Makerspaces Move into Academic Libraries

During the past year, makerspaces have been gaining traction in libraries. A makerspace is a place where people come together to design and build projects. Makerspaces typically provide access to materials, tools, and technologies to allow for hands-on exploration and participatory learning. They are occasionally referred to as fablabs, hackerspaces or tech shops.

Makerspaces emerged around 2005 as an offshoot of the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement. A makerspace often includes a 3-D printer, digital media and fabrication software, tools for welding, woodworking, and soldering, traditional arts and crafts supplies, and other electronics. However, makerspaces are defined not by specific equipment but by a guiding purpose to provide people with a place to experiment, create, and learn.

The Fayetteville Free Library in New York was the first library to create a dedicated makerspace, which they call the FFL Fab Lab. A handful of other public libraries have since developed similar spaces. If you are interested in learning more about these initiatives, Library Journal recently published a three-piece article on makerspaces in public libraries. A select number of academic libraries have also embraced the concept.

Makerbot Replicator

Creative Commons licensed image via Creative Tools.

The Value of Makerspaces

Makerspaces fill a variety of needs within an educational setting. Most importantly, they provide opportunities for people to learn with their hands. Hands-on learning and creation is often devalued in education and seen as meaningless play. However, play has profound educational benefits. Play aids in the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills. As Dr. Stuart Brown explains, through play we “stumble upon new behaviors, thoughts, strategies, movements, or ways of being” (18). 1

Critical thinking and problem solving skills are invaluable to our students. Upon graduation, they will enter into a world and workforce that is rapidly changing; and they will be asked to solve real-world problems with innovative solutions. However, our current education system often lacks opportunities for most students to learn with their hands. Students studying art, theatre, music and dance do, but others often do not. By integrating makerspaces into libraries, we can support and expand opportunities for hands-on experimentation and learning. We can provide spaces for all students, no matter their major, “to work through problems in a repeated process of brainstorming, testing solutions, and going back to the drawing board.” 2 In doing so, we can aid in the development of crucial problem solving skills.

Makerspaces are also an ideal way to support changing modes of learning. The academic landscape is shifting to some extent from a traditional teaching culture to a learning culture. A teaching culture consists of an expert transferring knowledge to students, whereas a learning culture utilizes active learning techniques. Student assignments have evolved as a result. As Lisa Kurt, Emerging Technologies Librarian at the DeLaMare Library at the University of Nevada, Reno, explained in an email interview, “Faculty are teaching by going beyond testing and asking their students to create content beyond papers. We are seeing assignments asking students to create posters, presentations, videos, tutorials, various prototypes and models (not just from the 3D printer).”3 By bringing makerspaces into libraries, we can adapt to changing student needs and supporting knowledge creation in addition to knowledge consumption.

Makerspaces also allow us to expose students to cutting-edge technologies that could eventually lead to new entrepreneurial opportunities. Technology is revolutionizing the way we play, learn and work. In April 2012, The Economist wrote about “The Third Industrial Revolution,” and 3-D printers were central to their predictions about what manufacturing will look like in the future. The accessibility and low cost of 3-D printers and fabrication software means that anyone can be a maker, and anyone can interact with the technology to create innovative solutions to real-world problems.

DeLaMare Library 3-D Printing

Creative Commons licensed images via DSTL UNR.

By providing students with access to the tools and technologies to design and build projects, libraries can help students gain new knowledge and develop marketable skills. As Lisa Kurt explains, “giving students a leg up by creating an environment where DIY and independent learning is encouraged is invaluable because they will learn not only specific software, but they will learn how to find resources and how to learn something that is new to them–something they may not yet have encountered.” 4

Academic libraries are places where people from all disciplines gather. By bringing makerspaces into libraries, we can provide opportunities for new types of rich cross-disciplinary interaction to occur. Libraries are open to all campus constituents, and are thus perfectly positioned to provide equal and convenient access to makerspace materials, tools and technologies. In a makerspace, students from all areas can work together to share expertise, learn new skills, expand their thinking and discover new possibilities. We can open up opportunities for those majoring in nursing, education, biology, music, geography, and every other discipline.

Moving into Academic Libraries

More and more academic libraries are aware of the relevance and benefits of makerspaces. A handful of institutions have already implemented aspects of makerspaces with great success. Other academic libraries are eager for more information about equipment and programming. As you consider what tools and technologies to include in your makerspace, remember that educational goals should guide the creation of your space. But if you are curious about the hardware in current academic library makerspaces, read on.

The University of Nevada, Reno’s DeLaMare Science and Engineering Library was the first academic library in the country to begin offering 3-D printing to all students. 5 The printers haven’t stopped running since the library began offering the service in July 2012. Students and faculty involved in engineering, chemistry, theatre, art, anthropology and other disciplines have all benefited from the technology. Lisa Kurt specifically mentioned that “two Chemistry faculty printed prototypes of molecules they’ve been working with for years. In doing this, they’ve made new discoveries. Being able to hold the object and see it in 3-D has allowed them to make adjustments and then recreate them.” 6 The library is also collaborating with community organizations to host events that promote hands-on learning. Twice now, they have worked with Bridgewire, a local makerspace, to provide popular lock-picking workshops. Currently the library has a UPrintSE Plus and a 3-D Touch. You can see the 3-D printer at UNR in action here.

In July 2012, the library at the University Of Mary Washington converted an unused classroom into a ThinkLab as part of collaboration with the university’s College of Education and the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies. Within the space, there are two Thing-O-Matics, a Replicator, and a Printrbot, as well as other tools. The space is open to the entire university and is also being used for a first year seminar class on “Mashups and Makerbots: Building in the Virtual and Physical Worlds.” You can learn more about the class and the space here: http://umwthinklab.com/. 7

University of Mary Washington's ThinkLab

Creative Commons licensed image via Owenstr.

The Odum Library at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia is also developing a makerspace, which they hope to have fully operational in Spring 2013. Michael Holt, Assistant Professor and Reference Librarian, said the space will include “a fully functioning sandbox network that includes our own server rack (that resides in our makerspace) and several open source programming and engineering tools.” Additional electronics and tools will also exist, and Holt hopes to teach relevant classes or workshops within the space. Currently, Holt is working with a small group of students on similar projects. One of the group’s achievements includes building an instance of Jason Griffey’s LibraryBox. In doing so, they can now “distribute documentation, source code, plans, and .cad files (or any kind of file really) related to makerspace builds and projects.”  8

For libraries looking for low-tech or low-cost ways to bring makerspaces into their buildings, the options are endless. Low-tech projects could be dreamed up with craft supplies and other materials like Legos, play dough, LED lights, old clothing, wooden blocks, duct tape and more. Make magazine is a great resource for project ideas of all kinds.

Conclusion

At the heart of academic libraries lies a commitment to growth, learning, and exploration. Academic libraries in particular strive to be the intellectual hub of campus—a place where students, faculty and staff from all disciplines can gather to explore, create and gain new knowledge. Libraries are perfectly positioned to fill a gap in our education system and expand our reach by providing materials, spaces and support for collaborative making. By bringing makerspaces into libraries, we can provide more options for self-directed, innovative learning; we can provide a space that acts as an incubator for ideas; and we can provide tools for the rapid prototyping of those ideas.

Over the years, academic libraries have successfully adapted to cultural, technological and educational shifts in order to meet the needs of our campuses. Incorporating makerspaces into our broad mix of services, resources and technologies seems like a natural way to continue our evolution.

 

About Our Guest Author: Erin Silva Fisher is the Library Program Manager at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan where she coordinates educational outreach and programming initiatives. She is especially interested in student engagement, participatory learningand user experience design. You can find her on Twitter @erinsfisher.

Additional Resources
Cited Sources
  1. Brown, S. L., and C. C. Vaughan. Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York: Avery, 2009. http://www.worldcat.org/title/play-how-it-shapes-the-brain-opens-the-imagination-and-invigorates-the-soul/oclc/230208709
  2. Sharpe, K. “SparkTruck’s Surprise Lesson: Using Design Skills to Build Kids’ Character.” Wired. http://www.wired.com/design/2012/11/sparktruck-design-skills/
  3. Kurt, L. “Makerspaces.” Email to Erin Fisher. 10/25/12.
  4. Ibid
  5. Wolterbeek, M. “DeLaMare Science and Engineering Library first in nation to offer 3D printing campuswide.” Nevada Today. http://www.unr.edu/nevada-today/news/2012/3d-copier
  6. Kurt, L. “Makerspaces.” Email to Erin Fisher. 10/25/12.
  7. Owens. T. “Help Tim Owens Make an Awesome Makerspace.” Makerbot blog. http://www.makerbot.com/blog/2012/07/26/help-tim-owens-build-an-awesome-makerspace/.
  8. Holt, Michael. “Makerspaces.” Email to Erin Fisher. 10/25/12.

Taking Google Forms to the Next Level

Many libraries use Google Forms for collecting information from patrons, particularly for functions like registering for a one-time event or filling out a survey. It’s a popular option because these forms are very easy to set up and start using with no overhead. With a little additional effort and a very small amount of code you can make these forms even more functional.

In this post, we’ll look at the process for adapt a simple library workshop registration form to send a confirmation email and introduce you to the Google Apps Scripts documentation. This is adapted from a tutorial for creating a help desk application, which you can see here. I talked about the overall process of creating simple applications for free with minimal coding skills at this year’s LITA Forum, and you can see the complete presentation here. In this post I will focus on the Google Forms tricks.

A few things to keep in mind before you get started. Use a library account when you actually deploy the applications, since that will remain “owned” by the library even if the person who creates it moved on. These instructions are also intended for regular “consumer” Google accounts–there are additional tools available for Google Apps business customers, which I don’t address here.

Creating Your Form

Create a form as you normally would. Here’s an example of a simple workshop registration form.

There are a few potential problems with the way this form is set up, but here’s an even bigger problem. Once the person signing up clicks submit, the form disappears, and he receives a page saying “Thank you for registering!”

If this person did not record the workshop, he now has no real idea of what he signed up for. What he intended to do and what he actually did may not be the same thing!

What comes next? You, the librarian hosting the workshop, goes into the spreadsheet to see if anyone has signed up. If you want to confirm the sign-up, you can copy the patron’s email address into your email program, and then copy in a message to confirm the sign-up. If you only have a few people signed up, this may not take long, but it adds many unnecessary  steps and requires you to remember to do it.

Luckily, Google has provided all the tools you need to add in an email confirmation function, and it’s not hard to use as long as you know some basic Javascript. Let’s look at an example.

Adding in an email confirmation

To access these functions, visit your spreadsheet, and click on Script Editor in the Tools menu.

You will get many options, which you can use, or you can simply create a script for  a Blank Project (first option) You will get this in your blank project:

function myFunction() {

}

Change the name of the function to be something meaningful. Now you can fill in the details for the function. Basically we use the built-in Google Spreadsheet functions to grab the value of each column we want to include and store these in a variable. You just put in the column number–but remember we are starting from 0 (which is the Timestamp column in our current example).

function emailConfirm(e) {
  var userEmail = e.values[3];
  var firstName = e.values[1];
  var lastName = e.values[2];
  var workshopDate = e.values[4];
  MailApp.sendEmail(userEmail, 
                    "Registration confirmation", 
                    "Thanks for registering for the library workshop on " + workshopDate + " \n\nYou will " +
                    "recieve a reminder email 24 hours prior. \n\nLibrary",                    
                    {name:"Library"});
}

The MailApp class is another built-in Google Apps script. The sendEmail method takes the following arguments: recipients, subject, body, optAdvancedArgs. You can see in the above example that the userEmail variable (the patron’s email address in the form) is the recipient, the subject is “Registration confirmation”, the body contains a generic thank you plus the date of the workshop, which we’ve stored in workshopDate variable. Then we’ve put in advanced arguments the name “Library”–this is optional, particularly if it’s coming from a library email account.

Note that if a patron hits “reply” to cancel or ask a question, the email will automatically go to the email account that deployed the application. But you may want reply emails to go somewhere else. You can modify the last “advanced” argument to be some other email address with the replyto argument. (Note that this doesn’t always work–and that people can see that the email comes from elsewhere, so make sure that someone is checking the email from which the application is deployed).

 {name:"Library", replyto:"mheller@dom.edu"});
Running the script

Once you’ve filled in your script and hit save (it will do a quick debug when you save), you have to set up when the script should run. Select “Current script’s triggers…” from the Resources menu.

Now select the trigger “On form submit”. While you’re here, also click on notifications.

The notifications will tell you any time your script fails to run. For your first script, choose “immediately” so you can see what went wrong if it didn’t work. In the future you can select daily or weekly.

Before you can save either your trigger or failure notifications, you need to authorize that Google can run the script for you.

Now your script will work! Next time a patron fills out your form to register for a workshop, he will receive this email:

Doing More

After working with this very basic script you can explore the Google Apps Script documentation. If you are working with Google Forms, you will find the Spreadsheet Services classes very useful. There are also some helpful tutorials you can work through to learn how to use all the features. This one will teach you how to send emails from the spreadsheet–something you can use when it’s time to remind patrons of which workshops they have signed up for!


Present Your Slides without Access to the Internet with Free IPad Apps

Librarians often use presentation slides to teach a class, run a workshop, or give a talk. Ideally you should be able to access the Internet easily at those places. But more often than not, you may find only spotty Internet signals. If you had planned on using your presentation slides stored in the cloud, no access to the Internet would mean no slides for your presentation. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this post, we will show you how to locally save your presentation slides on your iPad, so that you will be fully prepared to present without Internet access. You will only need a few tools, and the best of all, those tools are all freely available.

1. Haiku Deck – Make slides on the iPad

If your presentation slides do not require a lot of text, Haiku Deck is a nice iPad app for creating a complete set of slides without a computer. The Haiku Deck app allows you to create colorful presentation slides quickly by searching and browsing a number of CC-licensed images and photographs in Flickr and to add a few words to each slide. Once you select the images, Haiku Deck does the rest of work, inserting the references to each Flickr image you chose and creating a nice set of presentation slides.

You can play and present these slides directly from your iPad. Since Haiku Deck stores these slides locally, you need access to the Internet only while you are creating the slides using the images in Flickr through Haiku Deck. For presenting already-made slides, you do not need to be connected to the Internet. If you would like, you can also export the result as a PowerPoint file from Haiku Deck. This is useful if you want to make further changes to the slides using other software on your computer. But bear in mind that once exported as a PowerPoint file, the texts you placed using Haiku Deck are no longer editable. Below is an example that shows you how the slides made with Haiku Deck look like.

Note. Click the image itself in order to see the bigger version.

So next time when you get a last-minute instruction request from a teaching faculty member, consider spending 10-15 minutes to create a colorful and eye-catching set of slides with minimal text to have it accompany your classroom instruction or a short presentation all on your iPad.

2. SlideShark – Display slides on the iPad

SlideShark is a tool not so much for creating slides as for displaying the slides properly on the iPad (and also for the iPhone).  In order to use SlideShark, you need to install the SlideShark app on your iPad first and then create an account. Once this is done, you can go to the SlideShark website (https://www.slideshark.com/) and log in. Here you can upload your presentation files in the MS PowerPoint format.

Once the file is uploaded to the SlideShark website, open the SlideShark app on your iPad and sync your app with the website by pressing the sync icon on top. This will display all the presentation files that have been uploaded to your SlideShark website account. Here, you can download and save a local copy of your presentation on your iPad. You will need the live Internet connection for this task. But once your presentation file is downloaded onto your SlideShark iPad app, you no longer need to be online in order to display and project those slides. While you are using your iPad to display your slides, you can also place your finger on the iPad screen which will be displayed on the projector as a laser pointer mark.

SlideShark also recently added the integration option with a user’s Dropbox or Box account and the support for playing the embedded video in a PowerPoint file.

3. Adapter

Last but not least, when you pack your iPad and run to your classroom or presentation room, don’t forget to take your adapter. In order to connect your iPad to a projector, you usually need a iPad-VGA adapter because most projectors have a VGA port. But different adapters are used for different ports on display devices. So find out in advance if the projector you will be using has a VGA, DVI, or a HDMI port.  (Also remember that if you have an adapter that connects your Macbook with a projector, that adapter will not work for your iPad. That is a mini DVI-VGA adapter and won’t work with your iPad.)

4. Non-free option: Keynote

Haiku Deck and SlideShark are both free. But if you are willing to invest about ten dollars for convenience, another great presentation app is Keynote (currently $9.99 in Apple Store). While Haiku Deck is most useful for creating simple slides with a little bit of text, Keynote allows you to create more complicated slides on your iPad. If you use Keynote, you also don’t have to go through SlideShark for the off-line display of your presentation slides.

Creating presentations on the Keynote iPad app is simple and uses the same conventions and user-interface as the familiar Keynote application for OS X. Both versions of Keynote can share the same presentation files, although care should be taken to use 1024 x 768 screen resolution and standard Apple fonts and slide templates. iCloud may be used to sync presentations between iPads and other computers and users can download presentations to the iPad and present without Internet access.

The iPad version of Keynote has many features that make Keynote loved by its users. You can add media, tables, charts, and shapes into your presentation. Using Keynote, you can also display your slides to the audience on the attached projector while you view the same slides with a timer and notes on your iPad. (See the screenshots below.) For those with an iPhone or iPod Touch, the Keynote Remote app allows presenters to remotely control their slideshows without the need to stand at the podium or physically touch the iPad to advance their slides.

Do you have any useful tips for creating slides and presenting with an iPad? Share your ideas in the comments!


Hacker Values ≈ Library Values*

* The ≈ symbol indicates that the two items are similar, but not equal, to each other.

Disambiguation

Hacker is a disputed term. The word hacker is so often mis-applied to describe law breaking, information theft, privacy violation, and other black-hat activities that the mistake has become permanently installed in our lexicon. I am not using hacker in this sense of the word. To be clear: when I use the word hacker and when I write about hacker values, I am not referring to computer criminals and their sketchy value systems. Instead, I am using hacker in its original meaning: a person who makes clever use of technology and information to solve practical problems. 

Introduction

With the current popularity of hackerspaces and makerspaces in libraries, library hack-a-thons, and hacking projects for librarians; it is clear that library culture is warming to the hacker ethic. This is a highly positive trend and one that I encourage more librarians to participate in. The reason I am so excited to see libraries encourage adoption of the hacker ethic is that hackers share several core values with libraries. Working together we can serve our communities more effectively. This may appear to be counter-intuitive, especially due to a very common public misconception that hacker is just another word for computer-criminal. In this post I want to correct this error, explain the values behind the hacker movement, and show how librarians and hackers share core values. It is my hope that this opens the door for more librarians to get started in productive and positive library hackery.

Hacker Values

First, a working definition: hackers are people who empower themselves with information in order to modify their environment and make the world a better place. That’s it. Hacking doesn’t require intruding into computer security settings. There’s no imperative that hackers have to work with code, computers, or technology–although many do. Besides the traditional computer software hacker, there are many kinds of crafters, tinkerers, and makers that share core the hacker values. These makers all share knowledge about their world and engage in hands-on modification of it in order to make it a better place.

For a richer and more detailed look into the hacker ethic than provided by my simplified definition I recommend three books. First try Corey Doctorow’s young adult novel, Little Brother 1. This novel highlights the hacker values of self-empowerment with information, hands-on hacking, and acting for the public good. Little Brother is not only an award-winning story, but it also comes with a bibliography that is one of the best introductions to hacking available. Next, check out Steven Levy’s classic book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution 2. Levy details the history of hackers in the early 1980s and explains the values that drove the movement. Third, try Chris Anderson’s Makers: The New Industrial Revolution 3. Anderson tells the story of the contemporary maker movement and the way it is combining the values of the traditional do-it-yourself (DIY) movement with the values of the computer hacker community to spark a vibrant and powerful creative movement across the world.

In the preface to Hackers: Heroes of the Computer revolution,  Levy observed a common philosophy that the hackers shared:

It was a philosophy of sharing, openness, decentralization, and getting your hands on machines at any cost to improve the machines and improve the world.

The Wikipedia entry on the hacker programming subculture builds on Levy’s observations and revises the list of core hacker values as:

  • Sharing
  • Openness
  • Collaboration
  • Engaging in the Hands-on Imperative. 

These values are also restated and expanded on in another Wikipedia article on Hacker Ethics. Each of these articulations of hacker values differs subtly, yet while they differ they reinforce the central idea that there are core hacker values and that the conception of hacker as computer criminal is misinformed and inaccurate. (While there clearly are computer criminals, the error lies in labeling these people as hackers. These criminals violate hacker values as much as they violate personal privacy and the law.)

Once we understand that hacking is rooted in the core values of sharing, openness, collaboration, and hands-on activity; we can begin to see that hackers and librarians share several core values and that there is a rich environment for developing synergies and collaborative projects between the two groups. If we can identify and isolate the core values that librarians share with hackers, we will be well on our way to identifying areas for productive collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas between our cultures.

Library Values

If we are going to compare hacker values with library values, an excellent starting point is the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights. I recently had the pleasure of attending a keynote presentation by Char Booth who made this point most persuasively. She spoke eloquently and developed a nuanced argument on the topic of the narratives we use to describe our libraries. She encouraged us to look beyond the tired narratives of library-as-container-of-information or library-as-content-repository and instead create new narratives that describe the enduring concept of the library. This concept of library captures the values and services libraries provide without being inextricably linked to the information containers and technologies that libraries have historically used.

Library bill of rights

Char Booth’s distillation of the 1948 Library Bill of Rights into five core values

As she developed this argument, Char encouraged us to look to library history and extract the core values that will continue to apply as our collections and services adapt and change. As an example, she displayed the 1948 Library Bill of Rights and extracted out of each paragraph a core value. Her lesson: these are still our core values, even if the way we serve our patrons has radically changed.

Char distilled the Library Bill of Rights into five core values: access, freedom, advocacy, inquiry, and openness. If we compare these values with the hacker values from above: sharing, openness, collaboration, and the hands-on-imperative, we’ll see that at least in terms of access to information, public openness, freedom, sharing, and collaboration libraries and hackers are on the same page. There are many things that hackers and libraries can do together that further these shared values and goals.

It should be noted that hackers have a traditionally anti-authoritarian bent and unlike libraries, their value of open access to information often trumps their civic duty to respect license agreements and copyright law. Without trivializing this difference, there are many projects that libraries and hackers can do together that honor our shared values and do not violate the core principles of either partner. After all, libraries have a lot of experience doing business with partners who do not share or honor the core library values of freedom, openness, and access to information. If we can maintain productive relationships with certain parties that reject values close to the heart of libraries and librarians, it stands to reason that we can also pursue and maintain relationships with other groups that respect these core values, even as we differ in others.

At the end of the day, library values and hacker values are more alike than different. Especially in the areas of library work that involve advocacy for freedom, openness, and access to information we have allies and potential partners who share core values with us.

Library Hackery

If my argument about library values and hacker values has been at all persuasive, it raises the question: what do hacker/library partnerships look like? Some of the answers to this have been hinted at above. They look like Jason Griffey’s LibraryBox project. This wonderful project involves hacking on multiple levels. On one level, it provides the information needed for libraries to modify (hack) a portable wifi router into a public distribution hub for public domain, open access, and creative-commons licensed books and media. LibraryBoxes can bring digital media to locations that are off the net. On another level, it is a hack of an existing hacker project PirateBox. PirateBox is a private portable network designed to provide untraceable local file-sharing. Griffey hacked the hack in order to create a project more in-line with library values and mission.

These partnerships can also look like the Washington DC public library’s Accessibility Hack-a-Thon, an ongoing project that brings together, civic, library, and hacker groups to collaborate on hacking projects that advance the public good in their city. Another great example of bringing hacker ethics into the library can be found in TechConnect’s own Bohyun Kim’s posts on AJAX and APIs. Using APIs to customize web services is a perfect example of a library hack: it leverages our understanding of technology and empowers us to customize and perfect our environment. With an injection of hacker values into library services, we no longer have to remain at the mercy of the default setting. We can empower ourselves to hack our way to better tools, a better library, and a better world.

An excellent example of hackery from outside the library community is Audrey Watters’ Hack Education and Hack [Higher] Education blogs. Just as computer hackers use their inside information of computer systems to remake the environment, Audrey users her inside knowledge of education systems to make positive changes to the system.

  1. Doctorow, Cory. 2008. Little brother. New York: Tom Doherty Associates. http://craphound.com/littlebrother/download/
  2. Levy, Steven. 2010. Hackers Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Cambridge: O’Reilly Media, Incorporated. http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920010227.do
  3. Anderson, Chris. 2012. Makers the new industrial revolution. New York: Crown Business. http://worldcat.org/oclc/812195098

Visualizing DSpace Data with Google Fusion Table & Viewshare

During my time as the Digital Resources Librarian at Kenyon College I had the opportunity to work with The Community Within collection, which explores black history in Knox County, Ohio.  At the beginning of the project, our goal for this collection was simple: to make a rich set of digitized materials publicly available through our DSpace repository, the Digital Resource Commons (DRC).  However, once the collection was published in the DRC, a new set of questions emerged. How do we drive people to the collection? Can we create more interesting interfaces or virtual exhibits for the collection? How do we tie it all together? To answer these questions, we started exploring the digital humanities landscape, looking for low cost tools we could integrate with our existing DSpace collections.  We started to think about the collection and associated metadata as a data set, which contained elements we could use to create a display different than the standard list of items.  We wanted to facilitate the discovery of individual items by displaying them to our users in different visual contexts, such as maps or timelines.

Two tools that emerged from this exploration were Google Fusion Tables, a Google product, and Viewshare, which is provided by National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) at the Library of Congress.  Google Fusion Tables provides a platform for researchers to upload and share data sets, which can then be displayed in seven different visualization formats (map, scatter plot, intensity map).  Various examples of the results can be seen in their gallery, which also illustrates the wide range of organizations using the tool, including academic research institutions, news organizations and government agencies.  Viewshare, according to their website, “is a free platform for generating and customizing views (interactive maps, timelines, facets, tag clouds) that allow users to experience your digital collections.”  While it does many of the same things as Google Fusion in allowing users to create visualizations of data sets, it is more specifically geared towards cultural heritage collections.

Both tools are freely available and allow users to import data from a variety of sources.  Because the tools are easy to use, it is possible to get started quickly in manipulating and sharing your data.  Each tool provides a space for the uploaded data and accompanying views, but also allows for you to embed this information in other web locations.  In the case of The Community Within, we created an exhibit which links to materials about churches in the collection using an embedded Google Fusion map display.

This blog entry will walk through how to successfully export and manipulate data from DSpace in order to take advantage of these tools, as well as how to embed the resulting interface components back into DSpace or other collection websites.

The How-To – DSpace and Google Fusion

1.  First, start with a DSpace collection.  Our example collection is a photo collection of art on the campus at Ohio State University.  In the screenshot below, we are already logged in as a collection administrator.

Note. Click the images to see them in their full-size.

A DSpace Collection

2.  We need to export the metadata.  So, click on “Export Metadata” (under Context).  This will download a .csv file.

Save the csv file.

3.  When you open the .csv, you may notice that metadata added to the collection at different times in different ways may show up differently.  We want to fix this before we send this file anywhere.

CSV data, pre-edit

Edited CSV data

4.  Save the file as a .csv file.  If you are given a choice, be sure to select a comma as the separating punctuation.

5.  Open Google Fusion.  If you do not use Google Drive (formerly Docs), you will need to login with a Google account or sign up for one.  Go to drive.google.com.

6.  Once you are logged in, click on Create > More > Fusion Table (experimental).
Select Create, Other, Fusion Table
7.  On the next screen, we’re going to select “From this computer”, then click on Browse to get to the csv we created above.  Once the file is in the Browse text box, click on Next.
Browse for file
8.  Check that your data looks ok, then click on Next again.  A common problem occurs here when your spreadsheet editor chooses a separator other than a comma.  Fixing is easy enough, just click Back and indicate the correct separator character.
Check your data
9.  On the next screen describe your table, then click on Finish.
Describe your table, and click Finish
10.  We have a Fusion table.  Now, let’s create our visualization.  Click on Visualize > Map.

Click on Visualize, then Map

Because our collection already contained Geocodes in the dc.coverage.spatial column, the map is automatically created.  However, if you would like to use a different column, you can change it by selecting the Location field to the top left of the map.  Google Fusion tables can also create the map using an address, instead of a latitude/longitude pair.  If the map is zoomed far back, zoom in before you get the embed code to make sure the zoom is appropriate on your Dspace page.

We have a map

11.  Now, let’s embed our map back in DSpace.  In Google Fusion, click on “Get embeddable link” at the top of the map.  In the dialog which comes up, copy the text in the field “Paste HTML to embed in a website” (Note: your table must be shared for this to work.  Google should prompt you to share the table if you try to get an embeddable link for an unshared table.  If not, just click on Share in your Fusion window and make the table public.)

Copy the link text
12.  Now, back in DSpace, click on Edit Collection.  In one of the HTML fields (I usually use Introductory Text) and paste the text you copied.

Paste the embed code

13.  Here’s a huge gotcha.  I have pasted the embed code below.  If you paste it just like this and click on Save, the Collection page will disappear because there is nothing between the tags.  We need to add something between the opening and closing <iframe></iframe> tag.  Usually, I use “this browser does not support frames.”

<iframe width=”500″ height=”300″ scrolling=”no” frameborder=”no” src=”https://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?viz=MAP&amp;q=select+col4+from+1Fqwl_ugZxBx3vCXLVEfnujSpYJa9F0IICVqHLYw&amp;h=false&amp;lat=40.00118408791957&amp;lng=-83.016412&amp;z=10&amp;t=1&amp;l=col4″></iframe>

<iframe width=”500″ height=”300″ scrolling=”no” frameborder=”no” src=”https://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?viz=MAP&amp;q=select+col4+from+1Fqwl_ugZxBx3vCXLVEfnujSpYJa9F0IICVqHLYw&amp;h=false&amp;lat=40.00118408791957&amp;lng=-83.016412&amp;z=10&amp;t=1&amp;l=col4″>This browser does not support frames.</iframe>

14.  Now, click on Save.  This will take you back to your collection homepage, which now has a map.
Embedded Map
15.  One last thing – that info window in the map is not really user friendly.  Let’s go back go Google Fusion and fix it.  Just click on “Configure info window” above the Fusion map.  It will bring up a dialog which allows you to choose which fields you want to show, as well as modify the markup so that, for example, links display as links.
Modify the info window
16.  No need to re-embed, just head back to your DSpace page and click refresh.
Final embedded map
Done!  You can play with the settings at various points along the way to make the map smaller or larger.

The How-To – DSpace and Viewshare

We can complete the same process using Viewshare.  If you skipped to this section, go back and read steps 1-4 above.

Back?  Ok.  So we should have a .csv of exported metadata from our DSpace collection.

1.  Log into Viewshare.  You will have to request an account if you don’t have one.
2.  From the homepage, click on Upload Data.

Click on Upload Data

3.  There are a multitude of source options, but we’re going to use the .csv we created above, so we select “From a file on your computer.”

Select "from a file"
4.  Browse for the file, then click on Upload.

5.  In the Preview Window, you can edit the field names to more user friendly alternatives.  You can also click the check box under Enabled to include or not include certain fields.  You can also select field types, so that data is formatted correctly (as in, links) and can be used for visualizations (as in dates or locations).

Edit the data

6.  When you have finished editing, click on Save.  You will now see the dataset in your list of Data.  Click on Build to build a visualization.

Select Build

7.  You can pick any layout, but I usually pick the One Column for simplicity’s sake.

Select a layout

8.  The view will default to List, but really, we already have a list.  Let’s click on the Add a View tab to create another visualization.  For this example, we’re going to select Timeline.

Select a Timeline View

9. There are a variety of settings for this visualization.  Select the field which contains the date (in our case, we just have one date, so we leave End Date blank), decide how you want to color the timeline and what unit you want to use.  Timeline lens lets you decide what is included in the pop-up.  Click on Save (top right) when you are finished selecting values.

Select options for View

10.  We have created a timeline.  Now we need to embed it back in DSpace. Click on Embed in the top menu.

Now we have a timeline

11.  Copy the embed code.

Copy the embed code

12.  Again, back in DSpace, we will click on Edit Collection and paste the embed code into one of the HTML fields.  And, again, it is essential that there is some text between the tags.

Paste the embed code

Now we have an embedded timeline!

An embedded timeline

Depending on the space available on your DSpace homepage, you may want to adjust the top and bottom time bands so that the timeline displays more cleanly.

Of course, there are a few caveats.  For example, this approach works best with collections that are complete.  If items are still being added to the collection, the collection manager will need to build in a workflow to refresh the visualization from time to time.  This is done by re-exporting, re-uploading, and re-embedding.  Also, Google Fusion Tables is officially an “experimental” product.  It is important to keep your data elsewhere as well, and to be aware that your Fusion visualizations may not be permanent.

However, this solution provides an easy, code-free way to improve the user interface to a collection.  Similar approaches may also work using platforms not described here. For example, here’s a piece on using Viewshare with Omeka, another open source collection management system.  The goal is to let each tool do what it does best, then make the results play nicely together.  This is a free and relatively painless way to achieve that goal.

About our Guest Author: Meghan Frazer is the Digital Resources Curator for the Knowlton School of Architecture at The Ohio State University.  She manages the school archives as well as the KSA Digital Library, and spends lots of time wrangling Drupal for the digital library site. Her professional interests include digital content preservation and data visualization.  Before attending library school, Meghan worked in software quality assurance and training and has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science.  You can send tweets in her direction using @meghanfrazer.


eBook Review – Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines

Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines

This is a review of the ebook Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines and also of the larger project that collected the stories that became the content of the ebook. The project collects discussions about how technology can be used to improve student success. Fifty practical examples of successful projects are the result. Academic librarians will find the book to be a highly useful addition to our reference or professional development collections. The stories collected in the ebook are valuable examples of innovative pedagogy and administration and are useful resources to librarians and faculty looking for technological innovations in the classroom. Even more valuable than the collected examples may be the model used to collect and publish them. Cultivating Change, especially in its introduction and epilogue, offers a model for getting like minds together on our campuses and sharing experiences from a diversity of campus perspectives. The results of interdisciplinary cooperation around technology and success make for interesting reading, but we can also follow their model to create our own interdisciplinary collaborations at home on our campuses. More details about the ongoing project are available on their community site. The ebook is available as a blog with comments and also as an .epub, .mobi, or .pdf file from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy.

The Review

Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines 1

The stories that make up the ebook have been peer reviewed and organized into chapters on the following topics: Changing Pedagogies (teaching using the affordances of today’s technology), Creating Solutions (technology applied to specific problems), Providing Direction (technology applied to leadership and administration), and Extending Reach (technology employed to reach expanded audiences.) The stories follow a semi-standard format that clearly lays out each project, including the problem addressed, methodology, results, and conclusions.

Section One: Changing Pedagogies

The opening chapter focuses on applications of academic technology in the classroom that specifically address issues of moving instruction from memorization to problem solving and interactive coaching. These efforts are often described by the term “digital pedagogy” (For an explanation of digital pedagogy, see Brian Croxall’s elegant definition.2) I’m often critical of digital pedagogy efforts because they can confuse priorities and focus on the digital at the expense of the pedagogy. The stories in this section do not make this mistake and correctly focus on harnessing the affordances of technology (the things we can do now that were not previously possible) to achieve student-success and foster learning.

One particularly impressive story, Web-Based Problem-Solving Coaches for Physics Studentsexplained how a physics course used digital tools to enable more detailed feedback to student work using the cognitive apprenticeship model. This solution encouraged the development of problem-solving skills and has to potential to scale better than classical lecture/lab course structures.

Section Two: Creating Solutions

This section focuses on using digital technology to present content to students outside of the classroom. Technology is extending the reach of the University beyond the limits of our campus spaces, this section address how innovations can make distance education more effective. A common theme here is the concept of the flipped classroom. (See Salmam Khan’s TED talk for a good description of flipping the classroom. 3) In a flipped classroom the traditional structure of content being presented to students in lectures during class time and creative work being assigned as homework is flipped.  Content is presented outside the classroom and instructors lead students in creative projects during class time. Solutions listed in this section include podcasts, video podcasts, and screencasts. They also address synchronous and asynchronous methods of distance education and some theoretical approaches for instructors to employ as they transition from primarily face to face instruction to more blended instruction environments.

Of special note is the story Creating Productive Presence: A Narrative in which the instructor assesses the steps taken to provide a distance cohort with the appropriate levels of instructor intervention and student freedom. In face-to-face instruction, students have body-language and other non-verbal cues to read on the instructor. Distance students, without these familiar cues, experienced anxiety in a text-only communication environment. Using delegates from student group projects and focus groups, the instructor was able to find an appropriate classroom presence balanced between cold distance and micro-management of the group projects.

Section Three: Providing Direction

The focus of this section is on innovative new tools for administration and leadership and how administration can provide leadership and support for the embrace of disruptive technologies on campus. The stories here tie the overall effort to use technology to advance student success to accreditation, often a necessary step to motivate any campus to make uncomfortable changes. Data archives, the institutional repository, clickers (class polling systems), and project management tools fall under this general category.

The University Digital Conservancy: A Platform to Publish, Share, and Preserve the University’s Scholarship is of particular interest to librarians. Written by three UM librarians, it makes a case for institutional repositories, explains their implementation, discusses tracking article-level impacts, and most importantly includes some highly useful models for assessing institutional repository impact and use.

Section Four: Extending Reach

The final section discusses ways technology can enable the university to reach wider audiences. Examples include moving courseware content to mobile platforms, using SMS messaging to gather research data, and using mobile devices to scale the collection of oral histories. Digital objects scale in ways that physical objects cannot and these projects take advantage of this scale to expand the reach of the university.

Not to be missed in this section is R U Up 4 it? Collecting Data via Texting: Developing and Testing of the Youth Ecological Momentary Assessment System (YEMAS). R U Up 4 it? is the story of using SMS (texting) to gather real-time survey data from teen populations.

Propagating the Meme

The stories and practical experiences recorded in Cultivating Change in the Academy are valuable in their own right. It is a great resource for ideas and shared experience for anyone looking for creative ways to leverage technology to achieve educational goals. For this reader though, the real value of this project is the format used to create it. The book is full of valuable and interesting content. However, in the digital world, content isn’t king. As Corey Doctorow tells us:

Content isn’t king. If I sent you to a desert island and gave you the choice of taking your friends or your movies, you’d choose your friends — if you chose the movies, we’d call you a sociopath. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.[2. http://boingboing.net/2006/10/10/disney-exec-piracy-i.html]

The process the University of Minnesota followed to generate conversation around technology and student success is detailed in a white paper. 4 After reading some of the stories in Cultivating Change, if you find yourself wishing similar conversations could take place on your campus, this is the road-map the University of Minnesota followed. Before they were able to publish their stories, the University of Minnesota had to bring together their faculty, staff, and administration to talk about employing innovative technological solutions to the project of increasing student success. In a time when conversation trumps content, a successful model for creating these kinds of conversations on our own campuses will also trump the written record of other’s conversations.

 

  1. Hill Duin, A. et al (eds) (2012) Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines at the University of Minnesota in 2012, An Open-Source eBook. University of Minnesota. Creative Commons BY NC SA. http://digital-rights.net/wp-content/uploads/books/CC50_UMN_ebook.pdf
  2. http://www.briancroxall.net/digitalpedagogy/what-is-digital-pedagogy/
  3. http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_reinvent_education.html
  4. http://bit.ly/Rj5AIR