I rounded off my time at the 2015 International Digital Curation Conference this week with a workshop on Islandora. The Digital Humanities site, through which items from the University’s Special Collections are made available online, uses Islandora 6, and we have plans to upgrade it to Islandora 7, the current version.
The open-source Islandora framework is based principally on three widely-used and well established open-source applications:
- The Drupal content management system
- The Fedora Commons repository software
- The Solr search platform
The Islandora extensions to Drupal make it much easier to interact with the rock-solid, secure but somewhat user-unfriendly Fedora software and make use of Solr to ease the discovery of information. A range of “solution packs” allow users to work effectively with a range of data types, both when ingesting them into the repository (e.g. capture of metadata, creation of derivatives) and when viewing them. For example, when a TIFF image is imported via the Image Solution Pack, copies in other formats, such as JPEG, are stored alongside the original TIFF. This is because TIFFs are excellent for archival purposes but not as well suited for display on the web as JPEGs. The Image Solution Pack also allows users to do things like annotate the image and interact with it in a zoomable image viewer.
The Islandora framework is managed by the Islandora Foundation, but much of the work, particularly on the core components, is carried out by Discovery Garden, who provide commercial services around Islandora. Alan Stanley of Discovery Garden was one of the original developers of Islandora and he led the workshop after giving an introductory demonstration on the first day of the conference. Alan will, I believe, be making his slides available through the conference web pages but they are not there for me to link to at the time of writing.
Working with an Islandora instance which was in place when I came into my position here, and not having worked with Islandora before, the overview and the explanation of the architecture was very useful. With my work on Islandora having been focused on certain key areas, principally ensuring that content will display correctly following an upgrade, coverage of other features such as the Form Builder and the way in which roles can be used within the system were particularly useful.
Unfortunately, upgrading from 6 to 7 has thus far proved more difficult than I anticipated. I have previously forced content to work in the new version using techniques that I wasn’t entirely happy with (e.g. directly editing XML in the repository) and sought some further guidance here. (The documentation can sometimes be less than helpful – see the rather unhelpful comment at the end of the Overview of the Book Solution Pack. Some detail on the migration script would be useful.) While I now have some understanding of the (admittedly good) reasons why the upgrade is tricky, there was not adequate time to get into any detail on it. Alan has agreed to help me out if I get in touch with him, however, and I will be taking him up on that offer.
We have some other projects in the pipeline that would seem to be a good fit for Islandora, so we are considering moving to a multi-site setup, with several Drupal instances drawing on a single Fedora Commons instance, as described by a poster from the University of Toronto Libraries at the conference. The workshop included some useful tips on how to go about doing that and it continues to look like a good way forward.