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Aaron Birkland–Extending Fedora Functionality

The Fedora repository project relies on many individuals and institutions to make the project successful. We are grateful for their commitment and will showcase their contributions in a series of community profiles aimed at recognizing our contributors’ achievements, and introducing them to the rest of the community. 

Aaron Birkland has been a contributor to Fedora since the early days of Fedora 2. His focus is currently on the Fedora API-X Extension Architecture Project that will extend the native functionality of a Fedora 4 repository.

• Please share some information about yourself and your interests.

I’m a senior software engineer at the digital research and curation center in the Sheridan libraries at Johns Hopkins University, and am also a Fedora committer.  Outside of work, my interests include restoring old houses, exploring unusual places, and refrigeration.

• How long have you been working with Fedora:

I’ve been involved in the Fedora community for roughly seven of the last 11 years.  My first exposure to Fedora was shortly after I started working for the National Science Digital Library at Cornell.  At the time, they had a Fedora 2-based repository and were having serious performance and reliability problems with their triple store.  That trial-by-fire experience took me deep into the inner workings of Fedora, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

• What attracted you to working with the Fedora repository team?

It’s something I sort of naturally fell into. The Fedora community has historically been good about sharing their experiences; pain points, success stories, unanswered questions, best practices, new ideas, etc.  That sort of environment tends to draw in those who participate regularly

• What are you working on now?

I’m currently shepherding the API-X project with various members of the Fedora community, working on a project called the Data Conservancy at JHU, developing a few API-X extensions, participating in the Fedora specification effort, and am slightly involved with the RMap project (

• What aspect(s) of contributing to Fedora development have you found to be particularly rewarding?

Going to conferences and seeing what other people are doing!  There are a lot of different perspectives on the role of the repository (or linked data) in one’s architecture, different modeling approaches, etc.  It’s rewarding to see Fedora used in so many different ways.

• If the Fedora repository platform was a house, what would your next home improvement project be?

Probably refreshing myself on the latest best practices in building science, and looking for ways to make my home more durable and efficient – like eliminating ice dams on the roof in the winter once and for all.  There’s a nice little analogy (bear with me).. In the 19th and early 20th century, people knew how to build attractive, functional, and durable houses.  They were leaky and inefficient in the winter, but escaping heat and air flow helped mitigate overly disastrous moisture problems and rot.  In the mid to late 20th century, people learned to insulate to save energy and increase comfort, albeit in ways that were a bit less effective, less durable, or more costly than intended.  Nowadays, with increased hindsight (and analysis of the successes and failures of the past few decades) we’re starting to truly understand how to build comfortable, efficient, and cost effective “pretty good houses”.  We’re also understanding the most impactful and cost-effective fixes to make our existing homes more comfortable, efficient, and durable.  Having evolved from Fedora 2/3, into the linked data space, I think we’re starting to understand what makes a “pretty good repository.” 

• Do you have any advice for future Fedora contributors?

Consider “fedora contributor” broadly.  You don’t have to know anything about the internals of Fedora 4 to make a meaningful contribution to the community.  Share what you’re doing, and the software you use to do it - somebody is likely to find it useful or interesting!

Submitted by kristi on Tue, 2017-05-30 00:00