Creating stable links to e-journal articles by hand (Blackboard / OpenURL / “Find it @ Lincoln”)

Posted on September 23rd, 2011 by Paul Stainthorp

It can be maddeningly difficult to create stable, persistent, reliable links to articles in e-journals from Blackboard. Links copied from publishers’ websites sometimes don’t include all the information needed to locate the article properly, or else they bypass the authentication processes needed to access an electronic journal: meaning that students aren’t logged in correctly, especially when using Blackboard off campus.

These sorts of links also break very easily – if a publisher alters its website, or if the Library changes its online database subscriptions.

Below is a reliable—albeit long-winded—way of creating persistent links to articles that should always work when placed in a Blackboard site. This method routes all links via “Find it @ Lincoln“, the University of Lincoln’s OpenURL link resolver software (provided by EBSCO). This software will present the user with links to the most appropriate [electronic] copy/ies of an article available.

Find it at Lincoln button

For example, taking the journal article:

  • Martin, J., et al. (1993) An accurate ab initio quartic force field for formaldehyde and its isotopomers. Journal of Molecular Spectroscopy, 160(1): pp.105–116

[N.B. Lincoln doesn't actually have electronic access to that article!]

We can build up a stable URL (web link) out of the following building blocks: up to 12 elements, strung together to form a great long link containing the citation details:


This is the ‘base’ for the URL, routed through the national EDINA OpenURL Router service, and authenticating the user via the UK Access Management Federation. The national router service logs requests and provides a standardised, platform-independent web address at

[2] ?url_ver=Z39.88-2004

This tells our link resolver, a.k.a. “Find it @ Lincoln”, what version of the OpenURL standard (ANSI/NISO standard Z39.88-2004) to expect.

[3] &genre=article

This tells the link resolver to expect a journal article, rather than some other sort of publication.

[4] &rft_id=info:doi/__________

Fill in the blank space with the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) of the article, if one exists. For example: &rft_id=info:doi/10.1006/jmsp.1993.1161

[5] &issn=__________

Fill in the blank with the ISSN. For example: &issn=0022-2852

[6] &volume=_________

Fill in the blank with the volume number. For example: &volume=160

[7] &issue=__________

Fill in the blank with the issue number. For example: &issue=1

[8] &spage=__________

Fill in the blank with the number of the first page of the article. For example: &spage=105

[9] &aulast=__________

Fill in the blank with the surname of the lead author. For example: &aulast=Martin

[10] &aufirst=__________

Fill in the blank with the first initial of the lead author. For example: &aufirst=J

[11] &atitle=__________

Fill in the blank with the title of the article. Replace any spaces with a ‘+’ character. Percent-encode any nonalphanumeric characters (&%*/!£$, etc.). For example: &atitle=An+accurate+ab+initio+quartic+force+field+for+formaldehyde+and+its+isotopomers

[12] &title=__________

Fill in the blank with the name of the journal. Replace any spaces with a ‘+’ character. Percent-encode any nonalphanumeric characters (&%*/!£$, etc.). For example: &title=Journal+of+Molecular+Spectroscopy

…stringing all of the above together gives a finished URL which looks like this:

Once you’ve built it up, you can take the finished link and add it to a Blackboard Site by using the ‘Build Content’ menu to add a URL.

Screenshot from Blackboard

Paste your link into the URL box on the ‘Create URL’ page, and give it a Name (that’s the text the student will see, and the bit they will click on to access the article) and a Description.

You should also scroll down to the option marked ‘Open in New Window’ and select ‘Yes‘. If you don’t do this, your students may not be able to log in to the journal article. Then hit ‘Submit’.

Screenshot from Blackboard

It will then appear on Blackboard as hyperlinked text. When students click on the link, they will be asked to log in via Athens, then will see options for accessing the article online (or in print, if an e-version is not available).


  • Don’t worry if you don’t have all the details of the citation: just leave out the elements you’re missing. Find it @ Lincoln will do its best to locate the article from even a partial citation.
  • If your link is very long, Blackboard may truncate it – breaking it in the process. If this happens, reduce the length of the URL by passing it through a link shortening service such as Linking You (for example: the shortened link for the article above is, then add that URL to Blackboard instead.
  • You should percent encode any nonalphanumeric characters—i.e.many of the characters or symbols which appear in this list—that appear as part of the article title, the name of the journal, and potentially even accented letters in the name of the author. Doing so makes it much less likely that your link will break.
  • Remember to set the link to ‘Open in New Window’ from within Blackboard. This ensures the authentication processes will run correctly, and is also good practice from a copyright perspective.
  • A very small number of electronic journals do not permit you to link to them from Blackboard; the most notable being the Harvard Business Review (issn:0017-8012). The terms of use of that e-journal specifically prohibit your linking to it in the course of your teaching. (Crazy, I know.)
  • See the ANSI/NISO standard Z39.88-2004 documentation for more information about the OpenURL standard. Or read this Library Journal article (from 2004 but still relevant) or the Wikipedia page.
  • If you need any help with creating these links and adding them to Blackboard, please contact your subject librarian, or email:

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4 Responses to “Creating stable links to e-journal articles by hand (Blackboard / OpenURL / “Find it @ Lincoln”)”

  1. Richard Cross says:

    Just wondering (if the key intention is to provide persistent full-text OpenURL resolver brokered lists) whether you can safely dispense with some of these fields, shortening yourURLs and reducing the opportunity for input error?

    I don’t know if the EBSCO link resolver has a CrossRef API integration, but (if it does) in some cases the DOI value may be sufficient for the resolver to generate context sensitive links.

    Although Author and Article Title are essential for other services (ILL, CItation export, et al) they’re rarely leveraged for full text linking.

    This is comprehensive:


    But this might be all you need for full-text linking


    And in some cases:


  2. Thanks Richard,

    I’d been playing around with that idea myself (yes, EBSCO LinkSource can cope with DOI-only inputs – so I guess it must be using the CrossRef APIs), using the namespaces feature on our institutional URL shortener to turn:{{x}}


    Unfortunately it’s bØrking on the forward slashes within the DOI – even encoded as %2F. But if I could get it to work, it’d be a nice easy tool for people to add links by DOI to Blackboard. Or, Terry Bucknell from Liverpool claims to have a Blackboard plugin to do it for him

  3. Profile photo of David Young David Young says:

    This looks really useful. Could it be a(n un-)project to get to automate all of this rigmarole, or is that too difficult a task?

  4. Possibly… Joss and I were just talking about a whole load of ideas to make do even cooler things. Possibly, for starters, an enhanced toolbar widget that looks for and recognises COinS data within the page that’s being minified, and creates an OpenURL-ified short URL instead of the standard one. Also: as link resolver, integrated with EZProxy. Also: in-URL namespace variable regex-ah! ‘Course, all of this would require we clone Nick/Alex several times over.