What is Samvera?

The name Samvera is an Icelandic term meaning “togetherness”.  Samvera is a grass-roots, open-source community of library professionals, including repository managers, developers, metadata experts, content owners and users, working together to create best-in-class digital repository solutions.  The scope of the community encompasses work for Libraries, Archives, Museums and others. Read more about the Samvera Community Framework on our website.

Samvera software is free and open source, available under an Apache 2 license.  It offers flexible and rich user interfaces tailored to distinct content types on top of a robust back end – giving adopters the best of both worlds.  Samvera is based around a framework that combines four major components:

  • the Fedora repository software providing a robust, durable digital repository layer for persisting and managing digital objects.
  • Solr indexes, providing fast access to information about an institution’s resources.
  • Blacklight, a discovery interface that sits above Solr and provides faceted searching, browsing and tailored views on objects.
  • Samvera gems, a series of components built using the Ruby on Rails programming language that integrate the building blocks to form the basis of complete, flexible and extensible digital repository solutions.

The combination of the components is consciously modular to enable individual solutions to make use of alternatives if they so wish.

Why use Samvera?

We believe that no single repository system can provide the full range of repository-based solutions for a given institution’s needs; likewise, no single institution can resource the development of a full range of solutions on its own.  Samvera is an open-source repository solution built collaboratively to address a broad range of repository needs. Rather than being one-size-fits-all, Samvera leverages an ecosystem of components that lets institutions assemble and deploy robust and durable repository applications that are tailored to their users’ needs and workflows. 

Drawing on hard lessons learned in the past about developing software locally rather than working with others, the Samvera Community ensures that multiple hands are in play to keep the software growing and improving.  While many systems offer specific abilities to deposit, manage, deliver or preserve digital content, the Samvera Community looks to provide effective combination of these tasks to enable flexible, extensible solutions that can contribute to a wider content management and preservation environment.  Managing digital collections in this way provides the content with its context and value over time and reduces the work and cost of maintaining it. We could create our own individual stand-alone systems, but we’d be doing them by ourselves. The expense of maintaining something custom in the long-run, would, we believe, outstrip the costs of participating in the Samvera Community effort.  

As a grass-roots, open-source software producer, the Samvera Community is accountable only to its users, which ensures its sustainability.  This is in part a response to concerns raised about commercial software producers, which are liable to alter or even eliminate products based on profitability rather than the values of the cultural heritage and research communities.

Who uses Samvera, and what for?

Read about Samvera Partners on our website.  At a host of educational and cultural institutions, Samvera is currently in use to:

  • Provide a digital repository framework for digitized archival collections and faculty publications (see Case Studies)
  • Provide a platform for scholarly communication through initiatives like the Digital Public Library of America, Fulcrum, and Ubiquity Press
  • Provide a framework for the management and access of media collections, research data, and geo-referenced data

For more details about Samvera use cases and links out to current Samvera applications, visit Applications & Demos.

What do you mean when you say you are part of a community?  How does that work?

The people involved in developing ideas and software within the Samvera Community are also those using the solutions created. They thus have a close understanding of the needs. Participation in the Samvera Community is invited at different levels: organizations can join as Partners or Adopters.  Partners take a more active and formal role in the development of Samvera, but all are welcome to contribute as they can. Contributing to the community can take many forms: developing the codebase, developing metadata, contributing to documentation and marketing efforts, or simply adopting the Samvera technology and communicating about that experience.  The Samvera Community has multiple open Interest and Working Groups managing the community itself and contributing at various levels to the development of its outputs. Work is managed in concert with other users to ensure that the Samvera technology meets as many shared needs as possible.

Remember, contributing to the community is not a one-way street—what we invest in terms of staff time and resources we also take out, in terms of the combined work of the community on a shared set of repository solutions meeting ever more complex needs.

How can I connect with the Samvera Community and stay up to date on events and developments?

There are several ways to connect with the Samvera Community.  Newcomers to the community are encouraged to join the Samvera Community Google Group and participate in Samvera on Slack.  Samvera channels on Slack are open for anyone to follow.  Slack #general covers issues pertinent to the community at large, whilst for developers there is Slack #dev.  There is also a specific channel for those interested in attending our annual Samvera Connect conference, Slack #connect.  The Samvera wiki provides a lot of additional detailed information on Samvera Community activity.

What is the purpose of Samvera Connect and other in-person meetings of the Samvera Community?

Face-to-face community events maximize the value of participation in Samvera by providing opportunities for Adopters to share local efforts and benefit from the vast experience and expertise of others in shared knowledge and practice.  In-person community events are staff development, training, and networking opportunities all rolled into one. By investing in staff attendance at Samvera Connect and other meetings, an organization can be assured that staff members are supported to learn skills and gain expertise that directly impacts the development and delivery of their Samvera-based repository.  We really do go further together.

Where can I download and try Samvera?

All the software is available through the Samvera Community’s Github.  Documentation is available at http://samvera.github.io/.  A test instance of the Hyrax implementation of the Samvera framework is made available by Data Curation Experts (DCE) at https://nurax.curationexperts.com/.

What does it cost to implement Samvera?

Samvera software is free and open-source, but of course, this is free in the same way that stray puppies come free: you will have your own ongoing support and maintenance costs to look after it.  Depending on the complexity and degree of local customization you require in your implementation, areas of cost to your institution may include:

  • Staff time in development, repository management, and digital infrastructure
  • Outsourcing of development, hosting, and support
  • Staff contributions to the Samvera Community in the way of participating in Samvera Working Groups and attending Samvera Connect

Devoting resource to development using Ruby on Rails is a requirement, whether that be provided in-house or through one of the service providers that support Samvera, in order to capitalise on the flexibility that Samvera offers.  Implementing Samvera represents a valuable investment in the durability of your digital collections, and this comes with a commitment to the work involved in building the solution that’s right for you.  Implementing Samvera is also an important investment in the future of sustainable, values-driven, open-source technology for scholarly communication and cultural heritage. Learn more about getting started with Samvera on our website.  Follow News & Events to keep in the loop about learning and training opportunities.

How do we know Samvera will be around in 5 or 10 years?

Since the founding of the Samvera Community in 2008, lead Partner institutions including Stanford University, Penn State University, the University of Hull, the University of Virginia, and the consultancy Data Curation Experts have made substantial investments, both financially and in terms of staff time, in the Samvera Community and technologies.  There are now more than 30 Partners invested in ensuring this continues. These investments, in addition to the steadily growing number of Samvera Adopters, testify to the durability of Samvera as an avenue toward the future of accessible, open-access scholarly communications and digital preservation of our cultural heritage.

Is there an exit strategy for me when I need to move on?

We know that nothing lasts forever and that some of our community will probably wish to move on to other, non-Samvera solutions in time.  In keeping with Samvera’s use of open source components, it is important that the content being managed should be openly transferable to facilitate its management over time regardless of the software being used.  To support this Samvera is developing bulk import and export capability: the latter will allow the contents of a Samvera repository to be exported in a way that might be migrated to other platforms.

I’ve heard the terms Hydra, Hyrax, Hyku, and HyBox associated with Samvera—what do they all mean?

Samvera started its life as the Hydra Project in 2008, and changed to its current name in 2017: this change was community-led and based on a vote taken among members of the Community.  For a history of the development of Samvera from its Hydra roots, see the article published in Insights in November 2017.

The Samvera components framework can be implemented in various ways to meet specific needs.  The Samvera Community has recognised that while this offers great flexibility, which is the route taken by some, many institutions prefer to have a stable common base which can be used as the basis for local solutions without having to build this from scratch.  This community driver saw the development of Hyrax in 2017.  Hyrax utilizes the Samvera framework to provide Adopters and Partners with a base-level institutional repository (IR) solution that can be customized.  Hyrax combines the best parts of previous implementations into a common solution. It continues to evolve as new ideas and practices emerge from the community and are taken on board within the Hyrax roadmap through the Samvera Interest Group for Advising the Hyrax Roadmap (SIGAHR).

Hyku is the product release from the Hydra-in-a-Box (HyBox) project and it is built using Hyrax as its basis.  Hyku represents a customisation of Hyrax that is designed to enhance what Hyrax can offer as a feature-rich “solution bundle” repository system.  Hyku is designed to reduce barriers to effective asset management and preservation for collections and content types of many kinds.   The Hyku Interest Group has a group of service providers and institutions exploring how Hyku can be utilized to serve a range of repository service needs.

My institution is moving more and more into the cloud.  Can I have Samvera in the cloud?

Hyku was created specifically to work in the cloud as a multi-tenanted solution for delivering repository solutions.  Several Samvera repositories are also deployed or partially deployed via Amazon Web Services (AWS). Amazon Machine Images (AMIs), docker storage, and other cloud-friendly technologies are being used to support Samvera deployment and components of Samvera solution bundles.  For example: the Avalon Media System, an implementation of the Samvera framework focused on media content, is fully deployable in AWS and uses AWS transcoding to create multiple bitrate versions of uploaded content.

What does Samvera offer that DSpace, EPrints, ContentDM, Islandora, etc. do not?

Many repository systems offer useful features to meet repository needs.  As well as offering a proven open-source solution, Samvera comes with an active, engaged community to work with on shared development to improve the technologies and modify them as required to integrate new tools and functions.  Samvera offers flexibility in managing different types of digital assets, including audiovisual and geospatial data. It provides the ability to curate and build exhibits from a single database. And it offers the flexibility to start small and plan to grow, in stages that you can manage in line with your needs and budget.