Fedora 4 at The Art Institute of Chicago, An Interview With Stefano Cossu

Carol Minton Morris from DuraSpace interviewed Stefano Cossu, Director of Application Services, Collections at The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), to learn about how Fedora 4 is implemented at AIC.

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

As the Information Architect for Collections Management at the Art Institute of Chicago, I led a group that evaluated options and selected Fedora to be the foundation and center of our data and asset management strategy.

• Tell me a little about your organization or institution.

The Art Institute’s collection management system contains information about our extensive collections and object management by curators, registrars and conservators. We wanted to build a DAMS alongside of this repository that would include not only images but the storage, preservation and access to all types of digital assets.

We have two large projects going on at the same time–the repository implementation and a wider adoption plan. Twenty five departments are interested in using the new system with Fedora 4 at its center. We have many diverse users with varied access roles that require planning several phases for the digitization and ingestion of a.ll collection-related materials.

• Why did you decide on Fedora?

I was investigating several systems in late 2013 and found out about Fedora by word of mouth. I heard about DSpace first, but determined that we needed more content model flexibility to integrate efficiently with the Art Institute’s custom collection management system. I was looking for a strong API that did not make content assumptions and that was built on a solid base. I also came to appreciate the professionals in the Fedora community more and more as I got to know them. The key to successful software development is to make it easier for developers to work together–Fedora does this.

I did not test DSpace but did phone research with other university and museum technical staff members who were using several different systems. Most museums were working with proprietary systems that integrated with legacy data management systems.

I did not like the idea that companies could make changes that users had no ability to comment on. It was hard to choose between implementing Fedora 3 or Fedora 4. Ultimately we waited for Fedora 4. I knew that the much improved scalability and linked data capabilities would serve the Art Institute in the future and would be worth the wait.

• What were your requirements going in?

Scalability was a top priority. We have so much information–250,000 objects and we foresee storing several millions of related assets in the future. Fedora also offers the possibility of being used as a publishing platform because of its linked data capability. Fedora also fulfilled digital preservation requirements.

Our images are currently managed by the collection management system. We curate original digital art files that are very valuable and are looking to establish a digital preservation workflow to ensure that these assets are protected for the long-term.

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

Originally our goals were limited to institutional requirements based primarily on what we knew about Fedora’s capabilities at the time. As we grew more familiar with the software, and especially its integration capabilities, we were able to look toward more ambitious goals. Right now only our collection information systems are linking to our repository but integration with library and archives is in our long-range plans. In the future we are looking into publishing our collections as linked data with an API that other institutions can query.

• What are your plans for Fedora at AIC in the future?

A fuller, wider integration of collections at the Art Institute is definitely in our future. We have a workable solution in place, but now recognize that connectivity with other systems will be a key aspect of our institutional strategy going forward. Fedora is developing pluggable new features that enable this all the time. We feel that choosing Fedora was very smart and we now have solid evidence of the repository’s success for our use case.

• What is at the top of your Fedora wish list?

I’m not sure I have a wish list. I am currently curious about what Fedora wants to be. I serve on the API Extension architecture working group where we talk about what Fedora is meant to do what is best achieved outside of Fedora. I would love to see deeper integration with other communities like Hydra and Islandora so that we could work together more closely on shared goals.

Generally I am excited to see how Fedora evolves– perhaps to something more stable or maybe in the near future development will be more standardized. I would like to see Fedora adoption as kind of a standard for some communities. Also I would like to see Fedora and its ancillary systems more of a product, with clear paths to deploying a complete system for specific use cases.

I also wish that there was greater Fedora 4 uptake in the museum community because it is so useful. David Wilcox and I will give a workshop. “Managing Assets as Linked Data with Fedora 4” at the 20th annual conference of Museums and the Web 2016 (MW2016) April 6-9, 2016 in Los Angeles. Part of what we will be talking about will be how Fedora 4 could be packaged and deployed to showcase what our interface can accomplish for museums.