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The workshop on access management held in Washington, D. C., on April 6, 1998, yielded several conclusions worth highlighting. It identified the need for research and evaluation of prototype projects in two key areas: system usability and economic models. The design of access management systems should be based on a better understanding of how users interact with such systems, what new information types will meet user needs, and what function these types perform in the emerging digital environment. To establish a viable economic balance for publishers, libraries and other intermediaries and users in the academic community, new standards of measure must be found to assess the usage of digital resources and thereby to develop alternative pricing schemes and payment mechanisms.

In addition, workshop participants identified five key properties for access management systems that would make them acceptable to users and libraries while respecting the rights and interests of authors and publishers.9

  1. Simplicity. The less complex a system of access management, the more readily it can be adopted technologically and organizationally, and the more acceptable it is to all involved in its implementation.
  2. Privacy. Systems that manage access to the cultural record must protect the privacy of users from detailed tracking and disclosure of use. User privacy must not be compromised.
  3. Good faith. Agreements on access to scholarly information rely on trust among the parties involved. Users and providers would each prefer to depend, in an access management system that implements these agreements, on reasonable barriers against abuse rather than complex restrictions that inhibit use.
  4. Trusted intermediaries. Intermediaries play an essential role in providing access to the cultural record as parties trusted by both users and providers and as efficient aggregators of distribution and usage. System design must take the role of intermediaries into account.
  5. Reasonable terms. Access management systems and license agreements must recognize the distinction between access and use. Overly tight control of access to a resource may impose inappropriate constraints on its use, especially in teaching and research contexts. The most useful system will not limit access to specific user groups known in advance to be interested in a resource but will be reasonably open to serving unlikely users whose curiosity and research interests may lead them in directions not predicted by those responsible for making the agreements or designing the systems.

The findings of this workshop are relevant to a wide range of interested parties:

  • policy makers involved in making decisions on managing digital data in relation to questions of privacy;
  • legal experts who draft contracts and licenses which must be implemented through technical mechanisms for authentication and authorization;
  • technologists designing new software for controlling electronic use and mis-use; and
  • publishers and librarians, who, as major providers of information, play a central role in striking a balance between protecting copyright and providing access to the cultural record of knowledge.

Although the workshop focused primarily on the means of managing access to published knowledge in digital form in the context of the research library, it also made clear the much larger dimensions of access management issues. With the enormous growth in digital records of every form, the issues of privacy, protection, authorization, and authentication are fast becoming a concern for all citizens.


9 Gerry Bernbom provided this useful summary of design properties in correspondence with Donald Waters, July 29, 1998.

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