New Discovery Tools for Digital Humanities and Spatial Data (Summary of the July, Brown Bag Talk by Lex Berman)
My colleague, (Merrick) Lex Berman, who is Web Service Manager & GIS Specialist, at the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard presented this as part of the Program on Information Science Brown Bag Series. Lex is an expert in applications related to digital humanities, GIS, and Chinese history — and has developed many interesting tools in this area.
In his talk, Lex notes how the library catalog has evolved from the description of items in physical collections into a wide-reaching net of services and tools for managing both physical collections and networked resources: The line between descriptive metadata and actual content is becoming blurred. Librarians and catalogers are now in the position of being not only docents of collections, but innovators in digital research, and this opens up a number of opportunities for retooling library discovery tools. His presentation will presented survey of methods and projects that have extended traditional catalogs of libraries and museums into online collections of digital objects in the field of humanities — focusing on projects that use historical place names and geographic identifiers for linked open data will be discussed.
A number of themes ran through Lex’s presentation: One theme is the unbinding of information — how collections are split into pieces that can be repurposed, but which also need to be linked to their context to remain understandable. Another theme is that knowledge is no longer bounded, footnotes and references are no longer stopping points, from the point of view of the user, all collections are unbounded, and the line between references to information and the information itself has become increasingly blurred. A third theme was the pervasiveness of information about place and space — all human activity takes place within a specific context of time and space, and implicit references to places exist in many places in the library catalog such as in the titles, and descriptions of works. A fourth them is that user expectations are changing – they expect instant, machine -readable information, geospatial information, mapping, and facetting as a matter of course.
Lex suggested a number of entry points for Libraries to investigate and pilot spatial discovery:
- Build connections to existing catalogs, which already have implicit reference to space and place
- Expose information through simple API’s and formats, like GEORSS
- Use and contribute to open services like gazetteers