Notes: Implementing a new library database

The time has come for the University of Cambridge Libraries to update their core systems – those that deal with circulation, acquisitions, cataloguing, e-resources and discovery. After numerous discussions and meetings the selection committee have plumped for Ex Libris’ Alma, a next-gen library resource management system. It should combine neatly with Ex-Libris’ already-implemented Primo Discovery & Delivery system.

Today I learnt about the complex and intensive period of data extraction, system configuration, two-phase testing and training that will take place over the next few months.

The Cambridge team will be collaborating with an Ex Libris team that are based across the United States and Europe with a “Go Live” date pencilled in of 16 August 2017.

They are attempting to create 1 Alma database from 9 separate Voyager databases and a 360 platform (that I believe supported e-resources). That’s quite a feat when you think about it so there’s plenty that could go pear-shaped along the way. Tuan Pham offered us reassurance in his introductory remarks but there still sounded like some skepticism remained among the audience.

In January there will be a Test Load where data will be extracted and analysed. Around February there will be a second Test Load which will lead to a full review process. Between March and June, the Ex Libris team will be undertaking a period of system configuration. The Cambridge team will not be able to configure the system until after the Go Live date.

In Mid-July, activity in Voyager will be frozen for all but Circulation. This will enable extraction of data to Alma. On 10th August, Circulation will be frozen along with patron functionality in iDiscover. On the 16th August, the Alma system will Go Live and will include version 2.0 of iDiscover.

To give us an idea of the numbers involved, Paul Taylor-Crush offered us some staggering statistics which he’d pulled from the recent de-duplication process that has been happening around Christmas 2016.

  • 8 Voyager Databases = 8,000,000+ Records
  • Of these, 8 million records, 2 million were found to have matching records and there were 600,000+ sets of duplicates!

This link will give you a clearer idea of the figures involved:

Moving on to the features of Alma…

We learnt that there will be third-party system integration with systems like those wielded by the Card Office and the Finance Division (CUFS), Raven and Shibboleth. Self-printing and self-issue systems will also have to be integrated. The final system requires SIP-2 compliance to work with Alma so that is something to bear in mind when purchasing a self-issue system.

The multiple data points for patrons (spread across 15 libraries) that we currently have will become one single data entry point. The same will apply with vendors (presumably those vendors currently used in CUFS).

The Reader Service team looking at the potential problem areas posed by Alma certainly seemed to have a job on their hands.

Examples of what features we can expect to see when Alma goes live are:

  • Patron notes fields will be seen across the whole system so data entry personnel must bear this in mind and not enter sensitive data.
  • The problem areas of fines, grace periods, numbers of renewals allowed and courtesy notices must all be considered in a singular system such as this. Whatever is decided will affect all libraries/Alma users. As an example, RS team head Libby offered the potential for £1000 fine accrual being the point where patrons become blocked from all libraries. RS will duly be exploring the potential for local blocks to be built in.
  • Historic borrowing data (except the count) will not be carried across in Alma. Is that important?

Moving on, we were told that all staff will undergo a series of training sessions in June and July. During training, we will be introduced to the Alma-specific language that is used. Examples:

  • Cataloguing is referred to (unless I’m mistaken) as Research Management in Alma.
  • Circulation is referred to as Fulfillment.

Finally we were told to bear in mind that 10-16 August will be a period where only manual circulation will be available. Calendars will have to be set in advance so that nothing is due during this period of “Cutover”.

We can certainly expect to see a year of change like never before. Time to brace ourselves for impact!




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