RA21 Position Statement on Access Brokers

23 Aug 2018

In recent years, a number of tools and services have been launched which attempt to ease the problem of accessing scholarly information resources from outside institutional networks. These “Access Broker” tools include Kopernio from Clarivate, Anywhere Access from Digital Science and Campus Activated Subscriber Access (CASA) from Google.

As RA21 is working in the same problem domain as the Access Brokers, we are often asked how RA21 relates to these initiatives. In RA21’s view:

  • Access Broker tools are workarounds to solve a fundamental access problem that has plagued users of scholarly information resources for many years.
  • RA21 is working on a long-term, structural solution to the core problem using industry standards and leveraging years of investment from the academic sector in federated identity management infrastructure
  • Access Broker tools often require individual user accounts to be created, potentially compromising privacy. RA21 builds on long-standing practice in federated identity management in the academic sector by providing the option for users to remain anonymous.
  • Some Access Brokers have taken the approach of storing a copy of the user’s institutional username and password, which could be a security risk. By leveraging industry standard federated identity management practices, RA21 ensures that the users’ access credentials are visible only to their home institution.
  • Access Brokers enable the provider of the tool to track end user behavior and reading habits across publisher sites potentially impacting privacy and research freedom. RA21’s decentralized, federated model provides no mechanism for tracking user behavior across publisher sites.
  • While Access Brokers may help in the near term as RA21 adoption takes place, they are additional tools which, in many cases, have to be paid for by libraries. Access Brokers must be installed or configured by end users before starting a research discovery journey, and must also be installed/configured on all of a user’s devices.

RA21 will reduce the need for Access Broker tools and allow simple access to scholarly resources from anywhere, on any device, at any time, with no pre-configuration or additional software required.