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The New World of HOLLIS:
Celebrating Accomplishments, Preparing for the Work Ahead


At the September 4 HOLLIS Celebration—Chairs and cochairs of the Aleph implementation teams with Sidney Verba, Nancy M. Cline, Tracey Robinson (left), and Dale Flecker (right).

On Wednesday, September 4, the University Library Council (ULC), heads of libraries, and chairs and members of the 14 Aleph implementation teams gathered at the Inn at Harvard to mark the successful launch of the new HOLLIS system, to celebrate accomplishments to date, and to reflect on the work that lies ahead.

The gathering was hosted by Sidney Verba, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library, who brought greetings—and congratulations—from Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers [see "A Message from Harvard's President"]. Summers hailed the launch of the new HOLLIS as "a great day for the University," and he lauded the library community for the comprehensive nature of its collaborative work: "In an era when cooperation across parts of the University is essential to our success, the University Library is helping to show the way."

Verba, early in his tenure as director of the University Library, was instrumental in the 1985 implementation of the original HOLLIS. Verba compared the work of the 2002 Aleph implementation teams with that of the mythological ship captain "who rebuilds his boat plank by plank while it is sailing through sometimes very rough seas. We did that," Verba declared, "but it may have been more like rebuilding an airplane while in the air. The libraries continued while, in a fundamental way, we rebuilt them."

"People talk about the famous Harvard system of each tub on its own bottom," Verba continued, "with everybody going in a different direction because we are independent entities. This, in contrast, is an example of a University endeavor. And it had to be. Knowledge and learning know no faculty boundaries. In fact, they know no boundaries whatsoever. And the users of our great library system want the knowledge that the library has wherever it is located. Knowledge may be scattered across all the faculties, across all the buildings, but it is now in HOLLIS."

Verba noted that, in significant ways, the September 4 celebration might have taken the form of an open house acknowledging the role of virtually every staff member of every Harvard library in launching the new HOLLIS. "I should thank everybody—and I am thanking everybody! But what I am going to do is call out the names of the various implementation committees and ask their chairs and cochairs to come up here." One by one, Verba recognized each committee and the work that flowed out of each through work groups, contacts, and liaisons all over Harvard:

  • Cataloging and Authorities Team, Lynda Kresge and Tina Kussey, cochairs
  • Circulation Implementation Team, Barbara Mitchell and Martha Creedon, cochairs
  • Desktop Configuration and Support Group, Kevin Lau and Lesly Corrielus, cochairs
  • Financial Operations Group, Kathleen Anderson and Ellen Cohen, cochairs
  • Indexing, Helen Schmierer and Caren Smith, cochairs
  • OPAC Design and OPAC Review Teams, Kathleen Donovan and Caren Smith, cochairs
  • Aleph Reserves Team, Martha Creedon, chair
  • Serials Implementation Team, Janet Rutan and Patty Hatch, cochairs
  • Reporting Team, Roger Brisson, chair
  • CJK Work Group, Hilde deWeerdt and Deb Morley, successive chairs
  • Training Advisory Group, Julie Wetherill and Cathy Conroy, cochairs
  • Server Operations Team, Dianne Stronach, chair
  • Publicity Team, Connie Rinaldo, chair
  • Aleph Implementation Steering Committee, Susan Lee, chair

With the chairs and cochairs still assembled alongside the podium, Verba called on Tracey Robinson, head of the University Library's Office for Information Systems and the chief operating officer for the Aleph implementation, to address the gathering. Robinson, who was a key player in launching the original HOLLIS in 1985, compared the original implementation with the new one. "The scope of HOLLIS in 1985 included only acquisitions, serial processing, and fund accounting. A separate bibliographic master file still held most of the cataloging data that was presented to the public in a microfiche catalog called the Distributable Union Catalog. Some of you probably still have a copy in your bottom desk drawer.

"In the Aleph project we have implemented a system that serves most major library functions. We are not finished yet. We will continue to add functionality to Aleph this year and next year and the next year. There's still a lot of work to do. But we can create orders and pay for new acquisitions, we can check in serials using patterns for prediction, using for the first time that rich store of pattern data that we have been creating for the last fifteen years. We can create and maintain cataloging data, including the ability to import records from OCLC and RLIN directly and in real time. We can circulate materials, recall and track materials—coming from and going to HD. We can provide a highly functional, easy-to-use, online, public catalog that I think we can be very proud of. Of course we will continue to configure and implement existing Aleph functionality as well as new functions as they're added to Aleph. We've only just begun.

"On the network front," Robinson continued, "back in 1985, there wasn't one. By July of 1985 we had installed 130 terminals. They were used for HOLLIS only and they were connected to the computing center at 1730 Cambridge Street over 30 dedicated telephone circuits. Contrast that with the fact that during an intense two-month period this spring, IT support staff throughout all of the libraries installed 883 copies of the Aleph client software onto desktops located throughout the libraries.

"In 1985, the bibliographic file in HOLLIS contained 413,000 records. In July 2002, Aleph went live with a bibliographic file containing 8,929,762 records. In 1984 and '85, the HOLLIS Implementation Planning Committee oversaw two implementation teams. One for monographs, and one for serials. A total of fifteen people met on a monthly basis for about eighteen months to design and implement HOLLIS. The Aleph Steering Committee, during the past 18 months, had 14 function-specific teams with over 90 people represented. Of course the project was still completed in 18 months.

"In the spring of 1985 a training program was conducted. There were six trainers. They conducted a series of five classes for a combined total of about 80 staff throughout the libraries. It was done over a three-month period. In the spring and early summer of 2002, we enlisted an army of 80 trainers and facilitators. We presented 200 classes, a total of 5,500 student class hours, and at least 800 library staff members went through some kind of training. Of course we still just did it in three months.

"I want to pause for a second to acknowledge the training team coordinators who put in an incredible amount of work to make the training program a success:

  • on the Acquisitions Team, Jindra Miller from Cabot Library;
  • on the Cataloging Team, Joan Thomas from Countway;
  • in Circulation, Cliff Wunderlich from Divinity and Elizabeth McKeigue from Widener;
  • in Course Reserves, Julie Wetherill from OIS;
  • in the OPAC and staff search areas, Patrice Moskow from Gutman, Mary Beth Clack from Widener, and Jeff Kosokoff from Lamont for running all those wonderful demos back six months ago; and
  • in serials, Nancy Zaphiris from the Law School.

"By any measure," Robinson concluded, "the Aleph implementation has been a massive project. And we all know we are not yet finished. The effort continues to involve all library staff at this point in a very significant way. But this is a moment to pause and take note of what we together have accomplished. Each and every one of you has made a crucial contribution to this project and it could have not been done without you."

Nancy M. Cline, the Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College, made some closing remarks before proposing a toast: "For all of us who are standing in this lovely room today, there are also dozens of other people who have been behind us, or in front of us, or in our face as we've had to answer many of the questions and issues relating to this new important system. There are the people who covered the desks, who handled the workflow while some of you were off at those numerous committee meetings, the people who kept pushing with difficult questions. There are all the people who were there for the stress tests; we got through several of those ventures thanks to hundreds of people. There are those who went through the training sessions and took the information back into their departments and began to bring HOLLIS to life. There are the people who are still waiting for developments and the people who, the moment you get back to your desk tomorrow, will say 'and what about—' and 'did you hear anything about—?' So I hope you'll have some way of sharing the excitement of this afternoon with them. Because what it comes down to is that we all are going to be finding a lot of interesting challenges in this period ahead.

"To take nothing away from the importance of celebrating what has already been accomplished, I do think it's going to be a very long time until we realize the magnitude of the work that has been done in these past months.

"And of course, it's going to be a little rocky when all of the people who were not here this summer come back and say, 'What have you done to my HOLLIS?' Once they work with the system, I think they will be quite happy. But we will have a few edgy moments when dealing with people who haven't quite arrived at the point that we ourselves have.

"Now, if you will please join me in a toast. To all of you, especially those who were a part of leading the committees, to the followers, to the people who pushed so hard on so many fronts: thank you for what you have done for Harvard and may you have a moment of rest before tomorrow's questions arrive. My cheers to all of you."

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Last modified on Tuesday, September 24, 2002.