Campus & Community

Harvard launches new Web interface for HOLLIS

3 min read

Earlier last month, students, faculty, and staff began exploring a trial version of a completely new Web interface for HOLLIS — Harvard’s Online Library Information System.

“Worldwide, library systems are undergoing continuous and dramatic change,” said Tracey Robinson, head of the University Library’s Office for Information Systems. “We are pleased to report that HOLLIS is no exception. HOLLIS now offers users a simple, intuitive interface for discovering library resources in significant new ways. And the best thing about it is how easy it will be to expand and enhance in the weeks and months to come.”

Robinson describes the new HOLLIS as “a discovery environment,” and not just a catalog. Located at, HOLLIS reflects a new generation of creative thinking about how searching on the Web differs from searches in traditional library catalogs. As users experiment with the new system, the older version — dubbed “HOLLIS Classic” — remains in place, continuously providing traditional search methods at Both can be accessed from the Harvard Libraries portal at

Searching in the new HOLLIS is easier and “friendlier” than in HOLLIS Classic. Like many Web-based search engines, a simple search box provides an easy, familiar starting point for any search. Results are ranked for relevancy and users are provided tools that make it easy to refine searches. To narrow a search, a right-hand column presents numerous referents — such as library location, genre, language, and dates. By choosing any referent, search results are instantly narrowed and a breadcrumb trail clearly reminds the searcher of the search path. A color-coded word cloud suggests associated search terms that can be used to expand, narrow, or improve a search. Thesaurus terms, spelling variations, and translations are all suggested, and any term in the word cloud is clickable, leading to a fresh set of search results.

“The new HOLLIS transforms the tools of a traditional library catalog into an intuitive, user-friendly experience,” commented Susan Fliss, associate librarian of Harvard College for research, teaching, and learning. “Our students have high expectations of technology that are rooted in their experience of search engines — Google in particular. The new HOLLIS offers the simplicity of a Google search with the depth and authentication that are the hallmarks of a great research library.”

HOLLIS will be updated continuously over the coming months, providing users with new sources of data and additional functionality. Support for searching in non-Latin alphabets is still under development.

According to Robinson, development of the new discovery platform is a reflection of the library’s mandate to enhance and simplify the digital environment for everyone.

“Library users should look for the rollout of additional HOLLIS features in September 2009. In the meantime, feedback is vital. Using the new HOLLIS will be rewarding and fun, but user feedback will help us to streamline current resources and to prioritize future enhancements.”

To give feedback on the new HOLLIS, visit