IDCC15 Demo Sessions: Digital repositories with Islandora

10 February, 2015

Fedora (the repository software, not the Linux distribution, or the hat) is highly regarded for being stable, reliable and flexible but it is essentially back-end software. System developers are expected to put their own front-end on it before the end users get involved. In recent years several frameworks have been developed to take the pain out of doing just that. One such is Islandora, as demonstrated by Alan Stanley of discoverygarden in a session on Day One of IDCC15.

The name comes from the Fedora back-end and the fact that it was originally developed at the University of Prince Edward Island (it is now overseen by an international foundation). The framework adds a search layer powered by Apache Solr and a Drupal front-end, but the really useful work is done by a series of modules or ‘solution packs’ for certain content types. For example, there are solution packs for handling PDFs, newspapers, books, videos, regular images and large (hi-res) images. Alan took us through the one for regular images.

The pack provides a ready-made content model that can be adapted to local requirements: far easier than starting from Fedora’s blank slate. It automatically generates derivatives such as thumbnails and archive-friendly versions. It also defines a content model for stand-off annotations that can be superimposed on top of an image. Images can be grouped into collections, but this is defined using a membership relation so the same image can be in several collections, and easily swapped in or out.

The philosophy of Islandora is to keep as much of the data as possible in the Fedora back-end, so that the front-end components can be replaced without losing anything. But there are circumstances where you would not want to serve the content from Fedora routinely. The video module, for example, lets you store a local copy but serve a preview from, say, YouTube.

Alan confirmed some finer points of the workings of Islandora in response to questions from the audience.

  • The system lets you assign specific permissions to specific roles. So, for example, you can set things up so that any logged in user can deactivate an item, but only a senior administrator can purge it from the system entirely.
  • There is built-in version control so it is hard to lose anything permanently: object data is kept immutable, and everything else can be regenerated or rolled back.
  • There are methods for exporting all the data, to prevent lock-in.

More information about the framework is available from the Islandora site.

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