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Software Development and Communities #DRI10

Submitted on 19th October 2021


In the seventh blog in our #DRI10 series celebrating ten years of DRI, Software Engineer Stuart Kenny reflects on community-driven initiatives that have played a part in DRI’s technical developments. 

The Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) was formed ten years ago in September 2011.  It was originally funded through a PRTLI (Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions) Cycle 5 funding grant. In this phase (2011-2015), DRI was built by a research consortium of six academic partners. It was officially launched in June 2015 and continues to be managed by three core academic institutions – Royal Irish Academy, Trinity College Dublin, and Maynooth University. To mark our ten-year anniversary, DRI staff members are writing a blog a week focusing on different DRI milestones achieved over the past ten years. This is the seventh blog in the #DRI10 celebratory blog series.


The first code commit to what would become the Digital Repository of Ireland’s (DRI) repository application was made in October 2012, by Jimmy Tang, the then senior software engineer for DRI at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). It was made with the standard, but not portentous, comment ‘initial commit’. We now find ourselves approaching ten years since that day and some 6,422 commits later (at time of writing).

Image: Code for initial commit by Jimmy Tang

One of the earliest tech decisions was to build the Repository using open-source software, and in particular, a repository framework created by a multi-institution collaboration, then called Project Hydra, now Samvera.[1] The Hydra technical framework provided an ‘ecosystem of components’ on top of which it was possible to construct a full-featured repository application. As important as the framework, then and today, was the community that came together to build it. By actively participating in the community, DRI gained from both the experience of the community and pre-existing software. Re-using tools and libraries contributed by others allowed the development of the Repository to proceed at a much faster pace than would have been possible had the system been developed independently. Learning from others at training events such as Hydracamp (one of which was held by DRI/TCD in Dublin in 2013) and through Hydra/Samvera Connect conferences was invaluable in those early development and infrastructure decisions.

Image: 2017 Samvera Connect Conference

In 2016, DRI formalised its membership in the community by becoming a Samvera Partner. At that time Dermot Frost, the then technical lead for DRI, said: ‘The Hydra framework has enabled DRI to build a trusted digital repository without the need to develop every component from scratch. This reuse and sharing of code is key to the long term sustainability of not just DRI, but all open repositories into the future’. [2] The reasons for becoming a partner were summed up by DRI director Natalie Harrower: ‘While DRI has been involved and welcomed in the Hydrasphere for many years now, we feel that the time is right to “step up” and become Hydra Partners. We look forward to contributing more to the community and to helping Hydra grow in Europe and further afield’. [3]

The community has continued to evolve over the years, and as well as the name change to Samvera, has moved from an ecosystem of components to providing a full-featured repository solution called Hyrax. At DRI we have now started using another library developed by Samvera called Valkyrie [4] that enables multiple backends to be used for storing data and metadata.

Another community that has come together around a technology that DRI has more recently started following is that of the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF). [5] Here ‘a growing community of the world’s leading research libraries and image repositories have embarked on an effort to collaboratively produce an interoperable technology and community framework for image delivery’. [6] The community defines a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) the implementations of which allow for image resources to be viewed, manipulated, and compared across the web and between image repositories. As with Samvera, IIIF is community driven, by both users and developers of the technology, with steering and sustainability provided by the IIIF Consortium. Similar to Samvera Partners, this is a group that has committed to supporting the growth and adoption of IIIF through membership of the Consortium. 

IIIF first appeared on the DRI roadmap following presentations at the Open Repositories conference held in Dublin in 2016. Deployment of the initial implementation was in September/October of that year. This immediately provided significant benefits in terms of new functionality and was the subject of a number of presentations, including at DPASSH 2017, our bi-annual conference exploring digital preservation for the arts, social sciences, and humanities, and an event hosted by DRI, UCD Library, and DARIAH Ireland, ‘IIIF Showcase and Workshop: Opportunities for Innovation in Ireland’ in March of 2018.

Image: IIIF Showcase and Workshop, Royal Irish Academy, 2018

Community-driven initiatives such as these have played an important role in DRI’s development since its earliest days. Not least of these is our own community of members whose feedback during our member forums and training events are fed into our requirements process to steer our future development.

Image: DRI Members’ Forum 2018

By DRI Software Engineer Stuart Kenny


[1] Samvera. Accessed October 15, 2021.

[2] Dermot, Frost. 2016. “DRI Joins Hydra Project.” Digital Repository of Ireland. November 21. Accessed October 15, 2021.

[3] Harrower, Natalie. Ibid.

[4] “Samvera/Valkyrie.” GitHub. Accessed October 15, 2021.

[5] International Image Interoperability Framework. Accessed October 15, 2021.

[6] “About IIIF.” International Image Interoperability Framework. Accessed October 15, 2021.


DRI is funded by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (DFHERIS) via the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and the Irish Research Council (IRC).

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