Once upon a time we wrote out longhand a list of our books in a ledger, and we chained the ledger to a lectern. And it was an OK system because we had so few books and so few people could read. There wasn’t exactly a crowd of people queued up to find a book.

Eventually we typed out all our data onto 3×5 index cards. And it was an OK system because we alphabetized and cross ref’d and made cryptic little pencil notations and filed the cards neatly in little drawers and let the public rifle through them.

Then in the 60s someone thought “Hey! Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to exchange cards with each other so that every library didn’t have to catalog every book from scratch, and when a member of the public (through carelessness or malice aforethought) damaged or lost one of our precious 3×5 cards we could snap our fingers and magically produce a new one instead of typing it all over again?” And Lo! Henriette Avram invented machine readable cataloging and the Library of Congress launched a world-scale game of Library: The Gathering. And it was an OK system because getting a package of cards in the mail was like Christmas every week!

Once we had machine readable cataloging all the librarians decided they also needed machines, and automated library systems spread like a plague of ones and zeroes across the globe. But the early automation systems were staff only. For Librarians By Librarians (also the name of my line of snazzy cardigans). The eureka moment arrived when someone (possibly in Ohio and doubtlessly bathed in a sickly VT100 glow) thought “Hey! Maybe the readers would like to look at all this data on a screen instead of card stock.” And the OPAC was born. And it was an OK system because the multitudes cried out in gratitude: “Well, it’s better than nothing!”

And it really was better than nothing. But it could have been so much better. When the web arrived a lot more options for presenting our list of books arrived with it, and the web-based OPAC was born. Or, rather, the web-based OPAC took the existing OPAC and made it point-and-clickable. It took another decade for librarians and systems vendors to attempt anything that really leveraged the new technology. And it was an OK system because at least you could browse for books from home in your pajamas (as long as you had an Internet connection that wasn’t WebTV.)

We’re making attempts now – to use new technologies, new ways of thinking about search (thanks, Google!), sussing out the ways that our users actually interact or want to interact with our data and taking into account the huge amount of stuff we own or have access to that’s not a book. We’ve had varying degrees of success. As we implement new “next-generation” and “web-scale” systems that are focused on user discovery of info resources, instead of focused on the business of running a library, some features and functions have been set aside. It remains to be seen which, if any, of those will be re-adopted as time goes by, but one feature that was missing from our OneSearch discovery system was the ability to view the original MARC record for the resource you’ve just found in the catalog. And it was missed. Primarily by library staff, not our users, but missed nonetheless, and missed enough to try to get back.

Investigative Process:
Q: Does the feature exist already in Primo? Maybe it’s just not turned on?
A: Nope. That was quick.

Q: What have other Primo customers done? Has anyone already done this and put their code somewhere and we can borrow it?
A: Yes – Jeff Peterson at University of Minnesota posted a pretty nice method to the Primo Discussion List, involving a small jsp file, and changes to the Primo normalization rules and mapping templates that will create an entry in the Links menu on the Primo Details tab.

Q: Did they do it in a way that will work in our environment?
A: Yes, absolutely this would work in our environment, though it would require a full renormalization to create the links, which is less than ideal.

Q: Is there a better way?
A: Better is debatable, but there was a quicker way for sure, involving jsp, XSL and Primo RTA. So that’s what we did. The result is a link in the Actions menu in the Details tab.

Intrigued? If you’ve read this far you must be anxious to get the inside story from Greg McClellan.

Convincing Primo to show us the MARC record

The ability to view the full MARC record is a feature that existed in our previous two catalogs – Louis (Aleph OPAC) and LouFind (VuFind). It’s a feature that is missed by staff, so we explored our options and settled on a modified version of a method devised by Jeff Peterson at University of Minnesota. Jeff’s method involved using jsp, Primo normalization rules, and Primo mapping templates to create an entry in the Links menu on the Primo Details tab. Since that method would require a full renorm/reindex of Primo, we looked for a shortcut, and found one that enabled us to build the links on-the-fly instead of through norm rules.

Only two file modifications are needed to do on-the-fly retrieval of the MARC record from Alma.

  1. footer.html
  2. marc.jsp

footer.html – added a new section

  • uses jquery (a javascript library)
  • checks that it’s on a full record page (details tab)
  • gets the Alma MMS ID from either the URL or embedded in the record in a hidden field (.EXLResultRecordId) (script looks for both because one or the other will exist depending on what path you took to arrive at the details tab)
  • uses javascript to find the Actions menu and append a link called Staff View
  • if the link is clicked, marc.jsp is invoked

marc.jsp – new file

  • lives in a custom directory in fe_web (so it won’t be overwritten by service packs)
  • created by Jeff Peterson at University of Minnesota
  • only modifications needed were to insert our local hostname and institution
  • uses the Alma MMS ID (retrieved by the footer.html jquery section described above) and Primo RTA (Real Time Availability) to retrieve the full marc.xml record from Alma
  • uses embedded XSL to transform the marc.xml record into the huma-readable form of MARC we know and love


  • Fast to implement
  • No Primo renorm/reindex needed


  • The MARC record retrieved is the up-to-date version from Alma and reflects any changes to the MARC record that have been made since the last time the record was published to Primo – there is a potential lag time of several hours between record edits in Alma and their appearance in Primo. Because the Staff View is most likely to be used by staff, we felt there wasn’t a large risk for confusion.

If you’d like more details and code samples, please feel free to contact us via the “Leave a Reply” section.


actions menu

In December 2012 Brandeis signed contracts with ExLibris to implement Alma and Primo.

baconAlma will replace our current legacy ILS Aleph and a few related systems, and Primo will replace both the Aleph OPAC and our next-gen catalog LouFind.

No matter how much research you’ve conducted, demos you’ve attended, RFP responses you’ve read, migrating to a new ILS is a leap of faith.  You never really know what you bought until you’ve got it in your hot little hands.

We started our Primo implementation in March 2013. We’re bringing it up against Aleph, so we can offer expanded discovery functionality to our users now, and when we Go Live with Alma the transition should be pretty invisible to our community.

Stay tuned here for updates on our Primo progress during the spring semester, and the Alma implementation following that.

Hopefully we’ve chosen… wisely.

I went looking for interesting January 30 events with which to draw parallels to our currents state of hopeful flux (new CIO, new Provost, new President) and found several gloomy events:

  • Charles I of England beheaded in 1649
  • Oliver Cromwell “ritually executed” in 1661
  • The Beatles last public performance in 1969
  • Bloody Sunday in 1972

I found little in the way of uplifting major events on January 30, but I suspect Wikipedia editors (like the rest of humanity) are more fixated on the dramatic and shocking than on the propitious.

What can we look forward to in the year ahead? We can’t know for sure, but I know what I am hopeful for:

  • strong, thoughtful, decisive leadership
  • a renewed and public commitment to library services in both the traditional and technological arenas
  • an acknowledgement of the resource shortages that have plagued us since the 2008 financial crisis and a plan to address them in the short and long term
  • efforts to build a supportive, inclusive and welcoming culture
  • free ice cream

It’s not easy to keep ourselves focused on the positive when there are plenty of negatives to focus on, but we have a whole new world ahead of us.  Which brings me to my post title.  This post was supposed to be about A Whole New World.  I am embarrassed to report that for 20 years I have been laboring under the misapprehension that the song “A Whole New World” was from An American Tail.  Turns out it’s from Aladdin.  But since I like the metaphor of LTS as Fievel, bravely embarking on a promising but scary new journey, I’m going to envision our road to the future as paved with cheese.  I like cheese.fievel

The Library Systems group spent the last year upgrading every damn system we have, save one. As we wrap up the last of them, we stop to take a breath and assess where we are and where we are going. We stare down the months and years ahead and feel a bit directionless. How do the things we want to do fit with the overall LTS plan, and most importantly how do they fit with the direction of higher-ed librarianship?

So we scanned the higher-ed library landscape, technology and industry trends, gleaned what explicit LTS objectives we could, and we wrote a draft five-year plan for the library systems group. We’ve been careful to make it business-like, logical and sober. As un-manifesto-like as possible so we won’t be perceived as parvenu upstarts. Careful not to the ruffle feathers of any who may believe that helping to design the library’s future is outside our purview. Which raises the question – Ain’t I a Librarian? Why do we feel we need to be so cautious? Can we systems librarians not put forth ideas, contribute legitimately to strategic planning, and help lead the charge into the technology-saturated future?

So here goes. We’re making our goals public, though the draft five-year-plan is not ready for prime time yet.  The full plan identifies concrete steps and resources for achieving the goals described below.  At the end of the five year plan period, it is the overall goal of the Library Systems group to be in a position to fulfill the following principles and obligations:

  • Be agile, responsive, innovative
  • Position ourselves to respond to a rapidly changing environment
  • Help Brandeis University Libraries shape the information landscape instead of just being a consumer of it
  • Act as a bridge between traditional library activities and the technology-focused future
  • Establish and maintain systems, technology and integration between systems to support the mission and daily activities of Brandeis University Libraries


Library Systems Five Year Plan Goals:

1. Provide always-on, highly available, device-agnostic access to scholarly information resources

LTS needs to provide always-on, seamless access to owned and licensed materials that “just works,” for our users to get full benefit from our extensive investment in information resources.

The discovery environment has evolved dramatically over the past five to ten years, with the rise of next-generation catalogs, Google, social media and Web 2.0. The technological sophistication of the Brandeis user community is increasing and their expectations are increasing accordingly. Users expect a Google- and Amazon-like discovery experience, and expect participatory engagement via Web 2.0 functionality. They expect that information resources will be available to them round-the-clock, and that they will be able to access them using a variety of devices. As of early 2011, more than 25% of Brandeis community members use smartphones and the use of tablet computers is increasing. Our community expects that the library will come to them.

2. Facilitate and support collection sharing, new models of collection development, and data-driven collection management

Budget reductions, user preferences for electronic access to materials, limited physical space, and the inability to financially sustain comprehensive collections have led many academic libraries to shift from a “just-in-case” to a “just-in-time” philosophy.*

Due to these factors, the Brandeis libraries can no longer build and maintain a collection that is all things to all users. Collaboration with other institutions to coordinate collection development, patron-driven acquisition of materials, and partnerships with other libraries to share resources quickly and smoothly through services like RapidILL, BLC Resource Sharing and traditional ILL are all critical areas of growth. LTS needs to strengthen and expand the systems that support current and future services in this area.

3. Support initiatives to make available to the global academic community those materials that make Brandeis unique

The LTS FY11 E-Scholarship plan proposed “preserv[ing] and disseminat[ing] Brandeis’s unique digital assets related to academic and cultural programs and documenting our intellectual history” as an important strategic priority.

Digitization of little-used and hidden collections, collection and preservation of the scholarly output of the university in an institutional repository, providing a platform for open access publishing – all these activities serve to reveal the richness of Brandeis’ unique assets to the global academic community.

4. Identify and foster the development of core technical competencies needed by library staff in today’s information environment

In the face of a rapidly evolving information environment and the accelerating pace of change it can be challenging to build and maintain critical technical skills. First we must identify what the core technical competencies of today’s library staff should be – what skillset should be expected of all library staff: general staff, specialists, technology managers, and systems staff alike. Then we must find ways to foster and focus on these skills, while continually re-evaluating current compentencies and antcipating what future competencies will be needed and how we should staff to meet those needs.

The members of the Library Systems group are in a unique position to help bridge the gap between traditional library activities and the technology-focused future. Library Systems staff cumulatively have 36 years as professional librarians, and a total of 65 years working in libraries. We have worked professionally in all areas of the library, from circulation to systems, and have a broad understanding of the mission and goals of libraries, and their place in the overall information landscape. We are also ideally situated to facilitate knowldege sharing between the two halves of LTS. Our daily activities and interactions with colleagues span all LTS units, from InterLibrary Loan to Information Security.

* ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee, “2010 top ten trends in academic libraries. A review of the current literature.” College & Research Libraries News 71:6 (June 2010): 286-92. http://crln.acrl.org/content/71/6/286.short (accessed April 5, 2011)

Anatomy of a Successful Viral Marketing Campaign

21LouFind We haven’t blogged since October 29, 2009, but there have been good reasons for our silence. Over the past 5 months the systems group, with help from our good friends in public services, worked fiendishly to get our local implementation of the VuFind Next Generation Catalog LouFind out the door, and most recently have been engaged in clandestine operations to launch a viral marketing campaign to generate positive LouFind buzz on campus.

Our campaign involved a 3-pronged approach to spreading the LouFind message.

  1. Members of the LouFind team infiltrated student social hotspots on campus and planted our message directly in the ears of the students.
    • Usdan Game Room – one of our team hustled students at pool, betting them that LouFind was way more rad than Louis
    • Cholmondeley’s – one team member performed several acoustic songs extolling the wonders of LouFind and another performed a spoken-word piece reviling Louis for its lameness.
    • The post office – we bribed a mailroom clerk to pepper his conversations with phrases like “Louis is lame” and “LouFind rocks.”
    • Shuttle to Cambridge – a team member surfed LouFind on her iPhone and exclaimed frequently and loudly about how wonderful the experience was.
    • Sherman Dining Hall – disguised as students, LTS staff took over the dining hall. We held a sit in for two and a half days until campus administration agreed to issue a statement that “Louis is bogus” and “LouFind is way cool.” Our demand for more chicken wings was not as successful.
  2. We placed hidden speakers in the InfoCommons that broadcast “LouFind is da bomb!” and “Louis is bogus” messages at frequencies only detectable by people under 30.
  3. We placed subliminal messages in Louis screens that instilled in users an overwhelming desire to switch to LouFind.

You may have witnessed the astonishing success of our campaign. Undergrads were fighting over InfoCommons seats so they could use LouFind. Students maxed out their text message plans sending themselves Call Numbers. Copies of our LouFind table tents were stolen from the library and sold on eBay for hundreds of dollars. Campus Health Center reported a dramatic upswing in number of carpal tunnel complaints from students who couldn’t stop clicking through facets. Jonathan Coulton even wrote a song about LouFind.

Yours in bibliographic espionage,
– Mata Hari

Gimme a V! Gimme a U! Gimme an F! Gimme an I! Gimme an N! Gimme a D!

What’s that spell?megaphonePROGRESS!

Some days it’s been a struggle, but VuFind is finally cleared for takeoff.

We’ll be speeding through the rest of the technical implementation in the next five weeks, preparing for a soft launch right before Thanksgiving (followed by the official beta launch with fanfare in January). There are not very many technical tasks left ; the primary work to be done is the marketing campaign for the January fanfare, which will be handled by the functional side of the VuFind team.

A wise man once said “Don’t like the look of this old town, what goes up must come down” (and by wise man I mean bellicose churl John Lydon).

bacon This week he must mean the temperatures. We’re hitting daytime highs in the 60s, and nighttime lows in the 40s. The Library Systems team is unpacking its fall wardrobe, trying to remember what goes with what (can we wear the candy corn-embroidered denim vest with the Princeton warm-up pants, or is that too much orange?), daydreaming about apple picking and cider donuts and Oktoberfest.

As for the look of the town, well, it will be dressed in reds and oranges and yellows soon. Pretty enough, but a bittersweet harbinger of the slow grey slump into winter.


Let’s catch you up on the last couple of weeks!

The ILLiad CoSign rollout on September 14 went off without a hitch. Reports from InfoPoint and ILL are that users are very pleased with the change. One less username and password to remember. Who doesn’t like that?

Planning has begun in earnest for the Aleph upgrade from version 18 to version 20. The upgrade will not introduce any major functionality changes for staff and users, but will represent a significant infrastructure shift – from physical to virtual servers, from 32-bit to 64-bit, and from Oracle 10 to Oracle 11. Aleph is currently on track to be the first Oracle 11 implementation on campus. Luckily we have confidence in our DBAs. The upgrade was slated to occur this fall, with a go-live the first week in January, but a NetSys resource crunch has moved the work to the spring semester. Exact go-live is still TBD, but we will keep you updated.

Planning and infrastructure buildout is also underway for the SFX (GetIt) migration from a physical Solaris server to a virtual Linux server. The testing will occur during the fall semester, with go-live TBD.

Miscellaneous other bits of work include: DSpace programming cleanup, masters thesis collection configurations and minor enhancements, upgrade to 1.5.2 ; InMagic to Archon data migration ; ERM system trials.


Regularly Scheduled Rant Regarding Next Generation Catalogs

Rant is probably the wrong word, but it is one of my favorite topics these days.

A very interesting article from Chronicle of Higher Education – “After Losing Users in Catalogs, Libraries Find Better Search Software” – covers the increasing popularity of next-generation catalogs. The user comments are in some ways the most interesting part of the article, because they parallel the debate in the rest of the library world over teaching users to search “correctly” in current catalogs vs delivering something that enables them to discover what they need without professional intervention.

From my perspective, it isn’t about dumbing down the catalog so that information-illiterate users can continue their lazy amazoogle style searching. It’s about convincing users whose online experiences have been steeped in the Amazon and Google environments not to go elsewhere for their information needs. If their perception is that our traditional discovery tools suck, then they suck. All the erudite arguments about why they should learn our way aren’t going to help a frantic sophomore choose our tools over Google at 3am on a Wednesday if s/he hasn’t yet had (or may never have) the benefit of formal search training.

If 30 years of “information literacy” training programs haven’t resulted in the majority of users being able to effectively find what they need, perhaps it is time to recognize that effort as futile and try something else. Even in higher ed, most of our catalog users do not strive to be scholarly researchers. Some of them just want to get through western civ.

— Tania

I hope everyone is celebrating National Day of Catalonia* (a.k.a. National Catalan Day), a holiday that commemorates the Catalans’ 1714 defeat in the Siege of Barcelona.

Apparently the defeat led to the abolishment of the Crown of Catalonia, but I’m not sure what that really means, because Catalonia had been part of Spain since Isabella married Ferdinand in 1469. Good thing I’m not a European history scholar, or I’d probably be expected to understand this.

In any case, September 11 became an official Catalan holiday in 1980.

Other important events in 1980 include:

  • Carter bails out Chrysler
  • ALEPH is created by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Bon Scott, John Bonham, John Lennon and Ian Curtis die
  • AC/DC releases Back in Black
  • Comstow Information Services (later acquired by InMagic) is founded
  • Mount St. Helens erupts, causing crappy weather all summer in Trumansburg NY
  • The Empire Strikes Back and PacMan are both released. In Empire, Princess Leia kisses Luke Skywalker. In PacMan nothing happens that will squick us all out in retrospect.

Tingui un bon cap de setmana!
– Tania

*(Out of stubborn allegiance to Patriots’ Day I am not calling today Patriot Day)

baconThe Library Systems and ILL teams gathered in Feldberg this week to prepare for International Bacon Day, which is almost upon us – Saturday September 5.

As part of our readiness exercises, we invited colleagues to stop by and test the new ILLiad CoSign login implementation.

ILLTesting-032The day started, as all important days should, with donuts. An astute team member spotted one of the new Toffee For Your Coffee contest-winning-donuts nestled quietly amongst the fall-leaf-sprinkled donuts and the Boston Cremes. A welcome augury that presaged successful testing (hey – would you rather we used entrails to prognosticate?). Despite some lingering sadness over the bacon-filled donut not winning the Dunkin Donuts design-a-donut contest, the testing group was able to polish off a box and a half of deep-fried sugary goodness.


James apparently found watching the testing to be a real nail-biter, but the testing actually went very well, and we are on target for a September 14 launch. The remaining tasks between now and launch are in the capable hands of the ILL group.

For information on how to prepare yourselves International Bacon Day, I recommend visiting

Yours in Smoked Salty Deliciousness,
– Tania

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