A digital library or collection can be simply a list of works grouped in a web page following some simple order, for example the alphabetical one, as in the case of the digital culture library that we have in Ártica (Update: on 20/1/2017 we launched the new digital library of Ártica, based on the Omeka software, which allows us to search and navigate the works in an integral way).
But when the library grows above a certain threshold, which is found in the hundreds of items, a simple list no longer satisfies the needs of users to find works of interest, and also becomes very difficult to manage.
Bulky digital collections are managed by computer systems called “digital repositories” that allow you to store, sort, catalog, make available to the public, and find digital objects.
Using this system, digital files are uploaded from a single web interface, assigned to collections, the corresponding information and metadata are added to them, and published. Thus, each work will have a unique URL. Likewise, the work will be associated to different categories of information, such as author, year, genre, collection, etc.
Repositories usually incorporate one or more standard systems for assigning metadata (such as Dublin Core), so there is no need to create your own cataloguing system from scratch.
Free software to manage collections
Today there are many software options for creating repositories and managing collections. Our recommendation is to choose free software, since it gives us autonomy, is more stable and more economical: we will avoid dependence on onerous licenses as well as on the terms and conditions of third party online services.
To implement the software, it is necessary to have a web server where we can install the repository and manage all the resources, as is done with any website. If possible, the ideal is that the web server that hosts the repository is in national territory or in the geographical location closest to most users, so that access is as agile as possible.
Having the repository’s servers in national territory also provides legal security, since it ensures that the information stored there will be subject to the legislation of the country in which the institution or person resides.
To build the repository you can roughly choose between:
- Use a generic web content management system such as WordPress or Drupal, which provide the basic tools for file storage, content management, searches, etc. The advantage is that they are widely used programs, with millions of installations all over the world, communities that provide support and permanent updates. The disadvantage is that they are not designed specifically for repositories, and therefore for some advanced functions it is necessary to add and configure extensions that do not come by default, which requires technical knowledge.
- Use a specific management system for digital repositories, such as Omeka or DSpace. These tools already come prepared with all the functions to load, catalog and visualize digital collections.
To understand the potential of repository management software, let’s look at some examples.
In this example, we see an online exhibition of Europeana managed with Omeka. The exhibitions are a native function of this tool that allows that, once hosted and catalogued the objects in the repository, we can use them as many times as we want in different ways.
Thus, the photography of a building can integrate this exhibition of Art Nouveau and later be part of another virtual exhibition on architecture of the early twentieth century, without having to upload the digital object twice.
This other example corresponds to a collection of social science books within the Colibri academic repository of the University of the Republic, Uruguay, managed with DSpace. We see in the image that there are several ways to explore the works: by author, subject, title or date of publication.
With this tool, when a new work is loaded into the system, we also load the data corresponding to the author and the other fields. But it will be necessary to do it only the first time, since the next works of the same author will not require typing again the name of the same one; the author is already created in the database and it will only be necessary to assign new works to this already existing author.
To explore and understand these types of tools, we recommend starting by creating a free account on the Omeka portal: www.omeka.net. This will allow us to evaluate the tool and later we will have the option to install it on a server of our own. In this tutorial you will find a very complete guide to using Omeka.
We also recommend browsing examples of repositories that use Omeka and DSpace to understand what the user experience is like.
Of course, Omeka and DSpace are not the only free software packages for managing repositories. There are also programs like EPrints, Collective Access and others.
Beyond taking the decision to create your own digital repository, it is advisable to also load the works in the main reference web repositories. They are the sites where users usually enter to search and explore content, so they will serve as a “window” and gateway to our collections.
We are talking about a wide range of sites, from the online services of private companies, such as Flickr (photographs), SoundCloud (audios), YouTube and Vimeo (videos) to non-profit digital heritage projects, such as Internet Archive, Wikimedia Commons or Wikisource.
As a minimum, we recommend that you open an account in Internet Archive, which allows you to upload all types of files, with no size or quantity limits, as well as create a very complete file for each work. It is a tool that takes into account the needs of storage and making available the heritage of archives and libraries.
It is a non-profit initiative, does not present advertising on its site and does not require the user to log in to be able to access and download the works. Remember, however, that the Internet Archive only admits works in the public domain, under Creative Commons licenses or for which explicit authorization has been granted by the copyright holder.
In short, the loading of the contents in Internet Archive or other additional repositories will be an excellent complement to our digital repository and will help us to make our collections visible.