Retreat from Advance

On Friday 8th July, the library management system used by most libraries at the University of Oxford will enter a 10-day downtime period, during which all the data will be migrated from the old system, Geac Advance, to the new LMS, Aleph.

For more information about the impact of the downtime, please refer to this post on the switchover of the library management system.

Here are some screenshots of Geac Advance, lest we forget.

The login screen.  Nothing appears next to ‘password’ as you type, no asterisks, nothing.  If you make a mistake when entering the username or password here, you have to begin again – you can’t delete or backspace:

Login screen
The main menu for Circulation.  Keyboard navigation – no clicking!

Circulation main menu

This is what the first page of a MARC record looks like:

MARC record in Geac

Some people may lament the loss of the feature which allowed you to change the font and background colours:

Changing font and background colours in Geac

Mmm… magenta text on cyan background.

I’m looking forward to the new system – being able to click, use keyboard shortcuts to copy and paste, and being able to move between circulation and cataloguing modules in the same session.  Nice!

Switchover of the library management system (LMS)

This information has been circulated internally within my organisation, but I’m posting it again here on the web in the hope that anyone searching for information about the switchover will find it helpful.

The new library management system (Aleph, replacing GEAC Advance) is scheduled to go live on Monday 18th July 2011.  OLIS is the local name for this software, and the term ‘OLIS’ will still be used from July onwards to refer to the system.

Associated with this changeover are two periods of reduced activity on the system, and this will affect all libraries in Oxford using OLIS, not just St Hugh’s College Library.

The first period affects orders and new items. These cannot be added to OLIS during June and July, in order to allow the data to be migrated from the old system to the new.

We cannot order any new items during this time, and suggestions for new books made in June or July will be considered in August.

The second period of downtime will begin at 17:00 on Friday 8th July and end at 09:00 on Monday 18th July. It will involve a complete shutdown of the system.  Library users are asked to avoid borrowing and returning books during this time if at all possible.  Any loans and returns will be recorded manually by library staff and the new system will be updated after the go-live date of 18th July.

Summary of the impact on library services during the downtime period (this affects all Oxford libraries which use OLIS):

  • OxLIP+ and OU eJournals will be available throughout the downtime period and so readers are encouraged to look for alternative electronic versions of texts where possible.
  • SOLO will be available throughout the scheduled downtime period for readers and staff to consult the library location details of an item but will not show availability status (due dates etc.)  SOLO will be unavailable for a short period at the end of the downtime period (details have yet to be confirmed).
  • OLIS Patron functions will not be available during the downtime.
  • Automatic Stack Requests (ASR) cannot be made during the downtime period and requests made after 17:00 on Thursday 7th July will not be fulfilled. Please request any material required for consultation in good time.
  • Self-issue is not available during the downtime.
  • Reservations will not be migrated to the new system. You may wish to keep your own record of any active reservations before Friday 8th July.

Reflections on ‘the other place’

Earlier this week, Oxford hosted a conference of college librarians from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.  The theme of the day was ‘co-operation, collaboration and competition’: we had speakers on this topic in the morning, followed by a choice of library/archive visits in the afternoon and time for networking.

The college libraries combine providing information for students and academics like a higher education library; within a physical environment which is part museum, part den; and an atmosphere which is generally more permissive and accommodating than the faculty libraries.  I think our college libraries are quite unique in this way, and it is a great help for us to get together to share ideas in a context that recognises our peculiar situations.

At this event, I spoke about my experiences of working at the Bodleian Libraries compared with working in a college library, and where the main areas of co-operation, collaboration and competition are:

The Bodleian Libraries group is a large organisation (some 750 employees, full-time-equivalent) and I enjoyed the big community aspect of working there.  By contrast, working in a college can be quite lonely, and I’m glad that I came to my current role with experience of working in Oxford libraries, so I have professional contacts close by.

On the negative side, because the Bodleian Libraries group is so large and has so many layers of management, the process for making decisions can be cumbersome and slow.  Also, there have recently been many staff changes at a high level in the organisation, which can bring problems such as a lack of continuity and stability if not handled very carefully.

In the college environment, I enjoy the budget freedom that I have from being the head of my department.  There is top-level support for personal and professional development, which I find very encouraging.  When a decision is made, for example at Library Committee, the decision will generally be backed up and not challenged further after it has been made, which is a great spur to getting things done.  Although colleges and their libraries vary considerably in many respects, we can benchmark against each other.  Bodleian Libraries do not really have any comparable organisations (not even Cambridge, as their libraries as less integrated than at Oxford), but it should not be assumed that this means they are automatically the best at everything.

The working environment in a college is much nicer, especially as college staff have a free lunch every day, and tea and coffee are provided in the mornings and afternoons.  We also have all-staff social occasions at least once a year.

However, colleges are very hierarchical places to work, and I find that social differences such as separate common rooms and lunch arrangements for staff of different status reinforce the divisions between us and can act as an obstacle to everyone working together effectively.  It can also take a long time to become accepted in an organisation that is by nature conservative and resistant to change.

Another interesting point is that as a college librarian, you have to be multi-skilled because you need to cover a great range of skills in a very small team.  I think it would be interesting to develop more skills-sharing between colleges, and if anyone wants me to come and show them how to navigate SFX/OUeJournals or MetaLib/OxLIP+ more effectively, I would be glad to!

I have now had three different jobs at the University of Oxford, and I have sometimes been surprised at how low the expectations can be.   Broadly speaking, the expectations seem to be that keeping a service running is sufficient; not improving or developing it.

Before I moved to Oxford, I expected that the libraries here would be leading the way in user education, resource discovery and the use of space in libraries, but I often worry that we are in fact falling behind other UK higher education libraries.

Finally, here are some examples of co-operation, collaboration and competition between the Bodleian Libraries and the colleges:


  • Graduate trainee scheme: trainees from colleges and Bodleian Libraries participate in the scheme together, and there is a mutual benefit to learning about each others’ roles and experiences
  • Most Bodleian staff development and training events are open to college library staff at no cost
  • During the current decant of closed-stack Bodleian items from Oxford to Swindon, the college libraries have helped readers by allowing them to access texts in college libraries when the Bodleian copy is in transit and inaccessible


  • In the summer of 2011, the OLIS library management system is being switched from GEAC Advance to Aleph.  The steering group for this project has Bodleian and college library representation
  • Circulation Forum and Cataloguers’ Forum involve staff from a range of libraries
  • There is a wide variety of skills in our combined staff pool e.g. cataloguing, conservation, management, social media – and we could make even more use of this


  • E-resources cancellation fees: the fees incurred when college libraries cancel subscriptions to print periodicals are not paid by the colleges but by Bodleian Libraries.  Colleges have made very small contributions to this cost in the past, and discussions are now under way to increase this amount in order that colleges provide a fairer proportion of the total cost
  • Non-Bodleian libraries which use OLIS pay an annual subscription which stayed the same for many years, and an agreement has now been reached to bring this charge up-to-date with current costs and include a proviso for future review
  • The Bodleian has very strict cataloguing standards for adding records to OLIS.  This is because much of their material is in closed stacks, so readers need detailed records in order to judge if the item is what they require, as they cannot browse the shelves; and as a legal deposit library, OLIS catalogue records are regularly exported to other databases so the standard needs to be high as other institutions will be copying these records.  However, this standard is rather over-the-top for a college library such as mine, where students can access the vast majority of our books on open shelves, and are usually looking for items from a reading list, so a simple author and title search will normally suffice.  I would be keen to develop a system whereby I could create simpler catalogue records for items unique to my library, and have a filter applied so that these records are excluded from the exporting pool.

Note: ‘the other place’ is a term used by people at Oxford or Cambridge to describe those at the other; and perhaps from now on, to be used in the same way by people at Bodleian Libraries or colleges!

Library Committee

Today, I am preparing for Library Committee which meets in 3rd Week of each term*.

Representatives from a variety of groups in the college sit on this committee, including the Junior, Middle and Senior Common Rooms (JCR, MCR and SCR = undergraduate, postgraduate and academic bodies respectively), the Principal, the Senior Tutor and the Librarian.

The procedures for Library Committee are quite formal: I have to prepare a set of papers which includes the agenda and a variety of supporting paperwork for the committee to consider in the week before the meeting.

This term, the agenda items include a plan for tackling the conservation and cataloguing of the Rare Books collection, matters relating to staffing, circulation statistics showing rates of borrowing and returning items during the last 3 terms and the impact of switching library management systems from GEAC Advance to Aleph in July 2011.

Agenda items are discussed in the meeting with input from JCR, MCR and SCR representatives.  If all goes well, my proposals will be passed and I can then begin work on implementing them.

*Note on terms at the University of Oxford:

There are 3 terms in each academic year: Michaelmas (October-December), Hilary (January-March) and Trinity (April-June).  Each term is 8 weeks long (Full Term) and these weeks are numbered 1-8.  Noughth Week and Ninth Week are also referred to although they are not part of Full Term.  The week before 0th Week is sometimes called Minus 0th Week or Minus 1st Week.  I’m not sure which is mathematically correct…