LSC874—Bamboo DiRT: StoryMapJS

So, Northwestern’s KnightLab has a lot of awesome tools, and I might as well get their logo tattooed over my heart, ’cause I sort of love them. StoryMapJS is a way to show a story in text and image while also displaying the relevant location on a map. As the story progresses, the map moves around and allows you to interact with the story differently. For this project, I used largely the same data as for TimeLineJS, using strategic copy/pasting. The result, as you’ll see, is somewhat different.

Screenshot 2014-05-08 14.49.45

Unlike TimelineJS, this tool does not require use of a spreadsheet but rather is built in a manner resembling a presentation. Each event is a slide, and for every slide you have the option to manually place the geomarker or to search for a location and have it automatically placed accordingly. As I was mistakenly under the hopeful belief that I could import from Google Maps, I had already created a KML file of all the required locations. Entering them again (I’m beginning to see a theme with this project) was tedious, but pretty simple as the search field had a handy autocomplete feature and was spot on most of the time. It also helps that Rome is a pretty small city.

Screenshot 2014-05-08 14.52.02

One of the main features I enjoyed using was the media selection feature, which is able to pull Flickr images from their page link without requiring a specific image URL. As Flickr makes finding such a URL very difficult, this feature saved me a lot of time and grief. No digging through the embed code for 50 jpgs to get the URL, no strategic screenshotting (which is dubious anyway), no hoping you have the right resolution… it does it for you.

Screenshot 2014-05-08 14.50.04

When you create a StoryMapJS, it links to your Google account and saves the file on your Drive in a similar manner to TimelineJS, so you can stop and start back up again when you need to. I found this very useful as I had to switch browsers a few times to figure out which one was the best (Firefox, shocker).

StoryMapJS was created for Journalists to tell stories in a format other than the usual print/text+image format to which we are accustomed. Its purpose is not scholarly by nature, but it lends itself well to scholarly content and storytelling. It is easy to pick up and learn and requires no data formatting or coding, so while the bar is low the returns are high.



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LSC874—Bamboo DiRT: TimelineJS

One of the three tools I used from Bamboo DiRT was Northwestern University’s TimelineJS, made in their fantastic KnightLab. I made a short sample to explain my creative process.

As you can see, it took me a while to figure out how to work with the spreadsheet and fix my data so that it would smoothly integrate with their specifications. However, while it was time consuming it wasn’t overly complicated, and it was in large part a lesson in planning and reading the directions ahead of time *cough* we well as setting my own expectations appropriately.

Timeline JS is a tool that allows you to enter time-measured data into a Google spreadsheet, publish it to the web, and with a clever use of the Google Docs API, it is parsed and presented as an embedded timeline which can be placed in WordPress or a straight-up HTML document. For those who really care, you can go into the code and do some customization, but the options supplied on the project page were more than enough for this project.

Options given

all ze options!

Getting my data around was by far the hardest part of this tool, as it meant that I had to identify what information was required and appropriate. Hawthorne doesn’t really care for trivial details such as the date or time, or really anything that I needed for a timeline. Largely I extrapolated periods of time using my mad logic skillz and my browser’s ‘find’ function to dig through the source material on Gutenberg. Yay, public domain!

Screenshot 2014-04-28 19.46.43


Screenshot 2014-04-28 19.46.03


The tool itself is scholarly in creation but can (as exhibited in the link above) be used for silliness. It’s very useful to lay out linear stories or to show a progression of events, either on a small scale (one day) or a large scale (ten years). Timeline is open source, so you can indeed download it and tweak it to your heart’s desire as well as create your own plugins using JS/JSON to make it do flips and tricks. If you’re interested in doing so, you can find it on GitHub. As my JSON skills are at their most basic and I felt no need to change the tool, I did not mess around in the code, but would be lying if I did not admit to being curious.

In the end, I was very happy with my results and quite content to spend time readjusting the media and the text to get it closer to my goal. The timeline is clear and the transitions smooth, and the data is able to be tweaked without republishing the tool. Overall, the result is that the story, which relies so strongly on the feelings of the intertwined friends, is made more understandable by the passage of time and comprehending how long or short the distance was between events. Hawthorne tends to skip around without much context, and the timeline certainly put the story into perspective for me. It also taught me the importance of removing all commas from the timestamp field and that I should check this first before falling apart over a cup of tea at 1am.

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WHEEE! THATcamp is always my favorite event of the year. Next time I’ll get enough rest ahead of time so I don’t feel like I just worked a double shift while fighting off zombies during the holidays in retail. I slept for thirteen hours on Saturday night, so… yeah.

This THATcamp was put on by a GWU history class as part of their final project! The group was largely beginner to intermediate, by our own admission, and most of the sessions throughout the day focused on group discussion and shared experiences rather than workshops or panel discussions.

After a brief discussion and some Dork Shorts, the following schedule was decided:

THATcamp DC2014 Schedule

I attended Sunlight Data Visualization, mostly because I was really curious about using government data for educational reasons and how data visualizations use design to portray a message. The session was intense and enjoyable. I have stickers. They have some fantastic tools available on their website, including a Shazam-like app called Ad Hawk which will tell you more about the funding partners for ad campaigns. They also have a collection of deleted tweets from political figures, which is less educational and far more entertaining.

The second session I sat in on was “You have built it, they have come—NOW what?” which was hosted by Meghan Ferriter (@meghaninmotion) and the rest of the Smithsonian Transcription Center (STC) team. Everyone in the room discussed projects  with transcription or active ways to involve a community and build trust with users. The STC team shared their experience with launching their transcription center and things which surprised them—which was mostly how amazing the volunteer community was. They found that once people started transcribing, others actively reviewed the transcriptions and would often have contributions or revisions. The volunteers built on each others’ work and the regulars collaborated together, resulting in high quality transcriptions and an active community.

The third session was one that I imagine our class would have had a ball with: DH in the Classroom/Digital Pedagogy. The discussion centered around what kind of involvement in the online sphere was best suited for what kinds of assignments and students, from K-12 to Ph.Ds. My favorite bit that came out of the discussion was from the visual notetaker:

Blackboard is not a real world skill —> WordPress is used


The main takeaway I got was that our class is pretty fantastic, and that by using our WordPress blogs we are in fact practicing for having our work under public scrutiny by our peers, employers, and other scholars. In fact we’ve gone beyond practicing and are already doing it. So, go us!

Also, I met the fantastic Kathy Larsen, who teaches a class involving fanworks in media ranging from fanfic to Twitter accounts which impersonate West Wing characters. I have a lot of enthusiasm for this discussion because everyone was so interested and passionate and willing to share their experiences as well as learn from others. The woman who lead this discussion was at last year’s RailsGirlsDC event, and it really felt great to see her again and hear her speak about her experiences in digital pedagogy.

Finally, I decided to go to a low-key session about born-digital collections lead by Trevor Owens. I always enjoy his lead discussions because I always walk away with at least ten interesting links to look at in depth and a renewed interest in digital archives. It felt great to put my feet up and discuss video games, selfies, Yelp! reviews, and Geocities & fanfic archives, and hypertext literature with others. It really made me wonder if CUA could start gathering tweets & pics from campus events as part of a preservation effort. The Tower already includes some top tweets every week, it shouldn’t be too hard to begin gathering material. It might even be a good partnership project between the student newspaper and the library to find and share interest tweets.

Overall it was a fantastic day and I miss it already. Kelly joined me for the first half, and I’m so glad she did—the only other grad students who were there were in the humanities, and it was great to have another LIS peep there.



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LSC874—Setting My Own Expectations

Sometimes, jumping in head first is fun. Like, a lot of fun.

Other times, like now, thinking ahead and actually planning the project can save time.

I filled out the spreadsheet. Completely filled it out. Figuring out the dates was fun, and while Hawthorne is pretty vague with dates he’s strangely specific about times of day.

Once the spreadsheet was all prettied up, I moved to thinking about the timemap, which was when I realized that I was trying to get the timeline tool to do too much and I needed to even out the load between the two.

So. Here’s to readjusting and a lot of copying and pasting!

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LSC874—Arches Upon Arches, etc, etc

For one of my last projects for this class, I chose to revisit my favorite city in the world through the eyes of one of my favorite authors. In the 1850s, Nathaniel Hawthorne worked in Rome and gave a stab at writing one of his last books, The Marble Faun. Years ago, I studied in Rome and spent a few days in an experiment, attempting to use it as a guidebook. Hilarity ensued. It serves more as a record of Hawthorne’s own favorite spots in the city, many of them outside on the streets or in the shade of the ancient trees. There are very few locations in the book which are not explicitly given, and those all exist outside of Rome. Otherwise he gives cross-streets, descriptions, and names which can be traced either on maps or through old Baedekers and other guidebooks, conveniently located in Google Books.

I sat down yesterday to begin on a spreadsheet of named locations and found myself up to my neck in rather confusing shorthand, which I had to clarify and write out. Ultimately, some sort of order began to appear and I started to try to put together a timeframe for this project. It helped that I knew the city and understood how long it took to get from one point to another, because Hawthorne moves fast and his sense of time is metaphorical at best. Fortunately he adored April and February in Italy (who doesn’t? It’s gorgeous) and unwittingly let slip a window of time from which I could extrapolate a rough timeline. As this book is in the public domain and available on Gutenberg, I was able to save a large amount of time by using the ol’ handy ‘Find’ function to locate when he shifted by days and months and often found that he stated time shifts in the dialogue itself. By focusing on the dialogue and relying on the ‘Find’ function, I got some relative days (two days after X, two days before Y, four months from Z=two days before X, and so on) and decided to make some educated guesses at the dates. This book isn’t a scientific document or almanac, it’s a romance, so the dates aren’t all that important.

What was important was the location of the characters in relation to each other, and creating the timeline helped me get this perspective. In my spreadsheet I noted which characters were present and which were absent, and this showed me a very interesting side to Hawthorne’s writing about which I had completely forgotten. He often writes in relationships, so where each person is in relation to each other is at least as interesting as what they are thinking about, if not far more so. To reflect this, I’ve decided to add each character’s location to the timeline if I can, as the book does pan from character to character and lacks a single, heroic protagonist.

So we’ll see how that turns out.

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LSC874 – So many tools, so many formats, and not nearly enough time

Last week, when we played around with the GIS tools, I had little difficulty getting them to do what I wanted. I’ve used Google Earth for years as a fun way to see the pyramids from my living room, and now I get to do image overlays and play with data? Awesome.

When I actually sat down to do the work, though, I felt as though this human being who was actually looking at the assignment requirements and trying to piece them together was definitely not the same person sitting in class on Tuesday, comfortably tapping away. So I did what I usually do when I need to relearn a process: procrastinate. Not to say that I wasn’t doing any work, simply that I wasn’t doing the work that I probably should be doing.

Ways to procrastinate while still doing work:

  • Reread the source material which inspired your work
  • Research the geography of the area and consider what might be relevant information to complement the data
  • Look at every government publication regarding geographical information for the relevant country and carefully consider each one
  • Research the naming conventions and interpretations of the area and compare to the source material
  • Do a Google search for that one literary travel blog you read, like, ten years ago that totally had an entry on this exact thing
  • Realize that if you haven’t found that one literary travel blog on the 30th page of a Google search, you probably won’t find it at all
  • Arrange the useful resources you did find in those 30 pages of the Google search and mine them for useful information
  • Create citations for each page

That’s a pretty sizable list of suggestions! You’re welcome.

Over the next few days, I added a few locations each day and bookmarked web sites where I found the best pictures and summaries, and I also did an extraordinary amount of close readings to determine where the events in the books actually take place. A few of the locations (Clywyd Farm and Prichard’s farm) are completely fictional yet still described in detail, and the climactic confrontation takes place on a real road at a very specific point to allow for a key event to take place.

Here was the big kicker, and this happens regularly: when I sat down and added locations or worked with the text, my anxiety from earlier vanished and I once again became absorbed in the work. Any frustrations that came up meant that I took a five minute break and tried to do it three or four different times before dropping it and moving on. I ended up having to do that despite having an impeccable image overlay. It simply wouldn’t show up in Google Maps.


See? Isn’t it perfect?

Anyway. Getting the work done is good, even if you’ve procrastinated leading up to it. Very few things come close to that feeling of accomplishment and knowing that you’ve totally tricked yourself into doing something.

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LSC874 – Crowdsourcing with Love and Expertise

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there is no stereotype that involves librarians rolling around in piles of cash. None of us go into this degree for the glory of becoming a librarian. We do it because we find it fulfilling, we understand that offering services is important, we want to help people, we love finding answers and doing research. Maybe we do it because of the jobs. The girls. Our name in lights.

I crack myself up sometimes.


My point is that most people’s motivations for joining the fields of (((information OR library) AND (science)) OR archives OR media) are not self-seeking. We aren’t Olympic sprinters, we’re marathon runners. We do it because we love it and not for the prize or the glory (although having a beer and some carbs at the end of a long day is also a good thing). We write grants, work on a shoestring budget and do what we can for our institutions, but at the end of the day there just aren’t enough resources to go around for our own internal efforts and projects. We simply don’t have the time, peoplepower, or the money. On Tuesday, April 8th, I attended the NDSR2014: Emerging Trends in Digital Stewardship. It included an in-depth demonstration by Cal Lee of BitCurator and panel discussions which involved institutions such as National Public Radio, Library of Congress, George Washington University, Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities, Folger Shakespeare Library, Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). It was a fantastic event and I spent all day tapping away happily on my laptop, taking notes and soaking up the wisdom of the speakers.

One of the panels included librarians from NPR, LOC, and GWU discussing collaborative efforts to archive social media, and the moderator asked the question “What were some unanticipated benefits to launching your archives projects?” In response, Janel Kinlaw from NPR stated that “there’s a lot of love for NPR” and that they’ve been able to get a volunteer transcriber to assist them with an archiving project for the year 1984. In short, they are transcribing audio clips and making them available online for free. We all know that love makes us do irrational things, but spending several hours a week transcribing audio interviews is kind of a fantastic way to channel your irrationality love.

On a greater scale, Library of Congress has put their photos onto Flickr and requested that users tag the pictures to expand access points.  This project started in 2008, and to date they have almost 21k photos with no copyright restrictions, so they are available for users to download, edit, play with, and remix to their heart’s delight. The only thing LoC has done to their uploaded pictures is add the tag ‘library of congress’. The rest is crowdsourcing, and it has been remarkably successful. Within a matter of months, there were over 67k unique tags created by over 2500 users, an average of 26 tags per user. Today there are too many tags to load. This amount of work could not have been done by the LoC or their employees. Instead it was done by users who had expertise to share, genealogies to track, hobbies, and… they gave their time.

Volunteers joined the conversation and contributed their knowledge. I imagine my grandmother sitting down for an afternoon and adding tags to government documents for the political rallies she attended in the ’70s and ’60s and pictures of politicians she used to work with, my grandfather noting which farm tools where distributed in which area and which companies manufactured them.

How incredible is that? I mean, really?

It’s pretty much the coolest thought I’ve had sitting in my mind all week.

Michael Peter Edson made the point in one of his talks given to museums and cultural heritage institutions that not only does the best expert on your subject probably not work for your institution… you don’t even know who they are. Since institutions aren’t a series of subject specialty Hunger Games (thank goodness), we can’t simply replace our experts with more knowledgeable experts, especially if they don’t have the qualifications, are doing research somewhere else that can fund them better, if they are in countries in which we can’t reach them. Putting your resources and data out there enables the experts to find you, to collaborate on whatever terms possible (even anonymously!), and it enables everyone to benefit.

Being a part of CUA’s digitization efforts has been one of the most gratifying experiences I have had so far in my budding professional career. I sure can’t read Latin, but hey! some stranger, a curious human being somewhere might find the Magnum Bullarium and use it to teach, to learn, to inspire, or simply as something pretty to look at (which, let’s face the facts, is how I see it). They may know something we don’t and expand on our knowledge to increase understanding of those volumes. That’s meaningful to them, and I’ll bet you it’s meaningful to others, too.

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