As I mentioned earlier, I am taking an Information Visualization class this term. For our final class project I managed to inspire two other classmates to join me in creating a visualization tool based on the structured data found in the XML version of EAD finding aids.
We started with the XML of the EAD finding aids from University of Maryland’s ArchivesUM and the Library of Congress Finding Aids. My teammates have written a parser that extracts various things from the XML such as title, collection size, inclusive dates and subjects. Our goal is to create an innovative way to improve the exploration and understanding of archival collections using an interactive visualization.
Our main targets right now are to use a combination of subjects, years and collection size to give users a better impression of the quantity of archival materials that fit various search criteria. I am a bit obsessed about using the collection size as a metric for helping users understand the quantity of materials. If you do a search for a book in a library’s catalog – getting 20 hits usually means that you are considering 20 books. If you consider archival collections – 20 hits could mean 20 linear feet (20 collections each of which is 1 linear foot in size) or it could mean 2000 linear feet (20 collections each of which is 100 linear feet in size). Understanding this difference is something that visualization can help us with. Rather than communicating only the number of results – the visualization will communicate the total size of collections assigned each of the various subjects.
Not reflected in the mock-ups is what could happen when a user clicks on the ‘related subject’ bars. Depending on where they click – one of two things could happen. If they click on the ‘related subject’ bar WITHIN the boundaries of the selected subject (in the case above, that would mean within the ‘Maryland’ box), then the search would filter further to only show those collections that have both the ‘Maryland’ and newly ‘added’ tag. The ‘related subjects’ list and displayed year distribution would change accordingly as well. If, instead, the user clicks on a ‘related subject’ bar OUTSIDE the boundary of the selected subject — then that subject would become the new (and only) selected subject and the displayed collections, related subjects and years would change accordingly.
So that is what we have so far. If you want to keep an eye on our progress, our team has a page up on our class wiki about this project. I have a ton of ideas of other things I would love to add to this (my favorite being a map of the world with indications of where the largest amount of archival materials can be found based on a keyword or subject search) – but we have to keep our feet on the ground long enough actually build something for our class project. This is probably a good thing. Smaller goals make for a greater chance of success.