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Unit 11: Course Retrospective

This (SIRLS 672) was my first course in the DigIn certificate program, so I did not quite know what to expect of myself or of the program, especially because I do not have professional experience in a library or with collections, except as a frequent user. Although I have a technical background, I had not worked as a programmer or database administrator in years. I discovered that although the course was more technical than I had anticipated, it was still within my capabilities. The examples of digital collections and the library-specific assignments were enlightening as to the scope of the kinds of projects involved and the kinds of skills needed to manage digital collections in a library or archival environment. 

I have learned new technical concepts and skills in this course that will form the basis of a new and expanded conceptualization of digital collections. For example, I knew little about the inner workings of the internet before taking this class; now I understand the various data protocols and standards used, and the procedures used to get data from one node to another. I also did not know anything about the component parts underlying a digital collection (except a little about databases): now I understand, using the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack as an example, the basic relations between the operating system, the web server, the database management system, and the scripting language underlying a digital collection. I already knew some HTML but I learned a little more, and I learned about XML as a way of describing and structuring data, which was completely new to me. I had professional experience with the concepts underlying relational databases and database design, but it was a good review; and I was introduced to the specifics of MySQL and the scripting language PHP.

In addition to the technical aspects of the course, I learned about the controversies and issues surrounding digital information, such as the argument for open-source software, and the advantages/disadvantages of various system interfaces, such as the CLI  (command line) versus a GUI (graphical user interface). I especially appreciated the opportunity to try tasks using a variety of methods and interfaces so that I could come to my own conclusions about my preferences.  I also learned skills and methods related to project management, the importance of a technology plan, and a little about how technology projects are funded, especially through the e-rate program.  Through the examples and the discussions, I learned about how all of these issues affect libraries, and the issues surrounding the creation and maintenance of digital collections in a library or archival setting. I have also learned about some of the initiatives in the digital humanities.

I especially have a new appreciation for the technical aspects underlying digital collections, and the prodigious amount of work that goes into designing, creating, and maintaining such collections. This knowledge gives a counterweight to the arguments in favor of free access for digital collections: while I agree that access should be as free as possible, I realize that digital collections do not come into being without a large price tag in terms of people-hours and expertise. I think that librarians will have a increasingly large role to play in creating and maintaining these collections, especially in this era of financial constraints.

As I write this I am impressed with how much I have learned, yet I feel a little trepidation because I’m afraid I may have learned just enough to be dangerous.  I realize how far I am from being really proficient in any of these areas; but since the course description states that “this is not a course in network administration, web development or programming!” I feel a little better. I feel that I have achieved the stated goal, which is to learn “about server technology supporting digital collections in libraries, archives, cultural heritage organizations and other institutions.”  I think I have indeed “gain[ed] confidence in [my] ability to learn new technologies as they are developed” and I have come to “understand basic information management architecture.”  I hope and expect that this course will prove to be a firm foundation to build upon as I pursue my future in the digital humanities.

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Filed under Digital Humanities, LAMP architecture, Library science, Project Management, SIRLS 672, Ubuntu Linux

Unit 7 – learning XML and getting web site up and running

Discuss briefly how you went about learning XML and which resources you used. Comment briefly on helpful they were (or not), and indicate any intermediate or advanced modules you reviewed. Provide a brief status report on the installation of your optional practice system, if you have one.


I learned XML by reading the lecture notes and links provided by Bruce and using the W3Schools XML tutorial http://www.w3schools.com/xml/default.asp.  I found the tutorial adequate for my needs, especially since I can try out examples live. I also looked at two books I own called XML by Example, and XSLT: Working with XML and HTML. I did not watch the videos, since I don’t generally find videos helpful. The XML.com site was fascinating. I also began the tutorials on DTD and XML schemas. I learned more about XML by reading about the TEI guidelines for digital humanities, including the http://www.tei-c.org/release/doc/tei-p5-doc/en/html/SG.html “Gentle Introduction to XML” provided by the site.

My practice system (VM) status: operational and up to date. I was able to connect remotely and run “headless” using a terminal session and opening a secure shell.  I set up my server’s website, and when I went to change the permissions, I found I had already added the group webdev and changed the permissions when I set up the practice system (I followed all the installation directions from the standard install document, which included this, I think). I continued by using fugu to transfer the website and XML files onto my new web server, and I was able to display it properly in the web browser.   I made a personal web space for user mebell on my server, and was able to find it in the browser successfully as well.

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Filed under LAMP architecture, SIRLS 672