Tales from the Tech Side: A look at Doctor or Doctress from our developer

 Digital history, Happenings  Comments Off on Tales from the Tech Side: A look at Doctor or Doctress from our developer
Nov 212014
 

-by guest blogger Chris Clement, Library Applications Developer, Drexel University Libraries

Doctor or Doctress is a digital history project that enables students to to understand and interpret history through the eyes of early women physicians by using primary sources. While much has been said about the content, the development and underlying technologies of the site have not been discussed.

Doctor or Doctress is built on top of a piece of software called Islandora, which provides a user-friendly interface that allows the addition of content to the underlying repository software, Fedora.  The content in Doctor or Doctress is broken down into stories, which are comprised of a timeline, a set of documents (images, books, audio, and video), and textual/narrative information. Each story and document in Islandora is a Fedora object that has a unique persistent identifier (PID) and a set of datastreams, which store the content of the uploaded document and any additional data associated with that object. The largest technical challenges of building this site were getting multiple types of content to display on a single page, integrating a timeline into each story, and tying everything together through administrative interfaces.

When I first started work on Doctor or Doctress, displaying multiple types of content on a single page in Islandora was not something I had seen done.  Every object in Islandora has a content type associated with it (PDF, large image, video, etc.)  To handle the unique display requirements, I created a new “story” content type. Story objects have additional custom datastreams that specify the IDs of related documents, story- and document-level metadata, and timeline data. I also created custom layouts for stories and documents to allow the display of images, video/audio players, and book readers on the same page. These layouts were loosely based on default layouts for individual content types.

Similar to displaying multiple content types on a single page, timeline integration and display was another feature I had failed to find on any other Islandora site.  After reviewing the features and capabilities of various timeline tools and libraries with the Legacy Center staff, we settled on Timeglider, a Javascript-based tool for creating timelines. To integrate Timeglider with Islandora, I implemented a mechanism to transform timeline data associated with a story into JSON, a format understandable by Timeglider. This mechanism took into account special timeline events that were associated with a story document, displaying that document’s thumbnail along the top of the timeline above the corresponding event.  Additionally, I wrote a custom event handler to define a custom popup window to appear when users click story document events.

Designing a way to allow administrators to create new stories, associate documents, and populate timelines was not trivial. Islandora provides a tool for building web forms for gathering data from users and populating whole datastreams when adding an object. For story creation and document association, I created a standard story-level metadata form, as well as a document-level metadata form, and set them up to populate custom datastreams on the story object. I designed an interface for populating the timeline for a story as well, allowing administrators to manage events, specifying a number of parameters such as start date, end date, title, description, and an option to link  a story document to an event.

Working on Doctor or Doctress was very rewarding. The unique nature of the site, combined with the underlying technologies, provided a set of interesting challenges to overcome. Tough decisions had to be made, but I think the end result speaks for itself. I am proud to have been a part of this project, and look forward to seeing it continue to grow.

Check out Doctor or Doctress here!  You can follow Chris on Twitter @Null_is_Null

Hear ye, hear ye! Bradford’s “labor of love” now digitized for all!

 Archival procedures, From the collections, Happenings  Comments Off on Hear ye, hear ye! Bradford’s “labor of love” now digitized for all!
Oct 212014
 

To view all 36 volumes of Bradford’s Biographies of Homeopathic Physicians
on Internet Archive, click here.

Dr. Bradford, librarian and former lecturer on the history of medicine at Hahnemann Medical College of Philadelphia, completed his Biographies of Homeopathic Physicians in 1918. His Biographies consist of 36 massive scrapbook volumes, most with well over 300 pages. Inside a volume, you’ll find newspaper clippings, correspondence, photographs, notes from transactions of Philadelphia-area medical societies, and excerpts from William Harvey King’s History of Homeopathy and its Institutions in America. If you can think of a late 19th- or early 20th-century homeopathic physician (women physicians included), it’s likely there’s some information about him or her in Bradford’s scrapbooks »

Thomas Lindsley Bradford was born in New Hampshire on June 6, 1847. He attended Harvard Medical School and then the Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania, where he received his degree in 1869. Until 1877, Bradford practiced in Maine and traveled to various medical institutions in Europe and Great Britain. In 1877, he moved to Philadelphia to practice and was “a prominent figure in homœopathic circles”1. Bradford published various other works, including the History of The Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital of Philadelphia and A Characteristic Materia Medica. He was lecturer on the history of Medicine at Hahnemann Medical College of Philadelphia from 1895 to 1900, and served as the College’s librarian from 1894.

 

As librarian, Bradford seemed to be protective of his books, and there is no doubt in my mind he was (a bit) strict with the medical students who came in to use his books. The title page in his scrapbook, for example, advises: “These books are not to be taken from the Library Reading Room, and are to be kept under lock and key. Excerpts may be made from them by any responsible person. It is hoped that they may never be mutilated by literary vandals. They represent much labor, but it has been a labor of love.” I wonder if these “literary vandals” were the types to scrawl quotes such as “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” (T.S. Eliot’s “Prufrock”) in the margins while twirling their mustaches…?

 

For the past couple weeks, I have been working on making Bradford’s Biographies available on Internet Archive (IA). Last time we here at the Legacy Center uploaded a book to IA, we had some…struggles. However, this time, after browsing the forums, we decided to try one poster’s suggestion of uploading books as .pdf files, rather than going through the process of file re-naming, zipping, etc., etc. All 36 volumes of the scrapbooks had been shot using our camera several years ago. The master .tiff files were really large, so I began the process of converting all to .jpg files. Unfortunately, converting to .jpg files with a resolution of 12 did not reduce the file size enough to create a PDF (Adobe Acrobat really, really hated them) so, taking advice from my colleague, I tried downgrading to a 10 resolution, at which level the images still looked good. Initially, we were concerned about the image quality because IA makes derivatives from the uploaded file, which in our case had been already been through some downsampling. However, a test upload proved our fears wrong.

The next hurdle to overcome: Acrobat still really, really hated some of the files; well, those over 2 GB.  It was back to the drawing board (I mean scouring the internet in desperation) to find a solution. One helpful person posted a blog about their issues with saving large .pdf files (Adobe just won’t save if they’re over 2 GB): save them as  PDF/X. For some reason unbeknownst to me, or perhaps because this format is meant “facilitate graphics properties,” it worked! While I got an error message that my PDFs did not convert “properly” to PDF/X, it still saved successfully, and honestly, they look better than the regular .pdf files did. So from .tiff to .jpg to .pdfx, the pages of Bradford’s “labor of love” slowly became upload-able, and one step closer to being accessible for anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Uploading the files to IA was the easiest part. There’s even a option to save the basic metadata that’s input at the time of upload, so I didn’t need to enter it 36 times, although the addition of fields such as “contributor” and “rights” had to be added manually after the objects were derived (usually a few hours). And something else to keep in mind: don’t try uploading with Mozilla Firefox; use Google Chrome, as Chrome’s upload limit is 4 GB as opposed to Firefox’s 2 GB. Fortunately, I was smart enough to check up on this before attempting the first upload.

Like Bradford writing his Biographies, uploading them for me “represent[s] much labor, but it has been a labor of love.”

To view all 36 volumes of Bradford’s Biographies of Homeopathic Physicians on Internet Archive, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


  1. King, William Harvey. History of homoeopathy and its institutions in America; their founders, benefactors, faculties, officers, hospitals, alumni, etc., with a record of achievement of its representatives in the world of medicine. New York, Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1905.