The Path to DHO: Discovery


Niall O'Leary - DHO

Created as part of the Humanities Serving Irish Society initiative to support the Digital Humanities in Ireland, the Digital Humanities Observatory was charged with creating an all-island gateway to Irish digital collections and resources. Initially the DHO created a repository infrastructure to preserve and curate content provided by HSIS partners using the open source platform Fedora. Unfortunately few partners were in a position to contribute digital objects (such as images, texts, video, audio) directly to this repository. The DHO found it more effective to build on aspects of this infrastructure to create a more flexible solution.

This solution, DHO: Discovery, stresses the importance of strong metadata and incorporates lessons learnt from international and national partners. Exploiting relationships across the cultural and academic sectors, it has created an environment that highlights the importance of best practice and standards-compliant development. Instead of the digital assets themselves, institutions provide metadata about their collections. This is indexed using the open source search tool, SOLR. Results from SOLR can be formatted in many different ways, from XML to JSON, and the system is easily queried. Taking advantage of this, a platform was developed that uses SOLR's output to populate a dynamic interface based on the javascript library, JQuery. AJAX calls create a smooth and responsive experience for a user of the system. In addition a number of other navigational approaches developed using PHP provide alternative pathways to the data and allow content to be indexed by popular search engines.

DHO: Discovery allows for the serendipitous discovery of connections between disparate objects from a variety of Irish sources. Initially aimed at content from academic sources, the range of content has expanded to take in cultural institutions. At time of writing, there are collections from Trinity College Dublin, the Chester Beatty Library, the National Library of Ireland, NUI galway, and many others. In addition, a widget taking advantage of the European cultural portal, Europeana, allows for the discovery of international objects of related interest.

Besides the primary search aid, a large suite of visualisations and other tools for accessing collection level metadata was developed using open source resources, such as Raphael, Google Charts, MIT's Exhibit framework, etc.. Using location data, objects can be automatically mapped, or, using date information, placed on a timeline. In many instances, these types of presentation are unavailable on the source websites. These developments stress the value of the approach adopted by the DHO. The adoption of accepted standards opens the possibility of further integration with national (eg. the Digital Repository of Ireland) and international projects (eg. Europeana). Indeed the current system allows for the easy extraction of data for inclusion in Europeana and has been used in this context.
In providing an account of the development of this system, it is hoped that lessons learnt might contribute to the more effective development of similar systems.