February 16, 2018

LIRN Consortium Implements New Proxy Platform

LIRN logoFollowing more than a year of preparation and testing, the Library and Information Resources Network (LIRN) has implemented Muse Proxy for its member libraries. The consortium has always taken an active role in managing its proxy platform, LIRN President and CEO Andrew Anderson told LJ, and this new customizable multi-platform proxy server will simplify the work LIRN does to help its member libraries offer students and faculty seamless access to licensed databases and other resources while off campus.

“Instead of handing our proxy users the keys and telling them to have fun, we take the approach of ‘tell us what you want it to do, and we’ll go make it do that for you,’” Anderson said.

LIRN was created more than two decades ago as a consortium for private colleges and universities in Florida, aiming, in part, to negotiate bulk discounts on electronic resources similar to those received by Florida’s public institutions via state contracts. To help members deliver access to those resources to off-campus students, the consortium developed a portal system and proxy infrastructure based on EZproxy, which was originally created by librarian Chris Zagar in 1999, and was acquired by OCLC in 2008.

But as LIRN has grown—it now serves more than 250 institutions in 42 U.S. states and seven countries—the solution became insufficient to meet the varied needs of its members, Anderson said.

“For example, we had to write a custom service to enable integration between EZproxy and Google for Education for one of our members, and the design of EZproxy—while great for small sites without dedicated IT support—did not lend itself to hosting operations built around modern DevOps techniques,” he said.

Although the LIRN team explored options such using an Apache web server’s mod_rewrite capabilities to redirect URLs, or using vendor application programming interfaces (APIs) or search/retrieve via URL (SRU) protocols, those solutions raised long-term maintenance concerns, Anderson said.

As LIRN was looking for other solutions, long-term partner Muse Global, which had worked with the organization to develop its LIRNSearch+ federated search system, was launching Muse Proxy, “so we started evaluating [it],” Anderson explained. “The benefits were that we already had a great working relationship with Muse, and were familiar with their technology stack. They had demonstrated the ability to produce stable and reliable software, and had a library of thousands of predefined configurations available to draw from as part of their search software.”

Muse worked with LIRN to incorporate features needed by its members, such as generic OAuth support—which enables the system to work with Google for Education, Azure Active Directory, and other resources—and Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) integration for learning management systems (LMS) such as Canvas or Blackboard.

“We have a lot of schools [as members] that don’t have a lot in the way of infrastructure,” Anderson said. “Not like a large four-year university where you have an IT staff and active directory servers. They’ll have an LMS, maybe they’re on Moodlerooms or Canvas, and that’s where their students are…. How do we enable [those] schools to easily integrate with us? We figured LTI support for learning management systems was the way to go.”

Muse Proxy’s multitenant architecture allows LIRN to create and deploy new instances for its members “in a matter of minutes, with each application having its own authentication and set of resources, with vendor-specific data for…resource links,” Anderson said.

He added that one aspect of the new proxy service he is “very anxious to explore is the concept that it can provide an abstraction layer to insulate systems and users from vendor changes” that alter connections to resources.

“For example, ProQuest recently made a change to [its] eLibrary platform, [and] we were able to make some under-the-hood changes that preserved public-facing links when using Muse’s ‘Source’ style connections, while moving the connections over to the new eLibrary site,” Anderson said. “We have only scratched the surface on what this capability can do, but I can easily imagine the long-term time savings that can be achieved in systems like LibGuides, OPACs, and LMSs by using this ‘Source’ concept instead of a full URL to create links to resources.”

Anderson described the feature as a “path to stability” for LMSs, LibGuides, and other resources that may contain thousands of direct links to licensed content from multiple vendors.

With Muse Proxy now in place, LIRN plans to continue working with these new features to streamline the platform for its members.

“I like to joke with people that we speak librarian to our members and technology to our vendors, but it’s really true,” Anderson said. “We’re able to see things at a scale that few others can, and identify problems quickly, then either apply an update that fixes the problem for all of our proxy customers, or start working with the vendors on a fix to their platform.”

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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