VCU Libraries Moves to the Cloud
Very few Virginia Commonwealth University faculty —and even fewer students — have noticed a change when using VCU Libraries online. Yet in October, VCU Libraries went live with a cutting-edge cloud-resident platform, positioning itself as a technological leader among academic libraries.
VCU is an early adopter of Alma, the unified resource-management system from Ex Libris Inc. VCU is the third library in North America to implement Alma.
For a decade, the library 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 — in short, the new system moves the VCU Libraries' entire platform to the cloud.
"The great majority of our collected, acquired library collections now reside in the cloud," said John Ulmschneider, university librarian. "We spent most of our money buying journals that we don't have on site. … We don't have a catalog anymore. We are at the point now where the catalog is just wrapped into everything else and no on even notices that there isn't a separate catalog anymore."
Service is seamless to the library community and available around the clock. Benefits to the university include less expense, less server maintenance, better access and enhanced reliability.
"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 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."
Alma is being used with Primo, a single-search discovery tool that effectively retires the old library catalog in favor of a much broader and deeper definition of academic research.
Ulmschneider sees outsourcing to the cloud as a powerful idea that holds significant potential for academic librarians, who, he said, are obligated to explore the most efficient technologies available.
"We are obligated to get the most use out of every dollar that we're getting and to deploy every one of our assets in the most optimum way to meet our mission," he said.
On Jan. 9, VCU Libraries hosted a statewide panel discussion on "Moving Up to the Cloud" for library leaders. Industry leaders, including Marshall Breeding, editor of Library Technology Guides; Mark Ryland, chief solutions architect for Amazon Web Service's Worldwide Public Sector team; and Mark Triest, president of Ex Libris North America, discussed how emerging cloud-based technologies are transforming research libraries.
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