Digital Humanities Summer Institute 2016 at the University of Victoria

This past June, the Digital Humanities Summer Institute convened at the University of Victoria in Victoria, BC. For those who are not familiar with DHSI, here is a brief introduction from DHSI’s website:

“Every summer, the institute brings together faculty, staff, and students from the Arts, Humanities, Library, and Archives communities as well as independent scholars and participants from areas beyond. A time of intensive coursework, seminars, and lectures, participants at DHSI share ideas and methods, and develop expertise in using advanced technologies. The Digital Humanities Summer Institute provides an ideal environment for discussing and learning about new computing technologies and how they are influencing teaching, research, dissemination, creation, and preservation in different disciplines, via a community-based approach.”

This year’s gathering was one of the largest in its 15-year history. The Institute was in session for two weeks, and over 50 courses and short workshops were offered. Tracy MacMath of Yale University Library IT attended “Accessibility and Digital Environments”, which explored the theoretical and practical aspects of web accessibility. Students read and discussed key works from disability studies scholarship, and obtained hands-on experience with tools that allowed them to audit their institutions’ websites for compliance with accessibility standards. Some of the auditing tools used were the WAVE Chrome extension and HTML Code Sniffer. Major topics in the course included emerging standards for accessibility in digital environments, the social model of disability, user-centered design, and embodiment.

Both weeks of the Institute concluded with a “show and tell” session in which each class demonstrated what they had learned through interactive projects. The Web Accessibility class performed on-the-spot audits of academic websites, and made the results available to participants, along with suggestions on how to improve compliance with accessibility guidelines.

For those who are interested in attending next year’s sessions, course information can be found on DHSI’s website.



Attending Ivies+ Discovery Day: July 25th 2016 at MIT

MIT Libraries rotunda
MIT Libraries rotunda

The second annual Ivies+ Discovery Day took place at MIT in Cambridge, MA on July 25th 2016. Representatives from many of the Ivies+ libraries attended, including four librarians from Yale: Jenn Nolte, Sarah Tudesco, Angela Sidman and Kalee Sprague.

The day started off with a keynote address on discovery and serendipity from MIT Libraries Director Chris Bourg. Following that, Laura Morse from Harvard presented on updates from the Open Discovery Initiative, a NISO committee of which she is co-chair.

The later part of the morning then shifted into a ’round robin’ of 5 minute demonstrations followed by 5 minutes of Q&A  from eleven Ivies+ institutions. Each institution’s demo focused on their own particular discovery landscape. Some were at the beginning stages of implementation, others showcased the enhancements they’ve rolled out since the first Ivies+ Discovery Day in April 2015. Angela Sidman and Jenn Nolte demonstrated Yale’s unified discovery service, Quicksearch– which wasn’t even publicly available at Discovery Day last year!

After a lunch break, 2 consecutive breakout sessions followed with simultaneous presentations. The topics and slides for these are up on the Ivies+ Discovery Day website. Of particular note were presentations on discovery-related work at Yale University Library:

The path to Unified Discovery at Yale: Past, Present and Future (Jenn Nolte)
Discovery @ Yale: A Google Analytics Story (Sarah Tudesco)

The day ended with a fun and interactive session involving all attendees, with the goal of articulating and prioritizing collaborative efforts among Ivies+ institutions with regard to discovery. Attendees were given sticky notes to write down ideas for collaboration, and each attendee also received five stickers to vote on the ideas they liked the most. The notes from that exercise are also linked on the Ivies+ Discovery Day website.

The second Ivies+ Discovery Day was fast-moving, full of great information and great colleagues from across the Ivies+ universe. We attendees from Yale were very grateful for the excellent job our colleagues at MIT did in organizing the event, and look forward to Ivies+ Discovery Day 2017!

Spotlight on Spotlight


Do you have content in blacklight? Do you have content in other silos? Would you like to create dynamic exhibits and/or collections?  Would you like to manage content, display, search, and facets in a highly configurable online interface?  If you answered yes to any of this, welcome to Spotlight!

“Spotlight is open source software that enables librarians, curators, and other content experts to easily build feature-rich websites that showcase collections and objects from a digital repository, uploaded items, or a combination of the two. Spotlight is a plug-in for Blacklight, an open source, Ruby on Rails Engine that provides a basic discovery interface for searching an Apache Solr index.”

Exhibit page content can be directly tweaked from the browser.
Exhibit page content can be directly tweaked from the browser.

On August 9th and 10th the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA) and Yale Library hosted the event “Spotlight on Spotlight”.  We were pleased to have members of the Spotlight team here to give a full demonstration, Q&A, and developer unconference.  Stu Snydman, Gary Geisler, and Chris Beer from Stanford, and Trey Pendragon from Princeton lead the sessions. The main demonstration Tuesday morning included a brief history, a review of the initial use cases, context surrounding the platform, and walk throughs of the application and its features. In the afternoon the Q&A session provided a further chance to answer questions collected from the morning presentation and a live conversation. On Wednesday developers stood up individual instances of the application, exercised its extensibility using the DPLA API to import content, and held further technical discussion. After attending the event Steve Weida, Yale Library Webmaster commented, “Spotlight is exciting technology and has matured at a very impressive pace. Along with our commitment to Omeka, Spotlight could play a key role in the future of the Library’s web presence.”

A full recording of the demonstration is available here:

Project website with codebase and further links:

Event wiki:


Geo4LibCamp 2016

Hats off to Stanford for hosting Geo4LibCamp2016. This event brought together approximately 40 attendees from institutions across the United States including Miriam Olivares and Eric James from Yale. The focus of activities centered around the web application geoblacklight, the opengeoportal project, Esri software, open source geo-tools and the challenges of using these systems as a GIS platform. Key topics included the 1) development of the data schema as an index and source of linked data, 2) data and metadata workflow, 3) issues of provenance, authorship, enrichment, sharing, and rights, and 4) digital infrastructure. The community is enthusiastic and development is expected to continue at and between the represented institutions.

erj_geo4lib - New Page-2


For more information:

A Metadata Schema for Geospatial Resource Discovery Use Cases

HydraConnect 2015

Hydra Project
The HydraConnect 2015 conference took place September 21-25 in Minneapolis[1] totaling 200 people from 60 institutions including 2 representatives from Yale, Kalee Sprague and Eric James. The conference was structured with Monday Workshops, a Tuesday morning plenary, a Tuesday afternoon poster session, and sessions, lighting talks, and breakout groups on Thursday and Friday. The project “Hydra” has come to represent an aggregation of components serving the needs of the digital community. Core applications include Blacklight[2] – a discovery index and interface, Sufia[3] – an institutional repository supporting self-upload, Avalon[4] – an application for audio/video materials, Spotlight[5] – an exhibit creation tool, Stanford Earthworks[6] – supporting spatial discovery, and Hydra in a Box[7] – a new project to create a turnkey Hydra application. The main themes of the conference were linked data and interoperability, the approach of defining a content model by fleshing out metadata concerns driven by end user requirements. To this end several initiatives are currently under development centered around The Portland Common Data Model PCDM[8], a construct built on the resource/description/containment spec of the Linked Data Platform[9], providing a generic framework for resource properties and association. A key component of this is the championing of the approach of using dereferenceable URIs[10] in metadata description and tackling the challenges this entails such as enriching current literal description, resolving URIs to its constituent properties, caching fragments of this linked data, and achieving all of this in a platform agnostic way. Complementing this work are several interest and working groups, addressing the specific areas such descriptive/rights/structural metadata, service management, UX design, and archival interests. HydraConnect 2015 is the third conference of its kind and has grown considerably each year with expectations of much development to continue.


Fedora 4 work at Open Repositories 2015

Open Repositories 2015 highlighted some of the interesting projects from different institutions.

One such Fedora-based project demonstrated the application and usefulness of the Linked Data platform. The project uses graph-based metadata; research data is cataloged using museum specific FRBRoo and CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM) ontologies, instead of using classic metadata schemes. The project participants claimed that in comparison to traditional bibliographic metadata schema (such as MODS), “these vocabularies allowed us to express detailed relationships between digital objects and entities (people, places, events, concepts) in a more nuanced way”. The relationships are described in RDF and persisted in Fedora 4. Fedora 4 speaks and understands RDF natively and acts effectively as a Linked Data compliant server.

The benefit for the project is that the user interface (based in Islandora) is driven entirely by RDF and researchers and scholars can directly query the metadata graph by entering powerful queries via a SPARQL endpoint.

I also had the opportunity to present a poster exploring the integration of Fedora 4 with Sakai (known locally as Classes v2). Fedora 4 uses a backend technology (ModeShape) that is an implementation of the Java Content Repository (JCR) standard. Sakai offers some support for JCR, making direct integration feasible. Sakai content can be directly accessed in Fedora 4 and Sakai can access Fedora 4 content as if it were a part of its own datastore. Before Fedora 4, custom tools would have to be developed to tackle the linking, making inter-operability harder and less maintainable. Fedora 4 offers a new way, thanks to a modern technology stack. A number of leading institutions that run both Sakai and Fedora expressed an interest in further exploring the integration possibilities via this approach.

Security and Sharing

Over the past month Steelsen Smith from the Enterprise Systems and Services group had the opportunity to attend two events related to work we do in Library IT a NERCOMP sponsored security conference and the ILLiad international resource sharing conference.

The first was Boston College’s annual “Security Camp” – a free one day event for IT professionals. The 2015 agenda included lots of timely material, including presentations on identity and access management, docker (a software packaging and containing system), security scanning, DDOS attacks and more. The full agenda is here.

For anyone who manages the deployment of information systems, it has been impossible to avoid docker. In a nutshell, this technology allows users to bundle all of the interrelated parts of an application into a “container” that can then be run on a physical or virtual server. The advantage is that many code packages can share the same server without the overhead of a full virtual machine per application. The platform has proven to be robust, and the presenter (from MIT) made a great case for docker having applications in the classroom or enterprise. The greatest strength of the solution is that applications dependencies, e.g., Java version, can be updated individually without affecting their co-hosted peers. The software can also run on a hardened read-only OS (CoreOS as an example). Docker should not be trusted as fully secure for hosting potentially hostile containers, however. The main vulnerability of the platform comes from its strength – allowing direct hardware sharing. This means that if an application is carefully written to monitor hardware activity it can learn something about the containers it resides with. Also, if an application is able to successfully compromise the kernel it will have access to all other containers on the machine whereas in a dedicated VM it would require a few extra steps.

Another interesting talk focused on handling distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) effectively. A DDoS is a very basic attack – it drowns out legitimate website requests by triggering an overwhelming number of invalid requests (like shouting in a room where people are speaking) and has become surprisingly easy – there are sites that will let you control their “botnets” of slave machines for a small fee. These attacks are also effective because they rely on the internal operation of fundamental internet protocols (e.g., SNMP or exploiting the TCP handshake) making them hard to protect against. In fact, the two best defenses (note that firewalls are not at all helpful in a DDoS attack) involve using outside providers to manipulate the internet to deflect traffic away from you. For web requests a CDN (content distribution network) can host your website and split it among datacenters around the world which are collectively able to withstand an attack. For attacks based on amplification (requesting a long answer with a short question) a provider like Incapsula or NeuStar can actually intercept internet traffic for you and scrub it – for a sizable fee. While universities generally do not need to worry as much as banks, if the blogosphere takes issue with something done by your institution then a DDoS attack becomes a real possibility.

A few weeks later came the ILLiad International conference in Virginia Beach, VA. Mostly attended by librarians with presentations focused on resource sharing there were a number of interesting talks that applied directly to work in IT both with our support for interlibrary loan software and discovery.

Linked data was one of the unexpected highlights of the conference with the vendor Zepheira giving talks on how relationships between assets as exposed by linked data can drive use. The theory is that discovery necessarily leads to increased use – therefore the easier it is for search engines and link aggregators to discover your content the easier it will be for users to discover it. The natural extension is that, once discovered, your resources should also be easy to request. Consolidated requesting – having your users register once and search and request through a single interface – is one of the ideal outcomes of a library’s analysis and enhancement of its web presence.

Another useful presentation topic addressed how medical libraries handle requests from independent medical researchers and physicians. A service, loansome doc, allows physicians to affiliate themselves with a library to request medical articles. The library then procures those materials on their behalf. There are more differences than similarities, however, when it comes to how these materials are filled. Some libraries have a nearly automated process while others still provide highly individualized service. Some libraries allow electronic delivery to be automatic while others require approval and payment. While it was fascinating to learn about what different medical libraries are doing it was also interesting to think about how article requesting might work as a general service to the public – allowing the “visitor privilege” to be extended to folks elsewhere on the internet. There are no doubt serious legal considerations, but how this could be safely done is a topic of considerable interest.

In both securing information and sharing information IT systems can help the university and the library within it meet institutional goals (or even just comply with regulations). These two events provided great insight into what our peers are doing (or not doing) and the results in their institutions. Although there was far too much covered for a single blog post, please feel free to email me if you’re interested in notes or to talk about any of the agenda topics.

LDCX 2015


Approximately 70 people convened at Lathrop Library on the Stanford University campus to collaborate on the converging goals of the library, archive, and museum community at the 6th annual ldcx 2015 conference. While the schedule was ad-hoc, composed of lighting talks, plenary sessions, topic groups, and informal breakouts, the issues were well rooted in the themes of linked data models, discovery applications, and digital asset management. One of the long standing goals of the community has been bringing together individual and institutional efforts and this was very much manifest at the conference. There was a fruitful balance of sharing past achievement, making ongoing progress and planning for challenges to come. The Hydra stack has made its presence felt in almost every arena. Development is at a stage where best practices and design abstractions are emerging. Implementation of the Linked Data Platform (LDP), and the Portland Commons Data Model (PCDM) holds much promise as foundations of the future. Surprisingly there was very little coverage of Digital Preservation, but perhaps this a potential vacuum to be filled later. While is difficult to give adequate attention to everything covered, for more please check out:

Arclight and next-gen archives
Linked Data Platform
Portland Commons Data Model
IIIF Image and Presentation Specification
Fedora 4

DrupalCamp Report

Several Library IT staff members attended the YaleSites DrupalCamp on Thursday, March 19.  User experience staff attended presentations on determining the goals for a website, website design, information architecture, using YaleSites pre-built features, CSS injectors, creating views for content types, Google Analytics, search, using filters and compare. The topics discussed touched on nearly every aspect of running a Drupal website.  Of particular interest to YUL was the presentation on information architecture, as it included in its slide deck a screenshot of our Quicksearch Beta!

An information sharing-event such as YaleSites Drupal Camp is one of the benefits of the library’s participation in the centrally supported web content management system.  Library staff are always welcome to attend YaleSites events, and we saw quite a few library staff at the day-long conference.  If you are interested in learning more please check out YaleSites Training or look at slides from YaleSites presentations.

code4lib 2015


450 people from around the world gathered in Portland Oregon last week for the 10th annual code4lib library technology conference.

On Monday, approximately 18 pre-conferences were held in half and and full day sessions mostly comprised of demos, tutorials and discussion groups. I attended a morning session on linked data lead by Tom Johnson of DPLA and Karen Estlund of the University of Oregon. As a developer, the demonstration of the ruby gem ActiveTriples was particularly interesting in its ability to quickly model content into RDF classes and properties that can seamlessly connect to fedora 4 persistence or any extensible back end.

In the afternoon I attended a GeoBlacklight demo lead by Jack Reed and Darren Hardy of Stanford. The Stanford GeoBlacklight is a leading map collection interface that allows for spacial search, presentation, and discovery based on the development of metadata schemas, conversion workflows, and interface presentation components. The workshop focused on using the VirtualBox virtual machine and Vagrant setup environment to bring up an instance of geoblacklight in minutes.

On Tuesday the conference proper started with a keynote by Selena Deckelman. Her talk focused on the importance of leading the coding community based on principles of inclusion of beginners and marginal groups. The presentations on Tuesday expanded on that theme with talks focused on users, teams, developers and experiences in dealing with library technology challenges.

The presentations of Wednesday were more technically focused. Thursday morning a closing keynote was given by Andromeda Yelton who encouraged building systems with tools designed to best satisfy the “wanderlust” behind user’s and patrons’s drive to discovery. In between the 20 minute presentations were 2 hour long lighting talk session comprised of 5 minutes talks by 12 people. I thought the keynotes nicely framed the conference, the lightning talks were a great way to digest and get a pulse on what people were working on. As a developer I was particularly interested the the presentation of tools providing facility, such as Kevin Clarke’s presentation of Packer, a dev-opts tool for deploying to virtual machines, and Stanford’s OEmbed service for offering embeddable links to their digital collections, and a presentation by Stanford’s Rob Sanderson and Naomi Dushay describing the experience attempting to integrate their ILS, digital collections, and discovery indexes.

On Thursday afternoon and Friday, I attended working groups focused on fedora 4, hydra’s support of fedora 4, content modeling, and the linked data platform. The discussions were vigorous, and it was a beneficial mental exercise to spin out the various content model concepts of collection/work/file, the distinction between the “aggregates” and “members” predicate, and how to use the LDP Direct and Indirect Containers to deal with assets, rights, and ordering proxies, although I’m afraid not much was resolved. But DPLA (Digital Public Library of America) appears very interested in furthering these concepts into usable models that may promise to be a great step forward in furthering metadata discovery and interoperability.

All in all worthwhile, keeping an eye on next year’s conference, venue TBD.