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The Drupal Ecological Information Management System (DEIMS) As A Tool For Many Tasks

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Issue: 
Spring 2012

Eda Melendez-Colom (LUQ)

Introduction

For more than three years, a group of LTER information managers have been dedicated to the task of developing an information management system with the use of DRUPAL, a content management system (CMS) widely used in the USA, including government agencies (http://www.drupal.com/) as well as in Europe (http://groups.drupal.org/europe). The Drupal Ecological Information Management System (DEIMS) is the result of this effort (http://code.google.com/p/deims/).

When Marshall White and Ignigo San Gil, from the LNO, presented DRUPAL in one of our annual meetings, I knew that this was exactly the kind of system I needed to develop a dynamic and interactive website for Luquillo LTER (LUQ) and to transform the LUQ information management system (IMS) into a complete database driven system. The LUQ IMS had been a conglomerate of different documents developed and maintained with Word, Excel, QPRO and Paradox and distributed among several computers. Today, LUQ has created a DEIMS which has transformed LUQ IMS into a centralized, dynamic, and database driven system. In this article, I will also refer to it as LUQ website-IMS.

Main Features of the LUQ website-IMS

The advantages that DRUPAL, and the LTER version of it, have brought to LUQ have been more than expected. LUQ needed to modernize their website as well as its underlying IMS. Table 1 highlights the main features LUQ IMS needed and how they were implemented in the LUQ DEIMS website-IMS.

Table 1. Initial functionalities for the LUQ DEIMS website-IMS

Functionality Needed Explanation Example(s) in LUQ DEIMS website-IMS

Interactivity / search functions

allows the user to interact with the website to search for specific kinds of information

Data sets that can be searched by contact person: http://luq.lternet.edu/data/bycontact

People search: http://luq.lternet.edu/people/view

Publications search: http://luq.lternet.edu/biblio/year

dynamic displays of content

 

allows the developer to produce up-to-date lists of content without having to edit more than one table or web page where the information is displayed. The content is entered into a MYSQL database and provides views to design displays of information. URL dynamically generated when the user is looking for all publications dated 2012:

http://luq.lternet.edu/biblio/year?keys=&lastname_op=or&lastname=All&title=&tid=All&biblio_year_op=%3D&biblio_year[value]=2012&biblio_year[min]=&biblio_year[max]=

Dynamic generation of EML Packages

 

uses a customized module developed by the DEIMS group(a), the site can list and produce new or revised versions of EML packages automatically, as the metadata is updated in the system EML Package for a germination experiment data set:

http://luq.lternet.edu/eml_view/4728

structured IMS

 

All the website-IMS information is centralized, structured, and stored in tables (content types).

 

A structured display for LUQ IMS: http://luq.lternet.edu/InfoMng

Display of the data and metadata for the germination experiment data set: http://luq.lternet.edu/data/luqmetadata87

data curation(b)

 

The developer  displays the contents in many ways using views. modules, and/or scripts to participate in web services such as Metacat and PASTA.(c)

 

EML packages accessible and visible in one of the LUQ DEIMS:

 

http://luq.lternet.edu/data/datacatalog

Easy backups

 

Ability to backup/mirror the site on different media and transport it to other servers.

 

Administrative task (not public)

 

(a)The DEIMS group is organizing a workshop to develop the second version of this module to enhance functionality and make it compatible with the latest version of DRUPAL (7)

(b)See http://crln.acrl.org/content/71/4/194.full for a reference of the concept of data curation.

(c)The content types (tables of the metadata database in the DEIMS) and the EML DRUPAL module are down-loadable at: http://code.google.com/p/deims/downloads/list

LUQ opted for a more conservative general design(1) of its website, while using modern features (slide shows) to add a visually attractive, graphic displays. The view of the metadata of a data set is simple and clear to the user(2). Figures 1 is a screen shot of the LUQ Home Page and Figure 2 displays the metadata of a dataset.

LUQ DEIMS Home Page Snapshot
(Click on the picture for full screen image)
Figure 1. LUQ DEIMS website-IMS Home Page (http://luq.lternet.edu/ )

LUQ DEIMS data set display and data file availability Screenshot
(Click on the picture for full screen image)

Figure 2. LUQ DEIMS data set display and data file availability (http://luq.lternet.edu/data/luqmetadata87).

DRUPAL has a significant learning curve for the beginner, but the rewards are many.  There is a large community of developers that are willing to share and learn from each other.  The on-line resources are great, and with patience and perseverance, one can ease the learning process.  The LTER DEIMS group was already comfortable with this learning style, and immediately felt at ease communicating with the development community.

Additional Functionalities provided by the DEIMS

As we developed these functionalities in the LUQ DEIMS, we have learned that DRUPAL provides the developer additional features to establish security, make content easily available to users, and visually pleasing design features to modernize the site while making it more dynamic.

One of the most important tasks that LUQ Information Management has accomplished using DRUPAL is teaching data management concepts to the LUQ Schoolyard community. We want them to learn to enter content in a controlled, supervised environment (3).  This help us manage the large amount of information being collected at the site and at the same time they experience the need and importance of documenting data.

DRUPAL is an excellent tool for teaching general website and specific LTER concepts. It allows the participant to observe the content they have created as soon as they click the SAVE button. This is accomplished through the use of views and the default entry forms (http://luq.lternet.edu/IM/OnlineForms.  Users and managers no longer need to edit static HTML pages and  special scripts are not necessary to see the final product on the screen.

We conducted three workshops in 2011 and 2012 for the LUQ Schoolyard teachers. The respective main objectives were: understanding the concept and the need for metadata, experience entering metadata information for their research sites into the system, and updating the individual school websites that were created for the participating schools (http://luq.lternet.edu/outreach/schoolyard). The workshops were very rewarding, and they allowed us to communicate the importance of information management to the teachers.

Three additional functionalities are being developed into the LUQ DEIMS that will enhance user's capability to discover and connect different types of information: (1) the use of keywords that characterize data sets, research projects, people, and publications, (2) the development of a DEIMS map that will associate accessible data sets lists to LUQ′s main research plots areas, and (3) the incorporation of data into the LUQ DEIMS.

Box 1. Additional DRUPAL features descriptions
  • Use of Taxonomies: The system allows the user to find and relate information that is not explicitly related by assigning the correct set of keywords to each of these types of information. This is done dynamically with VIEWS, a DRUPAL module that allows the developer to design displays of the website content. Related information is generated on the fly (http://luq.lternet.edu/data/datasets/duration_all)(4). The final impact of this functionality will be demonstrated when a complete set of keywords to all the LUQ DEIMS is completed. In addition, DRUPAL provides the capability of displaying related information by using user defined taxonomies. LUQ will make these displays public when the assignment of keywords is completed and verified.
  • Mapping research areas and data sets lists: Druple provides tools to develop an on-line map (http://luq.lternet.edu/luquillo_plots_map) that displays the research areas with their associated list of on-line data sets. The display will serve to integrate LUQ DEIMS with the site GIS data. A site was developed by the local Remote Sensing staff containing all the Spatial data sets (http://maps.ites.upr.edu/). The LUQ spatial metadata is under development with the collaboration of some members of the LTER LTERMapS (http://news.lternet.edu/article320.html) group and the LNO staff. All spatial metadata will be incorporated into LUQ DEIMS and be searchable with all the site data.
  • Incorporating tables of data: Finally, DRUPAL 7 provides an enhanced module that allows the incorporation of data tables into the system. This will further enhance data discovery and foster data synthesis.

Closing Statement

DRUPAL may not be the one and only answer for what LUQ needed in order to develop our current dynamic and interactive website-IMS but we are certain that in the current state of this technology, a CMS is the answer to our needs. The DEIMS allows us to have a database driven information management system that serves as a platform to hold all the information and to organize it and display it in a web site the way we want. We are aware that in the future, either other CMS or any other system developed in the Information Technology Domain could outgrow DRUPAL and may provide us with the features we will need then.

References

Moriya, Brian. 2011. C Programming - Pointers. http://www.exforsys.com/tutorials/c-language/c-pointers.html.

Footnotes

(1)The DEIMS is designed in a modular fashion and the design of tables or content types that hold the metadata are normalized. DRUPAL fields from an outside table are called referrers, also known as pointers (Moriya 2011). This feature enables the dynamic characteristic of DRUPAL Views since updates have only to be done in their original table.

(2) We followed the LTER Website guidelines conventions and other network-wide recommendations, including labeling of the Data Menu section, accessibility of data files (no more than 3 clicks), LTER Core data keywords assigned to each data set, and a LUQ key findings section listed in the Research sub menu of the site. The site also uses DEIMS conventions; including using the same fields types and names of the core content types (Persons, Publications, Data Sets, Research Projects). This standardization of the metadata structure is essential for generating dataset EML packages using the customized module developed by the DEIMS group.

(3)Parts of the website-IMS are still under development and we have restricted access to various parts of the website using users role capabilities provided by DRUPAL. This feature provides added security and allows us to allow updates by selected users where appropriate.

(4)The searches in the actual LUQ DEIMS are of the AND type (all conditions specified by the user in the windows have to be met to produce an output). The DEIMS group have decided to migrate to the new version of DRUPAL (http://drupal.org/drupal-7.0). A new version of the EML module will be developed in DRUPAL 7.0. The new version has additional and more powerful capabilities.