By – Matt Cejka

Anyone who’s spent a fair amount of time scavenging through the collections will see there is substantial intriguing content, but the presentation of the collections leaves so much to be desired. Today’s users experience outdated pop-up window and, at times, confusing navigation screens that immediately reflect the dated launch of UW Digital Collections circa 2001. The early 2000’s software creates just as many frustrations for the users as for the people managing and implementing the content.

Nevertheless, implementation of Fedora, together with new design for the library catalog, will provide a technical, modernizing uplift to the collections in the migration, set to be completed throughout 2018. UWDC hopes that the new software will not only allow a novice user to maneuver the collections like an experienced archivist, but also improve the management process.

Peter Gorman, Assistant Director for Digital Library and Preservation Strategy, stated, “One of the biggest frustrations for us in managing this stuff was that we had to maintain two different platforms, one for images and multimedia, and a whole separate one for texts. There were completely different user experiences just in searching for things, but also completely different workflows and ways to manage the content.”

Now, the UWDC team has found the perfect cure for their extensively differing collections in Fedora’s flexibility. Peter mentioned that Fedora has a big advantage because all preservation and management can be done in one place and can be separated from what is visible to users.

“Fedora is the foundation or plumbing underneath the whole thing, so that is the repository side that we’re going to use that users don’t interact with directly. So, that is like our bank vault for everything,” he stated.

Fedora is repository software serving several institutions and libraries throughout the United States in storing digital content and facilitating the management and access to that content. According to Steven Dast, Digital Asset Librarian for UWDC, the software has several attractive features including the fact that it is open source, flexible for defining digital objects and what metadata can be attached to them, has built-in preservation services, and pliability in defining behaviors of digital objects.

The migration process is complicated by the sheer number of records contained within the collections, and the desire to take the opportunity to clean up some of the irregularities that the data contain. “The first few years were really like a frontier for us. We had a few basic standards to work with, but it took a while to develop best practices and the rich set of standards that the library community now has access to,” Steven said, adding “The migration provides us with an opportunity to address some of the hasty decisions we’ve made over the years.”

Side-by-side comparison of the current (and original) digital collections interface and the newly redesigned interface.

In addition to converting all of the data records to new formats, the UWDC team also needs to comb through their digital archives and ensure that every record is correctly matched to one or more master media files. Steven explained, “In the old system, what we delivered online was considered the ground truth of the collection, with the archiving and preservation of the high-resolution files existing as a side-process. On those occasions when corrections were made, it was possible for the online material to get out-of-sync with the master files.” Under Fedora, the master files and data are stored together and any changes are applied directly to those files, meaning that the data in Fedora will always be considered the authoritative version of the collection.

However, Fedora is just half the story. The new UWDC search and discovery interface, an extension of the UW–Madison Libraries’ Catalog known internally as ‘Forward’, transforms the navigation experience to be uniform, simple, and all under one webpage. Now, the gallery view is much more easy on the eyes and reflects the pristine image quality captured by UWDC’s state of the art equipment. Even more, the modern qualities of Forward ensures a consistent interface on several different platforms, whether it be a desktop or an iPad.

As evident, all the collections, regardless of content, are in the same format and react in the same way to the user. For example, looking through the almost 30,000 images within the Steamboat collection is essentially the same as looking through UW-Madison Special Collections.

Throughout 2018, UWDC will continuously migrate new content to the new search and discovery interface which will eventually completely replace the backend. Currently, there are five collections existing solely on the new interface including Publishers’ Bindings Online, Historic Steamboat Photographs, UW-Madison Special Collections Images, Palmyrene Aramaic Inscriptions and DARE Fieldwork Recordings.

Peter Gorman made something explicitly clear when discussing the project. The whole migration process is a substantial workload involving a large team of digital librarians and an increasingly growing group of web developers, something that has helped the transition move along more swiftly in the past year.

While Fedora and Forward are fixing the problems of today, the software is not simply a blind contract for the future of UWDC. The flexibility and open-sourced nature of both programs allows the content to be updated and transitioned if need be.

“The whole goal of this is that if we decide tomorrow that Fedora isn’t doing it for us anymore, we should be able to implement a whole different repository without changing any of the other stuff. Or, have a whole new search and discovery interface but still keep everything in Fedora,” Peter said.

Above all, UWDC is making every effort to rejuvenate their collections to ensure that their exceptional content is found and utilized for years to come.