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Staff Training on Aleph Begins—
The New HOLLIS Catalog Approaches

With implementation of the Aleph system set for July 8, training of library staff began in April and will continue through the summer. Almost 100 members of the Harvard library community are serving as trainers and facilitators, and they will be teaching hundreds of classes that cover more than twenty different topics. Because the Aleph system comprises a number of modules that operate interdependently, library staff will be trained on multiple functions of the desktop client.

Aleph was chosen in November 2000 to replace the HOLLIS Integrated Library System used by Harvard since the mid 1980s. The goal was to replace aging HOLLIS software with a new-generation library system that could be integrated with the network-based systems that define the digital-information landscape. Such systems, based on client/server models and making maximal use of web technologies, allow staff and patrons to obtain the fullest possible benefits of powerful desktop computers. The system uses a "patron empowerment" approach to integrated library systems.

From the outset, Harvard'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.

On November 15, 2000—following two years of research and exploration—the Harvard University Library signed a contract with the Ex Libris company for the purchase and installation of its Aleph software for the next generation of HOLLIS.

Because Aleph is a Windows-based application, a basic familiarity with the Windows operating system is required before attending Aleph classes. (A checklist on Windows competencies can be found at

The Aleph training program is designed to fit the needs of all library staff, from cataloger to financial administrator. With multiple class offerings, trainings are to be taken in a specific order. The Aleph team has created a guide that details the prescribed tracks for each library job type (reference, collection development, financial administration, acquisitions, and cataloging). All library staff are required to attend the "Introduction to Aleph Desktop Client/Search Module" class before embarking on their prescribed tracks. This initial class

  • provides a thorough overview of the system;
  • acquaints the user with the look and feel of the desktop client;
  • introduces new terminology; and
  • grants the trainee an opportunity to develop a comfort level with the navigational capabilities of Aleph.

Modular "Learner's Guides" ( are provided for library staff at all sessions. These include instructions—both written and visual—for functions covered in the training—from logging on to displaying records in the navigation map—and will be useful as reference guides for staff when they return to their libraries and begin to use the new system.

When faculty and students return to campus next fall, the transition to the new Aleph software will be complete. The new catalog—still called HOLLIS—will be entirely web-based and considerably more intuitive. Aleph software presents users with a version of HOLLIS that has the look, feel, and transparency to which we've become accustomed on the web. Previous searches are easier to modify, combine, and review. Search capabilities in general are greatly enhanced. At the outset, searches can be limited to a specific library or to one of four generic collection types (all holdings, journals, reserves, or E-resources) as well as to specific languages, formats, or years. The new system has its own command language for users composing complex searches. An innovative use of Harvard's PIN system will give Harvard PIN-holders comprehensive access to their own library transaction records.

A summary of important new features that Aleph brings to HOLLIS for faculty, students, staff, and other researchers appears on page 1 of this issue of Library Notes.

According to Tracey Robinson, head of the Harvard University Library's Office for Information Systems, the migration to Aleph will have many benefits. "Aleph will fit much better into the current technical environment than HOLLIS ever could," Robinson recently noted. "It will provide features that offer long-awaited improvements such as a new web-based online catalog. Among other things, these will allow patrons to set up profiles and access personal library account information, online MARC documentation for staff, facilities for importing bibliographic records in real-time, predictive serial check-in, the ability to email orders and claims, just to name a few. Finally, there will be future gains because the new technical environment will allow for a more rapid rate of development than what we were used to in the HOLLIS mainframe environment."

As of this writing, the plan is to stop processing in the current version of HOLLIS on Wednesday, June 5. Circulation will continue until Friday, July 5—at which point the current HOLLIS will be shut down for good. The new Aleph software will be running HOLLIS on Monday, July 8. For more information on Aleph training, including a list of training offerings and recommended tracks by job type, see

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Last modified on Thursday, April 18, 2002.