Background and Origins


Last updated September 27, 2014.

The University of Chicago Library (the Library) houses a large research collection of 11.9 million volumes in six libraries on the university’s main campus in Hyde Park, a neighborhood of Chicago. Details on the size and content can be found at

Basic facts about the University of Chicago (UChicago) can be found at The Library serves a student body of 5,692 undergraduate and 9,502 graduate, professional, and other students; 2,186 full time faculty; and 9,500 staff members at the University of Chicago Medicine (details can be found at

In the early days of library automation beginning in the 1970s, the Library developed its own, mainframe-based system (Library Data Management System or LDMS), run on an IBM machine housed in the campus computing data center. When it was decided to retire the mainframe, the Library concluded that purchasing a commercial system was the most viable option and migrated to the Horizon system in 1995. (Horizon was originally owned by a division of Ameritech, which sold the software company to Epixtech, eventually changing its name to Dynix, bought by Sirsi to become SirsiDynix, the current owner.) The acquisitions portion of Horizon never completely met the needs of the Library, so those functions were migrated in 1997 to what is now Innovative Interfaces’ Millennium system (although the Library uses only its acquisitions functions). Providing users with information regarding on-order titles was accomplished by regularly scheduled exports from Millennium that were then batch imported into Horizon.

Like any client-server system, Horizon used a relational database management system to handle data storage functions; in this case, Sybase was the product and its cost was typically bundled into the overall cost of Horizon. However, the Library was able to obtain better pricing through the University’s existing campus-wide Sybase license. The University’s IT Services unit also negotiated the annual Sybase maintenance cost for the Library. This allowed the Library direct access to Sybase support, which was often helpful for debugging and local development efforts.

As with the LDMS hardware, the Library entered into an agreement with IT Services to run Horizon within the university’s enterprise environment to take advantage of its Storage Area Network, Tivoli Management System for tape backups, and system administration support. Although the Library still had to pay for its hardware and for the support services, it was far more economical than hosting hardware within the Library, which would have resulted in the need to add at least one full-time system administrator. The Library meets regularly with IT Services to deal with any issues. The Library has direct, root access to its Horizon servers and installed software upgrades in coordination with SirsiDynix and IT Services.

The Library also maintained separate test and reporting environments of the Horizon software that allowed for installation and testing of new software releases prior to moving them into production. This could be done under both the Horizon and Sybase software licenses at no additional charge. This also allowed Library staff to develop specialized, local applications “around the edges” of Horizon, frequently without the vendor. For this reason, Horizon, although proprietary, was a comparatively “open” system as it was installed at the University of Chicago.

In contrast, Innovative Interfaces’ Millennium was a black box. It resided on its own server in the Library’s system environment with its own tape backup. Upgrades and customizations all had to be performed by vendor support staff, who required direct access to the system. While the Library would have preferred to have a test environment (as it did with Horizon and Sybase), Innovative Interfaces charged a comparatively high price for a second copy so it was decided not to try to support a test environment.

The Library had always been aware of the cost of supporting multiple systems and it had always been clear that continued support for multiple systems was not in the Library’s best interests, either functionally or financially. So when SirsiDynix began work on a completely new system called Horizon 8.0 (also known as “Corinthian”) to replace the existing Horizon AND include desired acquisitions features, the Library agreed to be a development partner, working on specifications and testing with vendor staff from 2005 to 2007. Library staff were trained on Corinthian in the summer of 2006, but the lack of some critical features caused a postponement of the migration. During this period, ownership of SirsiDynix changed twice, but there were repeated commitments to finish Corinthian. However, in February 2007, SirsiDynix announced it would stop Horizon 8.0/Corinthian development. Experience gained by library staff working on this project was later helpful in work on the Kuali OLE project. During the Corinthian project, the Library contributed to and reviewed functional specifications. They also participated in testing of the software during development. They became familiar with the bug tracking JIRA system used to communicate with software developers to fix problems, and they became used to the process of frequent upgrades to a test system to test fixes. Weekly calls with the product manager and various project management tracking tools were used. Also, analysis for data conversion to that system was done and data clean up issues that needed to be addressed prior to migration to any other system were identified.

Horizon had several online public access catalog (OPAC) modules over the years until 2002, when the Horizon Information Portal (HIP) was introduced to replace all earlier modules. Horizon Information Portal (HIP) became the sole end-user interface for the Library. By 2006, there were technical advances in other library search retrieval systems. The Library began an investigation of newer, “faceted browse” search systems. In November 2006, the Library issued an RFP and eventually selected AquaBrowser after an extensive review (see for more details).

While providing many advances over HIP, Lens (the locally adopted name for AquaBrowser) was never a full replacement due to its lack of functionality, e.g., no support for non-Roman searching, so the Library continued to support both HIP and Lens. Then, AquaBrowser was bought by Serials Solutions, which announced plans to offer the product only as a hosted service without any of the many customizations that the Library had already made to it. There were no plans to support non-Roman searching on the locally hosted version of the product. Also during this period, the Library made the EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) available to users on a trial basis; their favorable reaction led the Library to select it as a replacement for the Ex Libris Metalib system which was a Z39.50 based system that sent searches across multiple databases and federated the results into a single list.

By the time the Library began to consider system replacements, the public catalog functions had been to some extent abstracted from the ILS to a discovery layer. Even HIP was a separate system on a separate server to which records were passed from the Horizon system to be indexed and displayed. AquaBrowser also worked by indexing records exported from Horizon and using servlets to reach into Horizon for some dynamic information such as item status.

However, supporting two separate user interfaces, HIP and Lens, plus Horizon and Millennium, was becoming increasingly onerous. In addition, with the demise of Horizon 8.0/Corinthian, the Library decided not to move beyond the Horizon 7.5 release; any new development planned for HIP would require moving to new Horizon releases. This effectively meant that the Library would not be able to install any new versions of HIP. Changes in the ownership of AquaBrowser and terms of service had made its continuation unattractive as well.