DSpace customisation: Item View and Help

The results of our first user testing phase pointed out a number of problems with our DSpace installation. Among them, the way files in datasets are visualised and managed in the repository, and the very little documentation available have been addressed and are described in this blog post.

Two problems described by the test users were strongly related to the nature of their datasets, which normally contain large numbers of files organised in folders. Creating a dataset in DSpace with many files through the standard web interface is a very slow process, and it is not possible to organise the files in folders: this problem was addressed by the sworduploader command line utility we developed. Another limitation pointed out by the users is the lack of a function to download the entire dataset as a single zip archive: this is only available for registered users, and it is not particularly intuitive. A simple solution to this problem could be to upload the dataset as a zip file: this approach would solve both problems, but would also hinder the ability to explore the dataset directly on the website. Having both the zip file and the individual files is another solution, but would double the required storage space. Besides, the archive does not stick out in the long list of other files. We thus implemented a class in DSpace to package the bitstream on the fly, based on the one used to export datasets for registered user. While the original function start the packager in the background and sends an email to the registered user when the file is ready for download, our function waits until the file is ready, and starts the download automatically. A link, which is also available to anonymous users, has been added in the Item view right above the list of files (Figure 1).


Figure 1: C4DM's custom file list.

The way files are listed in the Mirage XMLUI theme (the default theme, and the one we have been using as a template), can be controlled with a simple parameter in the configuration files: it can be either emphasising metadata or bitstreams. We found none of the two to be appropriate to display dataset with many files, especially if they are organised into folders. It has to be pointed out that files uploaded through the web submission form all end up in the same directory in the asset store (ORIGINAL). This is also true for files uploaded via SWORD, but a pseudo-structure can be obtained using relative paths in the file names (which are simple strings) stored in the DSpace database. We then used this information to create a custom file list visualisation that groups files by folder, and is much more compact than the default one (see Figure 1). These changes were implemented using XSLT (item-view.xsl).

Another problem encountered by the test users was the lack of documentation. We thus created several help pages describing all the different aspects of the repository (introduction, registration and user account, submission, browsing and searching, FAQ). These are static html pages saved together with C4DM's custom theme. Links have been added next to the Login link at the top of the page, and next to the Contact link at the bottom of the page.