Texas Digital Library Conference System, 2017 Texas Conference on Digital Libraries

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Out-of-the-Box, In-a-Box, or Outside the Box? Lessons from an Environmental Scan of Digital Library Systems
Dawn Childress, Peter Broadwell

Last modified: 2017-03-22


In this short talk, Broadwell and Childress will share findings from a recent environmental scan of digital library systems focusing on the technology stacks and DL systems used across a range of research institutions within and outside of traditional academia. Our conclusions are drawn from interviews with librarians and technologists at UCLA and several peer institutions as well as functional requirements brainstorming sessions, message-board discussions, and “blue-sky” online searches conducted by UCLA Digital Library Program staff. We believe that these findings and the related observations we gathered over the course of our survey will be of interest to most librarians, technologists, and providers of repositories, as in fact this work is intended to guide our own digital library organization in the selection of its next-generation repository system (or systems).

Our talk will begin with an overview and assessment of the menagerie of DAMS and front-end systems adopted and maintained in the UCLA Digital Library over the past several years, including a homegrown digital collections system, a Drupal CMS, and a full Islandora “stack.”  The digital collections system is considerably outdated, and although the Drupal-based CMS and Islandora platform have been suitable for some of our collections, they tend not to offer sufficient ease of configuration when working with standard materials, nor the flexibility and compartmentalization needed to support development of advanced interface features and workflows for managing “non-traditional” content such as mixed audio, video, and text. In addition, the recent trend of providing both curator-oriented management interfaces and patron-oriented search and access interfaces via the same platform has tended to satisfy neither use case very well.

We will then discuss the features we seek in the next iteration of such systems and the alternatives we are exploring. This latter group currently comprises a mixture of mature “out-of-the-box” options like DSpace, Fedora-based stacks like Hydra/Blacklight, and management systems originating from outside the library world proper, such as the Nuxeo platform currently being championed by the California Digital Library. Formulating our requirements for a next-generation system required quite a bit of institutional soul-searching, as well as the navigation of a complicated functional landscape in which the competing demands of managing digital assets, surfacing digital collections, and storing and preserving institutional publications and research data, among other items, can quickly lead such searches astray.

During our study, we found it necessary to develop and then adhere closely to functional definitions and guidelines for differentiating the roles and responsibilities our DL system should fulfill and those it should leave to other organizations and products. In some cases, previous environmental scans conducted by various regional consortia provided guidance, although such efforts themselves were often not immune to “mission creep.” Ultimately, it was the experiences and observations of both librarians and developers at our peer institutions that provided the most useful insights.


digital library systems; environmental scan;