Digital Commonwealth is pleased to announce the release of an Omeka replacement for the digital harvesting Portal. Now when you navigate to http://digitalcommonwealth.org, instead of accessing the old Portal you access a new site built on the open-source Omeka repository platform. We pursued this replacement to allow us to continue providing customer services while the Boston Public Library (BPL) develops a permanent repository solution that will combine our old Portal functionality with the member digital collections hosted currently in our DSpace repository.

First some background information

The Digital Commonwealth technology infrastructure has always been difficult to grasp. From the beginning our system structure consisted of two platforms: (1) the primary system running our Portal at http://digitalcommonwealth.org that harvested member metadata records and made them discoverable through a robust interface and (2) a DSpace digital repository (http://repository.digitalcommonwealth.org) to host digital collections for those members who lacked the means to host their own content. Metadata about the digital content stored in the DSpace repository has also been discoverable via the search tool in the Portal.

At the time Digital Commonwealth’s original system was developed, Open Source repository solutions for providing OAI-PMH harvesting (such as Omeka) were not available. DSpace, for example, only recently began offering that functionality.  Our initial  Portal was a solution developed by an independent programmer. Although the system was quite advanced for its time – offering faceted browsing, thumbnails, and indexing – it was difficult to maintain and prone to inexplicable service interruptions. The back end also restricted our abilities to harvest new collections or update information pages and provide timely updates of our organizational goals and achievements. These latter limitations were considered particularly critical this past year as Digital Commonwealth undertook several major initiatives and attracted many new members.

The two major components of our system (the Portal and DSpace repository) were originally hosted on a server at the BPL and then later moved to the library at the University of Mass Amherst who have generously hosted our server services for the past few years.  As time went by we began to face several challenging issues.  One, our server was aging and needing replacement. Two, it was hard to maintain both components of the system and difficult to make adjustments and upgrades.

We were weighing options for a replacement of our aging system when the BPL stepped up with an offer to help establish a second generation Digital Commonwealth. They offered to construct the repository side, focusing on technology by developing and managing a new state-of-the art system that would combine the services and functionalities of DSpace and the Portal. We forged a partnership, explained in this blog post, and the BPL went on to hire two programmers and are now well on their way to making their offer a reality. A member of the BPL development team offers some details about their project in this recent blog post.

At the same time, Digital Commonwealth began the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We have also revamped our bylaws and have begun work on a new strategic plan. Another part of this transition to what may be termed Digital Commonwealth 2.0 was to establish Omeka as a transitional system until the BPL repository was ready for prime time.

Omeka

For simplicity purposes, the new Omeka system was meant to replicate the old Digital Commonwealth Portal as much as possible. We retained the same basic design for example. Although we sacrificed some functionality, such as faceted searching, and have limited the harvesting of some collections, such as the Massachusetts State Library and UMass Amherst because of their size and complexity, we have gained much in our ability to continue maintaining active services. Omeka provides a much more stable and easily maintained system that is also much more easily updated and kept current.

Keep in mind that this is a temporary “bridge” solution while the real replacement of our old system is under development. We appreciate your patience as we navigate this complicated transition to the next exciting phase of Digital Commonwealth.

As a previous blog post has noted, Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library have embarked on a partnership that will soon result in a new state-of-the-art digital repository that will provide a range of vastly improved hosting and presentation services to Digital Commonwealth members. Based on the Fedora Commons/Hydra open-source repository system, development of the new architecture is well under way thanks to the hiring of two programmers by the BPL. Its initial public release is planned for April, 2013, to coincide with the debut launching of the Digital Public Library of America.

Fedora 

For those of you not familiar with Fedora Commons, the name Fedora is an acronym that stands for Flexible Extensible Digital Object Repository Architecture. It is often confused with the Fedora Red Hat Linux operating system, but has no relationship. Rather, it is a flexible, modular, repository platform for the management and dissemination of digital content. First developed at Cornell University, the Fedora Commons and DSpace organizations joined forces in 2009 to establish DuraSpace. Both repository platforms are now managed and developed under the auspices of the DuraSpace nonprofit group.

Hydra  

The Hydra Project  is an open-source application framework which is supported by a community of partner institutions including Stanford, University of Virginia, Notre Dame, and other major research universities. Hydra adds additional functionality for creating customizable digital object ingest workflows on top of Fedora’s stable and highly scalable file management back-end. Other components of the system include Solr for indexing and retrieval and Blacklight as a front-end interface for discovery and access to the content stored in the Fedora repository.

New BPL Digital Commonwealth Repository

The new platform will provide a reliable technical infrastructure for Digital Commonwealth, with the benefits of greater stability, increased control, and the ability to support an extensible and flexible application which offers more detailed description of collections and items, efficient management of digital objects, and an array of interactive and user-friendly features for both contributing institutions and end-users.

The development of the new repository by the BPL will proceed in stages. Its initial release in April simply aims to replicate the basic functionality of the existing Digital Commonwealth repository (http://repository.digitalcommonwealth.org/) using the Hydra framework and an updated metadata schema for description based on MODS. All objects and metadata records that are currently in the repository will be migrated to the new platform prior to this release. Records currently harvested by the Digital Commonwealth Portal will also be harvested by and made available in the new repository. Since OAI-PMH harvesting may not be added prior to this initial release, however, the inclusion of the Portal records may have to occur at a later date.

Features of the new repository will include:

  • Deposit of simple digital objects (images, text) in the repository via a web-based upload form
  • Creation and description of collections to organize digital objects
  • Description of digital objects using a “basic” or “advanced” metadata entry form
  • Keyword searching (basic and advanced)
  • Faceted browsing by collection, institution, format, subject, date, etc.
  • Feature-rich interaction with digital images (zooming, panning, etc.)
  • Ability for end-users to create, manage, and share personal collections of items

All functionality will be contained within the web application — there will be no need for contributors to download or install any software locally or deal with upgrades or migrations. Additional functionality, such as support for batch uploading of items, deposit of more complex digital objects (such as double-sided postcards, books, oral histories, video, etc.), GIS-based graphical browsing, and embedded audio/video players, is currently in the planning stages and will be added in future releases, which are expected to be released frequently.

The Digital Commonwealth Portal, Repository, Technology, and Standards (PRTS) committee is working closely with the BPL on the development of this new system.

Please direct any questions, comments, or concerns to digitalcommonwealth@gmail.com.