LEAP (2013-2017): A Project History, Part II
This essay sets out the second part of a history of LEAP: The Livingstone Online Enrichment and Access Project, the NEH-funded initiative that resulted in the development of the present Livingstone Online site and our critical edition of Livingstone's Final Manuscripts (1865-73). The essay combines text, images, and access to downloadable project documents to provide an intimate, behind-the-scenes look into project.
Imagining the New Livingstone Online Top ⤴
In addition to development of core data, LEAP empowered the project team to overhaul the Livingstone Online site top to bottom. This involved, first, converting the site to Islandora, an open-source software framework combining Drupal for its front end and Fedora for its back end, and, second, redesigning the interface to cater to modern user sensibilities and expectations. The first element would allow the site to be integrated into the UCLA Digital Library collections and so be maintained and preserved long-term as part of those collections (as was then anticipated). The second would hopefully facilitate access to the site's materials by a variety of users.
An early design mockup for the new Livingstone Online, 2013. Copyright Karin Dalziel. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported
Adrian S. Wisnicki (Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln). Director of Livingstone Online, LEAP, and the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project. had begun a preliminary conversion of the site to Drupal while still at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (and prior to LEAP), with student programmers Adam Colton (Graduate Student, Indiana University of Pennsylvania). Web developer for Livingstone Online., Annie Lin (Undergraduate Student, Indiana University of Pennsylvania). Web developer for Livingstone Online., and Eliza Albert (Graduate Student, Indiana University of Pennsylvania). Web developer for Livingstone Online.. Once LEAP began, Wisnicki brought the Drupal site files to UNL, where Karin Dalziel (Digital Designer and Development Specialist, Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, University of Nebraska-Lincoln). CDRH co-lead for LEAP. set about enhancing the conversion and beginning the work of redesigning the site's aesthetic dimension. When the Drupal site files went over to UCLA in early 2014, Wisnicki convened a sub-group of project team members (himself, Megan Ward (Assistant Professor, Oregon State University). Co-director of Livingstone Online, LEAP, and the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project., and students Angela Aliff (Graduate Student, Indiana University of Pennsylvania). Research assistant and interface designer for Livingstone Online., Ashanka Kumari (Graduate Student, University of Louisville). Research assistant for Livingstone Online., and Erin Cheatham (Graduate Student, University of Nebraska-Lincoln). Research assistant for Livingstone Online.) to focus on site redesign. The subgroup soon became known as the LEAP Aesthetic Action Team.
Site Levels for the New Livingstone Online
Home page (Level 1) - Links to section pages
Section Pages (Level 2) - Six, each with links to content pages
Secondary Content Pages (Level 3) - Critical essays and similar materials
Primary Content Pages (Level 4) - Images, transcriptions, metadata for Livingstone manuscripts
Secondary Content Page Variants (Level 5) - Browse and search options for manuscripts
Given the broad audience of Livingstone Online, the team envisioned a site for a range of users and drew inspiration from a variety of model sites (e.g., The New York Times, Apple, CAST83), not just other academic websites. Lead by Wisnicki and Aliff, a new site began to emerge, with more images, vibrant colors, and visually-guided navigation. A series of detailed mockups laid out the specifications for this new site.
(Re)defining Livingstone Online's Vision Top ⤴
The new Livingstone Online would also feature numerous critical and historical essays. During the first year of LEAP, therefore, Adrian S. Wisnicki (Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln). Director of Livingstone Online, LEAP, and the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project. and Megan Ward (Assistant Professor, Oregon State University). Co-director of Livingstone Online, LEAP, and the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project. reviewed and edited all legacy critical materials with an eye to incorporating and so preserving them in the new site, while also making them readable on mobile devices.
Photographic Scene in an African Village, c.1857-1865, by Charles Livingstone. Copyright National Library of Scotland. Creative Commons Share-alike 2.5 UK: Scotland
One of the key goals was to foster an awareness of Livingstone's complex and often controversial legacy. To help articulate this, Joanne Ichimura (Archivist, Special Collections, SOAS Library, University of London). Institutional contact for Livingstone Online., Justin Livingstone (Research Fellow, Queen’s University Belfast). Associate project scholar for Livingstone Online., and Jared McDonald (Lecturer, University of the Free State). Associate project scholar and lead contact for South African research for Livingstone Online. kindly shared versions of materials related to the 2013 bicentenary exhibit at SOAS, University of London. The inclusion of these materials on the new Livingstone Online would play an important role in Adrian S. Wisnicki (Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln). Director of Livingstone Online, LEAP, and the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project. and Megan Ward (Assistant Professor, Oregon State University). Co-director of Livingstone Online, LEAP, and the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project.'s efforts to avoid perpetuating colonialist modes of representing Livingstone's legacy and the non-Western regions he visited.
As part of the legacy essay review, Ashanka Kumari (Graduate Student, University of Louisville). Research assistant for Livingstone Online. also worked with Wisnicki and original Livingstone Online team members to draft a history of the project for the years 2004-13. Finally, Wisnicki and Ward, with assistance from Kumari, also expanded and updated the Livingstone Online bibliography to encompass a variety of primary, secondary, and tertiary materials. They then created a custom Zotero library of these materials in order to facilitate collaborative development, while enabling future export of this bibliographic data in a variety of formats, such as TEI, MODS, and RDF.
Download a set of curated Critical Materials and Permissions project documents
Getting the Word Out: Scholars, Stakeholders, and Social Media Top ⤴
Angela Aliff lectures at the National Endowment for the Humanities, 2014 Copyright Angela Aliff. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported
In November 2014, slightly more than a year from the project's beginning, Adrian S. Wisnicki (Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln). Director of Livingstone Online, LEAP, and the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project. arranged a series of meetings in Scotland and England, during which he delivered project updates to representatives of the David Livingstone Centre, National Library of Scotland, University College London, SOAS, University of London, and the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Oxford. These meetings included a visit with Neil Imray Livingstone Wilson. Great great grandson of David Livingstone. (great great grandson of David Livingstone), whose family had been strong supporters of Livingstone Online since the inception of the project in 2004.
The LEAP team also began to reach out to new audiences through the newly created Wordpress blog and Twitter account. Regular tweets covered all aspects of the project while a range of blog posts sought to define the Livingstone Online site, its goals, and its content for a broad audience.
Download a set of curated Dissemination - Scholars, Stakeholders, Social Media project documents
Getting the Word Out: Into Schools Top ⤴
LEAP's outreach program comprised the final element of the dissemination work, led jointly by LEAP team members (Kate Simpson (Graduate Student, Edinburgh Napier University). Project scholar and UK outreach coordinator for Livingstone Online., Megan Ward (Assistant Professor, Oregon State University). Co-director of Livingstone Online, LEAP, and the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project.), staff of the David Livingstone Centre (Martha B. Findlay (Learning Officer, David Livingstone Centre)., Alison Ritchie (Property Manager, David Livingstone Centre). Institutional contact for Livingstone Online.), and schools local to the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre. In the fall of 2013, Simpson and Findlay began work on this program with a "pre-pilot" that encouraged local school children to interact with Livingstone's 1871 Field Diary.
Based on the experience of the pre-pilot, Ward and Simpson developed a series of worksheets that would encourage students to explore relevant historical themes (e.g., slavery, global citizenship, African culture) through Livingstone Online. In this they were assisted by volunteer Alastair Simpson (Volunteer, David Livingstone Centre). who provided worksheet design and layout support.
The worksheets were tested at the DLC with school groups and revised with the goal of making them freely available via Livingstone Online. In addition, Simpson also reached out to Lynne Robertson (Senior Education Officer, Education Scotland) at Education Scotland, a Scottish governmental body responsible for supporting teaching and learning. Robertson agreed to link to and endorse the Livingstone Online worksheets. With work on the pilot complete, Ward and Samantha Fitch (Graduate Student, Indiana University of Pennsylvania). Research assistant for Livingstone Online., another member of the LEAP team, then took the first steps towards designing a US version of the outreach program.
Download a set of curated Dissemination - Outreach for Schools project documents
Model of the Blantyre Mills, detail, by Pilkington Jackson. Livingstone worked in these mills as a boy. Copyright Livingstone Online. May not be reproduced without the express written consent of the National Trust for Scotland, on behalf of the Scottish National Memorial to David Livingstone Trust (David Livingstone Centre).
The Website Emerges Top ⤴
Website implementation was the last step in the 1.5-year arc of development that drew on the concentrated efforts of LEAP's project team. Adrian S. Wisnicki (Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln). Director of Livingstone Online, LEAP, and the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project., with guidance from Michael B. Toth (President, R.B. Toth Associates). Program manager for LEAP and the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project., interfaced with Lisa McAulay (Librarian, UCLA Digital Library Program). Institutional co-lead for LEAP. and Stephen Davison (Director, UCLA Digital Library Program). Institutional co-lead for LEAP. to direct this aspect of LEAP. In a separate process, Wisnicki also worked directly with James Cummings (Senior Academic Research Technology Specialist, IT Services, University of Oxford). TEI specialist for Livingstone Online and the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project. on XSLT to display the legacy transcriptions.
In the initial stages of site development, UCLA Digital Library staff sought to distinguish and define the digital assets to be added to both the Drupal front end and Fedora back end of the new Livingstone Online site. With a rough enumeration complete, the team then turned to planning the development and implementation of the site. Site development consisted of four stages: initial work done on individual developer machines, the transfer and testing of code on a "dev" site available only to UCLA staff, then on to "stage" where the LEAP project team first began to review completed work, and, finally, to "production," i.e. the public version of the website.
Screenshot of Kathy Chavez's desktop as she and Adrian Wisnicki collaborate on site development via Skype. Copyright Livingstone Online. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported
In early 2015, Wisnicki and Davison set target dates of mid spring for the internal alpha release of the site and early summer for the public beta site release. A final shift in workflow accompanied this last phase of development. To enable UCLA to work to its strength of back-end development, Kathy Chavez (Web Developer, KappaLuppa, Inc.). Web developer for LEAP. of KappaLuppa, Inc. joined the project team to collaborate directly with Wisnicki on refinement of the Drupal interface, while UCLA set out an internal project plan to ensure the timely delivery of the alpha release....
What the Team Learned via LEAP Top ⤴
LEAP brought together a project team of over 20 individuals, an advisory board, institutional contacts, and the representatives of an array of international collaborating institutions. In the overall workplan, the project team front-loaded site development into the first year and a half of the grant. The project took up a vast amounts of both legacy and new image and transcription data and metadata and, moreover, involved an overhaul top-to-bottom of everything related to Livingstone Online.
As one might anticipate (and as the project team did anticipate), such a scale, such an agenda, and such ambitions could not be engaged without challenges. The greatest challenges to project development emerged in three different areas: planning, data management, and time commitment.
Between LEAP-related activities in Washington, D.C., Heather Ball and Adrian Wisnicki pause at the Hirshhorn Museum, 2014 Copyright Angela Aliff. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported
1. Guiding the Project Top ⤴
Appropriate project planning and management of multiple individuals from multiple institutions who were integrating data from multiple sources proved to be the single most difficult element in the overall development of LEAP. The project team was LEAP's greatest strength. The size of this international team and its exceptional commitment to Livingstone Online – very often on a voluntary or part-voluntary basis – enabled the work to move forward at an exceptional scale and speed, but also required diligent management of all the various responsibilities and interactions.
However, those very strengths also posed challenges, as the distribution of interdependent tasks across many individuals, institutions, and time zones could result in bottlenecks with formidable knock-on effects. The key lessons learned in this aspect of the project were 1) to allow for appropriate and indeed substantial management reserve in the program plan and 2) to build in regular, short-term progress checks.
2. All That Data Top ⤴
The LEAP team took up the formidable task of managing data produced over a ten-year period, during which time digital library and digital humanities "best practices" themselves continued to evolve. The Livingstone Online data derived from a dizzyingly complex set of sources, had been produced to diverse sets of standards (including file naming standards), and ranged between one and three terabytes of information at any one time. Dealing with this data, particularly on a day-to-day basis, proved to be the second most challenging aspect of LEAP.
This aspect of LEAP also resulted in a number of important lessons. The team learned that data management plans should be implemented incrementally in test phases in order to ensure continuous quality control. The team also discovered that substantial resources and time should be allocated in the budget and schedule for dedicated data management, more even than anticipated in a worst case scenario. For example, Wisnicki and Kumari's work on data review took three times as long as initially anticipated, and Wisnicki ultimately had to purchase and maintain his own five terabyte server after the team exceeded the storage limits of the UNL Spacely server.
LMS archives, SOAS, University of London, 2014. Copyright Livingstone Online. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported
3. Had We But Time Enough Top ⤴
The time commitment for LEAP overall and on a week-to-week basis also proved to be much larger than ever anticipated while writing the grant and planning the project. Though LEAP team members – paid and volunteer – worked diligently, the scope of the project proved even bigger than initially conceived and required a constant battle against scope creep.
As a result, the team discovered that for future projects ongoing reviews of all activities to ensure insight into schedule and resource impacts would be essential. Moreover, it became apparent that complex aspects of development would be better tackled through a series of sequential grant efforts that enabled the team to "breathe" between phases, a somewhat scaled down approach (particularly in terms of personnel) might not be amiss, and, indeed, such downsizing could be turned to advantage by creating more funding to cover more realistically the time of any given team member.
Director's note: In August 2017, we will release the final installment of this LEAP history, which will include narratives of a) the project's alpha and beta launches, b) the transition of Livingstone Online from the UCLA Digital Library to the University of Maryland Libraries, and c) development of the formal first edition of Livingstone Online. The final installment will also set out additional lessons learned through the project. For now, please read about the beta launch on our Wordpress blog or view our Flickr images from the launch.