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What is Collex?

Collex is an open-source COLLections- and EXhibits-builder designed to aid humanities scholars working in digital collections or within federated research environments like NINES. It is a Ruby-On-Rails application using SOLR for its main search functions and a MySQL database to manage user activity and accounts.

Collex is designed to be a generalizable toolset targeted at humanities scholars working with large digital archives. Users of such resources are often stymied by the sheer quantity of information available to them in top-level tables of contents or sitemaps. They may also find established organizational schemes and interfaces to digital archives inappropriate to their research and teaching needs.

Collex addresses these problems by allowing end-users of humanities archives:

  • to collect and annotate trusted objects (digital texts and images vetted for scholarly accuracy);
  • to analyze, organize, and re-order collected objects into relevant subsets;
  • to share their collections, in a variety of output formats, with students and colleagues;
  • and, without any special technical training, to produce interlinked online and print "exhibits" using a set of design templates.

By integrating Collex with existing, standards-compliant digital collections, archivists can enable the expression of alternate interpretive visions within an editorially organized electronic resource. An archive’s users become its curators, offering guided tours based on their own research and pedagogical interests.

System Design

Users collect "objects" from digital archives into a Collex system with a kind of bookmarking system that allows the user to return to the object and re-use it in other Collex features like the forum and Exhibit Builder. Once an object is collected, the user can assign it a private annotation, and both the object and annotation will display in the Collex interface when that user is signed in. Since 2010, Zotero users can collect object directly from the Search screen. Simply click the folder icon in the URL bar in your browser while signed into Zotero, and choose the objects you would like to add to your Zotero lists from the Item Selector.

Exhibits of collected objects are built using the Collex interface. Users who want to re-purpose their research in Collex can create annotated bibliographies, illustrated essays, and other guided views into resources using an authoring tool, the Exhibit Builder. From their individual profile page, any user with an account can create or join a group to limit access to their shared work, or simply create a new exhibit to share on the internet. Users may create the exhibit completely online, or upload a .docx file to the interface and complete the formatting from the Exhibit Builder interface.

Published exhibits display from the Collex system. NINES and 18thConnect have established a peer review and publishing workflow using the Collex system. If a user would like their exhibit peer reviewed, they must request to join one of the established Publication Groups, and complete the workflow designed to allow review and editing of an Exhibit Builder resource. Publication Groups maintain their own peer review standards, workflows, editorial boards, and design using built-in aspects of the Collex system. Once an exhibit is accepted by the Publication Group, the newly peer-reviewed resource will be indexed into Collex's main Search interface.

Users communicate with each other using discussion forums and by tagging objects. Users may tag items, and these tags will form a user's personalized tag cloud and be added anonymously to the Collex Tag Cloud.

Interface Design

The Collex user interface consists of:

  • a faceted search engine for peer-reviewed resources
  • social features: tags, discussion forums
  • personal organization features: collect objects, annotation
  • personal publishing system: exhibit builder

Demo Milestones

  • NINES workshop - July 11-15, 2005
  • NINES advisory board meeting - September 2005
  • Meeting of NINES pilot contributors - June 2006
  • NASSR/NAVSA conference - September 2006
  • MLA conference - December 2006
  • 18thConnect launch - June 2010
  • Launch of 18thConnect's TypeWright Tool - November 2010
  • ARC at Texas A&M University and the IDHMC is founded - September 2011
  • MESA-ARC planning meeting - September 22-23, 2011
  • REKn partners with ARC - June 2012
  • MESA receives Mellon Implementation Grant - July 2012
  • MESA launch - Spring 2013 [forthcoming]