January 17, 2012

NCSU's Library Linker

Learning the tools and techniques needed to perform academic research is critical for a young researcher. I’d like to highlight a tool NCSU provides that doesn’t get as much use as it should: the NCSU Library Linker. First, let’s start with a little background information.

Academics, essentially, are paid to produce research papers. Thus, it’s critical for academics to read and write research papers. This is where the saying ”Publish or Perish” comes from. (The accuracy of that saying is another matter.) These publications are, in a very real sense, the advancements modern academics contribute to society. They are also, for the most part, not freely available. (Though there are some strong arguments that they should be which I will not cover here.) Prospective academics, students, and anyone else interested in reading these papers typically must access these papers through a proprietary database.

To ensure that faculty and students have access to these papers, most university libraries pay fees to gain access to those databases. As a condition of their access, universities must limit their services to their faculty, staff, and students. NCSU does this differently if you are on campus or off campus.

If you are on campus and you are using the NCSU network, then you are automatically recognized as having access and provided it. You can even go directly to the database you’re interested in and automatically be recognized as being on campus. You don’t have to visit the library website first.

If you are off campus, then you can access the databases through the NCSU Libraries website. The computer science databases are available here. You will be asked to authenticate with NCSU’s Shibboleth service. Once you provide your username and password, you will be granted access.

Of course, having two methods of accessing the same material does pose some problems. Specifically, it means that the link to a particular paper in a particular database is going to be different based on whether you are on campus or off campus. Thus, if you’re putting together a collection of links to papers, for a course syllabus or a research project or whatever, you would have to provide two links to each paper.

Enter the NCSU Library Linker.

The NCSU Library Linker is a pretty simple service. You provide it with a DOI or a URL for the paper to which you would like to link. It provides you with a proxied link that will work regardless of whether it is clicked on campus or off campus.