Technical Note

The inspiration of the Selected Poems of George Whalley: A Digital Edition (DE) is the website developed by the Van Gogh Museum to provide access to Vincent Van Gogh's letters. The interface allows a researcher to view different letters side by side, along with transcriptions and the original scanned letters. We decided that this sort of functionality would be useful for the Whalley project and we set about developing a prototype of something similar that would work well as a Drupal module, because the Whalley website and database are built using Drupal.

I asked the Wishart Library's IT intern Domingos Junior to work on a Drupal module that could present two versions of a poem from the database side by side. (It is from this request that the module got it's name: tabs side by side. Domingos made a great start, and after his departure, I worked on the code base adding new features as requested from Michael and Alana and later from beta testers.

Initial assumptions in the development of the DE included:

  1. A successful conclusion would be a prototype that captured core features a scholar working in an archival environment finds useful.
  2. We would use popular and relatively common software standards such as jQuery, HTML5 and CSS3.
  3. As a tool for a serious researcher, it would be optimized for a desktop experience.
  4. We would use the “Agile Methodology” for our collaboration.
  5. After the prototype was developed, a second version would be formulated that was abstracted enough from the Whalley database to be used on other archival websites.

From the original specification – to show two versions of a poem side by side – the current DE has seen many changes, both in the interface itself and in the metadata driving it. Some changes were kept and some discarded as Michael, Alana, and others worked with the interface to determine what was needed. We actively used the Agile Manifesto as a development philosophy, and we found this was a very creative and interactive process that probed and tested different ideas about how people interact with archival content online. On the other hand, it was a challenging process and there are still bugs. For example, the tabs and buttons in the display can shift depending on the operating system and browser used to view it. Nevertheless, we do have a working prototype that is, by and large, satisfactory and ready for publication. Our hope is that users will offer feedback through the link below that we can integrate into a production version.

The production version is already in the design phase and will be a departure from the present iteration. The current Drupal module will be separated into two different projects: a purely JavaScript/HTML5 application handling the display, and a Drupal module which feeds the display. The display will take a JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) stream as input and provide a JSON stream as output. This will allow the interface to be used on any project that can provide a JSON stream. In the case of the George Whalley project, the Drupal module will provide the JSON. The second version will also feature:

  1. A clean, normalized code base.
  2. A refined display.
  3. The ability to set permissions to allow registered users to edit the metadata and notes live in the interface.
  4. Support for mobile devices.
  5. Better support for audio and video.
  6. A linked data editor.

We hope to have the next iteration available on GitHub by September 2017. If you are interested in adding a feature request, reporting a bug, or making a comment, please click the link below.

Offer Feedback on the Digital Edition.