As the most-quoted writer in the English language, Shakespeare has no shortage of compliments paid to him. Perhaps for good reason: the truth, beauty, and insight of his words continue to inspire each new generation. At PTKO, we believe great works deserve the widest audiences and that those works are even most powerful when appreciated in the context of the times of their creation. It’s been our honor to partner with the Folger Shakespeare Library over the past two years, expanding digital access to their enormous catalog of early modern manuscripts and historical artifacts related to the life and times of William Shakespeare for anyone with an Internet connection.
This month, our journey with Folger reached an important mountaintop with the release of a new digital research tool and digital asset/collection management system called Miranda. You can visit it at collections.folger.edu. Miranda gives Shakespeare fans of all kinds – from 14-year-olds to Ivy League professors – the ability to experience the entirety of the library’s 300,000+ digital holdings (including rare manuscripts, videos, and audio recordings) online, some of it for the very first time. Miranda dramatically increases the world’s remote access to the Folger’s priceless artifacts, world-class research, and allows them to quickly juxtapose those items with the best online content from other global institutions.
We believe the Miranda platform framework will be interesting to many other libraries, universities and research institutions that, like the Folger, want to more fully achieve their mission of preserving and sharing the world’s cultural treasures with as many people as possible. The Folger’s collection and research are unique, however, the technical challenges they needed to address in order to share their content are not. We designed and built Miranda so that others with similar challenges could take advantage of the Folger’s efforts in solving these issues.
Institutions don’t exist in a vacuum, we designed for collaboration & connection from the beginning. Miranda makes it very easy for other institutions around the world to access and leverage the Folger’s vast collection – and, in turn, for Miranda to share digital resources from outside sources. Miranda’s GraphQL API (Application Programming Interface) allows it to communicate seamlessly with other groups that share the Folger’s mission of advancing public knowledge. We used the API to build a WordPress plugin that makes it easy for WordPress websites to embed and reference Miranda content. Miranda also adheres to important emerging research standards such as the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), which aims to make digital media more widely available and interoperable. We’re leveraging community tools such as Mirador within Miranda as well, allowing us to focus on solving problems that the community hasn’t yet addressed.
Miranda allows institutions to quickly modernize, and stay current. A modular, open-source design allows the Folger (or you) to make low-cost, low-risk system improvements in the future. Miranda is designed to have a long shelf life, and incorporate new functionality and components as technology evolves — this is really important in a world where standards and technologies are still evolving, such as digital preservation. We designed everything from the record format (JSON, with some nods to JSON-LD) to the search indexing (Two-stage with Postgres & ElasticSearch) to evolve, handle incomplete or inconsistent data, and allow new types of content to be easily defined and added in the future. We never want an institution using Folger to feel anchored to old technology or unable to adopt standards as they mature. Miranda helps keep costs down as well, as it can replace multiple existing systems, and prevent the need for acquiring others in the future.
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to use, though Ph.D.’s love using it. Miranda is the proud result of many rounds of testing and iteration. The result is a sleek interface that vastly improves the search & discovery functionality previously available for web visitors. Our discovery client gives visitors accurate and comprehensive search results, suggested curated pages for common topics, and makes it much faster to explore what they find with both facets and filters to whittle down results and easy to use content viewing tools. Object & content relationships allow us to promote and suggest related results as well, helping create the unexpected delight of finding things you didn’t even know you were looking for. Miranda was built using open-source software, shared with the community — and, in this spirit of transparent, joint discovery, we’re happy to connect with anyone who wants to learn more about our approach or development process. We’re in the final stages of writing a case study with lots of details, which I look forward to sharing with you soon. In the meantime please feel free to email me with questions and feedback!
P.s. Did you know Salvador Dalí was a big Shakespeare fan? I didn’t! You can check out a few of his Shakespearian inspired artworks here: http://ptko.info/dali-6c75c