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Project Briefing


D-Lib Magazine
September/October 2008

Volume 14 Number 9/10

ISSN 1082-9873

Repurposing Open Source Software for Agile Digital Image Library Development

The University of West Florida Libraries Model


Ray Uzwyshyn, Ph.D., MLIS
Head, Department of Digital and Learning Technologies
University of West Florida Libraries

Red Line

University of West Florida logo

University of West Florida Nautilus Shell Logo

Project Overview

In 2007, the University of West Florida Department of Digital and Learning Technologies was charged with the task of rapidly developing a digital image library focusing on the university's upcoming 40th anniversary. This project was to highlight a spectrum of the university's archival holdings with special attention to images and linking to them permanently from the libraries' web site and University Special Collections and Archives.

Because of the limited timeline available to complete the project, as well as budgetary concerns, instead of utilizing cost-prohibitive, human-resource-intensive or institutional vendor digital library models, an agile open source rapid application methodology was proposed. The possibilities of radically repurposing Web 2.0 weblog software would be exploited to take advantage of new affordances. Weblog-like features would be repurposed to quickly and economically create a new type of interactive digital library model. Immediate advantages were a suite of new interactive features for users, an easy-to-use administrative module and a robust database backend for future scalability. This larger experiment was successfully launched and completed in time for the University's 40th anniversary and is permanently available online at <>.

screenshot of administrative interface

Wordpress administrative interface repurposed for digital image archive

This project briefing highlights the efficacies of rapidly building these types of new digital image libraries to take advantage of open source possibilities for institutions with limited budgets. Others may wish to explore this type of online, scalable, and organic archival methodology and digital library solution as well.

Prototypes, Budgets, Scalable Models

Project deadlines, budgets and benchmarks are important factors in building any digital library project. With many digital library projects, scalability is also crucial if project content is not fixed but organic. For the University of West Florida 40th Anniversary, scalability was of paramount concern. Initial project specifications required that the project be scalable to account for the university's ongoing archival needs. Because of this, a database-driven design was essential.

Photo of staff gathering materials

Gathering original archival materials for the university's 40th anniversary

In developing this project, a team was formed consisting of representatives from Archives and Special Collections, the Department of Digital Library Technology, library and university higher administration. To solve a budgetary hurdle, a cutting-edge, open source software solution was proposed. Because of this, a significant barrier to entry – that of more specialized human resources and costly vendor software typically needed for these types of projects – was removed. Instead, widely available open source weblog software and local staff trained in basic web development would be utilized.

Information Architecture, Digitization, Prototypes

In phase one of this project, material was gathered and a preliminary information architecture was developed for approximately 500 images. The project content, taxonomy and information architecture was built organically from library and university archival holdings. From this, a traditional branching-tree architecture and static prototype was developed with schematic subject categorized sections.

Screenshot of static digital image library prototype

Static digital image library prototype, tiered three-level architecture: root, subject categories & digital object levels

Digitization and scanning of the approximately 500 images initially gathered was carried out quickly, and analog photographs were digitized in appropriate formats. For section galleries, thumbnail (˜128x80 px) and large version (˜650x522 px) images were created in .jpg formats, and documents were converted to PDF and XHTML.

A static web mockup followed with a bottom up category taxonomy integrating digitized content and building a web interface. This provided an initial prototype for the administrative committee and mechanisms to be secondarily repurposed.

  XL257 1970 physics egg drop
  XL238 1972 biology houseboat
  XL247 1972 water fountain sculpture
  XL308 1973 class registration
  XL108 1985 Rayburn-Dirken Institute
  XL263 1987 Library adds computers
  JW 2007 Steinway school
  XL241 1972 basketball sponsors
  XL237 1973 men's basketball
  XL212 1992 women's tennis
  XL212a 1992 men's tennis
  XL213 1992 softball
  JW 2005 men's national tennis champs

Information architecture taxonomy and categorization examples

Internal and external stakeholders carried out beta and initial usability tests . We asked key university stakeholders to perform wider quality assurance of the site, and a set of marketing materials was also developed from the web design content.

Repurposing Weblogs for Digital Libraries

To enable interactive and easy to use administrative database features, a weblog shell using open source Moveable Type Wordpress software was radically repurposed. This shell consisted of easily customizable PHP middleware and a MySQL database backend. The shell provided an easy to use administrative interface and a robust database for future scalability. The weblog software provided a variety of user-centered features, easily recognizable and widely accessible. The advantage here was that as new open source weblog features became available, the MySQL database could be migrated to new versions without a great deal of effort.

Screenshot of the main interface page

Weblog as digital library: main interface page with sidebar features (Recent Comments, etc.)

In moving from a static website to an interactive digital library, the main customization challenge proved to be reorienting the Weblog posting configuration to serve as an effective digital library interface. This occurred through a structured repurposing of the Weblog's administrative interface options and customization of the Weblog's open source PHP, CSS and templates code.

Screenshot of the Wordpress editing window

Wordpress editing window for easily customizing sidebar PHP and Templates

When completed, this allowed a gateway for dynamic and advanced weblog features to be incorporated easily into the digital library (i.e., RSS feeds for individual images, user comments, dynamically generated organic categories, searchable metadata, etc.). As the weblogs' HTML, PHP and CSS style sheets were completely open, other changes could be made with little effort. Similarly, secondary open source developer components such as Luis von Ahn's RECAPTCHA plugin for system security/book digitization could be easily incorporated.

Screenshot of image archive weblog comment box

Image archive weblog comment box with RECAPTCHA Spam Security and RSS feed for individual images. Added to the weblog code as a PHP plug-in component


Screenshot image of Lech Walesa and visitor comments

Archival image of UWF Lech Walesa visit with recent visitor comments and web address annotations

In this model, an online comments box is present for each archival image. Conceptually, this is a more radical innovation for archive-related digital libraries. Through this comments box, visitors are able to annotate archival material, add their own histories and conceptually change the nature of the 'archive' from a closed collection to an 'open,' living, organic archive. This shift of perspective also opens a host of complex and new questions that merit further discussion regarding online archives, traditional archival/archivist roles and definitions of visitor/visited artifacts in the digital age.

Conclusions and Possibilities

The University of West Florida 40th Anniversary successfully launched in late 2007. During the university's physical celebrations, a large material display was set up alongside a virtual terminal kiosk. For the long term, the digital library remains permanently housed in the libraries for the university. Substantial repurposing of open source weblog and weblog methodologies creates a host of opportunities regarding digital archive construction and merits further discussion of issues surrounding the nature of historical archives, documents and visitors. The methodology outlined in this briefing also poses new questions with regard to best practices through leveraging easy-to-repurpose, open source solutions for agile digital library development.

Copyright © 2008 Ray Uzwyshyn

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