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VCU Libraries live with new-generation technological platform

October 24, 2012

VCU Libraries is now live with a unified resource management system and stands at the forefront of libraries worldwide in adopting the next generation of library technologies. 

In a small group of early-adopter libraries, VCU Libraries has been working with Ex Libris to replace the library management system VCU has used for a decade. Ex Libris began rolling out the new Alma system earlier this year. VCU was the third library in North American and the largest major research institution to date to launch Alma. It follows Boston College and Fort Hays State University. 

Alma is a single, consolidated library system that manages print, electronic and digital collections. It replaces several systems that separately managed different aspects of library operations. The use of business analytics and real-time resource-analysis tools within Alma will allow the library to become much more efficient and provide an opportunity for cost containment.  The community zone and the collaboration network leverage the power of libraries to work together to reduce costs and deliver enhanced services.

Alma, used with a discovery layer such as Primo, represents the next generation in information management. Primo is a single search discovery tool that effectively is retiring the old library catalog in favor of a much broader and deeper definition of academic research.

Alma is cloud-based software often referred to as "software as a service" (SaaS). For years, the library has managed its integrated library systems locally on computer servers on campus. The new model moves management of the library system off campus, where it runs on robust servers managed by a third-party vendor. Service is seamless to the library community and available around the clock. The benefits for the university: less expense, less server maintenance, better access, enhanced reliability. 

Changing scholarship, shifts in the publishing industry and new technologies are driving these improvements. "It is a system that positions VCU Libraries for the future of managing materials in all media on an increasingly large scale," said John Duke, senior associate university librarian, who has led the technical team. "A huge benefit of being an early adopter is that VCU Libraries has had considerable voice in refining the software to answer the unique needs of a research library with a large academic health-sciences campus," noted Duke.

Alma has been created using modern, rapid application-development tools. This makes for very quick software prototyping and production, with managed feedback from users to guide development as it is constantly tested. Alma was designed with partner libraries to help manage the variety of materials a modern library holds, taking advantage of technology and learning from other libraries to reduce costs and speed processing. Over time, it is expected that many internal workflows will change. Library leadership envisions new efficiencies and savings that can be invested in enhanced services and improved collections.   

A team of information management experts, led by University Librarian John E. Ulmschneider, have been working through the myriad of details, tests, feedback and iterations since March, 2012. The new system went live October 24.

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