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  • Overview
  • Implementation Planning



  • What is the Variations System?
  • Where did Variations come from?
  • What technologies is Variations based on?
  • How can other institutions implement Variations?

What is the Variations System?

The Variations Digital Music Library System enables institutions such as college and university libraries and music schools to digitize audio and score materials from their own collections, provide those materials to their students and faculty for teaching, learning, and research use in an interactive online environment, and respect intellectual property rights. The Variations system offers users the ability to play sound recordings, view musical scores, create bookmarks and playlists, and create and save visual annotations for both audio and scores.

Variations is not a digital music collection. Instead, it is a system for institutions to provide their constituencies with access to institutionally owned or licensed content. Variations is most often used to provide controlled access to online music course reserves. But Variations is also useful for providing online access to sound or score collections generally. It is possible to use Variations as the front end for subscription databases such as the DRAM. Variations can also be used to provide online access to non-music audio such as broadcast or oral history collections.

Variations is a digital library system. As such,

  • It is album-based, not track based: users see tracks in their album context.
  • Score volumes are presented in their entirely.
  • Access can be set up to Variations items from institutional OPACs, and links to individual OPAC records can be put in the audio player or score viewer.

The flexible access control system in Variations helps institutions limit access in accordance with local needs and legal interpretations.

  • Variations does not use Digital Rights Management (DRM).
  • Audio is streamed.
  • Access can be limited to authenticated logins based on IP address and/or authorized group membership, such as a class roster.

Where did Variations come from?

The Variations system has been created as a result of a series of grant-funded projects at Indiana University. Funding agencies have include the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). As part of the IMLS grant for the Variations3 project, Indiana University has released the Variations system as open-source and helped other institutions implement the system.

The original Variations project at IU went live in 1996. The technical infrastructure was completely reworked and a new system deployed in 1995, as a result of the Variations2 project. The IU implementation contains approximately 17,000 recordings and several hundred scores. It serves as the primary music reserves system for the Cook Music Library and the Jacobs School of Music. Every semester, students and faculty rely on Variations for thousands of reserve recordings and scores.

As a result of the Variations3 project, Variations is now in use at the the New England Conservatory, Ohio State University, the Philadelphia area Tri-College Consortium (Haverford, Swarthmore, and Bryn Mawr Colleges), and the University of Maryland. At least a dozen additional institutions are currently implementing or evaluating the Variations system.

What technologies is Variations based on?

Variations is an open-source system that relies on other open-source or freely available technologies, including the following.

  • Linux. The server runs on the Linux operating system (or other Unix), typically RHEL 4 or 5.
  • MySql 4 database.
  • Java. Most of Variations is written in the Java programming language. The client application can run on Windows PCs or Mac OS X.
  • Darwin streaming server. This is the free version of Apple's Quicktime streaming server, which can also be used.
  • Djvulibre. The free version of Djvu for score image compression and viewing.
  • Flash Player. The new browser-based audio player uses Flash for the user interface.
  • Apache web server.
  • Tomcat web application server.
  • XML. Variations makes heavy internal use of XML and uses XML for users' data files.

How can other institutions implement Variations?

Variations is available as open source and is therefore freely available. Indiana University continues develop and maintain the Variations system and is investigating mechanisms to provide support. Meanwhile, see the SourceForge site for information on signing up for the support discussion list.

Implementation Planning


  • Leadership
  • Staffing
  • IT Considerations
  • Library Considerations


A successful Variations implementation requires leadership from both information technology and library staff. As a technology-based system, Variations requires IT expertise to set up and administer, and typically needs to integrate with other information systems and processes. As a digital library system, Variations also needs to have leadership from the content owning organization such as the library or archive. Content owners need to establish intellectual property protection policies, manage access, develop priorities and workflow for content ingest, establish a preservation strategy, and consult with end users.

Planning a Variations implementation typically extends over a period of weeks or months because organizations may first set up a pilot instance to try it out. Even setting up a pilot instance may require ordering a server, setting up the server within the IT infrastructure, installing the third-party software, installing the Variations software, setting up a digitization station, loading some content, troubleshooting network and firewall issues, and so on. Full implementation may further require iteration with legal counsel on access policy, installation of the client software on classroom or library computers, distribution of client software to other users, creation of workflow documentation, customization of the Variations User Guide, etc.


IT Staffing Requirements

Library Staffing Requirements

IT Considerations

Library Considerations

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