Tool Hack: Using Viewshare to Visualize Digital Collections

22/11/2011 § 3 Comments

Gloria Gonzalez is currently mixing her interests in informatics with an archives specialization at the UCLA Graduate School of Library and Information Science. She works for the Center for Primary Research and Training at the Charles E. Young Research Library Department of Special Collections and enjoys researching philosophy of information, information ethics, and issues in digital preservation. Gloria’s favorite online pastimes are playing Tetris Arena and tweeting at @InformaticMonad.

I have what I call “recollectionitis.” It’s an infection that I contracted last summer while working as an intern for the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) at the Library of Congress. Recollectionitis gives people the overwhelming desire to create online interactive views for all kinds of information—anything from the collection you digitized last semester and that list of every craft brew you’ve ever tasted.

What’s great about recollectionitis is how easy it is to cure with a dose of Viewshare.

Viewshare is an online platform provided by the Library of Congress that’s used for generating interfaces like timelines, maps, and charts. Simply put, Viewshare works in three steps: import, build, and share. Upon first glance, Viewshare may seem intimidating; but trust me—it’s super easy to use. Anyone can request a free Viewshare account and get started using the provided tutorials.

If you’re a novice like me, upload your data in excel spreadsheets. However if you’re more experienced, XML MODS records or even Dublin Core data via OAI-PMH can be imported. After uploading, the data can be augmented for categories like date and location for timeline and map views. Then you choose from several view formats. Next, the view can be customized with different navigation facets, including tag clouds, lists, free text, and a search box. The final step is sharing your interface, which Viewshare makes very simple. You can make your view public and share the link, or embed the view into any website.

For LIS students, learning how to use Viewshare provides more than just another thing to list under the “skills” section of your resume. The underlying aims of Viewshare are rooted in access to digital collections and information, a core issue faced by our profession. By providing the technology needed to aggregate and share collections with the capacity for collaboration, Viewshare takes a huge step towards the online environment that libraries, archives, and museums need to increase access to their digital assets. While becoming familiar with the platform, students can gain practical experience with concepts we learn about in class.

The concept of openness is reoccurring in library school, e.g., open educational resources, open access, open data and open source. Viewshare is an instance of Recollection, an open-source software that NDIIPP created in partner with Zepheira (hence, recollectionitis). Recollection works through combining linked data technology (RDF) with several different open-source components (like Simile Exibit and Akara). Which means anyone can download the Recollection code and create a new instance of the software to fit their personal needs. When it comes to the benefits of openness, a central theme is that it allows for increased creativity and productivity; the openness of Viewshare allows for both.

I’m sure most of you have noticed that collaboration is another key concept in library school. Working together allows us to create dialog that supplies helpful feedback and assistance. Viewshare provides a unique collaborative space online. Each Viewshare user has a profile that lists their public views and datasets. This means you can make your own views using other people’s public data and vice versa. You can also customize your profile with personal details and make “connections” with other users. I’ve found this to be a neat aspect of Viewshare because you can see who else is using the tool, and how they are putting it to use (here’s an example of what I’ve done).

If you’re interested in learning more about Viewshare you can visit Viewshare.org or read about it on The Signal, the Library of Congress’ digital preservation blog.

Viewshare was created for digital collections. However, it can be used for a lot more than that. Once you try it out you’ll discover the many possible applications, but I must give you fair warning… you might catch a case of recollectionitis.

The Digital Public Library of America

05/10/2011 § 10 Comments

It’s not every day that I’ll take the time to stay up late to blog something – but I think this is important and wanted to share it with our readers. I’m sure you’ll hear and read many things about the Digital Public Library of America in coming days(weeks, months, years), if you haven’t already. That said, let me explain why I think this is important.

I’ve been following the development of the DPLA for about a year now, and the conversations surrounding it have been almost as exciting as the idea itself. So what exactly is the idea? In their own words,

No project has yet succeeded in bringing these different viewpoints, experiences, and collections together with leading technical experts and the best of private industry to find solutions to these complex challenges. Users have neither coherent access to these materials nor tools to use them in new and exciting ways, and institutions have no clear blueprint for creating a shared infrastructure to serve the public good. The time is right to launch an ambitious project to realize the great promise of the Internet for the advancement of sharing information and of using technology to enable new knowledge and discoveries in the United States.

What this sounds like to me, and the reason it feels so important, is that a group of capable and brilliant folks from a variety of reputable institutions (libraries, institutes, universities) have identified a need, and have initiated a grand idea to address that need. There are and will continue to be many issues that’ll need to be explored, as they note on the website, including Governance, Content and Scope, Legal Issues and More. However, I still think the matter at hand rings out loud — that information is invaluable and that it is our duty to provide access to it, to the best of our ability, with the tools available to us, always and forever. 

A few key points I think Library School students should pay attention to:

1. Someone else already wrote this, and I can’t remember where I read it… but… there’s something to be said about the name, “Digital Public Library of America.” “Digital.” “Public” “Library.” “America.” There’s has been considerable discussion about the inclusion of “Public” in the title, and since it’s stayed I think it is worth interrogating for a second. When we hear about a public library we have very specific ideas about what that means, correct? Will this body be living into the ideal of a public library, or will it be something entirely new? Is that a positive or a negative thing for all the public libraries out there? And, America. Already bold, seeking to include all of America is nearing brash. I do hope that this will truly be representative of America as the project grows, but again, it’s incredibly complicated and too early to know. Lastly, digital. That makes sense… utilizing the growing web of connections through technology to allow access to great resources. And yet, we still are fighting to solve the digital divide. Collecting every great resource into one central location of the web is amazing, but there will still be tons of folks who will not be able to see it, use it, or learn from it.

2. Who is involved? I’d encourage you to look over the list of names associated with this project. There are many people included in this that I personally have a huge amount of professional respect for, but you should formulate your own opinions. Are these people accurately representative of the future of what our great grandkids may know as the “public library”? The DPLA has worked to include many voices, by opening a public listserv (the 1st I’ve ever subscribed to), and a wiki. As Governance is solidified, this body could grow the DPLA in one specific way or another.

3. The technical infrastructure of the DPLA will affect all libraries and many information institutions (again, my opinion). There’s been a lot of talk lately about Linked, Open Data, and developing one standard by which these gigantic collections will be pieced together. If this goes as planned, we all (librarians) will need to have a real, solid working knowledge of how Linked Open Data functions in order to continue to make our work as information professionals useful to our user/patrons. (Also, check out Linked Open Data in Libraries, Archives and Museums – LOD-LAM)

I could go on, but following a great Twitter conversation Zack and I had while I was writing this — I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is the DPLA all hype? How will this affect our profession? Our graduate education? Should we revolt against MARC and DCMI? Against Library of Congress and NARA? Why isn’t this thing called “Digital Archive of America”?

I’d encourage you to take the time to read these posts – one from Jessamyn West and one in Library Journal.

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