Home 9 Against the Grain 9 v29 #4 Let’s Get Technical — Migrating to Alma Acquisitions: One Library’s Experience

v29 #4 Let’s Get Technical — Migrating to Alma Acquisitions: One Library’s Experience

by | Sep 26, 2017 | 0 comments

Column Editors:  Stacey Marien  (Acquisitions Librarian, American University Library) 

and Alayne Mundt  (Resource Description Librarian, American University Library) 

Column Editor Note:  In this issue’s column, we feature the experience of one library’s migration to a new ILS.  Rob Tench, Acquisitions and Preservation Services Librarian at Old Dominion University, describes how his library migrated to Alma. — SM & AM



In 2016, Old Dominion University Libraries migrated from Innovative Interfaces Inc.’s Sierra to Alma from ExLibris.  A seamless transition to the new system by Acquisitions staff was considered essential for a successful Library-wide migration.  Among the many challenges, staff were learning new terminology, migrating data, importing records, working with vendors, establishing new procedures, and creating efficient workflows.  As could be expected, some things went well while others remain a work in progress.


Old Dominion University is a public university of approximately 25,000 students located in Norfolk, Virginia.  It offers 70 bachelor degrees, 54 master’s programs and 42 doctoral degrees.  More than 100 programs are available online.  University Libraries supports these programs with a collection of 1.2 million monographs and subscriptions to 14,000 journals and 300 electronic databases.  For years, University Libraries used several versions of integrated library systems from III but selected Alma to replace Sierra in late 2015 after a seven-month evaluation of vendors and products.  An Alma Implementation Team was created to coordinate and to lead the migration.  The eight-member Team represented all library departments including administration, bibliographic services, circulation, reference, and systems.  The Library’s Acquisitions Coordinator was a member of the team.  The team’s charge was daunting: complete implementation in six months.

Pre-Implementation Problems

The Alma Team quickly created a workable timeline and agreed on member assignments.  The Acquisitions Coordinator was tasked with completing acquisitions portions on an Alma field mapping and migration form, and after an initial Alma load of test records, testing order and vendor records in the Alma sandbox as well as reviewing fund codes and ledgers.  What the Acquisitions Coordinator soon discovered after test load completion was that order records in Alma were much different and more complex than Sierra order records.  For one, Alma records were vendor driven and required different and more specific data than Sierra records.  Moreover, the fields and terminology used for Sierra order records did not match the fields and terminology of Alma order records.  In general, gathering of data information in Sierra to evaluate needs in Alma was problematic because of the short window of time to complete implementation.  To expedite and to help with the process, all technical work in Sierra was stopped so that the Alma Team could collect and migrate data to Alma.  However, not having a system for an extended period while Sierra was shut down and Alma was not activated became an impediment to Acquisitions workflow because so much of its work had to be done manually.

Post-Implementation Problems

Not surprisingly, most of the problems Acquisitions staff members dealt with after implementation were related to issues they faced in pre-implementation.  The most pressing concern was to create and to close a FY2016 Alma acquisitions system and then roll over the data into a new FY2017 Alma system by the start of FY2017 in July 2016.  Fiscal closing and rollover involved three steps.  Step one was to close out FY2016 Sierra data in early June.  Step two was to manually add FY2016 Sierra acquisitions data into new Alma accounts after Sierra’s closing.  Step three was to close out the Alma FY2016 account and roll its data into a new Alma FY2017 account following Alma fiscal closing/rollover procedures.  After a significant amount of technical work, Acquisitions staff accomplished the rollover and closing process accurately and timely during the first week of FY2017.  A second matter was creating load tables and getting them to work properly so that order records could migrate over correctly and new records could be created efficiently.  A third issue was correcting coding problems in records that appeared after migration.  A fourth problem was manually adding allocations to all serial records because Alma required allocations for serial records as opposed to Sierra order records that did not.  Lastly, staff had to figure out how to correctly run Acquisitions reports that Library Administration needed in the format and style administrators and managers were used to receiving in Sierra.

There were a variety of other tasks and challenges post implementation.  One was assigning appropriate staff roles and creating accurate profiles in Alma.  Roles to consider were Acquisitions Administrator, Fund Manager, Invoice Manager, Receiving Operator, Purchasing Manager, and Vendor Manager.  With a relatively small Acquisitions staff, many workers, especially the Acquisitions Coordinator, had to take on several roles.  Another was Acquisitions expeditiously developing internal procedures in such a way so staff members could understand basic Acquisitions tasks soon after migration rather than rely on Alma documentation that was often difficult to understand for new migrators.  For example, staff developed a checklist for processing electronic invoices in Alma and wrote detailed procedures for receiving physical items when paying in Alma.  Acquisitions also had to educate other staff on how to read acquisitions records such as transactions on fund codes and notes on order records.  

During all phases of implementation, an ongoing concern was staff training.  Representatives from ExLibris conducted on-campus training for two days several months before implementation.  For the most part, staff members were unfamiliar with Alma at the time and found training to be difficult to follow and not particularly helpful.  After the ExLibris training, Acquisitions unit members self-trained in the Alma sandbox and watched several training modules in Alma Essentials, the central training site of Alma, while trying to keep up with their regular assignments.  They also networked with other Alma libraries in the Commonwealth of Virginia who were either already using Alma or in the process of migrating.

Solutions or Lessons Learned

One difference between Sierra order records and those in Alma is that Alma order records have a lot more tabs.  After much slow-going, staff members are now accustomed to those extra tabs and are completing the order creation process much more quickly.  Moreover, order records with coding errors are being suppressed and corrected as they are found.  Furthermore, staff members are now aware that eBooks and print books with the same titles cannot be combined on one record and are downloading separate records as needed.  

Creating load tables is working well.  Our primary book vendor is YBP.  It took months for YBP to set up parameters that met our load table needs — but record importing is now seamless.  For the most part, profiles are set up correctly except for firm order eBooks.  We are still working on a resolution.

Getting staff adequate training remains a challenge.  To this point, members of the Alma Implementation Team have conducted formal training twice since implementation and will be scheduling more training in the months ahead.  Most training is informal among staff members as they attempt to develop work-arounds and new workflows.  Staff continues to view Alma webinars via Alma Essentials.  They also access ExLibris’ Idea Exchange to learn what other Alma users are doing.  The Associate University Librarian of Resources has conducted group and individual training on Analytics.  In addition, several members of the Acquisitions unit have joined the Alma listserv.

Analytics is running smoothly as the person responsible for creating financial reports has developed a workable template and easily downloads data into Excel to satisfy the demands of supervisors and administrators.


Changing integrated library systems is never easy.  Despite a few lingering issues that are being addressed, ODU’s Alma migration for Acquisitions has worked primarily because of the dedication, determination, and diligence of a very talented staff.  In comparison to using Sierra, Acquisitions staff members now take a little longer to complete some acquisitions tasks in Alma such as paying invoices.  But staff members are talking Alma, processing invoices promptly, running extensive financial reports, and coding order records correctly.  They not only interact among themselves to troubleshoot things but also regularly read Alma documentation, consult with Alma colleagues at other libraries, monitor discussion on the Alma listserv, participate in Alma webinars, and view training webinars in Alma essentials.  All in all, ODU’s Alma Acquisitions migration has been a positive experience.  



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