LibKey Linking for Discovery Platforms & Publishers

LibKey from Third Iron is a linking technology that combines data about user institutional affiliation, library entitlements, an organization’s authentication method and article links to seamlessly connect users to content.  LibKey technology is integrated into systems using API’s, linking mechanisms and other mechanisms outlined in our comprehensive API Documentation.

LibKey is utilized by nearly 1,300 organizations in more than 35 countries around the world supporting more than 15 million researchers. A comprehensive list of libraries supported can be found here.

This page is for services/publishers interested in using LibKey within their platform or in other contexts where they are providing linking to content such as Tables of Contents (TOC) alerts or social media posts.  LibKey is free for services to use, based on the terms of our license agreement.

Services already using (and/or the LibKey API) to improve linking for users include:

More coming soon!

LibKey Overview

The LibKey linking syntax aims to pick up where DOI linking leaves off. With a resolved DOI a user is linked to the publisher’s version of record for the article. A user can easily resolve the DOI by putting a resolving domain like in front of it like this:[DOI]


As you can see, this immediately resolves to an article at NEJM… where the user needs to authenticate to get access as this is a paywalled article. Sometimes this can be seamless, if the user is sitting at that moment within an authorized IP range.

But often times they are working remotely, or using their phone meaning their best hope for access is to utilize federated authentication which varies dramatically in levels of adoption by both publishers and libraries leaving millions of users without access to which they are entitled.

Even more complex still, authenticating correctly via federated authentication (or turning on a VPN, etc.) may still result in no access because the organization to which this user affiliates actually accesses this material through an aggregator like ProQuest, EBSCO or OVID leading to even more confusion.

Finally, even if no access at all is available via a library’s subscriptions, many libraries provide a one-click opportunity to request the article through ILL/Document Delivery, but there is nothing on the publisher’s page to connect the user to this mechanism of fulfillment. resolves all of this through a simple to use resolution syntax:[DOI or PMID]


Once clicked, attempts to first look for any previously-stored organizational affiliation that LibKey has set in the past. This information is stored in local storage in the user’s browser and does not expire.

This affiliation is set automatically via WAYFless URL’s in use in a number of other LibKey services a subscribing library may have deployed for their users including LibKey Discovery, LibKey Link, LibKey Nomad or Analytics suggests that more than 5 million users globally already have this affiliation set in their browser meaning that upon clicking the LibKey link above that link will be “localized” for their organization instantly!

If there is NO affiliation known, a simple WAYF is presented for the user, where they can manually set their affiliation:

If the user has already been identified (or if they select a choice at the screen above) LibKey then instantly brands the experience for that organization and provides access options for the article.

This includes a link to the PDF (for supported publishers/platforms) as well as an Article Link to the platform for the content. LibKey automatically figures out the best available source to the content for that particular user. Users may also see the ability to see the article in context with the BrowZine platform and get help from their organization with any issues they may encounter.

Additionally, an individual user can modify their LibKey experience by clicking the box to automatically remember their format choice for 24 hours, for instance, if a user really just wants to see PDF’s as fast as possible (thereby skipping this “Format Chooser” interface automatically whenever possible!)

If a particular article is not available to the user (including a check to the Unpaywall service for Open Access options!), options for requesting the article through an organization’s ILL/Document delivery facilities are also provided automatically.

Syntax Variations

Standard Syntax[DOI or PMID]

This is the standard and recommended mechanism for improving linking from your site with LibKey. This allows the service to automatically detect affiliations that may exist in the user’s browser and if none exist to allow the user to affiliate themselves. If they belong to an organization that does not presently support LibKey (or no organization at all) they can choose the “unaffiliated” option which will then check Unpaywall for linking options or otherwise forward to the DOI link (using to the publisher site.

Forwarding Syntax

This syntax requires that the browser already has an affiliation set by other means in order for LibKey to take action and provide access options for the user. No opportunity for a user to affiliate themselves will be provided.

If the user is affiliated, the standard LibKey format chooser screen will be shown. If they are not affiliated, LibKey will automatically forward the user to the DOI of the article. There will be no LibKey interface shown to the user at all.

This LibKey syntax relies on the fact that more than 5 Million users have an affiliation in their browser due to their use of other library systems meaning they should have a WAYFless experience using this syntax.

Use Cases

Particularly for Discovery Platforms available to the public, the dominant way links are often provided to scholarly articles is via DOI’s resolved via or by linking PMID’s back to PubMed. If your site is presently utilizing these, integrating LibKey linking is an extremely simple and straightforward option!


Current DOI Link:

LibKey Link:

That’s it! You will then instantly be providing a better user experience to literally millions of researchers!

TOC Alerts

Table of Contents alerts are a great way to connect journals with researchers. However, the experience may fall short if the links to the full text lead directly back to your platform where its up to the user to try to access full text. They may be reviewing these TOC Alerts on mobile devices while on the go, while at home or in the office. And, based on the ability of your platform to support federated access (and the library’s ability to support it as well) it may be difficult/confusing for a user to authenticate immediately to the full text.

Depending on your preferences, you may prefer to use the /forwarding syntax in this case since it is completely transparent and will only assist users in getting to full text whenever possible. If they have a LibKey affiliation in their browser, then they will be assisted in getting to full text. If they don’t, it will forward on to the DOI just as it might do otherwise.

Social Media URL’s are a great way to link to your content on social media where users from thousands of different organizations may view a tweet or facebook post about a new article. To provide the best opportunities for getting access to the full text, using a prefix rather than will help improve this resolution process. In this use case as well you could consider using either the standard or /forwarding mechanism depending on your preferences.

Anywhere a DOI is used

Anywhere an organization is using DOI’s for linking is a great place to consider using to resolve them rather than

License Agreement/Custom Modifications

If you are a publisher/platform and are interested in using LibKey linking on your website, the use of the linking is free as spelled out in the use cases above, but a license agreement is required. Please contact us to express your interest.

Additionally, a ?utm_source=[entity] suffix is required on all links for analytics purposes.

We are also open to custom development for special modifications beyond the above feature set that may be uniquely useful for your use case or platform. Just let us know!