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SHERPA to YODL-ING: Digital Mountaineering at York

Julie Allinson and Elizabeth Harbord describe the development of digital repositories for the University of York.

The University Library & Archives' first venture into digital repositories was as part of the White Rose partnership in the original SHERPA Project [1]. Leeds, Sheffield and York universities have had a research partnership for some years and the library services became a consortial partner in SHERPA in 2002 to set up a joint e-prints repository called White Rose Research Online (WRRO) [2] . During the project which ran from 2002-2006, advocacy about Open Access and the need for wider dissemination of research outputs got underway at York. At the same time the University was rolling out implementation of an institutional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) [3] and it became clear that the University had a number of actual or potential digital resources which could not be appropriately accommodated in either WRRO or the VLE content management system. These resources included still and moving images, sound recordings and archives which were dispersed round the University in different departments. The case for bringing them together in a centralised service was made on the grounds that it would avoid duplication, enable reuse and provide an efficient way of managing the complex elements involved such as digitisation, copyright, storage and backup, metadata, preservation, access, authentication and cross-searching. As a result York decided in 2006 to set up its own multimedia repository now called the York Digital Library (YODL) [4], alongside WRRO and the VLE. Start-up funding was secured from JISC for the SAFIR Project [5] but three years of development work was funded from a special University grant. Since 2006, York's contribution to WRRO and the development of YODL has progressed in tandem and both aspects are discussed in more detail below.

SHERPA, WRRO and e-Theses

In 2002 when the opportunity to participate in the SHERPA Project arose, we had little experience of digital repositories, apart from the Archaeology Data Service [6] run within the Department of Archaeology. A consortial approach in which the costs and expertise needed to set up a repository could be shared was therefore attractive. Leeds offered to host and run the server and a joint project officer was appointed funded equally by all three White Rose universities. Although there have been occasional differences in approach between the three universities, the White Rose research 'brand' is seen as valuable and adding to rather than detracting from the institutional need for each to showcase its own research. This collaboration has proved beneficial in the longer term and the advantages of keeping the consortial approach were recognised by establishing WRRO as an ongoing service after the SHERPA Project finished. York has continued to work with Leeds and Sheffield to develop advocacy, ingest more content and attempt to embed the deposit of research publications into the research process. A further JISC project, IncReASe [7], has just recently been completed and has highlighted areas for further work such as:


As WRRO began to grow and its value in disseminating research was recognised, the question of including theses was raised. National developments with e-theses, culminating in the launch of EThOSnet [8] in January 2009, supported this development. Work to enable WRRO to accept theses started in 2008, as Sheffield had changed its regulations to require e-submission from October 2008 and a separate instance of the e-prints software was set up called White Rose Etheses Online (WREO) [9]. At York a proposal to require e-submission has been going through the consultation and committee approval process during this academic year, and we expect that change to be in place for postgraduates registering from October 2009 onwards. The response from students and staff has generally been very favourable and has provided an opportunity to reinforce good practice in the areas of copyright compliance and avoiding plagiarism.

Towards a Digital Library Service for York

Work on YODL began in August 2007 and in the 18 months since then we have progressed from ideas and planning through to a functioning beta service with over 7,000 items.

screenshot (44KB) : Figure 1: Screenshot showing YODL BETA

Figure 1: Screenshot showing YODL BETA

YODL: From Requirements to Software

From the start, YODL set out to work with users to design a system which was both needed and usable. Gathering user requirements to inform our software selection was a first step for the project and was an ideal opportunity for the new team to start meeting academics and other potential users. As part of this process we assembled an 'Advisory Group' comprising interested members of York's academic community, and some additional representatives from related services, such as WRRO. From meetings with those, and with their colleagues, we assembled a list of requirements for a repository system, augmented with findings from desk-research into digital libraries. The outcome of this activity was a document with two purposes [10]: firstly, it offered a high-level model for our digital library, which took a more abstract view of purpose, scope and functions; and secondly a list of detailed requirements which became part of an Invitation to Tender (ITT), sent out to various software companies. Of course, gathering requirements and advocating YODL to users is an ongoing process and we continue to work towards an embedded and integrated service.

YODL: Going Open Source

The outcome of our software selection was to choose Fedora Commons [11], an open source repository architecture whose principal feature is flexibility. This decision was influenced by several factors. Although a number of commercial offerings exist for multimedia repositories, none had quite the suite of features we wanted. In addition, as a project we had the capacity to take risks and our Steering Group took a strategic decision to commit to development here at York, rather than spend our budget on commercial software. Such an approach is not without challenges – recruiting developers, building skillsets, fire-fighting bugs and other technical problems as well as monitoring developments in small open source communities have all demanded creative solutions and occasioned much head-scratching.

YODL: Stuff, What Stuff?

A digital library is not a digital library without content, and we have no shortage of identified collections. Our initial pilot collection has been History of Art images. Frustratingly, much of this content needs fine-grained access control to comply with licence restrictions, which has meant a lot of work on implementing access control mechanisms and ingesting material for a relatively small number of users. Nonetheless, supporting students is a key mission and we are very close to a fully rolled-out access-controlled collection of over 7,000 images for use by staff and students in History of Art. Beyond that, we have focused heavily on images so far and have reused our metadata creation and image ingestion workflows for a number of smaller collections, including images taken through the course of research by academics and research students as well as a digitised manuscript from our Borthwick Institute for Archives, with more to follow. Going beyond YODL, the digital library service has taken responsibility for co-ordinating digitisation activities for the Library & Archives and helping colleagues to put together proposals for building content collections which YODL would host, manage and deliver. Music is our next focus, and we have a large collection of high-quality rare recordings which are currently being digitised and will come en masse to the Digital Library this year. This will allow us to explore new ways of delivery through York's streaming service.

YODL: Working with Users: A Case Study

Our collaboration with the History of Art Department is an interesting example of working with users. Traditionally, teaching was carried out using slides, but increasingly use is being made of scanned images stored on local PCs in the slide library, scanned by departmental staff. The History of Art image collections were selected as our pilot collection for the SAFIR Project principally because they are so heavily used. Initially we had planned to digitise many of their existing slides, but it quickly became apparent that licensing and quality issues would make this difficult. Moreover, the usage of these slides was falling away in favour of images scanned under the Copyright Licensing Agency licence, along with other images taken by individual academics. In order to support the Department following the resignation of their departmental slide assistant, the Library offered an image service, with a view to migrating digital content into YODL. This initiative would reduce the need for a physically staffed slide library over time. It has involved digitising images, setting up a workflow for uploading new digital images, assessing the slide collections for possible digitisation, supporting users in the Department and trying to ensure that staff are aware of copyright and licensing restrictions. It has been a very successful collaboration. For the Digital Library team, we have gained an unprecedented understanding of the needs of academics and students within the Department, while the Department has benefited from the support of professional Library staff. Over the next year we will move both staff and students over to using YODL for access to images. Although we anticipate that this process will not be universally smooth – culture change never is – we are hoping that established relationships and a continued commitment to supporting the Department will help us to make a successful transition.

YODL: Architecting the System

Choosing Fedora has given us the flexibility to design a system from the ground up. Fedora provides an architecture for storing and managing objects, and access to a growing and active community of developers. What it does not provide, however, is a single simple way to do things, or an out-of-the box interface. This does mean that we are free to design an interface for our users, both a blessing and a curse when trying to choose the best way to proceed from a myriad of options. One early decision we made was to experiment with Muradora [12], a user interface and access control layer for Fedora. Less developed than Fedora and with a smaller user base, Mura does pose difficulties and we are uncertain about its long-term future. What it has provided us, though, is a place to start: that is, an interface to show to our users; and, with some technical development, a mechanism for controlling access to resources in quite complex and fine-grained ways. In all of this aspect of our work, support from colleagues from Computing Service has been crucial, and a growing network of connections with technical and support staff across the University is helping with integration tasks.

Our immediate future work has been helped by a further JISC grant for a technical enhancement project called YODL-ING (YOrk Digital Library Integration for the Next Generation). This will allow us to explore some technical ways of populating and managing YODL. Integration and interoperability are high on the list of priorities for this project, which has, on the ingest side, a SWORD-based [13] one-stop deposit client which will allow content to be deposited simply, employing one desktop or Web-based tool with the underlying system pushing the content to the most appropriate system using the SWORD protocol. Additionally, we are looking to provide enhanced methods of accessing content, including a means of selecting YODL content from within our VLE. Access control will again feature in future activity as we want to work towards a more sustainable mechanism for controlled access based on specific licence requirements.

YODL and the Spoke : Working with Archives

Another strand of recent activity is working with the Borthwick Institute for Archives to manage its online delivery of archival finding aids. We are currently implementing York's own local Archives Hub spoke, which will serve up EAD documents to the national Archives Hub service [14]. We also plan to devise more accessible stylesheets for viewing and printing finding aids. Moreover, we will investigate how to tie together the hierarchical collection descriptions of manuscript pages with digitised images held in YODL.

Conclusions and Future Plans

For the Digital Library team, the last few years have been an exciting time. In a new and developing area we have appreciated the value of collaboration, both within the University, with our White Rose colleagues and with others in the Open Source community, from whom we have learnt a great deal. In some cases, as with WRRO, a consortial approach may be the answer; in others such as YODL, an institutional approach is appropriate. Working with Open Source enables locally tailored development but is heavily reliant on good technical support. We have learnt the hard way that however much advocacy you do, it is never enough unless the process of depositing content is easy and embedded in the academic process.

The Digital Library project has quickly become a service-in-development. Offering a digitisation and slide library service to History of Art was not part of the original project plan, and has been challenging when developing systems, processes and services from scratch. However, the opportunity to work with users has been invaluable. Moving into work with the Borthwick Institute for Archives has added another element to our service, and looking at the Library's needs for scanning and delivering book chapters and articles has offered a much broader user base for exploring requirements. Beyond the JISC project, in August 2010, YODL will become a permanent service. Furthermore, by then it is hoped we will be offering truly hybrid services, providing different interfaces into a range of content, with a mixture of open access and access-controlled resources.


  1. Sherpa Project http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/projects/sherpa.html
  2. White Rose Research Online http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/
  3. YorkShare VLE: http://vlesupport.york.ac.uk/
  4. York Digital Library http://dlib.york.ac.uk/yodl
  5. SAFIR http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/reppres/sue/safir.aspx
  6. Archaeology Data Service http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/
  7. IncReASe http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/increase/
  8. EThOS http://ethos.bl.uk
  9. White Rose eTheses Online http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/
  10. YODL Requirements Specification
  11. Fedora Commons http://www.fedora.info/
  12. Muradora http://www.muradora.org/muradora
  13. SWORD http://swordapp.org/
  14. Archives Hub http://www.archiveshub.ac.uk/

Author Details

Julie Allinson
Digital Library Manager
Library & Archives
University of York

Email: ja546@york.ac.uk
Web site: xhttp://www-users.york.ac.uk/~ja546/

Elizabeth Harbord
Head of Operations and Services
Library & Archives
University of York

Email: eah8@york.ac.uk

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