On July 12, the Bellevue University Library officially went “live” with Alma, a Library Services Platform from the vendor ExLibris. This was more than a simple software update – it was a major change to the library’s entire digital infrastructure, and affected all staff work applications, patron databases, the library catalog, electronic resources index, search engine, digital archives, usage analytics, and much more.
The launch of Alma completes the largest library system update at Bellevue University in over 20 years, and opens the door to more updates to come. This is a very big deal for all library staff and patrons, and this article will explain what this change means for the library, why this change was made, and what to expect in the future.
What is a Library Services Platform?
A Library Services Platform (LSP) is a “next-gen” update to the classic Integrated Library System (ILS) that the library world has used for staff and patron functionality since the 1980s. These ILS systems were instrumental in automating library infrastructure, improving access through searchable electronic catalogs, and streamlining the cataloging and collection maintenance process and patron database infrastructure. These platforms are made up of a server and database that connects to an application for staff workflows, and a patron-focused web interface used for searching the Library’s collections (eCatalog).
The Alma LSP is cloud-based, and the staff application is fully accessible via a standard web browser. No special software is needed on the staff workstations to access all core library functions, as everything is accomplished directly in the web browser. Another major change is that Alma LSP has more comprehensive functionality, with an included modules for Discovery Search (Primo) and Digital Archives (Alma-D). This included functionality simplifies library staff workflows by allowing all staff to be able to work in the same environment, without the need for separate applications and vendors.
Why did we make this change?
Prior to the launch of Alma, our digital infrastructure was managed by multiple independent vendors. These separate systems did not always work well together, and it was often difficult to manage the web of different applications, admin portals, user-interfaces, and overlapping functionality offered by each system. As previously mentioned, ExLibris’ Alma is a unified system, with a single cloud-based staff interface, its own discovery search, catalog, and digital archive capability. This simplifies both the staff and patron functionality, as there are fewer systems to navigate to find, access, and update library content.
Alma is also specifically designed with higher education in mind, whereas other library systems are more specialized for public libraries. Included functionality, including course reserves and enhanced electronic resource management help ensure that quality, peer-reviewed journal content is easily available in the unified Discovery Search (Primo).
Primo Discovery Search
As mentioned, Primo is the new unified Discovery Search service that comes bundled with Alma. This search engine allowed the Library to streamline their search options. Primo replaced both of our classic library catalog (eCatalog) and EBSCO Discovery Service, and allowed us to simplify our search options. Furthermore, all Digital Archive content is now accessible via Primo, so a separate platform is no longer required for the Library’s archives.
Primo Discovery Search has also been integrated with Bellevue University’s BRUIN Connect Single-Sign-On. This change allows students to easily login and manage their library accounts, title lists, checkouts, holds, and more with the same login they use for all other Bellevue University systems. All of this should create a more intuitive and unified user experience for all Library patrons and employees.
The transition to Alma has been in the works for over three years, and has been large project with a lot of moving parts. The launch of the system does not mean the end of the project, however.
The ExLibris Alma LSP is designed for change. As a software-as-a-service (SaaS) web application, Alma is continuously being updated with new functionality and added integrations. The system architecture, API tools, and developer community surrounding Alma ensures that the system will continuously be updated and functionality extended. The system launched on July 12th with core functionality, but over the next year Library staff will complete more integrations, including Google Scholar, third-party vendor integrations, and collection updates that will make Alma more robust and usable for all staff and patrons.
Originally posted in the Freeman/Lozier Library’s quarterly newsletter, More Than Books, V. 25 No. 4, Fall 2022.