Sunday, May 24, 2009

OR09: PEI's Drupal strategy for VRE and repositories

OR09, day 1, session 2a. Research 2.0: Evolving Support for the Research Landscape by Mark Leggott (University of PEI) - [slides here]  - [blog here]

Small province in Canada, middle of nowhere, pop 140k, only uni on the island. UPEI is doing very some good stuff, made some radical choices. They fundamentally transformed the library from traditional staff to techies. Number of staff didn’t change (25), but the number of techs increased from 1 to 5, plus a pool of freelancers.

VRE's using Drupal

Strong push for VRE’s, using Drupal as platform. Low entry barrier: any researcher can request one! All customisations are non-specific as a rule, so all users benefit in the end. If researcher brings additional funding, contract devs are hired to speed up the process.

Some clients have developed rich Drupal plugins themselves (depends on a willing postgrad :-)

Currently 50+ VRE’s. Example of a globe-spanning VRE: Advancing Interdisciplinary Research in Singing

But the same environment is also used for local history projects with social elements (“tag this image”).

Why going opensource? Improves code and documentation quality by emberrassment factor: “Going opensource is like running through the hotel at night naked – you want to be at least presentable”.

Repository: Drupal+Fedora=Islandora

PEI developed Islandora as frontend for Fedora repository. However, from the users POV it is completely hidden: they log in to the VRE, this silently handles depositing in the rep.

Both Drupal and Fedora are ‘strong systems’ with a lot of capabilities. However by definition all data and metadata go in Fedora, to separate data from application layer and make migration possible. This needs to be strongly enforced as some things are easier in Drupal.

Very neat integration betwee data objects in repository and VRE: Researchers can search specifically within the objects, as in “search for data sets in which field X has value between 7 and 8”. Done by mapping the data to an xml format, then mapping xml fields to search params. For fields where xml data formats are available and commonly used this is a real boon (example of marine biology).

Great stuff altogether. The small size may give them an advantage, they operate like a startup, listen to their users, pool resources effectively and are not afraid to make radical choices.

BTW fifteen minutes in the talk I connected the acronym PEI with the name Prince Edward Island. PEI must be so famous in the repository world that it either needn't be explained at all, or that it was mentioned so briefly that it slipped me by...

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