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HOLLIS Cut-over Virtually Complete

On Monday, July 8, 2002, at precisely 7:33 am, Tracey Robinson, head of the University Library's Office for Information Systems, sent the following message to recipients of HUL-INFO: "This is just to confirm that both the staff mode of Aleph and the new HOLLIS Catalog are up and running. Staff may begin to use the system now. Congratulations and good luck to us all!" With that message, an intense 18-month implementation period—which had followed several years of research—came to fruition, though not to an end. In the 18 months since the Aleph "product" was selected, Harvard's new integrated library system has been configured and customized by a subset of approximately 150 Harvard librarians working closely with OIS and with employees of the Aleph developer, Ex Libris USA. Now, with the July 8 cut-over an accomplished fact, Aleph will continue to be fine-tuned and customized by the full complement of Harvard's librarians.

"The way we configured Aleph," Robinson notes, "was based on a relatively small, representative subset of staff working to define how this complex system should work for all Harvard libraries.We generalized Aleph for Harvard. But with more than 1,000 individual staff members working in Harvard libraries, we now begin the process of more specifically configuring the system to meet the needs of the libraries. There certainly will be areas in which some features don't work the way a given library requires. And so, we'll adjust, revise, and fine-tune Aleph. Continuously."

Converting the original HOLLIS database was clearly one of the most central activities of the project. "The database," Robinson states, "is key. We could not afford to lose any data. To give a sense of the magnitude here, we converted 10,830,352 bibliographic and authority records; 8,327,506 items; 172,750 active orders; and almost 200,000 active loans. Some minor problems have been identified and fixed, and overall the conversion was a resounding success."

The cut-over itself happened very much as planned, and the transition to the new Online Public Access Catalog (or OPAC) has been received well by library patrons. The catalog is entirely web-based, has a new format and design, offers users a variety of new and more functional features, and gives users more control over their library transactions. Access to the HOLLIS catalog is through the Harvard Libraries site (at—the Telnet connection to the old HOLLIS is no longer available, and Robinson acknowledges a "handful" of requests for its restoration. "Telnet," she says, "is a very fast protocol, and a web-based system can't really compete with that. In terms of speed, the new HOLLIS is not perceptibly different than the online version of the old HOLLIS. And the ultimate benefits to patrons—in terms of functionality and services—will outweigh any perceived losses."

Of critical interest to library patrons, are the refined and expanded search features that the new HOLLIS offers:

  • Searches can be limited to an individual library or a user-selected group of libraries.
  • Searches can also be limited to journals, reserves, or E-resources.
  • The new HOLLIS offers onscreen lists of languages, formats, and library names with which to refine a search. There is no need to look elsewhere for limit codes.
  • Searches using part of a word to find all forms of the word are now more flexible.
  • Users can see the status and location of Harvard reserve books without searching a separate database.
  • Users can return to previous searches and modify, combine, or review them.

In addition, faculty, students, and staff who have registered for a Harvard PIN (see A Note on PINs), have two additional benefits: access to electronic library resources from remote locations and access to personal library "account" information, such as records of books requested or checked out, fines owed, and online renewals.

But HOLLIS is much more than its OPAC functions, and Robinson sees the new OPAC as a reason to acquaint patrons with the full impact of an integrated library system. HOLLIS, for example, is the second largest financial system at Harvard University. "HOLLIS is used to track encumbrances and expenditures for all library materials. HOLLIS tracks more than 2,000 funds, and it processes approximately 200,000 purchase orders, 80,000 standing-order subscriptions, and 40,000 invoices per year. The system 'feeds' electronic invoice information to the central financial system where the payments actually happen. We are replicating all financial processing in Aleph. This was one area in which ExLibris did substantial development to support Harvard's requirements."

Full support for cataloging is one outstanding implementation issue. According to Robinson, "It is currently possible for catalogers to input original cataloging and to import records from resource files and OCLC. Importing from RLIN is expected to be available within the next week or so. What is not yet in place is the process that allows catalogers to update provisional records using copies of catalog records from the utilities. This is a huge hole in cataloging workflow, but before we can fill this gap we need to carefully and thoroughly test some of the major developments that are part of our contract with ExLibris. Additionally, we have not yet started loading the retrospective CJK bibliographic file—some 500,000 records that will add vernacular data to our catalog. We expect to bring missing cataloging functions online gradually over the next four to six weeks."

Harvard Aleph Users Group (HAUG)
In general, the problems with the Aleph cut-over have been predictable and few. And the best thing, Robinson notes after months of preparation, is that "suddenly the librarians are let loose in this new world. We conducted an Aleph training program in which 80 library staff trainers and facilitators presented 200 classes and a total of 5,500 student/class hours. But training is only the first step. Now the real work begins."

To facilitate campus-wide discussion about the new system, the Harvard Aleph Users Group (HAUG) electronic list has been created. The Harvard Aleph Users Group is a place to discuss Aleph operations at Harvard, including topics in any functional area (acquisitions, cataloging, etc.) and other topics (logins, printing, character sets, etc.). Library staff are encouraged to post comments, share discoveries, inquire how other units are using the system, and more. OIS will continue to post major Aleph announcements to HUL-INFO (as well as HAUG).

To subscribe to HAUG, send an email message to "" with the body of the message containing just the phrase "subscribe haug". There is also a subscription form on the Harvard University Library web site at For more information, call Julie Wetherill or Benson Smith in OIS, 5-3724.

In conclusion
"We need to take the long view for just a moment," commented Sidney Verba, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library.

"Harvard's first library catalog was published in 1723. The holdings were small enough and static enough to justify a catalog in shelf—list format. The first card catalog appeared at Harvard in 1840—for staff use only. Not until the Civil War did we offer a card catalog for library users: it was proposed in 1860 and activated some time in 1862. And between 1862 and 1985, we relied on card catalogs, published a union catalog, and—late in the game—we developed on microfiche the 'distributable union catalog.'

"HOLLIS—the first HOLLIS, that is—came online at Harvard in 1985. It represented an extraordinary technological advance in the pre-web world of the 80s. Seventeen years later, we've launched a renewed, web-based HOLLIS. It's as if we leaped 17 high-tech years forward on Monday, July 8. The launch followed several years of research, a solid 18 months of planning and preparation, and an extraordinary level of collaboration and teamwork across this University.

"Together, the libraries that we all represent form the greatest academic library on earth. And the effort and expertise expended on the new HOLLIS represent that greatness in many ways. First, let me say that the launch went off as close to seamlessly as one might hope. In fact, the new HOLLIS was online a few hours early. I know: I was checking! There are some adjustments being made—predictable adjustments—but on the whole, the transition happened in a well-planned, well-executed, non-dramatic, and completely admirable way. Special thanks need to go to Tracey Robinson and to HUL's Office for Information Systems. But the congratulations cannot stop there. Harvard's library community determined the nature of the new HOLLIS, and scores of librarians from across Harvard gave time and effort to its development. The benefits that it brings to Harvard's researchers reflect depth of thought, vision, and consummate professionalism from all of you—the community of librarians who guided and formed it."

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Last modified on Tuesday, July 23, 2002.