Saturday, December 28, 2019

Why I chose EPrints over DSpace for an institutional repository

Recently I had the opportunity to set up an institutional repository for Auroville, an international township in south India that has been around for 50 years and has a large collection of outputs from applied research and experiments in a variety of domains (notably architecture, education, ecology, and alternative economy).

As far as I know, DSpace and EPrints are two of the most widely used open-source applications for institutional repositories. At the outset, I was inclined to opt for DSpace because the user interface on the demo site was more appealing (DSpace demo site versus EPrints demo site). I'm new to both these applications - I may have downloaded stuff from some repositories, but I've never installed or managed one.

The DSpace documentation recommends a minimum of 3 to 4 GB of RAM overall, so as the first step, I signed up for a 4 GB cloud server plan. I chose Hetzner as they are cheaper than some of the other server providers I'm familiar with -- I am on a shoestring budget so every dollar matters. Then I followed the DSpace installation instructions. The going was hard and I was out of my depth quickly. I'm comfortable with the command line but I'm new to system administration. When I got the Dspace site running, I could sign in and do a few things, but I could not add any entries. I was going to troubleshoot this and look for help on forums, but I kept postponing it.

Meanwhile I decided to give EPrints a try, and having completed the installation I think I'm going to stick with it. This is why:
  1. Familiarity with the technology. I'm more familiar with the core technology behind EPrints (Perl) than with the DSpace one (Java).
  2. Quality of documentation. While both DSpace and EPrints have extensive wikis, the Training Materials section in the latter is an excellent resource for me as a novice sysadmin.
  3. Being able to make sense. The EPrints installation process with its verbose outputs felt like a walk-through and I started getting a sense of how it works. I've encountered a few issues after the installation, which is nothing unusual, and I've been able to fix them by looking for help online. I find that I'm actually learning and not mindlessly copy-pasting code from the EPrints wiki or Stack Overflow.
  4. Subject headings out of the box. I opted to use the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) while installing EPrints, which saves me the work of setting up a classification scheme for the repository items. I don't know if the LCSH is the best option for my repository in the long run, but having this in place helps me to populate the repository up to a level where I can confidently demonstrate it to stakeholders.
  5. Possibly cheaper. It seems like EPrints has more relaxed hardware requirements than DSpace at least for a basic installation. I've set up my site on a 2 GB server on Hetzner and it's really fast.
While the default EPrints site does have a plain vanilla quality to it, which did not appeal to me initially, I now find the layout and navigation to be quite sensible.
I would certainly not conclude that EPrints has compelling advantages over DSpace. EPrints just seems to be a more suitable application for me. YMMV :-)

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