Stanford begins development on Spotlight

Spotlights in the Centre Ceramique, Maastricht

by Stu Snydman & Gary Geisler

The Stanford University Libraries (SUL) have a rich and diverse collection of digital content. Users can discover collections and content from the Stanford Digital Repository through the library website, library catalog (SearchWorks), and persistent citation (PURL) pages. SUL also develops robust, custom-built websites for selected  collections (see Parker on the Web and the French Revolution Digital Archive) that provide a rich discovery environment and a range of features that enable users to more effectively work with the collection items. But these sites require significant investment in time and development resources to produce and maintain, limiting the number and variety SUL can support.

Feedback from librarians, curators, faculty, and other stakeholders has made it clear that there is a strong demand for feature-rich collection sites and, as the volume of digitized content continues to grow, that this demand will continue to outweigh our resources for producing them with a custom-built approach.  

To address this, in the first quarter of 2014, SUL began building an application called Spotlight. Spotlight is a Blacklight plugin that enables librarians, curators, and researchers who are responsible for digital collections to create attractive, feature-rich websites that showcase these collections. Spotlight leverages the rich resource discovery capabilities of Blacklight and extends it to allow curators to feature content from a repository system by enhancing it with rich narrative and context. Spotlight has similarities to existing exhibit solutions but seeks to expand on current models to more tightly integrate with repository infrastructures and bring equally strong focus on search results, objects, and supporting intellectual scaffolding.

The lead designer on the effort, Gary Geisler, took a user-centered approach to conceiving of a highly generalizable solution that took into account Stanford's local needs as well as feedback from peers at other cultural heritage institutions who are searching for a similar solution.  The project planning artifacts, which include concept documents, requirements, detailed personas and mockups, are openly available.  

Using an agile software development method, the engineering team just completed the first two-week sprint and made excellent progress right out of the gates.  A summary of features built during Sprint 1 includes:

  • WYSIWYG editing environment for feature pages, about pages, and the home page
  • Administrative interface for managing, creating, and reordering feature and about pages
  • Visitor interface for viewing and navigating between feature and about pages
  • Administrative interface for selecting search results display fields and facets
  • Administrative interface for creating and setting the title, subtitle and contact information for an exhibit
  • Curator interface for creating "browse" categories with a custom title, description, and featured image
  • Visitor interface for exploring "browse" categories
  • Exhibit navigation bar

A sprint-ending demo illustrating these features is posted on YouTube.  

Kudos to Stanford's Chris Beer, Jessie Keck, and Gary Geisler, and Justin Coyne of Data Curation Experts, for their great work so far.  

You can follow this project on github and send feedback to