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Harvard Library to Adopt Ex Libris Primo Webscale Discovery System

Will provide unified search experience across hundreds of millions of items.


April 8, 2014—The Harvard Library, following an extensive review of discovery systems, will adopt the Primo discovery and delivery system from Ex Libris.  

Discovery systems were evaluated by the Discovery Platform Investigation working group. The following major components formed the basis of the assessment:

  • Ease of use/intuitive interface
  • Coherent aggregation of local, licensed and open metadata, including non-textual media and grey literature
  • Effective integration of special collections
  • Support for interdisciplinary research and responsiveness to a shifting research environment
  • Flexibility that will enable a short-term solution as well as a path for continued development and improvement as the search, discovery and access domain evolves

At the same time, the group considered the need for the following functionality:

  • Search precision
  • Known-item retrieval
  • Integration with resource delivery and fulfillment systems

The group gathered data by administering a user survey, interviewing staff members at peer libraries, holding a day-long discussion with peers, holding on-site demonstrations with vendors, performing a detailed analysis of discovery systems and evaluating article search. 

“The Harvard Library is taking a significant step forward in making its collections even more accessible to Harvard’s scholars with the selection and implementation of such a powerful discovery tool. Kudos to the team that performed an exhaustive analysis of our options—research, teaching and learning at Harvard will benefit from their diligence,” said Sarah Thomas, vice president for the Harvard Library and Roy E. Larsen Librarian of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. 

Highlights of Primo features include:

  • Books and articles together. Primo allows users to search for books and articles using a single search box. 
  • Seamless user experience. Primo allows users to remain in a single system for research and My Account functionality, such as saving results, viewing holdings, making requests, viewing account, renewing items. 
  • Chinese, Japanese, Korean and more. Primo provides complete support for search and display of vernacular scripts and transliterations. It supports translation between simplified and traditional Chinese, and properly handles transliterations for non-Western languages such as Arabic, Hebrew and Cyrillic.
  • Exposure of special collections. Primo supports ingestion of a wide array of data schemas. The system will allow Harvard to optimize functionality and display for image records and finding aids as well as other new types of metadata in response to future needs.
  • Browse searching. Primo offers left-anchored browsing for author, title, subject and LC call number. 
  • Phrase searching/search precision. Primo supports strong search precision for local content thanks to advanced indexing capabilities. It has the ability to handle known-item searching, single-word titles, phrase searching and advanced search options.
  • Search engine exposure. Primo exposes data to web crawlers for inclusion in search engines such as Google.
  • Flexibility. Primo provides extensive configuration options and an open framework to allow for Harvard development and responsiveness to user feedback. 

The DPI Group included:

Corinna Baksik, LTS
Kathleen Donovan, GSE
Betsy Eggleston, HMS
Laura Farwell Blake, FAS
Robin McElheny, HUA
Laura Morse, LTS
Ken Peterson, AS
Tracey Robinson (Chair), LTS
Emily Singley, LTS
Carli Spina, HLS
Bonnie Tijerina, ITS
Scott Wicks, ITS