CORE is transitioning to FAST metadata subject headings

Humanities CORE launched as a full-featured beta in May 2015 on MLA Commons. In 2016 it was released to the wider community with the launch of Humanities Commons. A white paper detailing the original project can be found in CORE if you’d like to know more about the history. In the six years since its launch we’ve made improvements to the interface and moved the server to a new home at Michigan State University. We’re now making a major improvement to the metadata associated with CORE deposits.

Subject categorization is a big part of findability. The original list of CORE subjects were derived from the MLA Bibliography subject headings, and focused entirely on the humanities. As the platform has grown and more scholars are doing interdisciplinary work collaborating with STEM and social science partners, we’re implementing FAST metadata subject headings:

FAST (Faceted Application of Subject Terminology) is derived from the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), one of the library domain’s most widely used subject terminology schemas. The development of FAST has been a collaboration of OCLC Research and the Library of Congress.

FAST is the standard for many repositories, including those hosted by libraries and museums. It provides eight facets: chronological, corporate names, events, form/genre, geographic names, personal names, titles, and topics. These facets have millions of possible combinations but function a bit differently than our legacy subjects. Here’s a few examples:

  • “Medieval Spanish History” becomes “Spain” [geographic], “History” [topical], and “Middle Ages” [topical]
  • “18th-century English literature” becomes “English Literature” [topical] and “Eighteenth Century [topical]
  • “Compositional improvisation” becomes “Improvisation (Music)” [topical] and “Composition (Music)” [topical]
  • “Shakespeare” becomes “Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616” [personal]

[Note: While you will see the facet (topical, personal, etc.) when choosing subjects, once deposited only the subject itself will be displayed.] You can try searching for subjects and keywords using the SearchFAST website. More information about FAST can be found on the OCLC website.

What does this mean to the community?

When you deposit to CORE you’ll search for subject headings using the FAST facets. We’ve included all eight facets except chronological. This might seem tricky at first, but there are millions of combinations across all disciplines to choose from. Just start typing, and the page will begin to show you the subject headings available. Pick the ones that best fit what your deposit is about, and if there are more specific terms you’d like that are not part of FAST, put those in the tags field. You can pick up to ten subjects and ten tags for each deposit.

If you’ve already made a deposit, your subjects will be converted. We’ve gone through three rounds of review and cataloging with our Michigan State University Library metadata librarians, and had a final team review. As shown in the examples above, the specific terms may be slightly different from the original deposit, but should combine to convey the same concept. Some subject headings do not have good equivalents in FAST, and there are some terms that are so new they are not yet present. All of these subjects will move to tags. Examples:

  • “Art History” becomes “Art” [topical] and “History” [topical]
  • “Digital pedagogy” becomes “Education–Computer-assisted instruction” [topical], but the original subject heading will move to a tag for searchability
  • “Narratology” does not map to FAST and will be moved to a tag

Post-conversion, if you do see a subject that you don’t feel quite fits your deposit, let us know. Users who have subjects moved to tags will receive an email listing those deposits.

The benefits of FAST

FAST subject headings are a standardized vocabulary based on the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). It is one of the most widely used subject vocabularies in the world and has been translated into multiple languages. When you deposit to CORE your deposits are not just preserved but the metadata is indexed by Google, Google Scholar, SHARE, Altmetric, and BASE-OA, which fuels open-access initiatives such as the OA Button and OA DOI. Using recognized subjects that are both human and machine-readable improves findability and allows for easier translation.

FAST subject headings are an ever-growing list, and as new headings are added, our search will include them. As the Commons continues to grow, using FAST allows us to accept deposits across disciplines and facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration. Our goal is for CORE to provide a home for all scholars as they develop new projects, new fields, and new forms of knowledge.

New and Updated Support and Sustaining Sites

We’ve made major updates to two of our own sites: Commons Support and Sustaining the Commons. Not only is there new content, but both sites were redesigned using the block-based theme Blockbase, and the full site editing tools in WordPress 5.9. While full site editing (FSE) is in beta it’s a powerful way to customize the look and feel of your website without needing use custom code. (Find more on FSE capabilities on our post WordPress 5.9 and Full Site Editing.)

Commons Support

We’ve updated and consolidated the Commons support pages. We’ve flattened the structure of the menus and added a contact form so that you can easily contact support. Guides and FAQs walk you through the most common tasks, the search allows you to easily find what you need, and we’ve minimized the number of clicks necessary to get there.

Full Site Editing

We’ve used the full site editing tools to create two different header looks, one a larger banner style on the home page, and another scaled down version for interior pages.

We’ve made use of reusable blocks to add back buttons to guide pages, and to reuse the Getting Started, Groups, and Sites link sets on the Guides page. On the individual FAQ pages, we’ve incorporated the back button into the page template, allowing us to easily add new content to the FAQ without having to add navigation by hand.

If you’re thinking of building a new site, the full site editing capabilities give you a lot more flexibility in creating a fully customized site. This new functionality allows users to have much more control over their website’s look and feel.

Sustaining the Commons

We originally built this site in order to inform the Commons community about our then-upcoming migration from the MLA to MSU, as well as to share a bit about the sustainability plan we were implementing.

The new Sustaining site is meant to be a home for anything you might want to know about Commons operations. You can find out more there about our governance model, our financial reports, our development and (soon!) community engagement plans, and more. Sustaining is a key means through which the Commons team is showing our work and maintaining our commitments to openness, transparency, equity, and values-enacted governance.

We’ve deployed new contact forms both in Sustaining and in Support; please use them to let us know if you have thoughts or questions. We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

WordPress 5.9 and Full Site Editing

The Commons is now on WordPress 5.9.2. This update brings Full Site Editing (FSE) to websites using block-based themes. For an overview of FSE and how it works check out the video below (the video was produced by WordPress.com, but the FSE component will be the same on the Commons):

Full Site Editing is currently in beta, but we’ve done some experimenting with it and wanted to roll this update out with a few themes for people to check out. You’ll see Twenty Twenty-Two and Blockbase in the themes directory. FSE will only work with these two new block-based themes. The new themes do not feature “live preview” and must be activated to use. FSE is very different from the current customization experience, but offers the opportunity to fully design a site from header to footer, including the use of different templates on different pages. We recommend watching the video above before trying them out.

WordPress 5.9 was released earlier this year. We’ve done extensive testing, but inevitably we won’t find everything. If you do experience issues or your website looks strange please let us know! WPBeginner.com has a good writeup of the features, and we recommend taking some time to review the article or the video embedded above before digging in.

As always you can reach us at hello[at]hcommons.org.

CORE Migration Winter 2022

The Humanities Commons CORE repository will be undergoing maintenance starting on Friday January 28, 2022, 9am EDT. We will be migrating content to a new server, and in order to ensure all content is transferred deposits will be suspended until that migration is complete. We will update everyone when depositing can resume.

During migration deposits will be available for searching and download. Links to your deposits will remain the same. 

If you have any questions, or encounter any issues with your deposits, please contact us at hello[at]hcommons.org.

We’ve added a new theme: Reykjavik

There’s a new theme for you to use for your websites on the Commons: Reykjavik. It’s an “accessibility-ready” and responsive theme that works well with the WordPress block editor.

For information on how to use themes on your website see our guide “Changing your Site’s Appearance with Themes.” If there are free themes you’re aware of that you think would be a good addition to our library, please send us an email to hello[at]hcommons.org.

Embedded Documents in websites on the Commons

The Commons has long supported two plugins that allow users to embed PDFs and other documents within their Commons-hosted websites: PDFjs Viewer and the Google Docs Embedder. Both of these plugins are now obsolete and are being retired. We have converted embedded documents to download links.

There are cases where embedding documents may be useful, but embedding them into websites can have unintended consequences for users. Issues include:

  • Documents may not be accessible [for example, “An accessible PDF works with assistive technology software and devices, like screen magnifiers, screen readers, speech-recognition software, text-to-speech software, alternative input devices and refreshable Braille displays.” (CommonLook)]:
    • Images, graphs, and tables may not have alt-text to support visually impaired readers
    • Text size is not resizable and does not reflow as the page size changes
    • Screen magnifiers may not work on an embedded PDFs]
  • Users on mobile devices or tablets may be unable to read content as the document gets smaller on smaller devices
  • Embedded documents can be used by bad actors to spread malware, including ransomware

More on the issues with documents on websites can be found at the following sites:

In the interests of accessibility, readability, and security we’ve chosen to remove support for embedding documents in websites. We realize that they can be useful for sharing information such as forms and fliers for download. If possible, we suggest converting your documents to HTML and including a download link to the original. For more information on updating sites that have embedded documents, feel free to email us at hello[at]hcommons.org and we can discuss strategies. 

Tiwari, Ashish. “Can Screen Readers Read Pdfs?” PDF Accessibility and Compliance, CommonLook, 18 Nov. 2020, https://commonlook.com/can-screen-readers-read-pdfs/.

Five Years by the Numbers

As the Project Manager on Humanities Commons I am involved in the day-to-day operations of the platform as well as communicating with our members. For this fifth birthday I wanted to take a deep dive into what the community has created here. I’m hoping that in future we’ll continue to keep creating these kinds of visualizations so that we can all appreciate just how vibrant this community has become.

Membership Growth

Humanities Commons Membership Growth
2021 numbers are from 01/01/2021 to 12/01/2021.

Our first full year, 2017-2018 saw our largest increase in membership, at 35%. In 2020 we saw our second largest increase at 32%, likely driven by the pandemic and users searching for collaboration tools as we moved much of our work online. By early Spring we should be around 30,000 members, and as the Commons expands to serve STEM and Social Science users the opportunity for cross-disciplinary collaboration will be even greater.

Languages on the Commons

Languages on the Commons

This is a global community. Around 20% of our members come from countries outside North America and Europe. We currently support 43 languages within CORE and 33 of those languages are represented in CORE deposits. We anticipate that list will grow over the next five years. [Note: If yours is not listed please let us know at hello[at]hcommons.org.]

Top Ten Item Types Deposited to CORE

Top Ten Item Types

The Commons has 46 item types in CORE ranging from audio to white paper. The top ten reflect a wide range of deposits from formal papers and open access books to course materials and syllabi. We welcome gray literature and other materials that should be preserved, but that might not find a home in other disciplinary repositories. We expect, too, that as scholarship and the forms of that scholarship change our item types will expand as well.

Top Ten Downloads by Item Type

Top Ten Downloads

While looking at the top ten item types uploaded to CORE we thought it would be interesting to see what’s being downloaded. While the top two item types remain the same in both visualizations, syllabus jumps to third, and dissertation and “other” make an appearance.

What resides in “other”? Everything from sheet music to example social media campaigns. We’re so excited to see the variety of items people are sharing.

Creative Commons Licenses Used on CORE

Creative Commons Licenses Used on CORE

As an open access repository, all of the work uploaded to CORE is tagged with a Creative Commons license. While the vast majority of CORE deposits are licensed with the default  “All Rights Reserved” some authors have chosen varying licenses. “Attribution-NoDerivatives” and “All Rights Granted” make up less than 1% each of the licenses on CORE deposits.

What other things are you curious about? What other visualizations can you think of that we might explore? Leave them in the comments.

Updates Incoming on November 11th

The updates originally scheduled for today will be rolled out on Monday, November 15th.

Starting at 9am EST on November 11th we’ll be updating the Commons to WordPress 5.8 along with updating a number of core themes and plugins. This might cause some instability, though the site will remain up for use. If you experience some odd behavior try again later in the day. Email us at hello[at]hcommons.org if it does not resolve, or if you experience any errors after 2pm EST. 

What’s new in WordPress 5.8? 

WordPress 5.8 brings big updates to the way sites can be edited. This includes:

  • Template editing: You can now edit templates by page, similar to the way SiteOrigin and Elementor works. For those of you with existing sites, you’ll need to turn on this new functionality in settings. For new sites this will be turned on by default. 
  • Blocks as widgets: You can add blocks in widget areas and view them in the live preview through the customizer. 
  • Block patterns: If you search for blocks, WordPress will suggest existing patterns created for specific uses.

WPBeginner has a good writeup of the new features on their website along with an explainer video embedded below.

Site administrators, you may see a popup when you log into your site that looks like this:

Classic Widget popup

The “Classic Widgets” plugin is not required, and we are not enabling it on the network. Your widgets should continue to work as expected after the update. If you do run into issues please email us at hello[at]hcommons.org.

Theme and Plugin Updates

We’re also rolling out updates to themes and plugins. For those of you who use SimpleMag, there may be layout challenges. We’re doing our best to mitigate them, but if you do have questions please let us know. Other themes being updated include 15Zine and Eduma.

We are updating many plugins including: CommentPress, Elementor, NinjaForms, PressForward, and TimelineJS. If you use any of those plugins and experience issues please let us know.

We’re Growing our Team

You’ll be seeing more frequent updates as we continue to grow our team. We’re currently looking for a Systems Administrator with experience in AWS. For more information and to apply visit https://careers.msu.edu/en-us/job/508452/information-technologist-ii.

We’re doing some housekeeping.

As Humanities Commons’ fifth birthday approaches (more on that in a few weeks) we’re doing a bit of housekeeping to keep everything running smoothly. We’ll continue to communicate as we move forward, but wanted to let you know about two recent changes.

Website Cleanup

There are currently just over 1,500 websites on Humanities Commons. Among them are a few hundred that were created but never used. This includes both individual and group sites. We’ve gone through and found sites that have no posts or pages that are over one year old, and we’re contacting administrators to find out if they are still planning to use them. If not, we’ll delete them for you, and if you do we’re happy to point you to guides and other information on how to move forward. Any websites with content, new or several years old, will remain active on the platform. We don’t want to remove content, just clean up sites that may never be used. We’re planning on doing a site inventory once a year to keep the platform running smoothly.

Closing Comments on Posts after Two Weeks

We’ve noticed an uptick on spammers trying to exploit the comments on old posts to increase search engine rankings. These posts sometimes contain links to malware and other unwanted content. To continue to fight this spam we’ve automatically set post comments to close after two weeks. If you run a website on the Commons you can change this setting on your site by going to the admin panel and clicking on Settings/Discussion on the left-hand side. You’ll find the setting under  “Other Comment Settings.”

If you have any questions or would like further information feel free to leave a comment here or email us at hello[at]hcommons.org.