In The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly discusses every surface becoming a screen in the Screening chapter, but this technological force isn’t just about converting surfaces into screens. He also discusses the possibility for libraries to become platforms for cultural life within their communities and he writes of the importance of encouraging contemplation and how online activities can provoke action. I think we’ve done some of this with our Artist-in-Residence and Curations programs. They’ve both led to ongoing actions and we think they inspire contemplation and further thought with at least some of our users. These programs have certainly had Interactive elements, with the current Artist Timo Rissanen actually creating his work in the central library stairwell over several weeks. Our Artists have asked questions of us and what we do that we’d not have asked of ourselves. This has enabled some reflection on our part and led to improved services, including with our search and discovery platform and our way finding signage.
At UTS Library the influence of Chris Gaul (our first Artist) cannot be overstated. He has had a significant impact on how we view our collections and this has led to ongoing improvements to discovery as well as search interfaces. His pioneering Spectogram has been recognised and reflected upon by several of our subsequent artists. He played a significant part in establishing a design-led visual identity for UTS Library.
Elisa Lee and Adam Hinshaw were asked to artistically interpret the use of our new Library Retrieval System in 2014. This ambitious project resulted in a truly amazing live data visualisation of the requests and returns to this huge robotically served underground storage system. Their work was inspirational and playful. It also added an important dimension to our identity as experts in data at a time when UTS was focussing itself on the importance of data and data analysis.
Zoë Sadokierski followed Elisa and Adam in 2015. She has been a long time collaborator with the Library through her design work on various experimental formats for ePRESS, in her artistic installations within the Library and by sharing her research on the intersection of print and screen technology (as opposed to the myth that circulates about these two being competitors). Her Residency explored the very nature of the book through research and by producing artist’s books. She also conducted a very interactive and collaborative production of a book live at the 2015 Sydney Writer’s Festival. Like previous artists her work has had a very significant impact on our visual and physical identity as a library.
Starting in late 2016, we added digital literacy kits to our collection. Including low cost technology like Sphero, Makey-Makey and basic VR, these kits have been incorporated into both our own staff development and our educational programs for academics and students. They represent a playful way to introduce technology literacies, expanding on our traditional role in developing information literacy skills.
This post is just a collection of examples that relate to the visualisation of collections. It saves me sending a number of tweets back to two colleagues in the US who started a conversation about this over the weekend: @sjwilder100 (from UNC Charlotte Library) & @lorcanD (from OCLC)
Several researchers are doing some interesting work in this space and I think it is pretty important. Adding some kind of visual layer to catalogues, search or discovery tools provides us with a capabilty that is largely missing in the cultural sector at present. Most searches focus solely on text-based initiators or they provide text-based lists of search results. Open data, the encouragement to collaborate in coding and the need to either search visually or to visualise search results is leading towards much improved collection discovery. This makes the collections we provide more easily found, used, explored, enjoyed, linked and shared. So here are a few examples that I’m aware of, in no particular order, mind the step:
Marian Dörk is a postdoc researcher at Newcastle University. You can see several examples of his visualisations here http://mariandoerk.de/ I like the PivotPaths and you can even demonstrate them for yourself on his site http://mariandoerk.de/pivotpaths/
Mitchell Whitelaw does some fascinating research relating to collection visualisation and has worked with archival, photographic and art collections. You can see an example relating the the exploration of Australian Prints here (a research project with Ben Ennis Butler) http://mtchl.net/explore-australian-prints-printmaking/ What I like about Mitchell’s work is that he crafts in some great design that entices the user to explore because the interfaces are both generous and beautiful.
Tim Wray is still undertaking his PhD at Wollongong, but he has already done some interesting work with art collections that provides navigable pathways for collection exploration: http://timwray.net/2012/12/create-pathways-at-your-fingertips/
Mr Chris Gaul was UTS Library’s first Artist-in-Residence in 2012 and you can see some of his conceptual ideas for collection discovery here: http://www.chrisgaul.net/utslibrary/ His Library Spectogram is shown in the image above and was the inspiration for our colourful collection ribbon that allows you to browse our monograph collection or see your search results presented visually http://find.lib.uts.edu.au/
Paul Hagon is a friend and former colleague who is the Web Developer at the National Library of Australia. He has done some interesting experiments relating to colour and search results in visual collections. Here is a search by colour experiment: http://ll04.nla.gov.au/ and here is a concept that visualises the colours of tags used in Flickr http://www.paulhagon.com/2010/05/14/colours-of-a-tag/
Over the last few days Serendip-o-matic was released. It is a collaborative project by a team of twelve people from academia, libraries and museums and I know of researchers here aut UTS who have already found it very intriguing. What is really great about this is the serendipity it provides. So go on, give it a whirl!
I know that I’ll have left out some other great examples from people working in this space including Georgina Hibberd, a researcher at UTS who has some really wonderful ideas about visualisation and the discovery of library collections. So, if you know of someone worthwhile, just let me know and I’ll add them to this little collection.
Since I first posted this Marian Dork has reminded me of the very beautiful and playful interfaces created at the University of Calgary in their Bohemian Bookshelf http://www.alicethudt.de/BohemianBookshelf/ My apologies for forgetting to add them to the list above earlier.
This morning I sat down and watched this video about the art of visualisation. http://www.openculture.com/2013/05/the_art_of_data_visualization_.html It is introduced and rounded up by Edward Tufte. There are some excellent tips on how good design can help to tell complex stories. My apologies if this all looks a bit like teaching someone how to suck eggs. Those points made that rang a bell with me:
It isn’t a new art form. It probably started with mapping, centuries ago.
It is at least in part about pattern recognition as this is easier in the visual sense because our brains quickly recognise patterns. (I know some people who can easily do this in a sheet of numbers too, but that is another story. My Dad died recently and he was one of these people.)
It is important to recognise that it is also about emotions and that is where aesthetics play a big part.
Visual storytelling aids in comprehension.
Like any form of design, you must start by understanding deeply.
I liked the guy who said that clever and aesthetic design can “invite people in”.
There are important links between art and culture. Currently our former artist-in-residence (Chris Gaul) and I are busy agreeing with each other that there is really no difference between some great design and great art.
Good visualisation is about revelation; revealing things not seen or not easily seen.
Remember your audience, they are smarter than you think, so treat them with respect.
Know your content.
Finally I think Tufte himself makes the point that sometimes ambiguity is a good thing. It can also be about “unknowing”.
Cultural institutions should do more of this. It is far more effective than dull annual reports.
And below you can see one of my favourite examples of data visualisation by Irene Wellington: