How does Z39.50 work?

Hi, I’d like some information about how Z39.50 works to access subscription databases. In particular, I work at a university library and we have many subscription databases from such vendors as EBSCO, CSA, ProQuest, Ovid, and Wilson. I had earlier been of the opinion that EndNote Z39.50 connection files typically had to include a database username and password to search a database even from on campus and that subscription databases that did not require an on campus password (FirstSearch WorldCat is one) were exceptions. Well, I’ve been told that from on campus the connection file search is authenticated via IP address and I’m seeing that from some databases that I’ve tried (including EBSCO and Ovid). However, CSA and ProQuest have not seemed to work that way. I don’t have a ProQuest password however CSA did seem to work from on campus with the password that I have for it. (Just fyi I test without a password usually by clicking OK when prompted for the password without inputting a database username or password.)

So, I’m wonder how Z39.50 works, concerning passwords and whether the search is from on or off campus.

In addition I wonder if some of the difficulties with testing this (by just trying searches without passwords) may be due to connection files being out of date.

Have a nice day

John Paul Fullerton

Authentication requirements for Z39.50 servers are set by the individual vendors, so they vary.

In my experience, CSA require IP authentication, so their connection files cannot be used from off campus. I think Gale is the same.

Proquest requires a username and password, and can be used off campus. You can get them to disaggregate your usenames and passwords, so that a particular username and password will restrict the search to a particular database (e.g. ABI Inform). You use the same connection file for all Proquest databases, but the username and password tell Proquest which database you want to search.

Ovid uses IP authentication. I’m not sure if you can get a username and password for off campus use. Ditto Wilson.

Ebsco will work on campus without authentication. Off campus, you need a username and password.  

Thomson connection files require IP authentication so they cannot be used off campus.

In case of doubt, contact your vendor representative, although they often aren’t very knowledgeable about Z39.50 and it may take a while for them to track down the person in their organisation who understands it. 

And of course you can’t use Ezproxy for authentication, so you have to find a mechanism for securely supplying the usernames and passwords to your users. 

It’s a complicated picture, and this probably explains why connection files are not as widely used as they could be. 

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OK, so let’s take EBSCO.  How does one go about setting up connections to EBSCO databases, via university subscription for users, on and off campus.

The main connection your university has to EBSCO is likely not Z39.50 based. If you ask them they should be able to work with you to set up a customized Z39.50 connection too. I recommend reaching out to your EBSCO account rep as a start.

Jason Rollins, the EndNote team