Islandora Show & Tell: Story City by Vancouver Public Library

This week we have a special two-part Show & Tell, looking at the remarkable Story City from Vancouver Public Library from the point of view of both the library behind it and the service company that helped with development.

Story City tells the stories of cultural life of the citizens of Vancouver and surrounding areas, through an extensive collection of audio recordings, photographs, videos, and scanned historical documents. Because these stories are built around the places where they happened, VPL decided to use a map interface as the point of entry for browsing these repository objects.

A map, plus a whole lot more. Story City allows visitors to filter stories on the map by neighbourhood, community, time period, and format, with visual markers for different kinds of content. Grouping pins keeps the interface neat in the face of multiple objects, and the power of Solr lets visitors share a ‘canned search’ with terms built into the url, such as showing just audio files featuring Chinese Canadians from 1971 - 2020.

The interface is sleek and intuitive, with viewers available for digital objects right on the map, so you can view an image or play a story about growing up in the West End just by clicking on a pin.

I spoke with Kay Cahill, Acting Director of Collections & Technology at VPL, about their Islandora Site This Vancouver, and the new Story City feature that prompted this Show & Tell:

Why did you choose Islandora?

We chose Islandora for our repository, This Vancouver, following a comprehensive evaluation of a variety of commercial and open source products. Islandora offered all of the features and flexibility that we were looking for, and we felt there was real value in choosing an open source product that would allow us to develop in-house expertise in configuration and development. Additionally, the concept of open source supports the value of resource sharing which is core to our mission as a public library. Undoubtedly there was a bit of an up-front staffing cost in the time it took to install and learn the software, but it has proven to be a robust tool that has served us well as we have developed our community collections.

We chose to develop the Story City site as an Islandora module for a number of reasons. Firstly, we wanted to build on the internal expertise we had developed over three years of working with Islandora for This Vancouver. Secondly, we wanted the map – which was developed through a Canada 150+ grant to showcase stories of journeys to and interactions with Vancouver - to serve as a discovery tool for the content in the broader repository. And thirdly, we wanted to develop something that could be released back to the open source community so that other organizations and individuals would be able to make use of it in the future.

What feature in your repository are you most proud of?

We are particularly proud of the Story City map. Digital Echidna did fantastic work bringing to life our vision of a map that would be fast, responsive, visually appealing, and provide a compelling discovery tool for the amazing content that we gathered from community members over the course of the project. We particularly like the way that pin clusters break into a spiral when a number of stories are linked to the same location on the map; this is a really user-friendly and effective presentation of something that could have been very confusing.

Do you have plans to expand your site in the future?

Absolutely. Providing venues for community stories to be shared, discovered and explored is a core part of VPL’s current strategic plan. The stories that we’ve gathered and shared through This Vancouver and Story City are a testament to how technology, which so often leads to an increased sense of isolation, can spark new dialogues and help build connections and understanding between community members. Our Community Digital Initiatives team continues to work on identifying new content for the repository,  and on sharing the stories and experiences of Vancouverites through this platform. Because we collect and curate new content for each project, there’s a lot of work that happens behind the scenes: developing community relationships, interviewing community members, and then editing the resulting files prior to adding them to the collection. To date we have mainly focused on audio recordings, but we are hoping to introduce our first video collection later this year.

What is your favourite object in the collection to show off?

I think I’d like to reframe this question slightly, and speak to the item that I think is the most important and impactful in the collection – the Women’s Memorial March Quilt. This, to me, is the perfect example of why we put the work into building our repository and developing tools like the map to make the content easier to discover and explore. The quilt was created to commemorate the murdered and missing women of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Made by friends and family of the women, it’s carried through the streets once a year at the annual Women’s Memorial March. It is incredibly important to the community as one of the few places where the women, who are so often objectified by the press as drug addicts or sex workers, are remembered as their loved ones knew them: mothers, sisters, daughters, friends. By capturing the panels of the quilt in high-quality digital images and sharing them through the repository, they are not only preserved for the future but are available for anyone with access to the internet to view online.

Digital Echidna the company that worked with VPL to create the site,  shared further details about developing Story City and the Islandora Story Map module, which is available on GitHub:

Because this collection centres around places and the movement of people as it shapes a city over time, a map was decided upon to serve as the interface for the Islandora repository. This is where discovery is centered and is the landing page of the website. Pins and other visual identifiers on the map indicate the presence of objects -- audio recordings, photographs, video clips and scanned images -- that are in the digital asset collection.

The website has social sharing functionality and operates as an attractive and responsive online experience that is branded with Vancouver Public Library’s existing web presence. Users of the site can navigate both visually using pins on the map and with search facets, such as neighbourhood, background, and era filters. The site’s administrators can manage these assets and add new objects. Training, knowledge-sharing, and open communication were key components to this successful project.

Digital Echidna’s Role

In order for the mapping feature to work, we developed a new Islandora module (story_map). This module takes Islandora Content Objects and pins them to a map using the data from the Location fields within said Objects. Content Objects need to be geotagged with the

appropropriate latitude and longitude coordinates, as well as with the associated metadata and tags for search facets. The interface handles aggregation of multiple pins into clusters, which drills down to a more detailed view when the user clicks.

This is a very visual-dependent module. The pins for different types of content are visually distinct; when the user clicks on an individual pin, a high level description will be offered. Another click will open the media for the object in the appropriate viewer/player, lead to a more in-depth description, and easily return to the map to explore other pins or to explore another search facet.

Key Factors of Success

  • Taking Solr data and displaying it on a map
  • Map solution done with IP Geolocation Views & Maps and Leaflet. The IP Geolocation (a.k.a the mapping engine) takes the data from Islandora Solr Views and displays it on a Leaflet map (a.k.a the map renderer)
  • Displaying media specific pins that lead to pop ups that show the media in the appropriate viewer/player
  • Customizing Views plugins
  • Custom JS social sharing
    • Filter sharing using the Views AJAX History module
    • Popup sharing

Has your institution built an Islandora site or tool that you want to share with our community? Contact us to set up a Show & Tell of your own!