EZproxy: Everything a librarian should know about the off-campus access software

Each year, our institutions spend millions of shillings in subscription fees for online resources. The biggest problem is that most of these resources can only be accessed while our users are within campus. Most online publishers detect your location automatically and if you are not within the confines of a subscribed institution, then you are not given access rights to these resources. In many cases, our users want to access these resources from wherever they are especially from home via the internet. If we can’t achieve this, it means that we have paid a lot of money for resources that are not being fully utilised and thus losing value for our money.

Another problem is that the distribution of these online resources is prohibited by commercial licenses thus preventing us from downloading them and taking up the responsibility of redistributing them among our users on need basis. For instance, we can’t download the entire content of these resources and share it on our intranets the way most of us share past-papers and other locally developed content. We can only capture the metadata of these resources into our OPACs and hope that our users will access them while on campus because if they are outside the institution, then they also loose the institutional privilege of accessing these resources.

The solution to this problems lies in web proxy servers like EZproxy. So what is ezproxy?

As mentioned above, it is a web proxy server in technical terms. But in simple terms, a proxy is someone or something that conducts an activity on behalf of someone else. EZproxy is thus, a software that is installed on the premises of your institution and connects on your behalf to remote online resources even when you are not on campus.*
While they are off-campus, your users connect to your library’s EZproxy via the internet from wherever they are. EZproxy in return connects to remote online databases with all the institutional access privileges which they don’t have because they are not on campus. It then sends back to them the content that they so much need for their research. Basically it allows users to access the library’s subscribed content without requiring them to be physically present within the institution. It acts as a remote user authentication utility (http://www.oclc.org/ezproxy.en.html, 2015) and works technically by use of URL re-writing, which is beyond the scope of this article.
For a graphical view of how ezproxy works, view the image below.

Ezproxy Architecture
A, B and C represent library patrons accessing e-resources remotely. X, Y and Z represent online resources that the library has subscribed to. The EZproxy server is located within your library or institution. A, B and C make requests to access online resources via the EZproxy server whose link can be placed on the library or university website where all users can see it. The EZproxy server then asks them to login to establish if they are bona fide members of your institution using an established authentication system. Once they are authenticated as bona fide members, the EZproxy server then forwards their request to the respective online database that they want to access. Because the EZproxy server is within the recognised IP range of the subscribed institution, the online database automatically responds by serving the requested resource back to the EZproxy server. The EZproxy server then completes the transaction by serving the resource back to the respective patron that had requested it.

Implementation requirements:

Staffing : The library will require staff or have access to personnel who :

  1. Can administer the operating system that EZproxy server will be installed on.
  2. Can configure the network’s DNS server and firewall.
  3. Are familiar with web server administration and be able to configure EZproxy server to           authenticate patrons using the existing authentication methods.

System requirements: EZproxy server can run on three operating systems. The choice will depend on the implementing institution’s needs and capacity. The operating systems are

  1. Windows
  2. Linux and
  3. Solaris.

Technical details that are beyond the scope of this write-up are available at: http://www.oclc.org/support/services/ezproxy/documentation/setup.en.html

Pricing : Pricing details can be obtained when one fills out an order form which is available at http://www.oclc.org/en-US/ezproxy/ordering.html .

According to OCLC’s website, more than 4,000 institutions in over 60 countries have purchased and successfully deployed EZproxy software in their libraries. Some of these institutions include the following:

  1. Meru University: http://opac.must.ac.ke:2048
  2. Kenyatta University: http://ezproxy.ku.ac.ke
  3. Strathmore University : https://ezproxy.library.strathmore.edu
  4. University of California, San Fransisco: http://www.library.ucsf.edu/content/ezproxy-new-way-access-online-resources-campus
  5. University of Kentucky: http://libraries.uky.edu/page.php?lweb_id=16

NB: EZproxy is a commercial software owned by OCLC (vendor).The information provided on this page may change in future depending on the vendor of the software. Authoritative information about the software is only provided by the vendor.

Otuoma Sanya

Otuoma Sanya is a full-time systems librarian, tech enthusiast and writer. His areas of interest are data mining, institutional repositories, library automation and web development using python Django.

5 thoughts on “EZproxy: Everything a librarian should know about the off-campus access software

  • December 9, 2015 at 8:46 am

    Thank you for the information. we will try to apply it here we see if it will work.

    • December 9, 2015 at 10:38 am

      It works great, several institutions including ours have already implemented and people are seeing an increase in utilization of e-resources.


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