Oxford has switched to a new library computer system, from OLIS-tacked-onto-SOLO to something else entirely I’ve yet to take a look at. OLIS (Oxford Libraries Information something) was an old system with telnet and web interfaces, and when they realised that modern students don’t understand telnet and that the web interface is a bit rubbish, they tacked on this awful thing called SOLO, Search Oxford Libraries Online, on top. SOLO was meant to pull in other resources, so it was supposed to be able to jump you to website where you can download journals and it also integrated with OxLIP+. However, it did all this exceptionally badly. For example when you found a book you wanted on SOLO by getting through the horrifically cluttered search interface, and once you’d selected a “version of this work”, you then need to know which libraries have the book. You could click something to make this appear, but in order to see which of the copies are available and which are on loan you had to click something else which would pop up an iframe-wrapped copy of OLIS’s web interface in order to show you an identical table, with an extra column showing the loan status. It was slow, clunky and you ended up with five windows open for no good reason. Oh and the feature to jump to a journal’s website never worked: it gave you a form and you would laboriously fill in the issue number, volume etc. only to be inevitably taken to the journal’s home page to begin your search again. It was nice to have a search engine that you could just type at without thinking about authors vs. titles etc., but this wasn’t worth the cost of it being so useless in general.

So SOLO wasn’t/isn’t that great, but I am of the view that there was nothing wrong with OLIS. It is very sad to see the telnet interface going, because I found that to be far more efficient than any kind of web interface. A networked service like a library works really well over that kind of connection, since it’s a two-way thing; why is it so scary, why must we push things back into a browser? Hopefully the new system will work better than the convoluted joined-up system we had before, in any case.

Of course I like the telnet interface for reasons of nostalgia, so in the following screenshots I’ve recorded its main aspects. Once I e-mailed Balliol’s librarian asking how to do something, and she overflowed with excitement at a student using the telnet interface, saying that SOLO isn’t a tool for serious scholarship!

Logging on, after telnet library.ox.ac.uk:


Here’s the help screen:


At the first screen we entered PHI for the Philosophy Library. You are expected to narrow your search as you’re expected to be accessing the catalogue from a terminal in the library itself.


Here’s the search screen. You can select one of the options of just type it in using the syntax it shows; that’s what I do.


Let’s find a book.



Here’s the result, showing copies available in Balliol, the Bodleian and in the Philosophy Library and of course there are more if you scroll—it pays to be at a college that is first alphabetically :D


It can do links to electronic versions of books too.


Alternatively let’s search for a journal.


We’ve selected detailed display rather than brief display to get a bit more info, such as the journal’s frequency (I think this wasn’t displayed before anyway).



Here’s an electronic version.


Now we search up a book that we’re going to need to request from the stacks, as it isn’t open shelf (actually it is nowadays; it wasn’t when I first used it).



OLIS can show you related works because everything is catalogued with so much detail—this is called “extending” your search.


Finally here’s the very mysterious “MARC Display”.


Here we show how we limit the search to a particular library (the initial PHI just prioritises philosophy results, but here we actually cut out everything else).



Let’s login.



Here’s what I have out on loan.


My stack request limits (quite high!).


The libraries I am a member of. SSLUND is the Social Science Library but I’ve never been there and never would have any reason to go there, so I don’t know why I’m a member. RSLS is the Radcliffe Science Library.


More detail on my membership of the RSL.


Finally the first page of my loans history, wow, rather a long time ago. 126 loans doesn’t feel like very many either. Many, many renewals mustn’t have been counted.