From the University Librarian's Corner

The library system implementation, which we began in the summer of 2012, has been buggy, and I'm aware that it has caused frustration. Some folks have wondered why we chose to go forward with the new system, so let me explain the rationale.

Holmes, the library catalog, represents the interface most library users see. However, the actual library implementation involved the back end system that most folks do not see. That back end, which supports library operations, is named ALMA. The BC Libraries are the first worldwide instance of the ALMA system, and while we usually opt for "near cutting edge," in this case we decided on the bleeding edge.

The primary motivation for such an approach surrounds the unique opportunity to work hand in glove with the developers at the parent company (Ex Libris) to ensure that the system does what BC wants. In the long term, our work with Ex Libris will pay dividends, because we will have a system tailored to BC library operations. We will not need to adapt a system built to support other library implementations. Moreover, the core functionality of our previous back end system, Aleph, was based upon 20-year-old technology, which was not well suited to the requirements of 21st century web-based applications and the rise of mobile computing.

As a brand new system built using 21st century technologies, ALMA provides a solid technical infrastructure and a host of new services that will enable us not only to better manage our resources, but to integrate seamlessly with other campus systems and to build research tools which better serve faculty, students and researchers.

Additionally, the Holmes system under ALMA provides the capability for customized searching and personalized discovery services. By moving in this direction, we hope to make the experience more Google-like, with filtering that increases integration and permits seamless customization as determined by the user. Within the year, we plan to begin offering personalized discovery services which filter and integrate digital and web-based library content as determined by the user's academic profile and personal preferences.

Finally, although Holmes has been available for several years, our data shows that most users tended to access our content via Quest, which limited results to BC-owned materials only. With Holmes, the results bring in much more rich content. People can still limit results to BC owned items, or they can choose to view the wide scope of resources.

I'd like to think that with the expanded capabilities of the new Holmes, more folks would discover and utilize the hundreds of other sources found on our web site. Frequently, Holmes will identify results from such specialized sources, and the "power-users" will then go to the more subject-focused databases to dig deeper and have more search options specific to the subject matter. Ideally, more library users will become more comfortable with all the relevant value-added resources within our digital offerings, and the Holmes system should make becoming a power-user easier and even commonplace.

For more on these types of searches, please consult with your subject librarian or ask (text, email, call or stop by) any of our services desks.

So while the ALMA/Holmes implementation continues, I hope this explanation helps in understanding why we have undertaken this effort and that you continue to help us in identifying ways we can improve the system. As always, thanks for your patience and feedback.

Tom Wall
University Librarian