Open Interface Features | Alexander Street

Open Interface Features

Customer FAQ

September 2016

Why is Alexander Street opening its content to search engines?

For as many years as we can remember, customers have been asking for help getting users into the library’s paid resources. Our video has been open to search engines for quite a while. Now we’ve opened all the content for search engine discoverability. Google is finding and indexing our content right now. When your users start with Google—and 70% of searches start there—they’ll find Alexander Street content.

Another big improvement—we’ve made login and authentication easy. Now, even if a user comes from a non-institutional IP address (perhaps searching from a home ISP on a laptop), the webpage asks one simple question: What institution are you from? Even if the person simply enters an email address, we’ll make a match. No authorized user is shut out, even when starting with Google or away from the library. 

How is the new user authentication process better?

The old process showed so many boxes and options, the user might simply give up. We asked the person to choose among library card login, username/password, Shibboleth, and other options that confuse most users. But a person just wants to enter a little information and start searching!

Now, the webpage asks for one piece of information: What institution are you from? The person can either key in his institution name (or even just the first few letters, and the page will autocomplete), or her institutional email address (and then the interface system will deduce the institution).

Once we match the user to the institution, we send the person to the right place to authorize. Our system knows if your library users Shibboleth, username/password, library card number, or some other authentication method. We send users to the appropriate place—and if you’ve configured your own library portal (or similar) authorization, we know that, too, and send the user to your login page.

As soon as the user is authenticated—and this happens within seconds—the user can start searching on the Alexander Street interface.

Is there anything I need to do to set up authentication? When you say that you are linking to our authentication page, does that mean that you know the EZProxy URL for our Alexander Street databases?

We have EZproxy details for a great majority of our customers through our conversations with you over the years. But please do send your login URL and other proxy information to your Customer Engagement Representative at, if you aren’t sure we have this information in our systems.

What is a “sample?”  

A sample is a little peek at content that answers the user’s search query, if the library doesn’t have full access to the item. The user sees a 30-second video preview or citation and metadata for other formats.

Our focus group participants and advisors told us that users do want to see all relevant content, even if the library doesn’t have access. One benefit for the library is that if an item is available for an individual to purchase, and the person does so—let’s say, a faculty member buys a film—access will be authorized for your entire institution immediately.

Where in the interface will unsubscribed content appear to users?

When the “Samples” button is turned “On” to include sample content, users will see the samples in search results, browses, playlists, and list of related items. Users can just tap the button to set the samples on or off.

Samples will show in the list of search results, identified by the label “sample.” Free content from open archives will be identified by the open padlock symbol. These are both integrated with items the library has acquired.

By the way… when searching from a collection home page—the starting page for a collection the library subscribes to or has purchased—samples don’t appear. For example, if you’ve acquired American History in Video, and someone is searching at the American History in Video home page (, everything looks and is the same as it was before the new features were added—no samples show, and no samples are offered. It’s when cross-searching collections that the search result now lists all the relevant answers—library accessible content and other content—and shows samples of the content the library doesn’t have.

I am curious to know how we can test the discoverability of items that we have purchased for our campus. Is there a “test Google” we can do with a specific article?

If you have access to any of our video collections, then you can test Google discovery by searching for the title of one of your favorite videos from Alexander Street. Here are some sample searches:

  • “Brief Therapy: Redecision Therapy”
  • “Harry S. Truman: Days of Decision”
  • “Flamenco: The World of Paco Peña”

Look for results that include They will look like this:

As a librarian, how will I know if someone from my institution bought an individual title?

The items will be included in your monthly MARC record update. You can also ask your sales representative for the information. We’re working to automate delivery soon—stay tuned for expanded usage reporting that will go way beyond usage stats. In addition to our current COUNTER 4 usage reports, graphics will show usage trends and analyses of user engagement. The reports will help you assess the learning impact of your Alexander Street resources and the ROI. We’re gathering stats now in preparation for launching these new reports in January.

Why is all this good for my library and patrons?

The new features are expected to:

  • Improve discoverability;
  • Bring more authorized users to library resources;
  • Increase usage;
  • Give library-wide access to items that individuals buy directly from Alexander Street;
  • Prevent duplicate buying (so that, for example, a faculty member doesn’t buy something that the library has already acquired);
  • Provide librarians with new data about users’ interests; and
  • Improve learning and research outcomes.