Thursday, 28 February 2013

First steps: setting up an Islandora repository

My first priority was to create a way to view our digital documents, and I was glad to have the advice of the Research Computing Team Leader, who had been monitoring the progress of the new Islandora digital asset management system, developed by the Robertson Library at the University of Prince Edward Island.  The software consists of a Fedora repository combined with a Drupal "front end,"  and for me the beauty of it is that it offers both the Internet Archive's  turn-the-page viewer and a custom-made Islandora large image viewer in which documents can be viewed flat.  I like the viewing versatility this choice allows, and am also attracted by the Islandora Digital Humanities solution pack currently under development, but available soon, which will introduce text-encoding functionality.  I anticipate that this will permit more sophisticated digitisation projects in due course. 

Front page of the new Islandora digital repository
In November 2012, the Research Computing Team were able to download, customize and set up the Islandora solution packs needed to launch the initial repository, and my task has since been to populate it with digital content - the new St Andrews Digital Collections.  The pre-set-up process involved lots of discussions between myself and Research Computing staff as we tried to decide what we wanted and whether/how it could be done, but this painstaking talking stage seems to have paid off well.  The result is a product which displays documents handsomely, and which the Research Computing Team is happy to support.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Who are the team?

Photo: iStockphoto
I'm very pleased to be working on this project with the University's Research Computing team.  This makes it an interesting collaborative effort between the Library and IT Services, and one which we feel we are to some extent pioneering.  Research Computing consists at present of the Team Leader, who has the role of Research Computing Advisor, and an Applications Developer, plus a number of volunteers to assist with various projects.  The team has plans to expand, however, and are currently advertising for an additional Research Computing Advisor and an additional Applications Developer.  More about this on the Research Computing blog.  Doubling the team pretty much confirms the Digital Humanities as a growth area in the University, which has to be a Good Thing!

On the Library side, there's just me, but I have plenty of back-up from our Special Collections Department (where all the good, digitisable material is held), and especially from the three part-time scanners who put in lots of work on our two Bookeye scanners and will soon, I hope, be providing me with a steady stream of digital stuff.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

What do I hope to achieve?

The main thing I'd like to achieve is a portal on which we can display some of the many treasures held in our Special Collections Department. It would be good to make as many as possible of the manuscripts, letters, books, images and other documents normally kept under lock and key, digitally available to scholars and the wider public. Like libraries everywhere these days, we are always looking for ways of increasing our visibility and usefulness in the digital world, and this project would achieve both aims.
Photo: iStockphoto
It would be good, too, for the project to prove that the Library is adapting to the changing needs of the scholarly community. As research and teaching become increasingly based on the digital, it's important for the Library to show that it can also make these older treasures available digitally, as well as its more mainstream journal and book stock.>
In the longer term, it might be possible for the portal's functionality to be used by researchers elsewhere in the University for other Digital Humanities projects in which they are engaged. I hope in due course to have a publicity drive, with visits to academic Schools, to show what the portal can do and encourage suggestions for its further use.

Monday, 25 February 2013


Photo: University of St Andrews
I'm a librarian here at the University of St Andrews Library who has been fortunate enough to be allowed to wear a "Digital Humanities hat" for three years in order to try and advance the Library's activities in this field. I've been seconded from my original post in Academic Liaison, and now have the task of working out what Digital Humanities projects we might offer, and of putting an infrastructure in place to achieve them. I plan to use this blog to tell the story of how the project develops, and hope it will spark some conversations with other Digital Humanities librarians out there in the field!