienceDirect Plumb the Depths of Federating.

April 2009

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Solution Summary

Moss Landing Marine Laboratories used Shibboleth to provide remote access to ScienceDirect for mobile researchers around the globe.  Access management is now nearly transparent, even for a equivalent staff of only two.


Products & Services

ScienceDirect, a service of Elsevier, provides full-text and bibliographic information to the world's science, technology, and medical communities.

Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, located on Monterey Bay, provides a Masters of marine science program for a consortium of seven California State University campuses.

The Problem

Moss Landing’s students, faculty, and researchers roam the world, from Antarctica to Alaska, and from Chile to the Caribbean. But their lives don’t stop while they conduct their studies. Writing and publishing – articles and Masters theses and book chapters – require reference works and journals that just aren’t available on the coast of Bimini. With one librarian, plus one FTE position split among several graduate students, managing multiple digital resources can become a whale of a burden.

“The bottom line is that users were demanding remote access to library resources,” says Joan Parker, librarian at Moss Landing. “Because all of our resources were IP-authenticated, remote access did not work.”

Moss Landing researchers make heavy use of ScienceDirect, which offers a treasure trove of electronic resources. With contracts in place at more than 80 percent of the colleges and universities in the world, the service needs an identity and access management solution that can scale.

“IP-based access is fundamentally simple in that it is generally tied to a physical location – but that’s also its limitation,” said Ale de Vries, senior product manager at ScienceDirect and Scopus. “It also provides our company with maintenance overhead and causes some security concerns.”

The Solution

At the same time Parker was fishing for a solution, the Cal State Chancellor’s office began ramping up their use of Shibboleth® Single Sign-on and Federating Software in preparation to federate some system-wide applications through InCommon.

With InCommon, individuals can use their university-issued credentials for access to ScienceDirect and scores of other federated services. Service providers can leverage an existing identity management system, rather than create a separate user database.

"I rarely hear from users, which means this is a raging success. Users have something they did not have before and it is easy for them to use.”

Joan Parker, Moss Landing Librarian

“I was looking for a remote-access solution and the Chancellor’s office was looking for a test case,” Parker said. “The Chancellor’s office came through with the Shibboleth implementation and, as it turns out, even hosting Moss Landing’s identity system.”

ScienceDirect knows the advantages of single sign-on. “Managing access to resources has scalability challenges,” de Vries says. “We have to generate and maintain user IDs, have a registration process, and have a help service for those who forget their IDs and passwords – on top of managing IP address ranges. Federated authentication replaces technologies that are more cumbersome, more complex, and less secure.”

The Result

“I rarely hear from users, which means this is a raging success,” Parker says. “Users have something they did not have before and it is easy for them to use. And it doesn’t chew into staff resources. Now my frustration is that many major publishers have been slow to federate.”

When she does hear from users, it typically takes little time to set things right. “I was in Italy last fall and one of my researchers was in Chile,” Parker said. “He was having authentication problems and I could solve it on the spot.”

ScienceDirect has a growing number of U.S. customers migrating to federated use of the service. There is an increasing interest in the library community to provide single sign-on support, as database offerings (and the potential for the proliferation of user IDs and passwords) continue to expand.