VRA 2014 Case Studies in International Resources, Schuler


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Presented by Andrea Schuler at the Annual Conference of the Visual Resources Association, March 12-15, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Session #2: Case Studies in International Resources
MODERATOR: Bridget Madden, University of Chicago
Bridget Madden, University of Chicago
Patrice-Andre Prud'homme, Illinois State University
Amy Robinson, University for the Creative Arts (UK)
Andrea Schuler, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This session will present four web resources that are international in origin, audience, material, and/or scope. The presenters will discuss various aspects of visual resources librarianship, including project management, workflow, cataloging, digitization, digital library platform design, interactive and special features, digital preservation, and collaboration.

Andrea Schuler will present the new digital library for Archnet, Patrice-Andre Prud’homme will speak about the creation of an interactive website for Niiyama Poetic Japanese Pottery, Amy Robinson will present the Zandra Rhodes Digital Study Collection which features digitized materials from the designer’s archive, and Bridget Madden will discuss hosting a public collection of the South Side Community Art Center’s images at an academic institution.

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  • I’m going to be talking today about what we’ve been calling Archnet 2.0, a completely redesigned website and backend cataloging tool for Archnet, the largest openly accessible online library focusing on architecture, urbanism, environmental and landscape design, visual culture, and conservation issues related to the Muslim world. The new site went live to the world on January 27 of this year.Archnet was conceived in 1999 and officially launched in 2002 as a partnership between MIT and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. In January 2012, the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT, part of the MIT Libraries, took over management of the Digital Library, a continually-growing collection of visual, textual, and archival material within the Archnet site. We have a staff of 3 at MIT working on the site – our program head, the Archnet Digital Library Content Manager, and myself.
  • Some of you may be familiar with Archnet, but for those of you who aren’t, I want to give you a quick overview of the kinds of things we have in the site. I’ll talk more in depth about some of the new features of the site, and switch over (hopefully) the live site later. The site was built with content contributions from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Geneva, the Aga Khan Programs at MIT and Harvard, and donations from scholars, architects, and institutions from around the world. The content documents architectural sites, urban planning, landscape design, conservation and restoration projects, cultural heritage, and much more, both historic and contemporary. We’ve partnered with the Aga Khan Museum, which is opening in September of this year, to start loading object records into the site as well. The site focuses on the Islamic world, but that’s interpreted broadly and covers a huge part of the globe, so the sites are wide ranging. We have material available related to sites in 95 different countries.In 2013, Archnet had an average of over 12,000 user sessions a day, with an average length of 21 minutes, so people are spending time on the site and using it heavily. Those users downloaded nearly 1 million publications over the course of the year! On the site you’ll find publications, a growing collection of archival material, images, and site records. The site records document architectural sites and conservation projects across the Islamic world, and we’re currently at over 6,500 of those site records. They all (in theory) have a written description with bibliography, and images documenting them, and many also have associated publications. There are nearly 85,000 images associated with the various site records. You can kind of think of them as encyclopedia articles.We also have nearly 7,500 publication records, including complete runs of some key journals in the field like Mimar and Muqarnas. Everything on the site is open and available for downloading for educational and research use. Muqarns, for example, is a Brill journal available through for JStor subscribers with a 5 year moving wall, but is openly and freely available on Archnet with only a 3 year wall. Archnet itself owns very little of the actual content, it’s all being used with permission.
  • The redesigned front end of the site, and the sections it’s broken into
  • Research – the portal into all the content on the site
  • A lot of the material I was just talking about can be found in one of the many unique special collections on the site – here’s where we have the architect’s archives, material from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, research projects by Aga Khan faculty, publications, and reference and survey collections of images. A lot of this material is only available through Archnet and can’t be found anywhere else
  • There was no question that we needed an entirely new front end, built from scratch, since the ten year old site was completely outdated. You can see it up there, it’s not at all visually pleasing and mostly consists of long lists of things. But why did we build a new backend? We determined that no existing system had the combination of functionality we need.
  • One of the most important things within Archnet is the relationship of records to each other, and we didn’t find any other system that could really allow us to associate freely between objects the way we needed to. We have images and publications and videos associated to sites, all are associated to names, some are associated to collections, parent site records are associated to child site records, parent publication records are associated to child publication records, etc
  • Open source tools used to build the new site
  • So the new backend tool looks like this. As you can see, the design mimics the aesthetic of the front end. The sites and images cataloging screens will probably look pretty familiar to most of you, since they have most of the typical fields you would find in VR databases. It’s based largely on VRA core, though it has been modified and simplified in places. We’re using CCO as applicable, but again, with modifications. One major one that you’ll notice is that primary site names are cataloged in the native language of their location, rather than in English.
  • Some of the key features that were important to us in this development, and that were in some cases missing entirely from our old backend :all fields are repeatable. In the old back end, most fields were just comma separated lists
  • it’s easy to add parent and child site relationships, and have multiple parents of an object
  • Images associated with a site can easily be reordered by moving tiles around
  • we can add free text descriptions and citations to records, and have editing tools built right in – the old site required html markup
  • we have a names authority file and the ability to add photos to the names. Those names can be associated with any type of record on the site – image, site, video, publication, etc.
  • we can easily create collections, and have objects of all types associated with them – in the old site, you could have an image collection, and a publication collection, but you couldn’t have images and publications in the same collection. Especially for archival collections, this just didn’t work.
  • We also had to make decisions about mapping and display of this back end data. Many of the fields from the old database were identical in the new database, but not all were. We had a lot of fields in the old database that were just a long string of many values, but in the new backend tool they would be broken out into repeating fields. We had to work out field delimiters, and spent a lot of time cleaning up data so it would transfer cleanly. And more time cleaning up data after it didn’t! We had to choose which fields would display on the front end, and reworked the display order for some types of records.
  • The following slides will be demonstrated on a live site during the conference. Images here are for reference.
  • A redesigned search feature was one of the major things on our wishlist. The old site simply gave you results in long textual lists that could be difficult and unappealing to navigate. The new site gives you thumbnails for all results, and a rollover with some of the metadata. The results default to being broken up by result type. We also have a set of facets on the side, which we lacked in the other site. They can also change the way the results are grouped.From any one of those results you can click into it for more information, but your search results stay down at the bottom of the page for you to return to. We also have this thumbnail bar up here that’s really handy if you want to click back and forth between a few different sites to compare. Your thumbnails aren’t saved once you leave the site, however, but we are working on adding that feature.
  • We also wanted geo referencing to play a larger part on the new site. In our old backend we did enter coordinates of sites, but that information didn’t go anywhere. In the new site, a map displays for each site, showing the exact location of the site if available, or at least a city pinpoint. Each image is also geolocated. It defaults to the location of the site it’s attached to, but that can be edited. So if you have a photo of a building within a complex, you can set the location of that photo to be the exact building, and the user would be able to see that on a map. This is Bing Maps that’s being brought into the site.cing of sites on a map
  • We wanted video to be handled better on the new site as well. Videos can either be downloaded and saved to the user’s computer, or they can be streamed directly within the site, which wasn’t an option previously. The videos are being played through YouTube,but there are no ads.
  • One of the features that I think is particularly cool on the new site is the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme section. The Historic Cities Programme is another Trust for Culture initiative that promotes the conservation and re-use of buildings and public spaces in historic cities in the Muslim World. We have site records for many of the various projects undertaken by the program, and as a portal into them we have a walk through of one of their projects, Al Azhar Park in Cairo. As you scroll through, various bubbles pop up that take you into different sections of the collection. We’re hoping to have these walk throughs done for other important projects also.
  • And finally, one feature that we’re really proud of is the Timeline. As the opening blurb explains, it’s not meant to be exhaustive, but to offer a lens, and a starting point, into the rich history the site covers. It’s a set of images, arranged linearly by historic period, of key sites that represent the various dynasties over the history of Islamic architecture. You can see how the various dynasties overlap and when they were active relative to each other. You can click into one [choose Fatimid], scroll through the various sites, or move along the timeline up top [move over to Mughal]. It’s one example of the learning and teaching tools we’re trying to expand on the new site.
  • So we’re really proud of the new site and what we’ve accomplished so far, but there still are improvements to be made and changes to come. The major thing we’re working on right now is improving the search. The relevance rankings need to be tweaked, and we’re going to be getting and advanced search box to build more complex queries and limit by field. We’re also improving our ability to search on specific fields in the back end. We’re also writing some documentation up and making short videos, so users know how to make better use of the facets and some other search tips that can help them navigate. We didn’t have time to do user testing before the site was launched, which is really unfortunate, so we’re taking feedback as we get it from live users, including all of you, hopefully!From the very beginning of this project, it was written into the agreement between the Trust, MIT, and our development firm that the resulting product would be released as an open source tool for other institutions to take, modify, and improve for their own use. I don’t have details about the timeline of this, but this is still the plan.
  • I didn’t talk too much about the actual development process, since it was done by the outside firm, and our side involved a lot of conference calls and back and forth of wireframes, but I do want to mention a few things that we learned along the way:A project like this will take longer than you think! We started in 2011, and launched in 2014. There was about a year in there were no work was happening, so that inflated the time it took, but it was still longer than we were expecting. The expected launch date got pushed back several times.If you’re working with an outside consultant, look for one that has experience with the kind of tool you’re hoping to build. This will save time, and will bring knowledge and experience to the process, and cut down on the frustration of not “speaking the same language”, so to speak.See what other tools are available, who is doing similar work, and who you can work with. Don’t build in a vacuum, and don’t reinvent the wheel.Perform a thorough assessment of all the features you like in your current system, and all the features you like in other systems, and write them down! Write down everything. There were some things we took for granted, or were so small we didn’t think to mention, and they got left out of the final product, until we went to something we’d always done and realized we couldn’t. If you can, have the people who are building the site sit down with you, watch you work for a while, and see what works and what doesn’t work in your current workflow.In your communication with the developers, write everything down. Everything you request, everything you want, everything you don’t want – document it all. That way you can go back to it if necessary. The team at the development firm that was working on our project changed at least twice over the course of the 2 years. A lot of knowledge was lost in those transfers.And finally, make sure the tool that’s being designed works for you. Don’t allow unnecessary features because someone thinks they’re cool, or because that’s how they think it should be done. You’re who is going to be using the tool day in and day out, and everything needs to be suited to your workflow. Once we’ve been using the new tool for a bit, we’re planning on going through and stripping out the unnecessary fields that somehow found their way through in development, and adding others in.
  • VRA 2014 Case Studies in International Resources, Schuler

    1. 1. AKDC@MIT VRA 2014 Session 2: Case Studies in International Resources Archnet 2.0: Building a new Digital Library of the Built Environment in the Islamic World http://archnet.org Andrea Schuler Aga Khan Documentation Center, MIT Libraries March 12, 2014
    2. 2. AKDC@MIT What can you find on Archnet? Architecture, urban planning, landscape design, restoration, conservation, and visual culture in the Islamic world • 6,571 site records • 7,759 publication records • 84,586 image and video records • 51 unique collections As of March 4, 2014 Majorelle Gardens, Marrakesh, Morocco © 2008 Nancy Demerdash Planispheric Astrolabe, 14th c. © Aga Khan Museum
    3. 3. AKDC@MIT
    4. 4. AKDC@MIT
    5. 5. AKDC@MIT
    6. 6. AKDC@MIT The old Archnet site
    7. 7. AKDC@MIT A site record with associations:
    8. 8. AKDC@MIT A publication record with associations:
    9. 9. AKDC@MIT Open source tools: • Ruby & Ruby on Rails • Git • Capistrano • Puma • iQuery • Bootstrap • Backbone JS • Jetty • Solr • Project Hydra • Fedora • Ubuntu • Nginx • Postgre SQL 360° Leti Resort, Almora, India, local construction © Aga Khan Award for Architecture
    10. 10. AKDC@MIT Site record, back end view
    11. 11. AKDC@MIT All fields are repeatable
    12. 12. AKDC@MIT Multiple parents and children & easy associations
    13. 13. AKDC@MIT Easy reordering of images
    14. 14. AKDC@MIT Free text descriptions with editing tools
    15. 15. AKDC@MIT Name authority
    16. 16. AKDC@MIT Multiple types of media in a collection Name authority records too
    17. 17. AKDC@MIT Field mapping and delimiters!
    18. 18. AKDC@MIT
    19. 19. AKDC@MIT
    20. 20. AKDC@MIT
    21. 21. AKDC@MIT
    22. 22. AKDC@MIT
    23. 23. AKDC@MIT
    24. 24. AKDC@MIT
    25. 25. AKDC@MIT
    26. 26. AKDC@MIT The future • Improved searching • Documentation • User feedback • Release of the open source tool Dubai Mall, © Aga Khan Award for Architecture
    27. 27. AKDC@MIT What did we learn? • It will take longer than you think • Chose a developer carefully • Don’t build in a vacuum or reinvent the wheel • Do a thorough needs & wishes assessment • Write everything down • Make sure the tool works for you Chengdu Hualin Elementary School, Chengdu, China. © Li Jun
    28. 28. AKDC@MIT Thank you! aschuler@mit.edu