Saved by the Cloud

I’ve been playing around with Omeka.net, the hosted version of the digital collections platform Omeka, and have fallen hard for it.

A number of months ago, my university partnered with the National University of Ireland at Galway to find a new home for an annotated catalog of letters and primary documents from the Vatican Archives. It turns out that online access to the collection was in danger due to the financial troubles in Ireland, specifically, that the funding for the server and the IT staff required to support it was going away.

So, my library offered its assistance and I began exploring the options.

The ideal platform would have to have staying power, be relatively cheap and satisfy the feature list as closely as possible from the old website. Also desirable, of course, would be that it would use web standards, be simple to maintain and require no IT support.

Fortunately, this was happening just after the folks at George Mason University had turned their open source Omeka platform into a hosted service. Omeka is a platform designed around familiar web publishing conventions similar to WordPress, so for administrators, it would be quite easy. However, the traditional in-house server-based version would require at least one full-time IT staff member who could configure a LAMP server, install and configure Omeka and then keep it updated and running.

That would be impossible at my university where no server was available (or at least no production servers) to the library and where PHP (which Omeka is based on) is frowned upon.

But, with the hosted version coming online, Omeka.net, we could meet all of our criteria with additional benefits:

  • No server required…just sign up for an account and you’re ready to get started
  • No IT staff required
  • Simple item and collection management through web forms, making it possible for the researchers to continue adding to their collection without further assistance
  • A growing list of plugins, including CSV imports, Dublin Core mapping, etc. to meet most of the feature requirements
  • OAI-PMH interoperability, making it possible for the collection to be harvested by other systems and uses
  • Plus, the collection automatically rolls up into the growing universe of other Omeka.net collections, enhancing SEO and find-ability

The only real shortcomings of the system were its very limited theming and some missing plugins, such as faceted browsing and timeline features. However, it’s clearly early days for this blossoming platform and I expect good things to be added in the near future.

The live version will go online soon after we finalize a few graphics and textual decisions. But the collection is now safe and sound and poised to grow and develop in a stable and promising platform.

From Manila with Love

I’m just back from a library mission in Manila and so excited about the possibilities!

My university is in the midst of building relationships with other Vincentian schools and has begun sending representatives to Adamson University in the Philippines to explore ways our two campuses can collaborate. I was lucky enough to be one of two librarians that got to make the trip and discuss the possibilities with our Philippine counterparts.

A bit on Adamson’s library: They are rich in talent, but short of money and other resources. Like my school, their students are largely drawn from families without much money and with no previous experience with college education. But since we’re talking the Philippines here, the poverty issue is even more pronounced. And the money-crunch extends to the university as well. The library budget is minuscule compared to a typical American institution. To give you a sense of this, consider their law library which would fit in my office.

Adamson also sits on a trove of unique physical collections, but with the climate control issues they face and the lack of resources to digitize, these items are quickly deteriorating and may soon be lost forever.

This is where the partnership between our two institutions comes in. As administrator of the university’s institutional repository and digital image platform, I had lots to offer. Almost immediately, I was able to acquire space on our repository for all content related to any collaboration projects that occur between the two universities. You can see our first stab at this is already taking shape. We’re also going to explore sharing our contentDM space to highlight some of their unique historical content. The details need to be worked out, but this will likely happen real quick.

There are many other ways we can work together, much of it enabled by web technologies. Many database vendors seem open to the idea of sharing my university’s online resources with Adamson, which makes sense because, in one stroke, they get to do right by a much poorer university and also make connections in a country where they lack much business. This is a real coup for Adamson, which licenses just two online databases, compared to our two hundred-odd subscriptions.

Further out in the future, we’re hoping to have regular inter-library online meetings to share knowledge and ideas. In speaking with our colleagues at Adamson, it became apparent that alot of the knowledge that we take for granted in the States, is quite new to most librarians in the Philippines. Case in point: the whole idea of automated collection development was new to them, as was alot of the web tools that I demoed for them.

There has also been some talk of leveraging the perfectly complementary time zones for providing 24 hour reference between the two campuses. As you can imagine, the ideas just keep coming! I’ll post updates on our progress as things come together.