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Harvard Chooses Ex Libris (USA): ALEPH Implementation Begins

The Harvard University Library (HUL) has reached an agreement with Ex Libris (USA) for the purchase and installation of ALEPH 500 in the Harvard University libraries. The ALEPH system will replace the current HOLLIS Integrated Library System used by staff and the public at Harvard's libraries since the mid-1980s. The contract, which was signed on November 15, 2000, establishes the summer of 2002 as the target date for installing all ALEPH functions.


The goal of the HOLLIS II evaluation project was to replace the aging HOLLIS software with a new-generation library system that can be integrated with the network-based systems, which comprise the emerging digital-information landscape. Such systems, based on client/server models, allow staff and patrons to obtain the fullest possible benefits of powerful desktop computers. The new system will also extend each library's reach across existing networks.

From the outset, HUL's aim was to purchase a commercial system, rather than to continue with the extensive local systems development characteristic of the current HOLLIS. The intention was to choose a system close to the beginning of its technological life from a vendor who can serve as a strong partner for the Harvard libraries as technology evolves in the years ahead.

Following an intensive evaluation period involving many knowledgeable members of the University's library community, Harvard's choice was narrowed to two possible systems: TAOS, developed by Data Research Associates, Inc., (DRA) in St. Louis, and ALEPH, a system developed by Ex Libris. Early in 1998, the Harvard University Library tentatively chose the TAOS product as its next-generation system. TAOS, still in development at that time, was believed to be a system of enormous promise—architecturally, technically, and functionally. However, instead of moving directly to a purchase contract, HUL signed a letter of intent with DRA, committing to purchase the system only when certain development milestones were met.

Of those milestones, the most significant was a successful implementation at UCLA planned for the beginning of the 1998-99 academic year. The UCLA implementation, which was delayed for a year, raised concerns about TAOS. As a result, the HOLLIS II Project Steering Committee chose to investigate other options, while continuing to monitor progress at UCLA.

A quick survey of the marketplace in the winter of 1999-2000 revealed little change among library system vendors or products. Ex Libris, however, had made significant progress in developing ALEPH for the North American market. As a result, Harvard began a new evaluation of the ALEPH system, concentrating on changes and developments since 1998.

Ex Libris—A Second Look

During the earlier evaluation, the Ex Libris company's lack of presence and experience in the US library market was a primary concern—though the company had been quite successful with a large number of major installations in Europe and Latin America. Since the Harvard Library's initial evaluation, Ex Libris has moved more effectively into the US and Canada: ALEPH 500 has been installed at such North American sites as the University of Notre Dame, the University of Iowa, McGill University in Canada, Brandeis University, and Boston College. Other large academic sites currently in development by Ex Libris include the State University of New York (SUNY) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In addition, the company has opened two US offices, one of which is in the Boston area.

Assessment of ALEPH during the spring and summer of 2000 involved library evaluation teams, public presentations, and many discussions with the vendor on issues ranging from scaling concerns to implementation strategies to Harvard's development requirements for the system. The key strengths of the system include well-developed functionality, sophisticated technical infrastructure (using Oracle databases), and an extensive level of flexibility that will allow Harvard to configure the system to meet local requirements.

In the fall of 2000, the University Library Council (ULC) accepted the recommendation of the HOLLIS Steering Committee that Harvard begin contract negotiations with Ex Libris. The contract includes extensive conversion and implementation services as well as some significant system developments that will be implemented before the system goes live in Harvard libraries during the summer of 2002.

Developments that will be added to the ALEPH system include:

  • improvements to the indexing infrastructure to allow for a more sophisticated arrangement and display of search results;
  • improvements to the input and display of MARC holdings data;
  • enhancements to meet the requirements of the Harvard University financial system, including support for the 33-digit chart of accounts and electronic feeds for financial data;
  • improvements to the staff/client interfaces for the circulation, acquisitions and cataloging modules of the system;
  • support for features related to the Harvard Depository; and
  • support for non-Roman bibliographic data, with East Asian scripts having a high priority.

Next Steps: HOLLIS II Becomes ALEPH Implementation Project

Throughout December 2000, the Office for Information Systems (OIS) held a series of kickoff meetings with Ex Libris to begin planning for system conversion and implementation. Open meetings for library staff were held to explain the project plan.

In early 2001, library implementation teams will be established by OIS to focus on project tasks including training, IT support for desktop clients, data conversion, and OPAC design. Teams will also focus on all major functional areas of the library system. More information on the scope and responsibility of each team will be forthcoming over the next several months.

A local ALEPH test system will be installed later this winter to begin the process of configuring the system to model Harvard organization and policies. The process of converting HOLLIS data into ALEPH format will be a complex process, requiring several iterations during the course of the next 18 months. Scale testing will insure that the system's performance and response times are acceptable.

According to Sidney Verba, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library, "All of us on the University Library Council extend heartfelt thanks to the many members of the Library community who worked on the HOLLIS II evaluation project. The ALEPH Implementation Project will affect all library staff as well as the patrons we serve. It is a difficult and complex project, which will provide Harvard library staff with many opportunities to improve library processing, as well as library services to patrons. The success of the project depends on the participation and contributions of all Harvard library staff."

For more information about the ALEPH Implementation Project, contact Tracey Robinson or Kathleen Anderson at 495-3724.

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Last modified on Thursday, April 18, 2002.