by John Dunn, Assistant Dean for Library Technologies, Indiana University Libraries
While MDPI is well on its way to digitally preserving IU’s significant audiovisual collections, access is an equally important, and equally challenging, goal of the initiative. There are many dimensions to online digital access—rights, policies, description, discovery—but before any of these come into play, one needs to have a technology platform that can effectively support access to audio and video.
Thankfully, IU has a great deal of experience in providing online access to audio and video collections, going back to the Variations digital music library, which went online in 1996 as one of the very first web-based audio streaming platforms, and was subsequently developed into open source software adopted by a number of other universities. In the mid-2000s, IU worked with the University of Michigan to create the EVIA Digital Archive, a scholarly access platform for ethnographic field video developed in the mid-2000s.
Since 2011, the IU Libraries have been working with partners at Northwestern University to jointly develop the Avalon Media System, with support from a series of grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Avalon is a free open source software platform designed to make it easier for libraries and archives to provide access to AV collections for a wide variety of use cases and is the access system that we are planning to use for MDPI. Currently at IU, our main public instance of Avalon (known as Media Collections Online) continues to support access by Jacobs School of Music students and faculty to the music sound recordings formerly delivered via Variations. However, it also serves the access needs of many other AV collections, including archival films from the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive, oral histories from IU Southeast, Herman B Wells home movies from the University Archives, juvenile justice documentary footage, and selected field collections from the Archives of Traditional Music as just a few examples.
Avalon was developed using the Ruby programming language and is based on a technology stack that is becoming more and more familiar to libraries and archives: the Samvera software development framework, Blacklight discovery interface, and Fedora digital repository. It allows staff at libraries and archives to easily load audio and video content, create descriptive and structural metadata for that content, and make content available for discovery, listening, and viewing as widely or as locked-down as is necessary in order to comply with copyright and other restrictions.
We have designed Avalon, now in its 6th major release, to be easy to install and configure, and several libraries are now using it for their own media access needs, including Northwestern University, the University of Virginia, Yale University, Calvin College, Washington University, and the University of Alberta. As part of the Samvera Community, a group of over 30 partner committed to working together to develop open source digital repository solutions, Avalon welcomes code contributions from other adopters, though this is by no means required in order to use Avalon.
To help extend Avalon’s benefit to an even greater number of institutions, IU and Northwestern are currently working with LYRASIS and DuraSpace to develop a cloud-hosted “software-as-a-service” offering of Avalon that will allow libraries and archives to adopt the system without needing to have the in-house technical expertise and server capacity to set it up locally. LYRASIS will manage the system in Amazon Web Services, and media content will be ingested via DuraSpace’s Duracloud cloud storage service. A pilot of this hosted Avalon offering is expected in the Fall of 2017.
In future blog posts, we will dive into more detail on how specific features of Avalon are being leveraged for MDPI. In the meantime, for more information on Avalon, please visit the Avalon website or feel free to reach out to the Avalon team.