Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Remote Upload of Materials to Southeast Asia Digital Library

In addition to the American history projects that I have described in this blog, Northern Illinois University Libraries host the Southeast Asia Digital Library ( This online resource, which was developed with grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education's Title VI/TICFIA (Technological Innovation and Collaboration for Foreign Information) program, presents a variety of library materials from Southeast Asian nations in a searchable format.

Our project began in 2005, using TICFIA funds to digitize and present materials contributed by collaborating, contracted institutions in Southeast Asia. Our second request for funding, submitted in 2009, expanded on this approach. In addition to funds for the digitization of additional materials at Southeast Asian libraries, we requested support for the development of an application that would allow additional contributors, such as individual scholars and researchers, to send materials to us directly for possible inclusion in the Southeast Asia Digital Library (SEADL) repository and website. Upon receipt of a second round of TICFIA funding, this initiative became a part of our larger conversion of the SEADL web site from a custom-built LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) architecture to a platform using Fedora Commons, Drupal, and Islandora.

Our reasons for developing this application, which we call SEAnet, are several. First, we sought a way to insure our project's growth after the eventual end of federal funding. Our first round of TICFIA support produced a large volume of digital materials, but this project model remained utterly dependent on the receipt of future grant funds. We sought a way to collect materials from contributors not acting as formal, contracted partners of the Southeast Asia Digital Library project. In short, we sought a way to collect materials for free. Little did we know that the entire TICFIA program would be discontinued due to major cuts to the Title VI program resulting from the March budget deal between Congressional Republicans and the White House. We are now doubly happy to have a remote loader apparatus in place.

We also perceive that individuals and institutions in Southeast Asia may be very interested in contributing to our repository and web site. Many may lack access to secure institutional repositories providing long-term preservation of digital objects and/or the ability to share materials via the web. Of course most would prefer the opportunity to use SEADL grant funds to digitize materials and contribute them to our web site and repository, but in a context marked by a lack of grant funds for this work, many may possess born-digital or already-digitized objects for which they seek a means of secure storage and free dissemination. If we cannot offer these contributors grant funds, we can provide them with the technical infrastructure necessary to preserve and share their materials.

Our choice of the name SEAnet for the application speaks to the several factors informing this initiative in our project. The letters S.E.A. represent our project's focus on Southeast Asia. The use of the term net has two meanings. First, the initiative can be described in terms of our project casting our nets, via the Internet, seeking to secure additional content for our repository and web site. The initiative can also be described as an effort to provide scholars and institutions in the field of Southeast Asian Studies with a net designed to catch and secure fragile, rare (or even one-of-a-kind) digital objects before they fall victim to decay or loss.

The SEAnet application itself is comprised of a series of PHP pages offering users who have received login permission from our site administrator with a set of options. The first of these presents users with a choice of uploading files or reviewing uploaded files. Those selecting the upload option face an html form asking them to select the type of file they seek to upload, either a single or a complex object (like a manuscript or a book) comprised of multiple images. Identifying an object as single leads to another form asking if it is a photograph, video, book, or monograph (selection of the last two options identifies the materials as being in pdf format). Identifying an object as complex leads to a request to identify it as a book or a manuscript. At present, our project restricts potential contributions to the following file types: tiff, jpeg, jp2, .avi, .wmv, mpeg, and mpeg4.

After identifying the object to be submitted, contributors are asked to attach it to a parent collection. For representatives of our partner institutions, this means selecting from a drop-down list including all of the SEADL's separate collections (generally identified by their subject matter and institution of origin). For potential contributors not attached to one of our grant-funded initiatives in Southeast Asia - the very type of contributor we are trying to attract, this means attaching materials to the SEAnet collection, or that group of materials collected from individuals and non-partner/contracted institutions.

After attaching an object to a parent collection, potential contributors are asked to enter metadata in the Dublin Core format via an html form and, after reviewing materials, submit them for consideration by project staff members.

Upon receiving a contribution via SEAnet, project staff members at Northern Illinois University, working with scholars specializing in Southeast Asian Studies as needed, review materials to determine their suitability for the Southeast Asia Digital Library. Upon making the determination that submitted materials are appropriate for inclusion in the SEADL, the administrator of the project repository and website first uses the loader's online interface to launch a script written in PHP, which creates XML from the metadata originally submitted in Dublin Core format. This script also creates additional versions of a submitted object, depending on its type, such as thumbnail images, DejaVu images, and jp2 files.

When the administrator finally moves to add submitted materials themselves to the SEADL repository, the project's Fedora software follows links to the files provided in the XML and ingests them into the project repository.

In recent weeks several representatives of partner institutions have uploaded digital objects to the SEADL via the SEAnet apparatus, demonstrating its functionality. We had originally planned to devote some $10,000 of TICFIA grant funds to the task of bringing SEAnet to the attention of scholars and institutions, especially in Southeast Asia, in hopes of securing the contribution of additional materials. At this point, without these funds, we are considering alternative means by which we might inform potential contributors of the opportunity that SEAnet provides them.

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