Category Archives: User Experience

Nested Folders of Files in the Duke Digital Repository

Born digital archival material present unique challenges to representation, access, and discovery in the DDR. A hard drive arrives at the archives and we want to preserve and provide access to the files. In addition to the content of the files, it’s often important to preserve to some degree the organization of the material on the hard drive in nested directories.

One challenge to representing complex inter-object relationships in the repository is the repository’s relatively simple object model. A collection contains one or more items. An item contains one or more components. And a component has one or more data streams. There’s no accommodation in this model for complex groups and hierarchies of items. We tend to talk about this as a limitation, but it also makes it possible to provide search and discovery of a wide range of kinds and arrangements of materials in a single repository and forces us to make decisions about how to model collections in sustainable and consistent ways. But we still need to preserve and provide access to the original structure of the material.

One approach is to ingest the disk image or a zip archive of the directories and files and store the content as a single file in the repository. This approach is straightforward, but makes it impossible to search for individual files in the repository or to understand much about the content without first downloading and unarchiving it.

As a first pass at solving this problem of how to preserve and represent files in nested directories in the DDR we’ve taken a two-pronged approach. We will use a simple approach to modeling disk image and directory content in the repository. Every file is modeled in the repository as an item with a single component that contains the data stream of the file. This provides convenient discovery and access to each individual file from the collection in the DDR, but does not represent any folder hierarchies. The files are just a flat list of objects contained by a collection.

To preserve and store information about the structure of the files we add an XML METS structMap as metadata on the collection. In addition we store on each item a metadata field that stores the complete original file path of the file.

Below is a small sample of the kind of structural metadata that encodes the nested folder information on the collection. It encodes the structure and nesting, directory names (in the LABEL attribute), the order of files and directories, as well as the identifiers for each of the files/items in the collection.

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<mets xmlns="http://www.loc.gov/METS/" xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink">
  <metsHdr>
    <agent ROLE="CREATOR">
      <name>REPOSITORY DEFAULT</name>
    </agent>
  </metsHdr>
  <structMap TYPE="default">
    <div LABEL="2017-0040" ORDER="1" TYPE="Directory">
      <div ORDER="1">
        <mptr LOCTYPE="ARK" xlink:href="ark:/99999/fk42j6qc37"/>
      </div>
      <div LABEL="RL11405-LFF-0001_Programs" ORDER="2" TYPE="Directory">
        <div ORDER="1">
          <mptr LOCTYPE="ARK" xlink:href="ark:/99999/fk4j67r45s"/>
        </div>
        <div ORDER="2">
          <mptr LOCTYPE="ARK" xlink:href="ark:/99999/fk4d50x529"/>
        </div>
        <div ORDER="3">
          <mptr LOCTYPE="ARK" xlink:href="ark:/99999/fk4086jd3r"/>
        </div>
      </div>
      <div LABEL="RL11405-LFF-0002_H1_Early-Records-of-Decentralization-Conference" ORDER="3" TYPE="Directory">
        <div ORDER="1">
          <mptr LOCTYPE="ARK" xlink:href="ark:/99999/fk4697f56f"/>
        </div>
        <div ORDER="2">
          <mptr LOCTYPE="ARK" xlink:href="ark:/99999/fk45h7t22s"/>
        </div>
      </div>
    </div>
  </structMap>
</mets>

Combining the 1:1 (item:component) object model with structural metadata that preserves the original directory structure of the files on the file system enables us to display a user interface that reflects the original structure of the content even though the structure of the items in the repository is flat.

There’s more to it of course. We had to develop a new ingest process that could take as its starting point a file path and then crawl it and its subdirectories to ingest files and construct the necessary structural metadata.

On the UI end of things a nifty Javascript plugin called jsTree powers the interactive directory structure display on the collection page.

Because some of the collections are very large and loading a directory tree structure of 100,000 or more items would be very slow, we implemented a small web service in the application that loads the jsTree data only when someone clicks to open a directory in the interface.

The file paths are also keyword searchable from within the public interface. So if a file is contained in a directory named “kitchen/fruits/bananas/this-banana.txt” you would be able to find the file this-banana.txt by searching for “kitchen” or “fruit” or “banana.”

This new functionality to ingest, preserve, and represent files in nested folder structures in the Duke Digital Repository will be included in the September release of the Duke Digital Repository.

Turning on the Rights in the Duke Digital Repository

As 2017 reaches its halfway point, we have concluded another busy quarter of development on the Duke Digital Repository (DDR). We have several new features to share, and one we’re particularly delighted to introduce is Rights display.

Back in March, my colleague Maggie Dickson shared our plans for rights management in the DDR, a strategy built upon using rights status URIs from RightsStatements.org, and in a similar fashion, licenses from Creative Commons. In some cases, we supplement the status with free text in a local Rights Note property. Our implementation goals here were two-fold: 1) use standard statuses that are machine-readable; 2) display them in an easily understood manner to users.

New rights display feature in action on a digital object.

What to Display

Getting and assigning machine-readable URIs for Rights is a significant milestone in its own right. Using that value to power a display that makes sense to users is the next logical step. So, how do we make it clear to a user what they can or can’t do with a resource they have discovered? While we could simply display the URI and link to its webpage (e.g., http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/InC-EDU/1.0/ ) the key info still remains a click away. Alternatively, we could display the rights statement or license title with the link, but some of them aren’t exactly intuitive or easy on the eyes. “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International,” anyone?

Inspiration

Looking around to see how other cultural heritage institutions have solved this problem led us to very few examples. RightsStatements.org is still fairly new and it takes time for good design patterns to emerge. However, Europeana — co-champion of the RightsStatements.org initiative along with DPLA — has a stellar collections site, and, as it turns out, a wonderfully effective design for displaying rights statuses to users. Our solution ended up very much inspired by theirs; hats off to the Europeana team.

Image from Europeana site.
Europeana Collections UI.

Icons

Both Creative Commons and RightsStatements.org provide downloadable icons at their sites (here and here). We opted to store a local copy of the circular SVG versions for both to render in our UI. They’re easily styled, they don’t take up a lot of space, and used together, they have some nice visual unity.

Rights & Licenses Icons
Circular icons from Creative Commons & RightsStatements.org

Labels & Titles

We have a lightweight Rails app with an easy-to-use administrative UI for managing auxiliary content for the DDR, so that made a good home for our rights statuses and associated text. Statements are modeled to have a URI and Title, but can also have three additional optional fields: short title, re-use text, and an array of icon classes.

Editing rights info associated with each statement.

Displaying the Info

We wanted to be sure to show the rights status in the flow of the rest of an object’s metadata. We also wanted to emphasize this information for anyone looking to download a digital object. So we decided to render the rights status prominently in the download menu, too.

Rights status in download menu
Rights status displays in the download menu.

 

Rights status also displays alongside other metadata.

What’s Next

Our focus in this area now shifts toward applying these newly available rights statuses to our existing digital objects in the repository, while ensuring that new ingests/deposits get assessed and assigned appropriate values. We’ll also have opportunities to refine where and how the statuses get displayed. We stand to learn a lot from our peer organizations implementing their own rights management strategies, and from our visitors as they use this new feature on our site. There’s a lot of work ahead, but we’re thrilled to have reached this noteworthy milestone.

508 Update, Update

A little more than a year ago, I wrote about the proposed update to the 508 accessibility standards. And about three weeks ago, the US Access Board published the final rule that contains updates to the 508 accessibility requirements for Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The rules had not previously been updated since 2001 and as such had greatly lagged behind modern web conventions.

It’s important to note that the 508 guidelines are intended to serve as a vehicle for guiding procurement, while at the same time applying to content created by a given group/agency. As such, the language isn’t always straightforward.

What’s new?

As I outlined in my previous post, a major purpose of the new rule is to move away from regulating types of devices and instead focus on functionality:


… one of the primary purposes of the final rule is to replace the current product-based approach with requirements based on functionality, and, thereby, ensure that accessibility for people with disabilities keeps pace with advances in ICT.


To that effect, one of the biggest change over the old standard is the adoption of WCAG 2.0 as the compliance level. The fundamental premise of WCAG compliance is that content is ‘perceivable, operable, and understandable’ — bottom line is that as developers, we should strive to make sure all of our content is usable for everyone across all devices. The adoption of WCAG allows the board to offload responsibility of making incremental changes as technology advances (so we don’t have to wait another 15 years for updates) and also aligns our standards in the United States with those used around the world.


Harmonization with international standards and guidelines creates a larger marketplace for accessibility solutions, thereby attracting more offerings and increasing the likelihood of commercial availability of accessible ICT options.


Another change has to do with making a wider variety of electronic content accessible, including internal documents. It will be interesting to see to what degree this part of the rule is followed by non-federal agencies.


The Revised 508 Standards specify that all types of public-facing content, as well as nine categories of non-public-facing content that communicate agency official business, have to be accessible, with “content” encompassing all forms of electronic information and data. The existing standards require Federal agencies to make electronic information and data accessible, but do not delineate clearly the scope of covered information and data. As a result, document accessibility has been inconsistent across Federal agencies. By focusing on public-facing content and certain types of agency official communications that are not public facing, the revised requirements bring needed clarity to the scope of electronic content covered by the 508 Standards and, thereby, help Federal agencies make electronic content accessible more consistently.


The new rules do not go into effect until January 2018. There’s also a ‘safe harbor’ clause that protects content that was created before this enforcement date, assuming it was in compliance with the old rules. However, if you update that content after January, you’ll need to make sure it complies with the new final rule.


Existing ICT, including content, that meets the original 508 Standards does not have to be upgraded to meet the refreshed standards unless it is altered. This “safe harbor” clause (E202.2) applies to any component or portion of ICT that complies with the existing 508 Standards and is not altered. Any component or portion of existing, compliant ICT that is altered after the compliance date (January 18, 2018) must conform to the updated 508 Standards.


So long story short, a year from now you should make sure all the content you’re creating meets the new compliance level.

A Refreshing New Look for Our Library Website

If you’ve visited the Duke University Libraries website in the past month, you may have noticed that it looks a bit more polished than it used to. Over the course of the fall 2016 semester, my talented colleague Michael Daul and I co-led a project to develop and implement a new theme for the site. We flipped the switch to launch the theme on January 6, 2017, the week before spring classes began. In this post, I’ll share some background on the project and its process, and highlight some noteworthy features of the new theme we put in place.

Newly refreshed Duke University Libraries website homepage.

Goals

We kicked off the project in Aug 2016 using the title “Website Refresh” (hat-tip to our friends at NC State Libraries for coining that term). The best way to frame it was not as a “redesign,” but more like a 50,000-mile maintenance tuneup for the site.  We had four main goals:

  • Extend the Life of our current site (in Drupal 7) without a major redesign or redevelopment effort
  • Refresh the Look of the site to be modern but not drastically different
  • Better Code by streamlining HTML markup & CSS style code for easier management & flexibility
  • Enhance Accessibility via improved compliance with WCAG accessibility guidelines

Our site is fairly large and complex (1,200+ pages, for starters). So to keep the scope lean, we included no changes in content, information architecture, or platform (i.e., stayed on Drupal 7). We also worked with a lean stakeholder team to make decisions related to aesthetics.

Extending the Life of the Site

Our old website theme was aging; the project leading to its development began five years ago in Sep 2012, was announced in Jan 2013, and then eventually launched about three years ago in Jan 2014. Five years–and even three–is a long time in web years. Sites accumulate a lot of code cruft over time, the tools for managing and writing code become deprecated quickly. We wanted to invest a little time now to replace some pieces of the site’s front-end architecture with newer and better replacements, in order to buy us more time before we’d have to do an expensive full-scale overhaul from the ground up.

Refreshing the Look

Our 2014 site derived a lot its aesthetic from the main Duke.edu website at the time. Duke’s site has changed significantly since then, and meanwhile, web design trends have changed dramatically: flat design is in, skeuomorphism out.  Google Web Fonts are in, Times, Arial, Verdana and company are out.  Even a three year old site on the web can look quite dated.

Old site theme, dated aesthetics.
New “refreshed” theme, with flatter, more modern aesthetic

Closeup on skeuomorphic embellishments vs. flat elements.

Better Code

Beyond evolving aesthetics, the various behind-the-scenes web frameworks and code workflows are in constant, rapid flux; it can really keep a developer’s head on a swivel. Better code means easier maintenance, and to that end our code got a lot better after implementing these solutions:

  • Bootstrap Upgrade. For our site’s HTML/CSS/JS framework, we moved from Bootstrap version 2 (2.3.1) to version 3 (3.3.7). This took weeks of work: it meant thousands of pages of markup revisions, only some of which could be done with a global Search & Replace.
  •  Sass for CSS. We trashed all of our old theme’s CSS files and started over using Sass, a far more efficient way to express and maintain style rules than vanilla CSS.
  • Gulp for Automation. Our new theme uses Gulp to automate code tasks like processing Sass into CSS, auto-prefixing style declarations to work on older browsers, and crunching 30+ css files down into one.
  • Font Awesome. We ditched most of our older image-based icons in favor of Font Awesome ones, which are far easier to reference and style, and faster to load.
  • Radix.  This was an incredibly useful base theme for Drupal that encapsulates/integrates Sass, Gulp, Bootstrap, and FontAwesome. It also helped us get a Bootswatch starter theme in the mix to minimize the local styling we had to do on top of Bootstrap.

We named our new theme Dulcet and put it up on GitHub.

Sass for style management, e.g., expressing colors as reusable variables.
Gulp for task automation, e.g., auto-prefixing styles to account for older browser workarounds.

 Accessibility

Some of the code and typography revisions we’ve made in the “refresh” improve our site’s compliance with WCAG2.0 accessibility guidelines. We’re actively working on further assessment and development in this area. Our new theme is better suited to integrate with existing tools, e.g., to automatically add ARIA attributes to interactive page elements.

Feedback or Questions?

We would love to hear from you if you have any feedback on our new site, if you spot any oddities, or if you’re considering doing a similar project and have any questions. We encourage you to explore the site, and hope you find it a refreshing experience.

Typography (and the Web)

This summer I’ve been working, or at least thinking about working, on a couple of website design refresh projects. And along those lines, I’ve been thinking a lot about typography. I think it’s fair to say that the overwhelming majority of content that is consumed across the Web is text-based (despite the ever-increasing rise of infographics and multimedia). As such, typography should be considered one of the most important design elements that users will experience when interacting with a website.

CIT Site
An early mockup of the soon-to-be-released CIT design refresh

Early on, Web designers were restricted to using certain ‘stacks’ of web-safe fonts that would hunt through the list of those available on a user’s computer until it found something compatible. Or worst-case, the page would default to using the most basic system ‘sans’ or ‘serif.’ So type design back then wasn’t very flexible and could certainly not be relied upon to render consistently across browsers or platforms. Which essentially resulted in most website text looking more or less the same. In 2004, some very smart people released sIFR which was a flashed-based font replacement technique. It ushered in a bit of a typography renaissance and allowed designers to include almost any typeface they desired into their work with the confidence that the overwhelming majority of users would see the same thing, thanks largely to the prevalence of the (now maligned) Flash plugin.

Right before Steve Jobs fired the initial shot that would ultimately lead to the demise flash, an additional font replacement technique, named Cufon, was released to the world. This approach used Scalable Vector Graphics and Javascript (instead of flash) and was almost universally compatible across browsers. Designers and developers were now very happy as they could use non-standard type faces in their work without relying on Flash.

More or less in parallel with the release of Cufon came the widespread adoption across browsers for the @font-face rule. This allowed developers to load fonts from a web server and have them render on a page, instead of relying on the local fonts a user had installed. In mid to late 2009, services like Typekit, League of Moveable Type, and Font Squirrel began to appear. Instead of outrightly selling licenses to fonts, Typekit worked on a subscription model and made various sets of fonts available for use both locally with design programs and for web publishing, depending on your membership type. [Adobe purchased Typekit in late 2011 and includes access to the service via their Creative Cloud platform.] LoMT and Font Squirrel curate freeware fonts and makes it easy to download the appropriate files and CSS code to integrate them into your site.  Google released their font service in 2010 and it continues to get better and better. They launched an updated version a few weeks ago along with this promo video:

There are also many type foundries that make their work available for use on the web. A few of my favorite font retailers are FontShop, Emigre, and Monotype. The fonts available from these ‘premium’ shops typically involve a higher degree of sophistication, more variations of weight, and extra attention to detail — especially with regard to things like kerning, hinting, and ligatures. There are also many interesting features available in OpenType (a more modern file format for fonts) and they can be especially useful for adding diversity to the look of brush/script fonts. The premium typefaces usually incorporate them, whereas free fonts may not.

Modern web conventions are still struggling with some aspects of typography, especially when it comes to responsive design. There are many great arguments about which units we should be using (viewport, rem/em, px) and how they should be applied. There are calculators and libraries for adjusting things like size, line length, ratios, and so on. There are techniques to improve kerning. But I think we have yet to find a standard, all-in-one solution — there always seems to be something new and interesting available to explore, which pretty much underscores the state of Web development in general.

Here are some other excellent resources to check out:

I’ll conclude with one last recommendation — the Introduction to Typography class on Coursera. I took it for fun a few months ago. It seemed to me that the course is aimed at those who may not have much of a design background, so it’s easily digestible. The videos are informative, not overly complex, and concise. The projects were fun to work on and you end up getting to provide feedback on the work of your fellow classmates, which I think is always fun. If you have an hour or two available for four weeks in a row, check it out!

Web Interfaces for our Audiovisual Collections

Audiovisual materials account for a significant portion of Duke’s Digital Collections. All told, we now have over 3,400 hours of A/V content accessible online, spread over 14,000 audio and video files discoverable in various platforms. We’ve made several strides in recent years introducing impactful collections of recordings like H. Lee Waters Films, the Jazz Loft Project Records, and Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South. This spring, the Duke Chapel Recordings collection (including over 1,400 recordings) became our first A/V collection developed in the emerging Duke Digital Repository platform. Completing this first phase of the collection required some initial development for A/V interfaces, and it’ll keep us on our toes to do more as the project progresses through 2019.

A video recording in the Duke Chapel Recordings collection.
A video interface in the Duke Chapel Recordings collection.

Preparing A/V for Access Online

When digitizing audio or video, our diligent Digital Production Center staff create a master file for digital preservation, and from that, a single derivative copy that’s smaller and appropriately compressed for public consumption on the web. The derivative files we create are compressed enough that they can be reliably pseudo-streamed (a.k.a. “progressive download”) to a user over HTTP in chunks (“byte ranges”) as they watch or listen. We are not currently using a streaming media server.

Here’s what’s typical for these files:

  • Audio. MP3 format, 128kbps bitrate. ~1MB/minute.
  • Video. MPEG4 (.mp4) wrapper files. ~17MB/minute or 1GB/hour.
    The video track is encoded as H.264 at about 2,300 kbps; 640×480 for standard 4:3.
    The audio track is AAC-encoded at 160kbps.

These specs are also consistent with what we request of external vendors in cases where we outsource digitization.

The A/V Player Interface: JWPlayer

Since 2014, we have used a local instance of JWPlayer as our A/V player of choice for digital collections. JWPlayer bills itself as “The Most Popular Video Player & Platform on the Web.” It plays media directly in the browser by using standard HTML5 video specifications (supported for most intents & purposes now by all modern browsers).

We like JWPlayer because it’s well-documented, and easy to customize with a robust Javascript API to hook into it. Its developers do a nice job tracking browser support for all HTML5 video features, and they design their software with smart fallbacks to look and function consistently no matter what combo of browser & OS a user might have.

In the Duke Digital Repository and our archival finding aids, we’re now using the latest version of JWPlayer. It’s got a modern, flat aesthetic and is styled to match our color palette.

JW Player displaying inline video for the Jazz Loft Project Records collection guide.

Playlists

Here’s an area where we extended the new JWPlayer with some local development to enhance the UI. When we have a playlist—that is, a recording that is made up of more than one MP3 or MP4 file—we wanted a clearer way for users to navigate between the files than what comes out of the box. It was fairly easy to create some navigational links under the player that indicate how many files are in the playlist and which is currently playing.

A multi-part audio item from Duke Chapel Recordings.
A multi-part audio item from Duke Chapel Recordings.

Captions & Transcripts

Work is now underway (by three students in the Duke Divinity School) to create timed transcripts of all the sermons given within the recorded services included in the Duke Chapel Recordings project.

We contracted through Popup Archive for computer-generated transcripts as a starting point. Those are about 80% accurate, but Popup provides a really nice interface for editing and refining the automated text before exporting it to its ultimate destination.

Caption editing interface provided by Popup Archive
Caption editing interface provided by Popup Archive

One of the most interesting aspects of HTML5 <video> is the <track> element, wherein you can associate as many files of captions, subtitles, descriptions, or chapter information as needed.  Track files are encoded as WebVTT; so we’ll use WebVTT files for the transcripts once complete. We’ll also likely capture the start of a sermon within a recording as a WebVTT chapter marker to provide easier navigation to the part of the recording that’s the most likely point of interest.

JWPlayer displays WebVTT captions (and chapter markers, too!). The captions will be wonderful for accessibility (especially for people with hearing disabilities); they can be toggled on/off within the media player window. We’ll also be able to use the captions to display an interactive searchable transcript on the page near the player (see this example using Javascript to parse the WebVTT). Our friends at NCSU Libraries have also shared some great work parsing WebVTT (using Ruby) for interactive transcripts.

The Future

We have a few years until the completion of the Duke Chapel Recordings project. Along the way, we expect to:

  • add closed captions to the A/V
  • create an interactive transcript viewer from the captions
  • work those captions back into the index to aid discovery
  • add a still-image extract from each video to use as a thumbnail and “poster frame” image
  • offer up much more A/V content in the Duke Digital Repository

Stay tuned!

Perplexed by Context? Slick Sticky Titles Skip the Toll of the Scroll

We have a few new exciting enhancements within our digital collections and archival collection guide interfaces to share this week, all related to the challenge of presenting the proper archival context for materials represented online. This is an enormous problem we’ve previously outlined on this blog, both in terms of reconciling different descriptions of the same things (in multiple metadata formats/systems)  and in terms of providing researchers with a clear indication of how a digitized item’s physical counterpart is arranged and described within its source archival collection.

Here are the new features:

View Item in Context Link

Our new digital collections (the ones in the Duke Digital Repository) have included a prominent link (under header “Source Collection”) from a digitized item to its source archival collection with some snippets of info from the collection guide presented in a popover. This was an important step toward connecting the dots, but still only gets someone to the top of the collection guide; from there, researchers are left on their own for figuring out where in the collection an item resides.

Archival source collection info presented for an item in the W. Duke & Sons collection.
Archival source collection info presented for an item in the W. Duke & Sons collection.

Beginning with this week’s newly-available Alex Harris Photographs Collection (and also the Benjamin & Julia Stockton Rush Papers Collection), we take it another step forward and present a deep link directly to the row in the collection guide that describes the item. For now, this link says “View Item in Context.”

A deep link to View Item in Context for an item in the Alex Harris Photographs Collection
A deep link to View Item in Context for an item in the Alex Harris Photographs Collection

This linkage is powered by indicating an ArchivesSpace ID in a digital object’s administrative metadata; it can be the ID for a series, subseries, folder, or item title, so we’re flexible in how granular the connection is between the digital object and its archival description.

Sticky Title & Series Info

Our archival collection guides are currently rendered as single webpages broken into sections. Larger collections make for long webpages. Sometimes they’re really super long. Where the contents of the collection are listed, there’s a visual hierarchy in place with nested descriptions of series, subseries, etc. but it’s still difficult to navigate around and simultaneously understand what it is you’re viewing. The physical tedium of scrolling and the cognitive load required to connect related descriptive information located far away on a page make for bad usability.

As of last week, we now we keep the title of the collection “stuck” to the top of the screen once you’re no longer viewing the top of the page (it also functions as a link to get back to the top). And even more helpful is a new sticky series header that links to the beginning of the archival series within which the currently visible items were arranged; there’s usually an important description up there that helps contextualize the items listed below. This sticky header is context-aware, meaning it follows you around like a loyal companion, updating itself perpetually to reflect where you are as you navigate up or down.

Title & series information "stuck" to the top of a collection guide.
Title & series information “stuck” to the top of a collection guide.

This feature is powered via the excellent Bootstrap Scrollspy Javascript utility combined with some custom styling.

All Series Browser

To give researchers easier browsing between different archival series in a collection, we added a link in the sticky header to browse “All Series.” That link pops down a menu to jump directly to the start of each series within the collection guide.

All Series

Direct Links to Anything

Researchers can now easily get a link to any row in a collection guide where the contents are described. This can be anything: a series, subseries, folder, or item. It’s simple—just mouseover the row, click the arrow that appears at the left, and copy the URL from the address bar. The row in the collection guide that’s the target of that link gets highlighted in green.

Click the arrow to link directly to a row within the collection guide.
Click the arrow to link directly to a row within the collection guide.

We would love to get feedback on these features to learn whether they’re helpful and see how we might enhance or adjust them going forward. Try them out and let us know what you think!

Special thanks to our metadata gurus Noah Huffman and Maggie Dickson for their contributions on these features.

508 Update

Web accessibility is something that I care a lot about. In the 15 some odd years that I’ve been doing professional web work, it’s been really satisfying to see accessibility increasingly becoming an area of focus and importance. While we’re not there yet, I am more and more confident that accessibility and universal design will be embraced not just an afterthought, but rather considered as essential and integrated at the first steps of a project.

Accessibility interests have been making headlines this past year, such as with the lawsuit filed against edX (MIT and Harvard). Whereas the edX lawsuit focused on section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the web world and accessibility are usually synonymous with section 508. The current guidelines were enacted in 1998 and badly in need of an update. In February of this year, the Access Board published a proposed update to the 508 standards. They are going to take a year or so to digest and evaluate all of the comments they have received. It’s expected that the new law will be published in the Federal Register around October of next year. Institutions will have six months to make sure they are compliant, which means everything needs to be ready to go around April of 2017.

I recently attended a webinar on the upcoming changes that was developed by the SSB Bart Group. Key areas of interest to me were as follows.

WCAG 2.0 will be base standard

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are general a more simplified yet also more strict set of guidelines for making content available to all users as compared to the existing 508 guidelines. The WCAG standard is adapted around the world, so the updated rule to section 508 means there will be an international focus on standards.

Focus on functional use instead of product type(s)

The rules will focus less on ‘prescriptive’ fixes and more on general approaches to making content accessible. The current rules are very detailed in terms of what sorts of devices need to do what. The new rule tends to favor user preferences in order to give users control. The goal being to try to enable the broadest range of users, including those with cognitive disabilities.

Non-web content is now covered

This applies to anything that will be publicly available from an institution, including things like PDFs, office documents, and so on. It also includes social media and email. One thing to note is that only the final document is covered, so working versions may not be accessible. Similarly, archival content is not covered unless it’s made available to the public.

Strengthened interoperability standards

These standards will apply to software and frameworks, as well as mobile and hybrid apps. However, it does not apply specifically to web apps, due to the WCAG safe harbor. But the end result should be that it’s easier for assistive technologies to communicate with other software.

Requirements for authoring tools to create accessible content

This means that editing tools like Microsoft office and Adobe Acrobat will need to output content that is accessible by default. Currently it can take a great deal of effort after the fact to make a document accessible. Often times content creators either lack the knowledge of how to make them, or can’t invest the time needed. I think this change should end up benefiting a lot of users.


In general, the intent and purpose of these changes help the 508 standards catch up to the modern world of technology. The hopeful outcome will be that accessibility is baked in to content from the start and not just included as an afterthought. I think the biggest motivator to consider is that making content accessible doesn’t just benefit disabled users, but rather it makes that content easier to use, find, etc. for everyone.