March 2020 | Volume XXXVIII. Issue 1 »

Alma and Primo VE Migration: Changes Coming for CARLI

February 24, 2020
Kristine Hammerstrand, CARLI and Sarah McHone-Chase, Northern Illinois University Libraries

The 91 academic and research I-Share member libraries in the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI) have been undertaking a major migration, moving from Voyager to Alma. While both Voyager and Alma are Ex Libris products, they are quite different. Voyager is an integrated library system (ILS) with software clients installed on individual computers and databases on CARLI-operated servers. Clients include those for circulation, acquisitions, cataloging, and others. Alma is a cloud-based library service platform that incorporates a variety of library services: acquisitions, resource sharing, fulfillment, resource management, and many others. While Voyager was designed for a print-based library collection, Alma was designed to manage electronic and physical collections. Included with Alma is Ex Libris’ discovery service Primo VE, which allows patron discovery of the library’s physical collection, electronic resources, and I-Share consortial holdings and resource sharing.

This migration is a huge change for these academic libraries, and it has been, and continues to be, a great deal of work for the consortium and for the individual I-Share libraries. Because the migration will bring such dramatic changes, it may be helpful to review the timeline of steps in the migration process, to understand how we got here, as well as some of the expected developments at the end of the migration process.


Although CARLI had been discussing and exploring potential Voyager replacements for several years, Alma was not announced as the new system until October 2018. Since that time, however, much has happened. The migration includes three major phases: Onboarding (January-February 2019), Vanguard (March–June 2019), and the Full Test and Implementation Phase (July 2019–June 2020). Each of these phases has had, and will have, its own vital importance as academic libraries ready themselves for the migration.

The Onboarding Phase (Phase 1) really began the process of acquainting CARLI libraries with Alma and with the migration process. Project leaders from each I-Share institution were identified. In addition, libraries with Voyager acquisitions data were identified as well as libraries with Voyager course management data, as this data would need to be specially considered. CARLI also determined which link resolvers or electronic management systems the different libraries were using. Finally, the Vanguard institutions were chosen: Newberry, North Central College (whose Oesterle Library is pictured, above left), Southern Illinois University Carbondale, University of Illinois at Chicago, and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Of all the libraries that volunteered, these libraries were chosen based on their different sizes and operations models.

The Vanguard Phase (Phase 2) marked the beginning of increased, more intense activity to ready for the migration, not just among the Vanguard institutions, but consortium-wide. The Vanguard libraries worked with CARLI and with Ex Libris to do a rapid data migration in order to try out the migration plans and create a test environment of configuration settings. CARLI also set up an Alma Network Zone for data to be used throughout the consortium (like a union catalog) and set up the resource sharing function. I-Share libraries began examining and cleaning up their data. The test environments of the Vanguard libraries and the Network Zone were replaced in October when the full test environments were delivered to all 91 CARLI libraries. This phase was most useful in helping all CARLI libraries to begin to more fully understand the scope of the migration as well as assist CARLI and Ex Libris as they planned for the migration of all I-Share libraries.


We are now in Phase 3, the Implementation Phase. This phase officially began on July 11, 2019 with a kick-off webinar. It will end on June 24, 2020 at which point all I-Share libraries will officially go live with Alma. At the beginning of the implementation, the various I-Share libraries turned in a modified migration form to CARLI. This form reflected some defaults that would be used across the consortium but also allowed the individual libraries to define for themselves their services and the ways in which those services would be delivered. Next, each library filled out and submitted a Configuration Form, which provides the framework for the policy settings within Alma.

In October of 2019, all 91 I-Share libraries were given their own test environments. The test environments include the data that had been contained within the Voyager database for each institution as well as all e-resource data that each institution had designated to be migrated. These test environments will continue to be available to each library until the production loads become available in late spring of 2020. Some components currently within the test environments, such as configuration settings or vendor records, will persist into the production environment, while other components like bibs, holdings, or patrons will be wiped clean. Within their test environments each library is reviewing its data and configuration settings and testing data to ensure that it migrated over as expected and that there are no unanticipated issues. Each library is likewise testing how well Alma is integrating with other library functions, such as printers or self-check machines.

Within each I-Share library, designated faculty and staff have been busy working to qualify for Alma Certification, if they have not already. Those seeking certification must review numerous lessons in several modules then pass a certification test. Libraries must have certified users before they are able to make modifications to their configuration settings.

I-Share libraries have been performing many other tasks to prepare for the migration. CARLI has offered office hours nearly once a week since May, giving library staff a chance to discuss migration issues in a group and get answers to their questions. In addition, a series of webinars on Alma topics have been offered and several trainings have been held or will be held at various academic libraries across the state. At the same time, each library must determine how all staff and librarians within their institutions are to be trained—Will some webinars be mandatory? Should the library hold its own individual trainings with its own people?

CARLI recently rolled out the Primo VE discovery service to the libraries, so library staff are busy acquainting themselves with how that works as well. Each I-Share library is now working to determine how Primo VE will synchronize with their various campus student information systems.

Many other preparations will be taking place before the official go-live date. Among them, CARLI committees, such as the Resource Sharing Committee, will examine current consortial policies and recommend changes to make the implementation easier or reflect what practice will look like with Alma.

Alma will help streamline work at I-Share libraries while also helping to expand the possibilities of how services are offered. Though the migration process is long and somewhat intimidating, Alma has promise to be worth it. The CARLI academic libraries, like all libraries in our state, have a common goal to offer excellent service to our patrons. Alma will offer patrons a more easily understandable interface and get them more of the information they need.

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