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Jun 30 2014

Testing Code, Discovering Collections

Years ago, we decided, rather than using an out-of-the box solution, to roll our own for the Rare and Unique Digital Collections site. Doing this gives us greater control in creating the user experience; a greater ability to respond to bugs and feature requests, i.e., let’s add “related images” on the resource page; and a way to architect the application so that it fit the Libraries’ approach to managing digital collections. What it also means, though, is that we’re in charge of maintaining the application.

We’re currently using Blacklight and Solr for search and faceted browse, and the djatoka JPEG2000 image server delivers our images. (Update: As of September 2016, we are using an IIIF-compliant image server and UniversalViewer for imaging serving and viewing.)

Recently, we went through two significant upgrades with the site. Project Blacklight released Version 5.4.0 in May 2014, and we migrated to this version in anticipation of some very significant new features to the site we’ll be working on over the summer. The latest release of Blacklight itself includes an upgraded version of Bootstrap, which helps to make websites responsive, i.e., sized appropriately for the screen size one is viewing the site on. In performing this upgrade, we also migrated the site to Rails 4.1 (a web framework), which was released in April 2014.

When performing upgrades, we release code to a staging site, where we can review the code’s effects. This is no small affair. We review the site in several web browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, IE), as several viewing sizes (extra large desktop down to phone size), and on several different devices (Mac, Windows, and Linux operating systems; all of the iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod); and several Android devices). And, since we’ve made the site available under HTTP Secure, we have to the view the site on http and https. When viewing the site on all of these devices and browsers, we test to make sure that: the site looks right, the facets work, all the buttons are placed properly and function correctly, the site navigation is functioning, the six different resource views (text, images, folders, video, etc.) are functioning properly, the image pan and zoom is working, the map and “now” features work, and audio and video play properly. These are the biggies; there are probably another dozen or so features we double-check for proper functionality.

But, it’s not all work. Well, it really is, but…we do end up stumbling upon interesting resources that are new to us or new again that make it feel less like work.

While it is possible to visit the site without coming across, by far our most viewed resource, it just doesn’t feel like a visit without doing so. Since beginning to track web statistics on our site with Google Analytics in October 2012, this image has been viewed over 23,000 times.

1983 NC State Men's Basketball Team

Here’s one I’d never seen before. It’s a busload of basketball players and fans in the Philippines, one of whom is playing a nose flute.

NC State basketball players and fans

Like any major university, NC State has hosted presidents and figures of state. In this latest round of testing, I re-discovered a photograph of Bill Clinton receiving students, but the real focus of this one is Hillary. An all-time favorite.

Hilary Clinton and David Fox

I’ve seen this one in results set a million times, but for some reason I never paid it much mind. On further examination–I looked at this particular resource in order to check that pagination was working–it’s a really fascinating speech, as well as topic.

Supporting farmers in a time of urbanization

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I think this brief list of discoveries, in itself, is a great testament to the nature of our collections and the fact that the site supports serendipitous discovery.

These resources–and much, much more–are all available as part of the NCSU Libraries’ Rare and Unique Digital Collections, which provides access to thousands of images, video, and audio recordings, and text documenting NC State history.