The Digital Archive Software¶
The Digital Archive is a web application built from a combination of free open-source software and custom software developed by George Soules of AvantLogic Corporation for the Southwest Harbor Public Library (SWHPL). The software implements the Archive Relational Model. The purpose of this page is to share this resource with other organizations who may be interested in creating a Digital Archive of their own.
The primary components of the Digital Archive are:
- Omeka theme
- Omeka plugins
- Common Vocabulary Translator
The sections that follow describe the components listed above.
Omeka (pronounced oh-may-ka) is a Swahili word meaning to display or lay out wares; to speak out; to spread out; to unpack. Omeka is a free, flexible, and open-source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions. Omeka was designed with non-IT specialists in mind, allowing users to focus on content and interpretation rather than programming. To learn more, visit omeka.org.
Omeka is quick to install and easy to get started with. It stores your data in MySQL which is an open-source relational database management system. The Digital Archive uses MariaDB which is a community-developed fork of MySQL intended to remain free under the GNU GPL free software license since MySQL was acquired by Oracle Corporation.
Note that Omeka uses the term item to refer to a record or entry in its database. Each item represents one entity such as a person, a place, or a thing. An item contains information called metadata that describes the entity. An item can also have an attachment, like a photograph or a PDF file, to supplement the metadata.
Strengths and Weaknesses¶
Omeka is powerful, easy to use, and free; however, its core feature set is too basic to adequately present items in the Digital Archive which are highly relational in nature. Interestingly, popular software solutions, including Omeka, which are commonly used by museums and historical societies, provide few features for establishing and presenting the relationships among items in the database. Consequently, they can’t offer enticing features to help users easily see and discover related items. Furthermore, their presentation of search results tends to be minimal.
Fortunately, Omeka can be extended in two powerful ways. First, because it is open-source, a programmer can change the software to suit the needs of their organization. Second, and a better approach than changing the Omeka software itself, is that programmers can create what are known as “plugins” to extend the capabilities of Omeka. In contrast, proprietary “closed-source” software cannot be modified or extended by those who purchase it.
Before moving on to the discussion of Omeka themes and plugins, note that the Digital Archive uses what is now known as Omeka Classic, a term coined by Omeka to distinguish the original Omeka software from a different product called Omeka S. Omeka S addresses some of the shortcomings of Omeka Classic, but still does not provide the capabilities needed for the Digital Archive. Omeka Classic has proven to be a solid platform and therefore remains as the foundation of the Digital Archive.
A theme allows you to customize the look and feel of the public-facing interface of an Omeka website. Like plugins, themes allow an organization to both extend Omeka’s functionality and control the appearance of the website. Omeka comes with a number of themes that you can use as-is or modify. The Digital Archive uses a custom theme called AvantTheme.
A plugin is a software component that adds features to an existing computer program. Omeka’s rich support for plugins allows a programmer to extend or change Omeka’s features without editing the core Omeka source code. By using plugins, an organization can upgrade to future releases of Omeka Classic without having to reincorporate its custom logic into core source code.
Plugins used by the Digital Archive are listed in the Software Components section below.
SWHPL archivists use a Windows desktop program called Zoomify to create the tiles for zoomable images. Running the program is a manual step that an archivist must take to create the tiles for an image in the Archive. Once created, the archivist uploads the tiles to the Digital Archive server. When a user views an item, the AvantCustom plugin automatically detects if tiles exist for it, and if so, invokes OpenSeadragon to display them.
Common Vocabulary Translator¶
The Common Vocabulary Translator (CVT) is a Python program that translates the nearly 15,000 Nomenclature 4.0 terms into the simpler Common Vocabulary terms used in the Digital Archive. It also adds additional terms to the Common Vocabulary that do not exist in Nomenclature.
Elasticsearch is an open-source, distributed search and analytics engine. Since its release in 2010, Elasticsearch has quickly become the most popular search engine. It is used by the Digital Archive for full-text search and for display of the facets in the Refine Your Search panel. Elasticsearch is the technology that makes it possible for Digital Archive users to search one site or all sites.
Software Components Used By the Digital Archive¶
The Digital Archive utilizes the following software components (listed by category in alphabetical order). Most are freely available to any organization that wants to use or modify them, but please read the license for each one.
- Omeka plugins
- Archive Repertory by Daniel Berthereau
- AvantAdmin by George Soules
- AvantCommon by George Soules
- AvantCustom by George Soules
- AvantDpla by George Soules
- AvantElasticsearch by George Soules
- AvantElements by George Soules
- AvantHybrid by George Soules
- AvantImport by George Soules
- AvantRelationships by George Soules
- AvantS3 by George Soules
- AvantReport by George Soules
- AvantSearch by George Soules
- AvantVocabulary by George Soules
- AvantZoom by George Soules
- Bulk Metadata Editor by UC Santa Cruz University Library, Daniel Berthereau
- Geolocation by Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media
- OAI-PMH Repository by John Flatness
- Simple Vocab by Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media
- Omeka theme
- AvantTheme by George Soules
- FPDF Library by Olivier Plathey
If you have technology related questions, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.