Introducing Islandora and Al Stanton-Hagan, Digital Archivist

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[Photo of Al wearing an orange shirt and brown glasses]Hi there! I’m Al Stanton-Hagan, a former research assistant for the LGBTQ Oral Histories Digital Collaboratory and student at U of T’s iSchool. Starting in September I’ll be replacing Rebecka Sheffield as the new Digital Archivist for the Collaboratory. This summer I attended the Islandora Conference at the University of Prince Edward Island, jumping into my new role head first to learn about one of the tools we’re using to store and provide access to the Collaboratory’s digitized materials.

Islandora is an open-source digital content management system that allows organizations to store, manage, and provide access to digital assets. To achieve this, its software stack combines the content repository Fedora with a Drupal-coded user interface and an Apache Solr search. Islandora has created a robust community of administrators and developers who share their findings about the fantastic opportunities–and frustrations–of working with open-source content-management software. Several times a year, members of this community meet in person at Islandora camps and conferences for workshops, demonstrations, and resource sharing. I joined librarians, archivists, developers, and digital humanities experts to learn about what people are doing with Islandora, and what sorts of opportunities and challenges I might encounter using it at the CLGA.

Open-source software is a valuable alternative to expensive proprietary content-repository software such as ContentDM, which is easy to use out of the box, but provides limited opportunities for customization. Islandora allows for all kinds of unique functionality that is useful to the goals of the Collaboratory. It could be a great tool for storing digitized oral histories by offering customized input forms and can be configured to provide both preservation and access for large audio files. The capability to link the repository to content aggregators such as Google Scholar and WorldCat is a great way to increase access to Collaboratory content. At the conference, I saw tons of gorgeous and fabulously functional websites, my favourite being Bowing Down Home, a beautifully presented ethnography of fiddling in Prince Edward Island featuring performances and oral histories https://bowingdownhome.ca/.

The possibilities that Islandora offers are exciting and promising. At the same time, customizing a site too much can create the need for expensive maintenance by developers that makes it difficult to create and run a digital repository that suits our needs without encountering prohibitive financial or labour costs.

We’re still in the early days of figuring out how Islandora (or other preservation and exhibit softwares) can work for the Collaboratory, but it is an exciting time to join a community of people creating innovative ways to store and access digital content.