University Libraries launch new catalog management system

Trevor Tyle, Life Editor

University Libraries launched a new catalog management system that went live on July 17, 2018.

The new system is called Alma and has replaced the previous Voyager system, which has been used by University Libraries since 1997. An email sent out to members of the campus community has promised that the update “combines the functionality of the Library OneSearch and the library catalog into a one-stop, online experience.”

“Voyager was a substantial system—it did a lot of good things for us,” said Dean of University Libraries Stephen Weiter. “It was the first graphical system, really, for academic libraries, in its time. But it was still written and coded in an era where most of what we did was based on managing print materials.”

By the early 2000s, however, academic libraries had begun converting journals and periodicals into electronic resources, something that the systems used at the time weren’t built to do. Additional tools, called discovery interfaces, had to be “bolted” onto the library management system to modernize its functions.

“Now with the new Alma system, we really do, for the first time, have a system that’s designed to deal with both electronic and print materials at the same time,” Weiter said.

The expense and amount of work involved initially made it difficult for Kresge to make the update. Weiter said they spent at least four years partnering with several other public university libraries who shared similar concerns, such as Ferris State University and Michigan Tech, to make this possible. After deciding Ex Libris, the company that provides the Alma interface, was the best option for all of the university libraries, they were able to begin the transition, which Weiter said took approximately six months.

“We hope that the software makes things a little more intuitive, that it eases workflows for our staff, that it makes us more efficient and frees us up to do other things,” he said. “But that’s not the driver behind this kind of migration, typically. The driving force is the service we provide to those coming in the doors, and that’s where we hope that this ends up being a better tool for everybody involved.”

The Alma switch not only affected Kresge, but also the Medical Library and the Educational Resources Lab (ERL). Weiter said the transition was “very collaborative” in that both libraries were heavily involved.

Kresge is more than willing to help us navigate, because they’ve been involved in higher-level and kind of the more technical aspects of it,” said Alicia Arbour, circulation manager at the ERL.I feel like we’re fortunate to have such a positive relationship with Kresge.”

Arbour was one of several University Libraries staff members to attend training for the new Alma interface in Lansing, which she said was “very helpful” in preparing herself and her student employees for the change.

“[Students] have had to be a little bit more patient with us as we are trying to figure things out and we encounter changes that we hadn’t necessarily thought of until it happened,” she said. ”But I think it’s going pretty smoothly.”

Among the more evident changes are the new system search page, which could potentially affect links on sites like Moodle and electronic syllabi. Students and faculty also must now use their NetID login information to access the new system.

“We still have to do some education, and it’s not quite as visibly different to the novice user,” said ERL Coordinator Barb Begin Campbell. “And I think all of us sort of resist something new and different.”

Instead of resisting these changes, though, Weiter said the inevitable “hiccups” that will be encountered following the upgrade should be embraced.

“It’s not a tragedy,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to deal with a solution and fix it.”

For staff members of University Libraries, though, the transition has been relatively smooth.

“I’m so impressed at how efficiently and quickly they’ve done this because we’re up and running, and that’s huge,” Begin Campbell said. “I’ve seen places go down for weeks at a time. We rolled over, within a day, we were back up and running. We were down for maybe hours at the most, and we’re functioning.”

For more information, campus community members are encouraged to review Kresge’s online help guides or contact them directly at [email protected].