Information Visualization for Cultural Heritage

 

Libraries, archives, and museums are awash in digital data. While many may have just started collecting data and born-digital material created by third parties (be it in the form of e-books, digital photography, or electronic records), all are creating digital data in the form of machine-readable bibliographic information not to mention the variety of other types of data used to track, describe, and make available all types of resources. This data not only allows for the efficient management of holdings, but it also offers interesting new methods of visualizing and understanding collections in the aggregate. Metadata is, of course, its own valuable resource that can be parsed, interpreted, and visualized to reveal new patterns and meanings.

Two upcoming events offer an excellent chance to get better acquainted with data visualization and its potential. Chris Alen Sula,  Assistant Professor and Digital Humanities Coordinator, Pratt Institute, School of Information & Library Science will be hosting a workshop at METRO “Introduction to Information Visualization” on December 11. More information and registration for that event is on our site. This will be a hands-on, all-day workshop exploring tools and methods for data visualization. Participants are encouraged to bring their own data (in structured format!) and the workshop will explore visualizing data using a number of free and open-source tools including Many Eyes and Google Fusion Tables.

The following day, Chris will be speaking at Columbia University as part of the Columbia Libraries Digital Program Division and the Digital Humanities Center lecture series. More information on that event is at the bottom of this post. In this talk, “The Ethics of Data Visualization,” he “will situate infovis within a techno-historical context, which raises broader issues of access, representation, and power with respect to visualization.” The event is free and open to the public.

Also, information on both events and Chris’s other projects and articles can be found on his website.

Information visualization holds a great deal of potential for libraries and other cultural institutions both to provide novel means for users to explore and analyze collection data, but also for institutions to better understand their own collections and data. Cultural heritage collecting institutions can use information visualization as a way to explore the potential (and limitations) of their own data, especially as they prototype new methods of web display, exhibition, and discovery.

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Kress Collection View (Pie Chart Display) from

D-Lib Magazine article.

For those interested in data visualization in cultural heritage, there are a number of projects and articles that can be consulted to better understand how visualization can enhance digital collections and data. Researcher Mia Ridge has an excellent blog post about working with the Cooper-Hewitt museums collection data. Her post offers a good example of both how collection data can be visualized to get a better sense of its affordances and limitations. For a specific use case of using a visualization tool to better understand collection data, see the recent  D-Lib Magazine article “Viewshare and the Kress Collection: Creating, Sharing, and Rapidly Prototyping Visual Interfaces to Cultural Heritage Collection Data” (full disclosure, I am a co-author on the paper). Chis Sula also has a paper on a similar topics, “Quantifying Culture: The Value of Visualization inside (and outside) Libraries, Museums, and the Academy.”


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Image by cultureviz on flickr. Created by

the Software Studies Initiative.

Of course, data visualization is not just about metadata, but can also be extended to collection objects themselves. For instance, the work of Lev Manovich and his team at the UCSD Software Studies Initiative has examined the shifting pallates of an artists work over the course of many projects. This article provides a good summary of their work looking at the paintings of Mondrian and Rothko. For textual collections, projects like Mining the Dispatch have visualized the rise and fall of semantic word clusters across archival newspaper collections, projects like The Crowded Page visualize social networks of historic figures, and other projects have tested visualization as a method of appraising archival digital collections.

As data visualization becomes more pervasive across all online media and culture, libraries, archives, and museums will want to make use of visualization tools not just to stay relevant with how data is presented across the culture, but also to make use of the what that visualization can help them interpret, exhibit, and enable access to their collections. The upcoming workshop at METRO and lecture at Columbia offer two great opportunities to better understand and start working with information visualization.

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Registration page for the "Introduction to Information Visualization" workshop on Dec. 11.

Details for the upcoming Columbia Libraries Digital Program Division and the Digital Humanities Center Lecture Series.

TOPIC:  The Ethics of Visualization
WHEN:   Wed., Dec. 12  ~  Noon - 1:30 PM
WHERE:  203 Butler Library
SPONSORS:  Columbia Libraries Digital Program Division and the Digital Humanities Center
SPEAKER: Chris Alen Sula,  Assistant Professor and Digital Humanities Coordinator, Pratt Institute, School of Information & Library Science
DESCRIPTION: Visualization and infographics are widely discussed today, both inside of the academy and in the public at large. Academic departments as diverse as digital arts and humanities, cognitive science, and molecular chemistry have taken up the topic, and journalists like Geoff McGhee even claim that our future is one "in which data becomes a medium." But despite its popularity and potential impact, "infovis" has rarely been considered in an ethical light. While there has been recent development on the philosophy of information, there is still little corresponding to an applied ethics of visualization and even less guidance available for information professionals. This talk examines the groundwork of infovis ethics and considers several ways in which visualization could give rise to obligations to/for certain groups. The conclusion will situate infovis within a techno-historical context, which raises broader issues of access, representation, and power with respect to visualization. This event is free and open to the public. Registration is not required.