Notes on D-Lib Article on Visual Interfaces to Digital Collections

Screen capture of the scatterplot view from the Kress Collection Viewshare interface. This link goes to the full functioning Viewshare site for the Kress Collection.

The article that I co-wrote with Trevor Owens of LC and Lauren Algee of National Gallery of Art is now available in the November/December 2012 D-Lib Magazine.

Article doi: 10.1045/november2012-algee.

The article is titled “Viewshare and the Kress Collection: Creating, Sharing, and Rapidly Prototyping Visual Interfaces to Cultural Heritage Collection Data.”

Upon its publication, I figured I would take the opportunity to make a few additional comments about the piece, the process, and some other related (and probably not-related) topics. While Trevor and I had written a couple of shorter pieces about Viewshare and data visualization in cultural heritage, the D-Lib article was an especially fun one for a couple of reasons.

1) Collaboration: It was great to get to work with Lauren Algee from National Gallery of Art. [I guess I should note here for the historical record that I was at LC and on the Viewshare team with Trevor when this piece was written, so if my institutional affiliation listed in the article seems odd or unrelated, that is the reason].  There were a few other NGA-LC collaborations in the works around this time, but talking with Lauren about how she used Viewshare and what it did/didn’t do and what insights and new knowledge it enabled (and then writing an article about the whole deal) was a really nice collaborative experience.

2) Co-authorship: I am a strong believer in co-authorship and I think this article was a good example of how co-authorship can prompt new perspectives on what can sometimes come to feel like shopworn ideas. Call it “the rut of argumentation,” (or the “sick of listening to yourself talk” idea) but sometimes you get wrapped up in  previously-articulated thesis, or, in moments of compositional paralysis, you fall back on well-known themes. Having  good co-authors really forces you to constantly reconsider and/or reorient your ideas or line-of-thinking in ways that almost always improve an overall article or argument.

3) The use case: The D-Lib piece was the third in a row of Viewshare-related articles, but working with Lauren and using the Kress Collection as an example was an excellent way to illustrate some of the ideas we had put forth in a more abstract (or just unsubstantiated!) fashion in the previous articles. Lauren’s use of Viewshare crystalized some of the potential of the tool that we had previously written about: enabling the unification of multi-institutional collections (aka post-custodialism, in the archival parlance of our times); the analytic power of data visualization; and the utility of Viewshare (and similar tools) to serve a “prototyping” role in evaluating collection data for potential further enhancement or exhibition. Mia Ridge has a great blog post about working with the Cooper-Hewitt’s collection data that speaks to how mucking about with cultural heritage collection data using digital technologies can both expose the data’s limitations and provide a better sense of its promise. That this iterative, exploratory activity can be done as part of an everyday collection management workflow, not to mention done without the implicit expectation that this will necessarily be rolled into a larger project, is a point worth remembering.

4) Yay for OA: Three cheers for publishing in open access journals! The D-Lib folks, especially Managing Editor Catherine Rey, were very nice to work with and the whole D-Lib publishing cycle is quick and easy. I definitely  recommend submitting something to them. A quick browse through back issues will reveal the breadth of topics featured in the journal, which is far more diverse than the journal’s name might suggest. It is also quite an  honor to be in the same magazine that has published some of my favorite authors/thinkers/do-ers in the field of digital libraries and archives and digital preservation. So, good peeps, a good read, and good authorial company.

5) I am the (baby) walrus: Lastly, thanks to D-Lib for allowing me not to include a picture. I’m probably the last person in the world that prefers not having his photo splattered all over the damn internet, so thanks to D-Lib for obliging. Though, if I had been forced to submit a picture, I was going to submit this picture of Mitik, the NY Aquarium’s baby walrus, which would have been awesome if they had published it beside my name and bio!

Photo credited to Alaska Sea Life Center in this NYT article.

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