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Sep 9 / Graham Hukill

Collections as First Class Objects

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We’re doing a little reimagining of collections.

With new collections such as the Van Riper Family Correspondence collection coming online, and others on the wing, it has us thinking about how we organize and represent those collections in our digital collections platform.  Our underlying repository software – Fedora Commons 3.x – is organized based on the idea of “digital objects“.  Items such a photograph, or a digitized books, are both “digital objects” in the context of our digital collections platform.  And would you believe, so are collections!

Each collection is its own digital object, with its own metadata, thumbnail, collection art, etc.  As such, we have the ability to display information about a collection in a very similar fashion, and with the same focused attention, we do with other objects in our digital collections such as a photograph, or a book.  So with some recent changes, we have moved away from directing users straight to the items within a collection, and instead, are directing them first to a page about the collection itself.  As a technical aside, it’s actually the collection object itself represented with the same view we display other digital objects in the repository.

It is a minor change that most users probably won’t notice at first.  But it reflects the work we’ve been doing on the digital collections, migrating and bringing new collections onboard, and a growing desire to celebrate and contextualize each one.  It’s also an insight into the interesting world of content modeling with Fedora Commons where items and collections coexist as digital objects in a complex, harmonious balance of RDF statements that model relationship between objects (e.g. “this item is part of that collection”).  This ability to change how we represent collections, speaks to the power of content modeling for digital objects repositores – it takes work, its takes head scratching, but it results in a system where we can share and display what we hope will be of most use and interest to our users!