OpenAthens odyssey: challenges of implementing federated authentication for a multi-institutional user population


  • Joanne Romano The Texas Medical Center Library
  • Nha Huynh The Texas Medical Center Library



OpenAthens, remote authentication, health sciences libraries, system migration, EZproxy


Background: The Texas Medical Center (TMC) is home to one of the world’s largest cohorts of faculty, students, researchers, and clinicians who rely on seamless and immediate access to digital biomedical and health resources. This group is served by the TMC Library, with a collection that includes over 380,000 ebooks and 59,000 ejournals. In 2018, the TMC Library implemented OpenAthens, a federated authentication system to replace a locally hosted instance of EZproxy.

Case Presentation: The TMC Library is unique in its multi-institutional user population, which presents distinct challenges in adopting a single sign-on authentication system. Our project involved OpenAthens technical support, information technology teams from six academic institutions, and over thirty publishers. Implementation included the creation of an OpenAthens parent account, an active user directory, a resource catalog, and installation of our OpenAthens credentials at each publisher site. Because the TMC Library serves multiple institutions, OpenAthens built a custom login page and a portal to support both single sign-on and a generic username and password option. This case report discusses the reasons why OpenAthens was chosen, the preparation methods for implementation, the various challenges encountered and resolved, and recommendations for other health sciences libraries considering this system.

Conclusions: The OpenAthens system provides important benefits: granular usage reports, single sign-on access, and data to negotiate reduced pricing for online resources. With prior knowledge and preparation, health sciences libraries can successfully implement OpenAthens with customizations tailored to their specific resources and user population.

Author Biographies

Joanne Romano, The Texas Medical Center Library

Joanne Romano is the Head of Resource Management at the Texas Medical Center Library

Nha Huynh, The Texas Medical Center Library

Nha Huynh is the Systems Librarian at the Texas Medical Center Library.



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Case Report