ArchivesZ: Visualizing Archival Collections

Announcing ArchivesZ – a tool for visualizing archival collections. This prototype is the final project for my information visualization class. It is a web based tool designed to support exploration of aggregated data about archival collections – inspired by the availability of structured data in EAD encoded finding aids.

For visual thinkers who just want to see what this is about – take a look at our 5 minute video demonstration. I don’t yet have a version online for folks to play with – but that is in the works.

This is the official blurb we came up with to describe the project:

ArchivesZ is an information visualization tool designed to support search, understanding and exploration of of archival and manuscript collections. The tool addresses one of the major challenges facing those who work with archival records – the need to understand the scope and quantity of available records. Since archival collections are unique, vary dramatically in record quantity and are organized based on the records creators it can be a great challenge for users to gain perspective concerning the available records across multiple collections. ArchivesZ leverages a unique dual sided histogram to support exploration of the multiple subjects assigned to each collection. As subject terms are selected, the dual sided histogram chart is generated to display related subjects. The tool combines the dual sided histogram with a more traditional histogram displaying year data to permit tightly coupled, multi-dimensional browsing of subject and time period metadata. By representing the distribution of subjects and time periods using the metric of total aggregate linear feet of associated collections, ArchivesZ permits users to get a better sense of total available research materials than they would by viewing a standard search result list.

If you are curious about what a ‘dual-sided histogram’ actually is (or just want to read more about the process and ideas that led us to the current incarnation of ArchivesZ) take a look at our final paper about ArchivesZ.

There is a very long list of features I would like to add or improve but of course there is only so much you can do in the few weeks available for a project like this. Some of our ideas are detailed at the end of the paper I linked to above. I plan to continue working on ArchivesZ and I welcome all feedback – either as comments to this post or via email to jeanne AT spellboundblog.com.

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Posted on 13th May 2007
Under: access, ArchivesZ, EAD, historical research, information visualization, interface design, metadata, search, software, what if | 8 Comments » | Print This Post Print This Post

8 Responses to “ArchivesZ: Visualizing Archival Collections”

  1. jordon Says:

    Fantastic. I take that it’s a tool for the management side and not for public consumption, right? Not sure if users would care how many linear feet of materials there are in the archives for a given subject. Although the premise is intriguing.

    Congratulations!

  2. Jeanne Says:

    Jordon,

    Actually, we envisioned this tool as useful for both the management side as well as for ‘end users’.

    In our paper we included the following descriptions of potential target users beyond archives management:
    Researchers with very specific interests might use ArchivesZ to permit easy identification of institutions with archival collections fitting the criteria of their research. It is frequently the case that researchers must travel to archives in order to do their research, and a rapid grasp of the quantity of materials that cover the time period and subjects of interest may be an aid in planning.

    ArchivesZ could enable exploration of locally held archival collections by students to promote use of primary materials. In contrast to researchers who frequently have very specific interests before they examine the collections held by an institution, students in the university setting likely are not aware of what primary sources are available. A tool like ArchivesZ might encourage the browsing and open ended exploration of the available collections.

    Jeanne

  3. Peter Van Garderen Says:

    Just watched the demo video. Very nicely done. This can be a great tool for advanced researchers and reference archivists. Visualizing the collection extent is one of (several) missing links in archives accessibility.

    Did you build this from scratch or did you customize an existing tool? How about a web-version?

  4. Jeanne Says:

    Peter,

    Thank you for the kind words!

    This was, in fact, built from scratch – using Adobe Flex, Ruby on Rails and MySQL. There are some details about the architecture in our paper (linked to above). I am working on getting a version online with a smaller dataset. I will definitely post when it is ready for people to play with it (though I will have to remind everyone that it is definitely still a prototype and has a lot of things waiting to be improved!).

    Jeanne.

  5. Bruce Smith Says:

    Oh my goodness! What a wonderful tool! Thank you so much for developing this extension of EAD. I hope that someone sends some grant money your way so that you can develop this further.

    I for one think that younger users are definately waiting for this type of visual access which allows browsing. And researchers who have used archvies a few times will certainly appreciate the significance of linear feet (although we Canadians will have to pull out our calculators to figure out how many meters that is, ha ha)

    Thanks again!

    Bruce

  6. Summer dispatch « booktruck.org Says:

    […] not really related but long overdue, check out Jeanne’s post on (and Google Code page for) ArchivesZ, a tool for visualizing […]

  7. SAA2007: Content Aggregation, Shareable Metadata and Access (Session 607) - SpellboundBlog.com - spellbound by archival science and information technology in the digital age Says:

    […] anyone who has been following my blog – you will already know about my ArchivesZ project from last spring. One of the big struggles we had was figuring out how to make the subject […]

  8. SAA2008 Here I Come! After the Revolution: Unleashing the Power of EAD - SpellboundBlog.com - spellbound by archival science and information technology in the digital age Says:

    […] portion of the panel will focus on my ArchivesZ information visualization project. I will be discussing both the power of this type of graphical interface to archival collections as […]

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