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.
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.