Telling Fedora 4 Stories at Johns Hopkins Library with Sayeed Choudhury

“Telling Fedora 4 Stories” is an initiative aimed at introducing project leaders and their ideas to one another while providing details about Fedora 4 implementations for the community and beyond. The following interview, conducted by Carol Minton Morris with Sayeed Choudhury, Associate Dean for Research Data Management and Hodson Director of the Digital Research and Curation Center (DRCC) at the Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins University, includes personal observations that may not represent the opinions and views of the Sheridan Libraries or of the Fedora Project.

What’s your role with Fedora at your organization or institution?

As DRCC Director I lead a team that is actively migrating content from DSpace to Fedora 4 as part of our work towards developing infrastructure to preserve and provide access to a range of both converted digital content in an efficient manner. We also curate content that is "born digital", such as large-scale scientific datasets. We see Fedora 4 as solution for both institutional repository functionality, and as a foundation for a rich data archive especially since Fedora 4 provides native linked data functionality

I am the Associate Dean for Research Data Management who manages a new data management directorate that includes the DRCC infrastructure group, the library applications group and data services including data management and GIS. Fedora 4 is at the heart of many of these functions at Sheridan Libraries now and in the future.

We are collaborating with the Center for Open Science and Notre Dame to integrate Fedora with the Open Science Framework (OSF) which will allow researchers to seamlessly switch between collaboration and data management environments. Our aim is to bring the ability to preserve research data to where people are working in order to make data archiving more of a continuous and ongoing process.

Tell me a little about your organization or institution.

The newly formed data management directorate reflects a recognition that data have become a new form of collections. The DRCC focuses on developing data infrastructure and customized interfaces while the library applications group supports the applications used to access data in its various forms. The two service units of data management and GIS provide support for faculty and students to use, share, discover, etc. the data. This comprehensive approach allows us to be strategic in our approach for data management while also being efficient and scalable in our provision of services.

Why did you decide on Fedora?

The fact that Fedora 4 has a native linked data platform was very appealing. Using Fedora 4’s native APIs and the extended capabilities through the API-X project (for which we have an IMLS grant) allow us to adopt the same platform for institutional repository and data archive requirements. These API-X extensions of Fedora’s core feature set are particularly promising since they map the many and varied domain models currently in use by research communities onto Fedora’s semantic-web-based data model and interface. This mapping reinforces the approach of moving preservation to researchers’ existing environments and workflows.

The API-X Framework provides a means to add functionality to Fedora using standardized, sharable components. The Fedora API Extension Architecture (API-X) team recently released the framework to the community for testing.

The promise of being able to use multiple applications with Fedora 4 without constraining the underlying content models is also promising. Through API-X, we are also considering how to develop customized interfaces or build extensions related to protocols such as IIIF.

What strategic organizational or institutional goals did Fedora help you meet?

In the past our library and the research library community have often focused on creating “one-offs”— deep customized collections that are connected to an interface as a showcase for specialized content. This approach is great if they can be generalized and sustained, but this has proven challenging, particularly at scale. Leveraging the Fedora 4 fundamental extensible nature gives us the foundation to create mix and match default services that are available to everybody without developing specific requirements for individual collections. Given the scale and complexity of research data, it is becoming critical that we develop ways to use common infrastructure to the extent possible.

What are your plans for Fedora in the future?

With the recent API-X work that maps underlying data models to Fedora, multiple data models can be supported–we plan to take full advantage of this advance. Johns Hopkins was one of the original National Science Foundation funded DataNet grant Partners. One of the expectations from that work was the idea was that one data model would emerge that would meet all needs. This concept did not prove to be true. With Fedora 4 API-X domains don’t have to give up their native semantic richness to be part of interoperable information and preservation systems.

What is at the top of your Fedora “wish list”?

One comment I hear often from the community is that Fedora does indeed provide a great deal of flexibility, but there is a steep learning curve. This is one of the reasons that we are working actively with our partners to integrate Fedora functionality into the Open Science Framework (OSF). It may become possible to take advantage of Fedora’s capabilities within OSF which can be deployed at the institutional level without the steep learning curve.

What advice would you give to other organizations that are planning a Fedora implementation?

Not everybody needs to run a Fedora archive—shared archives might be a better way forward for some institutions.  Working with others to develop and leverage sharable resources is often a viable alternative to developing deep in-house technology expertise or capacity.