Proxy Servers: Basics and Resources

A proxy server is a service that provides authentication and mediation between database or publisher websites and the end user by routing Internet traffic through its system.

Why learn about proxy servers?

A proxy server is a service that libraries use to authenticate their users to provide access to many online databases and publisher websites.  Using a proxy service allows library resource vendors to authenticate users from a single point-of-access regardless of where they are located, on-campus or from their home computer.

The Basics

For our examples, we’ll use the popular EZproxy product from OCLC.

Authentication

To avoid having to provide users with an individual or institutional login and password, most database and publisher websites authenticate users by IP address.  Sometimes vendors will limit access to a range of IP addresses—on a single campus, for example.  But for users outside of the physical campus, you must provide a known IP address (or set of IP addresses). This is accomplished by routing users through a proxy server so that the access requests come from its IP address(es) which are recognized by the vendor.  The content is then returned to the proxy server and routed back to the original user.

EZproxy process
Source: http://www.oclc.org/support/services/ezproxy/documentation/learn/overview.en.html

Because libraries can’t let everyone access their resources via EZproxy, they must authenticate their users before access.  EZproxy allows user login itself, but EZproxy also provides a method of authentication using your institution’s single sign-on (SSO) server.

Resource Access

EZproxy is accessed using an HTTP request.  To access a website via EZproxy, you must prepend the EZproxy server URL to the database or publisher’s website address.  A typical EZproxy URL looks like this:

http://ezproxy.yourlib.org/login?url=

To this proxy URL, we add the URL for the website we wish to access through EZproxy. For example:

http://ezproxy.yourlib.org/login?url=http://www.credoreference.com

The above URL is referred to as a “pre-proxy” link.  Once a website is accessed via EZproxy, the address changes to a “post-proxy” URL.  For example:

http://search.credoreference.com.ezproxy.yourlib.org

As you perform a search or click on links on a database or publisher site, you are submitting your requests to your EZproxy server which passes them on to the original website.  Data is returned to the EZproxy server which sends it back to your browser.  That is why the post-proxy URL ends with .ezproxy.yourlib.org (ignoring the path).

You might notice some post-proxy URLs use hyphens instead of dots between parts of the original website’s address.

https://refworks-proquest-com.ezproxy.libproxy.db.erau.edu.

The short explanation is that the EZproxy server uses a wildcard security (SSL) certificate for *.ezproxy.yourlib.org which allows one subdomain before the EZproxy server domain (ezproxy.yourlib.org).  The hyphens “trick” the server into seeing the original website as a single subdomain. This is done only for original websites that use HTTPS.

EZproxy Configuration

EZproxy has many settings that are configured during initial installation (using hyphens with HTTPS, for example).  You also set the maximum number of virtual hosts (typically from 5,000 to 20,000).

For each resource you access through EZproxy, you must configure it separately in a block of code called a stanza.  In the stanza for a database or publisher website you must specify at the minimum a Title (T) and starting URL (U).  Other basic stanza directives are Host (H), HostJavaScript (HJ), Domain (D), and DomainJavaScript (DJ).  Below is a basic database stanza:

Title SPIE Digital Library
URL  http://www.spiedigitallibrary.org
DJ   spiedigitallibrary.org

The Title directive is used to identify the resource (and is used for the link text on the default EZproxy list page).  The URL is used to match the EZproxy request link with the appropriate stanza to apply.  Once accessed, any further links on the resource site will be compared to any D or DJ lines and if there is a match, will be proxied and given access (including any JavaScript if a DJ line is encountered).

If a database or publisher website includes multiple domains or subdomains or uses both HTTP and HTTPS, you need to add Host (H) or HostJavaScript (HJ) directives to account for them.  More advanced directives are used to manage website cookies, set domains that should never be proxied, find and replace HTML code, and many others.  OCLC publishes an EZproxy Reference Manual to list these directives.

Here is a more advanced database stanza:

Option DomainCookieOnly
Title Engineering Village
URL http://www.engineeringvillage.com
HJ https://www.engineeringvillage.com
HJ engineeringvillage.com
HJ www.engineeringvillage.com
HJ www.engineeringvillage2.org
HJ www.ei.org
HJ acw.elsevier.com
DJ ei.org
DJ engineeringvillage.com
DJ referexengineering.elsevier.com
Option Cookie

OCLC publishes a list of recommended database stanzas for many of the most popular databases.  Of course, websites are frequently updated and these changes often require revised or completely new stanzas.  These stanzas are found in the config.txt file.

Resources

Here are some resources to learn more about EZproxy.

 

Library Service Status Pages

Online library services play a vital part in providing access to library resources and services.  Thus, it is very useful for library staff to know the status of these third-party services.  Downtime is rare, but when staff and users need to know the availability of online services, having a library service status page can be extremely helpful.  Fortunately, library vendors know this and increasingly are providing access to websites for displaying current service status and notices of planned interruptions.

Here is a list of the known major library service status pages:

bepress

bepress Current Statusbepress supports institutional repositories with Digital Commons, SelectedWorks, Expert Gallery Suite, and ExpressO online manuscript delivery service.  Their website has a Current Status page that covers all of these services including status details, scheduled maintenance, and recent product updates.

Access the bepress Current Status page.

EBSCO

EBSCO Help Alerts

On its EBSCO Help website, the company provides News and Alerts for its wide range of databases and EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS).  You can enter your email address to subscribe to alerts, as well.

Access the EBSCO Help Alerts page.

Ex Libris

Ex Libris System Status

With the merger of Ex Libris and ProQuest, Ex Libris took over the support of all library systems and discovery services.  The company has created a unified system status page for Alma, Summon, Serials Solutions 360 Link, Intota, Primo, SFX, and more.

Access the Ex Libris System Status page.

OCLC

OCLC System AlertsFrom the OCLC Support & Training website, you can access OCLC System Alerts.  This blog-like site reports current and past maintenance and issues for services including Connexion, hosted EZproxy, WorldCat, and WorldShare products.

Access the OCLC System Alerts page.

SirsiDynix

SirsiDynix Status

SirsiDynix is a major library vendor with cloud-based systems such as their BLUEcloud services.  The company’s status page contains notifications of scheduled maintenance and outages by region.

Access the SirsiDynix Status page.

Springshare

Springshare Systems Status Dashboard
Source: Springshare http://www.screencast.com/t/fs0G5Y5yu

Springshare understands the importance of providing status information for library resources and services to library users.  That’s why they created the Systems Status Dashboard in LibAnswers that allows your library to set up and display the status of your website, LibGuides, local resources, and databases.  You can alert users to any planned system maintenance and explain unexpected downtime.  For any LibAnswers site that has enabled the public status dashboard, you can view it by adding /systems after their LibAnswers URL.  Some examples are Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Maryland Libraries, and Georgia College.

Read more about the Springshare Systems Status Dashboard.

TwitterIn addition to bookmarking the above sites, follow your important library vendors on Twitter.  That is where they will often post the first announcements of issues and further status reports.

2017 Library Conference Schedule

With 2017 just started, we are looking forward to this year’s batch of annual library conferences.  The list below covers large library technology conferences as well as the major conferences where technology will be discussed.

January #hashtag
20-24 ALA Midwinter Meeting, Atlanta, GA #alamw17
March
6-9 Code4Lib 2017, Los Angeles, CA #c4l17
15-16 Library Technology Conference 2017, St. Paul, MN #LTC2017
28-30 Computers in Libraries 2017, Arlington, VA #CILDC
April
2-5 12th Annual ER&L Conference, Austin, TX #erl17
3-5 Designing for Digital, Austin, TX #d4d17
14-15 DPLAfest 2017, Chicago, IL #DPLAfest
June
16-20 SLA Annual Conference 2017, Phoenix, AZ #SLA2017
19-23 Joint Conference on Digital Libraries 2017, Toronto, Canada #JCDL2017
22-27 ALA Annual Conference 2017, Chicago, IL #ALAAC17
August
19-25 IFLA World Library and Information Congress, Wrocław, Poland #wlic2017
October
27-11/1 ASIS&T Annual Meeting 2017, Washington, DC @asist_org
November
6-10 Charleston Conference, Charleston, SC @chsconf
March
2018
20-24 PLA Conference 2018, Philadelphia, PA #PLA2018

For more comprehensive lists, see Douglas Hasty’s Library Conference Planner website or D-Lib Magazine.

ALA 2016 Annual Conference Follow-up

ALA 2016 Annual Conference

The American Library Association has added the audio and presentation files from many of the conference sessions to its ALA 2016 Annual Conference website.  For librarians interested in library technology, there were four must-attend sessions and fortunately ALA has the audio for these four sessions.  You’ll need to log in to the conference website to access them.

Linked Data – Globally Connecting Libraries, Archives, and Museums

Saturday, June 25, 2016 • 8:30 AM – 10:00 AM

Gordon Dunsire – RDA Steering Committee
Reinhold Heuvelmann – German National Library
Richard J. Urban – Florida State University

In the past years, libraries have embraced their role as global participants in the Semantic Web. Developments in library metadata frameworks such as BIBFRAME and RDA built on standard data models and ontologies including RDF, SKOS and OWL highlight the importance of linking data in an increasingly global environment. What is the status of linked data projects in libraries and other memory institutions internationally? Come hear our speakers address current projects, opportunities and challenges. Sponsored by the ALCTS International Relations Committee. Co-Sponsored by ALCTS/LITA Linked Library Data Interest Group.

The implementation of BIBFRAME and Linked Data is poised to revolutionize the access of scholarly articles and research data.  This session covered some projects including an open database of Linked Data from the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German National Library), the Open Metadata Registry (OMR), and r-balls which contain “packages of data”—Linked Data and semantic Web representations of cultural heritage resources described using RDA.

Download the audio and presentation.

Executive Perspectives: A Strategic View of the Library Technology Industry

Saturday, June 25, 2016 • 10:30 AM – 11:30 AM

Marshall Breeding – Library Technology Guides
Sam Brooks – EBSCO
Matti Shem-Tov – Ex Libris
Skip Pritchard – OCLC
Jim Tallman – Innovative Interfaces
Sebastian Hammer – Index Data

Marshall Breeding, author of the annual Library Systems Report published in American Libraries, will assemble and moderate a panel of CEO or other senior executives representing organizations that produce software or services for libraries. Breeding will give a brief introduction and will then lead a lively discussion to probe at the technology and business trends currently in play, including industry consolidation, differing approaches to opening software to library programmers, and the shift toward cloud-based technologies. Panelists will be expected to candidly reflect the perspectives of their organizations, but not promote their products. The select panel will include representatives of organizations that produce commercial products, open source software, and will reflect for-profit and non-profit perspectives.

In this session, Marshall Breeding gathered executives from major library vendor companies and questioned them on topics including library vendor consolidation, comparative openness of their platforms, and more.  The three ILS vendors took subtle jabs at each other, while OCLC emphasized their nonprofit model.  Hammer took the opportunity to introduce an open library services platform (LSP) called FOLIO (of which we’ll have more soon).

Download the audio and presentation.

Library I.T.: Information Technologists or Information Thought-leaders?

Sunday, June 26, 2016 • 10:30 AM – 11:30 AM

Craig Boman – University of Dayton Libraries
Whitni Watkins – Analog Devices, Inc.

Library staff employed in information technology (I.T.) departments are often seen as support staff, only providing services when something breaks. But what more can library IT staff do to support the mission of their libraries? In this presentation we will explore why library IT staff should maximize their ability to work across various library departments to collaboratively design new library services rather than being relegated to support staff. We will also explore how library IT staff may challenge traditional bureaucratic organization structures to lead change efforts.

The speakers discussed the relationship of the library with its information technology staff (who may or may not be librarians).  They recommended that library IT staff be should be proactive.  “Don’t just wait around for problems to solve.”  Library IT staff should seek out opportunities to learn what other library staff do and join teams to get more involved.

Download the audio and presentation.

LITA Top Tech Trends

Sunday, June 26, 2016 • 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM

Maurice Coleman – Harford County (MD) Public Library
Blake Carver – LYRASIS
Carolyn K. Coulter – PrairieCat Library Consortium, Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS)
Nick Grove – Meridian Library District – unBound
Laura Costello, MLIS – Stony Brook University
Lauren Comito, MLS – Queens Library

This program features our ongoing roundtable discussion about trends and advances in library technology by a panel of LITA technology experts. The panelists will describe changes and advances in technology that they see having an impact on the library world, and suggest what libraries might do to take advantage of these trends. More information on Top Tech Trends: http://ala.org/lita/ttt

This was a huge session in one of the largest conference rooms.  Panelists were asked to state their top tech trends in a word: concepts, real time, virtual reality, balance (security vs. access), and super-easy application development.  “Library technology staff need to read vendor contracts to ensure privacy and security.”  Tools libraries can use to encourage open everything include promotion, shifting academic attitudes, and institutional repositories.  Panelists were asked about the Internet of Things: Useful or useless technology trend?  “Security is key.”  American Libraries posted a session summary on their blog.

Download the audio and presentation.

For more session audio and presentations, see our Library Technology at the ALA 2016 Annual Conference post and the official conference Full Schedule page.

Technology Podcasts for Librarians

Just in the past few months several new technology podcasts have launched which are useful for any librarian interested in technology.  A few address library technology topics specifically, while others cover general technology that has relevance to libraries.

Here are some of the best technology podcasts for librarians.

Library Technology


Library 20/20: A Podcast about the Future of Libraries

Library 20/20: A Podcast about the Future of LibrariesFollow along with Charlie Bennett as he talks through the renovation and modernization of the Georgia Tech Library as an example of the future of libraries, especially with the use of technology.

The Library Pros

The Library ProsThis new podcast (since March) is produced by Chris and Bob, a technology librarian and an “Information Technology professional” who cover new technology applicable to public libraries.

LibUX

LibUXCovering all aspects of the library user experience.  Amanda and Michael “talk design, development, and the user experience in libraries and the higher-ed web” with many guest contributors.

General Technology

TWiT Bits

TWiT BitsThese short podcasts present highlights from Leo Laporte’s longer This Week in Tech (TWiT) episodes at twit.tv.  TWiT keeps you up-to-date with all technology from computers to gadgets to the Web.  Topics also cover technology culture and politics.

W3 Radio

W3 RadioCurated and presented by librarian Michael Schofield, this brand-new podcast covers the week in Web technology in under ten minutes.