Internet Scout Research Group helps develop digital resource collections

Members of Internet Scout Research Project look at the website together on a laptop

For more than sixteen years, connecting educators and researchers with high-quality online resources has been a passion for Edward Almasy and Rachael Bower, codirectors of Internet Scout Research Group. Together with their team, based in the Department of Computer Sciences at UW-Madison, Almasy and Bower blend computer science and library science to design solutions for filtering information.

"When Scout started in the early '90s, web search engines weren't yet generally available,” says Almasy, who spent almost two decades developing new software technologies in the private sector before coming to Scout.  "In the early days, we were creating tools just to help people find resources offered online."

“Now,” adds Bower, whose background is in library science, “the challenges have shifted from finding to filtering, so we’re more focused on making it easier to sift through the glut of information that’s out there.  And part of this has been helping educators and others showcase the valuable digital resources they are creating or aggregating in ways that make clear their content and potential.”

The mission to help others showcase and disseminate their work led to the development of the Collection Workflow Integration System (CWIS), a free, open source software package designed to assemble, organize and share collections of metadata about online resources.

CWIS was created with funding from the Mellon Foundation and the National Science Foundation (NSF), to help academics and other subject matter experts put their digital collections online.

CWIS is designed to act as a catalog for web resources, presenting and managing data about resources, as well as the resources themselves. Conforming to international and academic standards for metadata, the software is used all over the world for a wide variety of purposes, from large digital libraries to smaller specialized collections.

The software can be seen in action on Scout’s ATE Central portal, which supports and acts as the official archive for NSF's Advanced Technological Education (ATE) initiative.  “The ATE program includes more than 250 active projects and centers across the country,” says Bower, “and there is no way that we could manage a comprehensive archive for a group that large without software like CWIS.”

Along with a highly searchable database, the software offers a number of features that allows users to quickly and easily create a state-of-the-art digital library, including a customizable interface and tools that support the creation and editing of specific metadata schemas. CWIS has keyword, fielded, and faceted searching capabilities, and includes built-in cataloging and workflow tools to support digital collection developers as they create, manage, and disseminate their resources and materials.

Designed to run in the LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) web server environment available on most campuses and from almost all internet service providers, CWIS has modest resource requirements for the software, both in terms of storage and connection bandwidth.  And with a plugin-driven architecture and careful separation of the user interface from the underlying functionality, the package is easily customized and extended to meet specific needs.

"The bar for online services and content continues to be raised, so CWIS has had to evolve along with the web,” says Almasy, “and now provides capabilities far beyond the original vision.”

CWIS version 3.9.0 beta was released on May 20. It introduces full metadata schema support across the CMS, event calendar, and blogging plugins as well as the core software, allowing collection developers to create a full-featured resource portal that can incorporate resource metadata into all types of content on their site.

CWIS is available for download on the Scout website.  For more information about CWIS or the Internet Scout Research Group, please contact Edward Almasy at ealmasy@scout.wisc.edu or 608-262-6606.

[Photo courtesy of Internet Scout. From L-R: staff members Catherine Dixon Reigel, Kendra Bouda and Edward Almasy.]