So how does the portal work, exactly? A technical Q & A

Aleha McCauley
Community Engagement Librarian
Irving K. Barber Learning Centre

We are often asked how the Downtown Eastside Research Access Portal (DTES RAP) works. Simply put, the DTES RAP makes it possible to search through research items related to the Downtown Eastside stored in many different locations. In library terms, this is sometimes called a discovery layer.

However, some librarians, archivists, and information professionals have asked for a more technical description. They are curious about the design process and how we have used certain software. This information is useful as they develop their own, unique projects.

If this is you, read on to find out the answers. UBC Library IT has provided to  some of your  frequently asked questions.

How would you define the DTES RAP?

The DTES RAP is a custom web application that provides an aggregated search interface and index for content and metadata sourced from UBC Library Open Collections (cIRcle), the UBC Catalogue (Voyager), and custom external sources, as well as displaying informational content hosted in the UBC-CMS (WordPress).

Editor’s note: the following data flow diagram represents the process through which items end up in the DTES RAP.

Data flow of how items are added to Research Access Portal

What software was used to build DTES RAP?

The site is a custom web application built using ElasticSearch (index), PostGres (database), PHP (Library-ITCustom Framework), and VueJS. It pulls data and displays content from DSpace, Voyager, and WordPress.

How does the admin panel work? What software does it use?

The admin panel is part of the custom web application built with PHP and VueJS. It allows administrators and MRAi staff to add new items to the DTES RAP and customize some controlled vocabularies used in the interface. Metadata for items in connected repositories (Open Collections, Voyager) is populated automatically.

How did you determine what software to use and how were decisions made between them?

The portal is a custom web application built to meet the project requirements with technologies that were available and familiar to the UBC IT Library team.

How is the database is structured?

The database is populated by data input from the admin panel and harvested from the source repositories (Open Collections, Voyager).

How much time and resources went into the discover, design, and implementation roughly?

Approximately five months of discovery and three months of solution design, followed by two months of user experience and graphic design.

What was the composition of the technical team?

Business Analysts, Systems Librarian, UX Designer, Graphic Designer, 5 Developers, Project Manager, and a QA Analyst.

At a high level, what was the process of the building the portal? 

Our process at a high-level: Request -> Discovery -> Solution -> Plan -> Build  -> UAT -> Operations -> Lessons Learned.

What existing UBC or UBC Library infrastructure does the DTES RAP make use of?

DSpace, Voyager, Existing ElasticSearch Infrastructure (Open Collections), Custom Library-IT PHP Framework, UBC-CMS (WordPress)

Can you share any principles that helped guide this process or that you would suggest for other similar projects? 

Do you have other questions about how the DTES RAP works? Contact community engagement librarian Nick Ubels at