Case Study: School of Music Discovery Interface

Case Study: School of Music Discovery Interface

1. Summary
The Yale School of Music undertook a full website redesign project in 2013 to further the School's goals of strengthening the brand identity of the school, promoting the School's engagement in the local and global community and extending the reach of the school to broader audiences. The new design envisions a Media Room as a new component of the website that would allow users such as members of the press, students and performers to search for and download publicly available images for publication and publicity for the first time. The Media Room was designed and developed through the The Yale School of Music Discovery Interface Project. The project leveraged Yale Digital Collection Center's (YDC2's) Content Platform to automate aspects of the digital production practice and to provide a discovery interface for digital media search and retrieval. The design goal for the Media Room was to provide several different levels of image quality to meet multiple needs delivered from one interface that graphically integrates with the new overall website design.

The project was developed to address a core need of the School of Music communication strategy by enabling distribution of press photos of its performances and events. Prior to the project, there was no easy way to organize, save, retrieve, browse or distribute these photos, causing a strain on staff time to fulfill a myriad of requests. To address this workflow challenge, the School of Music engaged with YDC2 to rethink its media management practices with the goals to improve the production process, to improve the management of digital content and permissions and to develop a new user experience.

The School of Music leveraged YDC2 development capacity and the YDC2 Content Platform infrastructure to deliver a public discovery interface that allows for browsing and retrieval of press photos. The result is a highly streamlined workflow that makes efficient use of staff time. It utilizes the YDC2 Content Platform to automate file conversions, digital preservation and digital media distribution. The YDC2 Content Platform also underpins the Media Room web pages and user experience that allows users to find and download the images they need. This project has taken a needed step towards efficiently lowering the barrier for cultural heritage organizations at Yale to provide digital content. It has done so by developing a shared practice and scalable approach to creating high quality, customizable, user friendly and audience-specific websites to support discovery and access. The project also proved the value and efficacy of leveraging the YDC2 Content Platform to achieve these goals in a cost effective way.

2. The Problem
The challenges that inspired this project included:

  • No single storage location for media. Existing media was not consolidated in one easy to find place. Media was stored on individual computers and servers throughout the department.
  • Lack of metadata for search and discovery. Existing images contained only the metadata automatically added to them by cameras, which was often inconsistent and dependent on the equipment and photographer's settings. Images therefore could often only be identified by filename or folder, creating inefficient search and identification conditions.
  • Excessive staff time spent on fulfilling requests. Because there was no one stop shop for obtaining media and no efficient discovery or retrieval method for staff to send to members of the press, requests for images for news articles or promotion came individually via email or request form. Staff of the School of Music spent valuable resource time answering requests, tracking down photographs, and sending them via e-mail or file sending services.
  • Unclear rights issues. Rights metadata was not kept with the images, so when each request came in, the appropriate rights had to be confirmed before images could be sent to requesters.

3. The Solution

The Yale School of Music and YDC2 worked together to create and host a discovery interface that uses the open-source software Blacklight to search and browse open content. Assets and metadata are stored in OpenText Media Manager. Assets are delivered by the YDC2 Content Delivery Service (CDS), and metadata is indexed through the open source SOLR index. The look and feel of the site, called the Media Room, was designed by the Design Manager at the School of Music. An external technology development and design group was employed to develop the HTML and CSS necessary to match the look and feel of the discovery interface to the rest of the School of Music's redesigned website.
In addition to the Media Room, the School of Music developed a WordPress module that allows the School's web team to easily search and select content hosted in the YDC2 Content Platform and add it to any page on the site. This module integrates images delivered through CDS directly to the WordPress content management system that is used throughout the entire redesigned School of Music website.

Blacklight was chosen as the open-source software solution for the discovery template because it offers great flexibility for modification and mobile functionality and because it is developed using Ruby, one of YDC2's preferred programing languages. YDC2 is hosting the discovery interface site in a Ruby farm provided by Yale Central ITS. YDC2 provides support to the technical project team at the School of Music, who in turn provide support to the site's users. ITS provides 24/7 support for the systems and the hardware.

4. The Process
The process undertaken to develop and build this interface required close collaboration between the School of Music and YDC2. The process involved requirements gathering, design, development, project management, quality assurance, and the use of shared practices and existing infrastructure developed by YDC2 and Yale ITS. The resource savings gained through this process were notable and will continue to accrue through streamlined practice. The technical barriers to the development of such an interface were lowered significantly by using the shared practices, open source products, and existing infrastructure provided by YDC2. For example, a photographer shooting a performance as a result of this project can now, in only a few minutes after a shoot is complete, tag and upload her photographs from within the Adobe products she is already using. The photographs she chose for open access will then appear in the Media Room with the metadata needed for the press to find and download those photographs. The time savings after the development of the site will continue to be valuable as well as the interface allows the press to browse for, find, and download the images they need directly and without the need to send requests directly to the School of Music staff.

YDC2 facilitated the development of metadata practices and synonym lists; provided the underlying infrastructure including Media Manager and the Content Delivery Service (CDS); developed and extended Blacklight; worked with the School's Design Manager and external technology development and design group to implement the design and CSS changes needed to graphically integrate the interface with the rest of the School of Music's redesigned website; and provided project management, including the creation of a detailed project plan with strategies for project governance and communications amongst the team.

The process used is described in more detail below:

  • Meetings were held with representatives from YDC2 and the School of Music to conduct thorough requirements gathering to determine the features of the discovery interface. A workflow was also designed based on these requirements.
  • The School of Music team, with YDC2's help, chose a metadata schema already available in Media Manager that conforms to shared practices developed in conjunction with other YDC2 partners in prior projects such as the OPAC Image Collection Project. These shared practices allowed the School of Music to optimize the index to their image collection and to make search and discovery successful.
  • After training from the YDC2 support team, the School of Music team uploaded their images into Media Manager and tagged the appropriate images for open access and therefore for discovery within the interface. They did this using an integrated workflow with the Adobe products already in use by the department, such as Bridge and Lightroom. The simplicity of the process allowed the School of Music to hire and train students to do the majority of the ingest and tagging.
  • Once the images were ingested and tagged for open access, they were automatically processed and derivatives in four different sizes were stored in YDC2's Content Delivery Service (CDS) for delivery to the interface.
  • The metadata entered into Media Manager for these images was stored by the metadata service and published in the SOLR index for delivery to the interface.
  • The Design Manager at the School of Music designed page templates for the home page, search pages, and detail views for the Blacklight collections gateway to create a discovery interface that was integrated with the look and feel of the rest of the redesigned School of Music website.
  • The external technology development and design group modified the generic Blacklight CSS to match the Design Manager's designs.
  • Lastly, YDC2 implemented the external development group's CSS changes to the Blacklight collections gateway, ensured that the systems were integrated with the SOLR Index and CDS, and conducted several sessions of testing, review, and modification to bring the interface to its final version.

The project resulted in a discovery interface that met all of the requirements of the project. The interface is graphically integrated with the rest of the School of Music's redesigned website. Feedback throughout the testing and review process was overwhelmingly positive.

5. Challenges
Part of the planning process for the project included acknowledging some of the risks and constraints inherent in the project. Some initial concerns were that the interface would not be able to match the look and feel of the rest of the School of Music website, or that contracted School of Music photographers would not agree to have their photos freely and publicly available for online download or that rights for existing photos would not be properly secured. However, the School of Music recognized that without taking these minor risks, the department would continue to be unable to efficiently distribute communications photographs. Both problems were solved through the process and neither represented a roadblock to continued development.

Other challenges included limiting the scope of the project, working effectively across departments, including outside contractors, and managing the shifting schedules that presented themselves throughout the project. Efficient communications strategies and project management amongst the team helped to mitigate these challenges.

6. The Future
Developing a sustainable solution that is extensible to other departments was important to the project as was strong stakeholder support that could be leveraged beyond the project duration. As such, YDC2 is currently in the preliminary stages of a follow-on project to create a discovery interface template, based on the work done for the School of Music discovery interface, that will continue to leverage YDC2's Content Platform for collection search and retrieval. This project will extend the work done for the School of Music's discovery interface to allow users of the Collection of Musical Instruments, the School of Art, and the School of Drama to search for and download publicly available images in several resolutions and to view descriptive metadata. The project will also include expanded capability for audio, video, documents and access controls. This template will use as much as possible of the HTML/CSS design created for the School of Music's discovery interface to design an easily customizable discovery interface template for all four Yale Arts-Area schools. The template will ensure a high-quality, user friendly experience while allowing for clearly defined and modest modifications to match the look and feel of audience specific and unit branded websites. This approach will reduce the time and cost to produce each site and to maintain them through the various technology life cycles, and will continue to increase the user base of and departmental participation in the solution for discovery and media delivery.

7. Screenshots

Media Room Interface, Faceted by People and Places

Media Room Detail View with Download


Using Adobe Bridge to select images, add metadata and send them to the YDC2 Content Platform