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Project Update: Alumni Access to Library Electronic Resources

Executive summary of interim report by the Alumni Access Task Force.


May 2, 2014—Harvard alumni have repeatedly requested that access to the Library’s electronic resources be extended to them after they graduate. Several Harvard schools license subject-based packages for the use of their own alumni population, and while two of these packages have been licensed in such a way as to allow access to all of Harvard’s alumni, the lack of an easy way to authenticate users has prevented the Library from opening up even those resources to all who could be permitted to use them.

To examine the feasibility of providing access to over 300,000 living Harvard alumni, the Harvard Library appointed an Alumni Access Task Force. The Task Force has issued an interim report in April 2014, with preliminary findings about available packages, peer’s offerings, technical infrastructure, cost and promotion issues, summarized below. The final report will be issued in May 2014.

Executive Summary of Alumni Access Task Force Interim Report

In recent years, some publishers have begun to offer alumni editions of their journal packages which include access to journals from a limited number of publishers and often carry some kind of embargo period. Such packages from EBSCO, ProQuest, HeinOnline and Gale, for example, are available at a relatively low cost. Some, like Sage, Annual Reviews and Project Muse, include alumni access in licenses for current users at no extra cost. Others, such as JSTOR and JAMA for example, charge an additional 10%. Oxford University Press provides special pricing based on number of users.

EBSCO, ProQuest and Oxford University Press also offer ebook collections and databases including Oxford Scholarship Online, ebrary, Grove Music, EBSCO books for alumni access.

Many of Harvard’s peer institutions offer their alumni access to these packages, including Brown, Columbia, Cornell and Johns Hopkins. While there are considerable differences in their package selection, alumni editions of JSTOR, EBSCO and Proquest databases, as well as Project Muse, are most popular. Based on the literature and web site review, and selected interviews, alumni access programs were highly valued by alumni users and alumni associations actively participated in the promotion of these services. In some instances, the associations also shared the costs of subscriptions with the libraries.

A decision to license any of these packages for Harvard alumni will require a careful consideration of the costs, payment mechanisms and the promotion to users, as well technical infrastructure for authentication of alumni.

The final report will recommend several cost options, based on the pricing review of 36 packages already conducted. The payment process can rely on an already established system of acquisition and cost sharing, routinely used in the Library by collections librarians and e-resource licensing specialists who purchase current e-resources. This system will work well both for purchases with a single fund and with funds pooled from multiple units of the Library or the University. 

Promoting the new services to alumni population will require weighing the benefits of high visibility of such resources against the degree to which they do or do not meet users’ expectations. Given that only a subset of available resources can be included in alumni offerings, it will be important to advertise them in a way that would generate good will toward the Library and the University.

A separate instance of EZ-proxy server would need to be put in place to authenticate alumni users through the Alumni PIN server and to provide an IP address through which traffic could be routed. Hardware and configuration of the server to work with alumni authentication routines will also incur some costs that will need to be considered.

Alumni Access Task Force Members

  • Anne Cushing, HAA
  • Betsy Eggleston, HMS (Lead)
  • Katie Luddy McGrath, HCL
  • Noelle Ryan, ITS
  • Emily Singley, LTS
  • Gosia Stergios, HL