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Hydra & me: Julie Allinson on all things Hydra

A guest blog post from the newest member of the Repositories team, Julie Allinson.

I joined CoSector at the beginning of January. My role here is Lead Developer within the Digital Research Technologies team working with the Hydra framework. Prior to joining CoSector I worked for nine years at the University of York, latterly running the IT team for Library & Archives but with a particular focus on our multimedia digital library and various related projects. At York, we adopted Hydra at the beginning of 2014 and as I type, my old team are working on migrating our large digital repository to the new infrastructure. Before that I’ve done various jobs working on repositories and digital content in HE.

What is Hydra? 

Hydra is both software and community. It’s a mature digital repository solution built on top of Ruby on Rails, Blacklight, Solr and Fedora Commons. From its outset the idea was to provide a solid base (the body) on which to create multiple custom ‘heads’. There are many neat examples of Hydra in use ‘in the wild’, from Hull, York and Durham in the UK, the National Digital Repository of Ireland, to repositories at Virginia, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Penn State and many more in the United States.

Why Hydra? 

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” has always been something of a mantra for the Hydra community.”

Hydra has a robust community and a stable, yet actively developing set of components. Hyrax and Hyku, are moving towards a turnkey repository solution. Beyond this, Avalon provides a fully-featured audio and video application; Michgan’s Fulcrum is a publishing platform and Plum, from Princeton is delivering rich digitization workflow functionality.

All of these are built on the Hydra stack and freely available for others to use and build on. For Image repositories, the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) is fast-becoming the de-facto standard for exposing and using image collections. Hyku has already implemented IIIF support alongside the IIIF compatible Universal Viewer. IIIF is growing, too, adding support for audio and video, and expanding the range of tools and viewers available.

In addition to the core Fedora / Hydra components, there are also many allied tools. Blacklight, for example, is a ‘discovery platform framework’ whose use goes beyond Hydra repositories to any data that can be indexed in Solr. Spotlight is a Blacklight-based project that allows curators to create feature-rich websites to highlight digital collections, and Geoblacklight provides geo and mapping features.

Hydra and me 

I’ve been working with Hydra since the beginning of 2014, firstly on the Mellon-funded Archbishops’ Registers project to digitize and make available images and metadata for the Archbishops’ Registers of the Diocese of York, 1225-1646; then on the Jisc-funded filling the Digital Preservation Gap project to build a (Hydra) prototype for research data, integrated with the Archivematica digital preservation system; and finally on a large-scale internal project to replace our existing York Digital Library with a Hydra front-end. I’ve doing some active Hydra development, but I’ve also developed some specific knowledge around metadata specification and modelling with the Portland Common Data Model (PCDM).

Several things excite me about Hydra – the buoyancy of the community means it’s easy to get involved at any level, be that contributing large chunks to the codebase, organizing a working group around a topic of interest or updating documentation. There is also energy here in the UK around Hydra at the moment with Hull (founding Hydra partners), York, Durham, Lancaster, LSE, Oxford and Cottage Labs all working with the software and talking about collaboration.

The software itself is actively moving forward, with new features and infrastructure changes keeping it vital and current.