Got Bad Data? Check Out The Quartz Guide

Photograph of a man working on a computer.

If you’re working with data, chances are, there will be at least a few times where you encounter the “nightmare scenario”. Things go awry — values are missing, your sample is biased, there are inexplicable outliers, or the sample wasn’t as random as you thought. Some issues you can solve, other issues are less clear. But before you tear your hair out — or, before you tear all of your hair out — check out The Quartz guide to bad data. Hosted on GitHub,The Quartz guide lists out possible problems with data, and how to solve them, so that researchers have an idea of what next-steps can be when their data doesn’t work as planned.

With translations into six languages and a CreativeCommons 4.0 license, The Quartz guide divides problems into four categories: issues that your source should solve, issues that you should solve, issues a third-party expert should help you solve, and issues a programmer should help you solve. From there, the guide lists specific issues and explains how they can or cannot be solved.

One of the greatest things about The Quartz guide is the language. Rather than pontificating and making an already frustrating problem more confusing, the guide lays out options in plain terms. While you may not get everything you need for fixing your specific problem, chances are you will at least figure out how you can start moving forward after this setback.

The Quartz guide does not mince words. For example, in the “Data were entered by humans” example, it gives an example of messy data entry then says, “Even with the best tools available, data this messy can’t be saved. They are effectively meaningless… Beware human-entered data.” Even if it’s probably not what a researcher wants to hear, sometimes the hard, cold truth can lead someone to a new step in their research.

So if you’ve hit a block with your data, check out The Quartz guide. It may be the thing that will help you move forward with your data! And if you’re working with data, feel free to contact the Scholarly Commons or Research Data Service with your questions!

Announcing Topic Modeling – Theory & Practice Workshops

An example of text from a topic modeling project.We’re happy to announce that Scholarly Commons intern Matt Pitchford is teaching a series of two Savvy Researcher Workshops on Topic Modeling. You may be following Matt’s posts on Studying Rhetorical Responses to Terrorism on Twitter or Preparing Your Data for Topic Modeling on Commons Knowledge, and now is your chance to learn the basics from the master! The workshops  will be held on Wednesday, December 6th and Friday, December 8th. See below for more details!

Topic Modeling, Part 1: Theory

  • Wednesday, December 6th, 11am-12pm
  • 314 Main Library
  • Topic models are a computational method of identifying and grouping interrelated words in any set of texts. In this workshop we will focus on how topic models work, what kinds of academic questions topic models can help answer, what they allow researchers to see, and what they can obfuscate. This will be a conversation about topic models as a tool and method for digital humanities research. In part 2, we will actually construct some topic models using MALLET.
  • To sign up for the class, see the Savvy Researcher calendar

Topic Modeling, Part 2: Practice

  • Friday, December 8th, 11am-12pm
  • 314 Main Library
  • In this workshop, we will use MALLET, a java based package, to construct and analyze a topic model. Topic models are a computational method of identifying and grouping interrelated words in any set of text. This workshop will focus on how to correctly set up the code, understand the output of the model, and how to refine the code for best results. No experience necessary. You do not need to have attended Part I in order to attend this workshop.
  • To sign up for this class, see the Savvy Researcher calendar

Open Source Tools for Social Media Analysis

Photograph of a person holding an iPhone with various social media icons.

This post was guest authored by Kayla Abner.

Interested in social media analytics, but don’t want to shell out the bucks to get started? There are a few open source tools you can use to dabble in this field, and some even integrate data visualization. Recently, we at the Scholarly Commons tested a few of these tools, and as expected, each one has strengths and weaknesses. For our exploration, we exclusively analyzed Twitter data.


NodeXL’s graph for #halloween (2,000 tweets)

tl;dr: Light system footprint and provides some interesting data visualization options. Useful if you don’t have a pre-existing data set, but the one generated here is fairly small.

NodeXL is essentially a complex Excel template (it’s classified as a Microsoft Office customization), which means it doesn’t take up a lot of space on your hard drive. It does have advantages; it’s easy to use, only requiring a simple search to retrieve tweets for you to analyze. However, its capabilities for large-scale analysis are limited; the user is restricted to retrieving the most recent 2,000 tweets. For example, searching Twitter for #halloween imported 2,000 tweets, every single one from the date of this writing. It is worth mentioning that there is a fancy, paid version that will expand your limit to 18,000, the maximum allowed by Twitter’s API, or 7 to 8 days ago, whichever comes first. Even then, you cannot restrict your data retrieval by date. NodeXL is a tool that would mostly be most successful in pulling recent social media data. In addition, if you want to study something besides Twitter, you will have to pay to get any other type of dataset, i.e., Facebook, Youtube, Flickr.

Strengths: Good for a beginner, differentiates between Mentions/Retweets and original Tweets, provides a dataset, some light data visualization tools, offers Help hints on hover

Weaknesses: 2,000 Tweet limit, free version restricted to Twitter Search Network


TAGSExplorer’s data graph (2,902 tweets). It must mean something…

tl;dr: Add-on for Google Sheets, giving it a light system footprint as well. Higher restriction for number of tweets. TAGS has the added benefit of automated data retrieval, so you can track trends over time. Data visualization tool in beta, needs more development.

TAGS is another complex spreadsheet template, this time created for use with Google Sheets. TAGS does not have a paid version with more social media options; it can only be used for Twitter analysis. However, it does not have the same tweet retrieval limit as NodeXL. The only limit is 18,000 or seven days ago, which is dictated by Twitter’s Terms of Service, not the creators of this tool. My same search for #halloween with a limit set at 10,000 retrieved 9,902 tweets within the past seven days.

TAGS also offers a data visualization tool, TAGSExplorer, that is promising but still needs work to realize its potential. As it stands now in beta mode, even a dataset of 2,000 records puts so much strain on the program that it cannot keep up with the user. It can be used with smaller datasets, but still needs work. It does offer a few interesting additional analysis parameters that NodeXL lacked, such as ability to see Top Tweeters and Top Hashtags, which works better than the graph.

Image of hashtag searchThese graphs have meaning!

Strengths: More data fields, such as the user’s follower and friend count, location, and language (if available), better advanced search (Boolean capabilities, restrict by date or follower count), automated data retrieval

Weaknesses: data visualization tool needs work


Simple interface for Documenting the Now’s Hydrator

tl;dr: A tool used for “re-hydrating” tweet IDs into full tweets, to comply with Twitter’s Terms of Service. Not used for data analysis; useful for retrieving large datasets. Limited to datasets already available.

Documenting the Now, a group focused on collecting and preserving digital content, created the Hydrator tool to comply with Twitter’s Terms of Service. Download and distribution of full tweets to third parties is not allowed, but distribution of tweet IDs is allowed. The organization manages a Tweet Catalog with files that can be downloaded and run through the Hydrator to view the full Tweet. Researchers are also invited to submit their own dataset of Tweet IDs, but this requires use of other software to download them. This tool does not offer any data visualization, but is useful for studying and sharing large datasets (the file for the 115th US Congress contains 1,430,133 tweets!). Researchers are limited to what has already been collected, but multiple organizations provide publicly downloadable tweet ID datasets, such as Harvard’s Dataverse. Note that the rate of hydration is also limited by Twitter’s API, and the Hydrator tool manages that for you. Some of these datasets contain millions of tweet IDs, and will take days to be transformed into full tweets.

Strengths: Provides full tweets for analysis, straightforward interface

Weaknesses: No data analysis tools

Crimson Hexagon

If you’re looking for more robust analytics tools, Crimson Hexagon is a data analytics platform that specializes in social media. Not limited to Twitter, it can retrieve data from Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and basically any other online source, like blogs or forums. The company has a partnership with Twitter and pays for greater access to their data, giving the researcher higher download limits and a longer time range than they would receive from either NodeXL or TAGS. One can access tweets starting from Twitter’s inception, but these features cost money! The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one such entity paying for this platform, so researchers affiliated with our university can request access. One of the Scholarly Commons interns, Matt Pitchford, uses this tool in his research on Twitter response to terrorism.

Whether you’re an experienced text analyst or just want to play around, these open source tools are worth considering for different uses, all without you spending a dime.

If you’d like to know more, researcher Rebekah K. Tromble recently gave a lecture at the Data Scientist Training for Librarians (DST4L) conference regarding how different (paid) platforms influence or bias analyses of social media data. As you start a real project analyzing social media, you’ll want to know how the data you have gathered may be limited to adjust your analysis accordingly.

Creating Quick and Dirty Web Maps to Visualize Your Data – Part 2

Welcome to part two of our two-part series on creating web maps! If you haven’t read part one yet, you can find it here. If you have read part one, we’re going to pick up right where we left off.

Now that we’ve imported our CSV into a web map, we can begin to play around with how the data is represented. You should be brought to the “Change Style” screen after importing your data, which presents you with a drop-down menu and three drawing styles to choose from:

Map Viewer Change Style Screen

Map Viewer Change Style Screen

Hover over each drawing style for more information, and click each one to see how they visualize your data. Don’t worry if you mess up — you can always return to this screen later. We’re going to use “Types (Unique symbols)” for this exercise because it gives us more options to fiddle with, but feel free to dive into the options for each of the other two drawing styles if you like how they represent your data. Click “select” under “Types (Unique symbols)” to apply the style, then select a few different attributes in the “Choose an attribute to show” dropdown menu to see how they each visualize your data. I’m choosing “Country” as my attribute to show simply because it gives us an even distribution of colors, but for your research data you will want to select this attribute carefully. Next, click “Options” on our drawing style and you can play with the color, shape, name, transparency, and visible range for all of your symbols. Click the three-color bar (pictured below) to change visual settings for all of your symbols at once. When you’re happy with the way your symbols look, click OK and then DONE.

Now is also good time to select your basemap, so click “Basemap” on the toolbar and select one of the options provided — I’m using “Light Gray Canvas” in my examples here.

Change all symbols icon

Click the three-color bar to change visual settings for all of your symbols at once















Now that our data is visualized the way we want, we can do a lot of interesting things depending on what we want to communicate. As an example, let’s pretend that our IP addresses represent online access points for a survey we conducted on incarceration spending in the United States. We can add some visual insight to our data by inserting a layer from the web using “Add → Search for layers” and overlaying a relevant layer. I searched for “inmate spending” and found a tile layer created by someone at the Esri team that shows the ratio of education spending to incarceration spending per state in the US:

"Search for Layers" screen

The “Search for Layers” screen














You might notice in the screenshot above that there are a lot of similar search results; I’m picking the “EducationVersusIncarceration” tile layer (circled) because it loads faster than the feature layer. If you want to learn why this happens, check out Esri’s documentation on hosted feature layers.

We can add this layer to our map by clicking “Add” then “Done Adding Layers,” and voilà, our data is enriched! There are many public layers created by Esri and the ArcGIS Online community that you can search through, and even more GIS data hosted elsewhere on the web. You can use the Scholarly Commons geospatial data page if you want to search for public geographic information to supplement your research.

Now that we’re done visualizing our data, it’s time to export it for presentation. There are a few different ways that we can do this: by sharing/embedding a link, printing to a pdf/image file, or creating a presentation. If we want to create a public link so people can access our map online, click “Share” in the toolbar to generate a link (note: you have to check the “Everyone (public)” box for this link to work). If we want to download our map as a pdf or image, click “Print” and then select whether or not we want to include a legend, and we’ll be brought to a printer-friendly page showing the current extent of our map. Creating an ArcGIS Online Presentation is a third option that allows you to create something akin to a PowerPoint, but I won’t get into the details here. Go to Esri’s Creating Presentations help page for more information.

Click to enlarge the GIFs below and see how to export your map as a link and as an image/pdf:

Share web map via public link

Note: you can also embed your map in a webpage by selecting “Embed In Website” in the Share menu.


Saving the map as an image/pdf using the "Print" button in the toolbar. Note: if you save your map as an image using "save image as..." you will only save the map, NOT the legend.

Save your map as an image/pdf. NOTE: if you save your map as an image using “save image as…” you can only save the map, NOT the legend.

While there are a lot more tools that we can play with using our free ArcGIS Online accounts – clustering, pop-ups, bookmarks, labels, drawing styles, distance measuring – and even more tools with an organizational account – 25 different built-in analyses, directions, Living Atlas Layers – this is all that we have time for right now. Keep an eye out for future Commons Knowledge blog posts on GIS, and visit our GIS page for even more resources!

Creating Quick and Dirty Web Maps to Visualize Your Data – Part 1

Do you have a dataset that you want visualized on a map, but don’t have the time or resources to learn GIS or consult with a GIS Specialist? Don’t worry, because ArcGIS Online allows anybody to create simple web maps for free! In part one of this series you’ll learn how to prepare and import your data into a Web Map, and in part two you’ll learn how to geographically visualize that data in a few different ways. Let’s get started!

The Data

First things first, we need data to work with. Before we can start fiddling around with ArcGIS Online and web maps, we need to ensure that our data can be visualized on a map in the first place. Of course, the best candidates for geographic visualization are datasets that include location data (latitude/longitude, geographic coordinates, addresses, etc.), but in reality, most projects don’t record this information. In order to provide an example of how a dataset that doesn’t include location information can still be mapped, we’re going to work with this sample dataset that I downloaded from FigShare. It contains 1,000 rows of IP addresses, names, and emails. If you already have a dataset that contains location information, you can skip this section and go straight to “The Web Map.”

In order to turn this data into something that’s mappable, we need to read the IP addresses and output their corresponding location information. IP addresses only provide basic city-level information, but that’s not a concern for the sample map that we’ll be creating here. There are loads of free online tools that interpret latitude/longitude data from a list of IP addresses, so you can use any tool that you like – I’m using one called Bulk IP Location Lookup because it allows me to run 500 lines at a time, and I like the descriptiveness of the information it returns. I only converted 600 of the IP addresses in my dataset because the tool is pretty sluggish, and then I used the “Export to CSV” function to create a new spreadsheet. If you’re performing this exercise along with me, you’ll notice that the exported spreadsheet is missing quite a bit of information. I’m assuming that these are either fake IP addresses from our sample dataset, or the bulk lookup tool isn’t working 100% properly. Either way, we now have more than enough data to play around with in a web map.

IP Address Lookup Screencap

Bulk IP Location Lookup Tool

The Web Map

Now that our data contains location information, we’re ready to import it into a web map. In order to do this, we first need to create a free ArcGIS Online account. After you’ve done that, log in and head over to your “Content” page and click “Create → Map” to build a blank web map. You are now brought to the Map Viewer, which is where you’ll be doing most of your work. The Map Viewer is a deceptively powerful tool that lets you perform many of the common functions that you would perform on ArcGIS for Desktop. Despite its name, the Map Viewer does much more than let you view maps.

Map Viewer (No Data)

The Map Viewer

Let’s begin by importing our CSV into the Web Map: select “Add → Add Layer From File.” The pop-up lets you know that you can upload Shapefile, CSV, TXT, or GPX files, and includes some useful information about each format. Note the 1,000 item limit on CSV and TXT files – if you’re trying to upload research data that contains more than 1,000 items, you’ll want to create a Tile Layer instead. After you’ve located your CSV file, click “Import Layer” and you should see the map populate. If you get a “Warning: This file contains invalid characters…” pop-up, that’s due to the missing rows in our sample dataset – these rows are automatically excluded. Now is a good time to note that your location data can come in a variety of formats, not just latitude and longitude data. For a full list of supported formats, read Esri’s help article on CSV, TXT, and GPX files. If you have a spreadsheet that contains any of the location information formats listed in that article, you can place your data on a map!

That’s it for part one! In part two we’re going to visualize our data in a few different ways and export our map for presentation.

CITL Workshops and Statistical Consulting Fall 2017

CITL is back at it again with the statistics, survey, and data consulting services! They have a busy fall 2017, with a full schedule of workshops on the way, as well as their daily consulting hours in the Scholarly Commons.

Their workshops are as follows:

  • 9/19: R I: Getting Started with R
  • 10/17: R I: Getting Started with R
  • 9/26: R II: Inferential Statistics
  • 10/24: R II: Inferential Statistics
  • 10/3: SAS I: Getting Started with SAS
  • 10/10: SAS II: Inferential Statistics with SAS
  • 10/4: STATA I: Getting Started with Stata
  • 9/20: SPSS I: Getting Started with SPSS
  • 9/27: SPSS II: Inferential Statistics with SPSS
  • 10/11: ATLAS.ti I: Qualitative Data analysis
  • 10/12: ATLAS.ti II: Data Exploration and Analysis

Workshops are free, but participants must register beforehand. For more information about each workshop, and to register, head to the CITL Workshop Details and Resources page.

And remember that CITL is at the Scholarly Commons Monday – Friday, 10 AM – 4 PM.You can always request a consultation, or walk-in.

DIY Data Science

Data science is a special blend of statistics and programming with a focus on making complex statistical analyses more understandable and usable to users, typically through visualization. In 2012, the Harvard Business Review published the article, “Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century” (Davenport, 2012), showing society’s perception of data science. While some of the excitement of 2012 has died down, data science continues on, with data scientists earning a median base salary over $100,000 (Noyes, 2016).

Here at the Scholarly Commons, we believe that having a better understanding of statistics means you are less likely to get fooled when they are deployed improperly, and will help you have a better understanding of the inner workings of data visualization and digital humanities software applications and techniques. We might not be able to make you a data scientist (though certainly please let us know if inspired by this post and you enroll in formal coursework) but we can share some resources to let you try before you buy and incorporate methods from this growing field in your own research.

As we have discussed again and again on this blog, whether you want to improve your coding, statistics, or data visualization skills, our collection has some great reads to get you started.

In particular, take a look at:

The Human Face of Big Data created by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt

  • This is a great coffee table book of data visualizations and a great flip through if you are here in the space. You will learn a little bit more about the world around you and will be inspired with creative ways to communicate your ideas in your next project.

Data Points: Visualization That Means Something by Nathan Yau

  • Nathan Yau is best known for being the man behind Flowing Data, an extensive blog of data visualizations that also offers tutorials on how to create visualizations. In this book he explains the basics of statistics and visualization.

Storytelling with Data by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

LibGuides to Get You Started:

And more!

There are also a lot of resources on the web to help you:

The Open Source Data Science Masters

  • This is not an accredited masters program but rather a curated collection of suggested free and low-cost print and online resources for learning the various skills needed to become a data scientist. This list was created and is maintained by Clare Corthell of Luminant Data Science Consulting
  • This list does suggest many MOOCS from universities across the country, some even available for free


  • This is a project-based data science course created by Vik Paruchuri, a former Foreign Service Officer turned data scientist
  • It mostly consists of a beginner Python tutorial, though it is only one of many that are out there
  • Twenty-two quests and portfolio projects are available for free, though the two premium versions offer unlimited quests, more feedback, a Slack community, and opportunities for one-on-one tutoring

David Venturi’s Data Science Masters

  • A DIY data science course, which includes a resource list, and, perhaps most importantly, includes links to reviews of data science online courses with up to date information. If you are interested in taking an online course or participating in a MOOC this is a great place to get started

Mitch Crowe Learn Data Science the Hard Way

  • Another curated list of data science learning resources, this time based on Zed Shaw’s Learn Code the Hard Way series. This list comes from Mitch Crowe, a Canadian data science

So, is data science still sexy? Let us know what you think and what resources you have used to learn data science skills in the comments!

Works Cited:

Davenport, T. H., & Patil, D. J. (2012, October 1). Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century. Retrieved June 1, 2017, from
Noyes, K. (2016, January 21). Why “data scientist” is this year’s hottest job. Retrieved June 1, 2017, from

Adventures at the Spring 2017 Library Hackathon

This year I participated in an event called HackCulture: A Hackathon for the Humanities, which was organized by the University Library. This interdisciplinary hackathon brought together participants and judges from a variety of fields.

This event is different than your average campus hackathon. For one, it’s about expanding humanities knowledge. In this event, teams of undergraduate and graduate students — typically affiliated with the iSchool in some way — spend a few weeks working on data-driven projects related to humanities research topics. This year, in celebration of the sesquicentennial of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we looked at data about a variety of facets of university life provided by the University Archives.

This was a good experience. We got firsthand experience working with data; though my teammates and I struggled with OpenRefine and so we ended up coding data by hand. I now way too much about the majors that are available at UIUC and how many majors have only come into existence in the last thirty years. It is always cool to see how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.

The other big challenge we had was not everyone on the team had experience with design, and trying to convince folks not to fall into certain traps was tricky.

For an idea of how our group functioned, I outlined how we were feeling during the various checkpoints across the process.


We had grand plans and great dreams and all kinds of data to work with. How young and naive we were.

Midpoint Check:

Laura was working on the Python script and sent a well-timed email about what was and wasn’t possible to get done in the time we were given. I find public speaking challenging so that was not my favorite workshop. I would say it went alright.


We prevailed and presented something that worked in public. Laura wrote a great Python script and cleaned up a lot of the data. You can even find it here. One day in the near future it will be in IDEALS as well where you can already check out projects from our fellow humanities hackers.

Key takeaways:

  • Choose your teammates wisely; try to pick a team of folks you’ve worked with in advance. Working with a mix of new and not-so-new people in a short time frame is hard.
  • Talk to your potential client base! This was definitely something we should have done more of.
  • Go to workshops and ask for help. I wish we had asked for more help.
  • Practicing your presentation in advance as well as usability testing is key. Yes, using the actual Usability Lab at Scholarly Commons is ideal but at the very least take time to make sure the instructions for using what you created are accurate. It’s amazing what steps you will leave off when you have used an app more than twice. Similarly make sure that you can run your program and another program at the same time because if you can’t chances are it means you might crash someone’s browser when they use it.

Overall, if you get a chance to participate in a library hackathon, go for it, it’s a great way to do a cool project and get more experience working with data!

Learn Python Summer 2017

Are you sitting around thinking to yourself, golly, the bloggers at Commons Knowledge have not tried to convince me to learn Python in a few weeks, what’s going on over there? Well, no worries! We’re back with another post going over the reasons why you should learn Python. And to answer your next question no, the constant Python promotion isn’t us taking orders from some sinister serpentine society. We just really like playing with Python and coding here at the Scholarly Commons.

Why should I learn Python?

Python is a coding language with many applications for data science, bioinformatics, digital humanities, GIS, and even video games! Python is a great way to get started with coding and beef up your resume. It’s also considered one of the easier coding languages to learn and whether or not you are a student in LIS 452, we have resources here for you! And if you need help you can always email the Scholarly Commons with questions!

Where can I get started at Scholarly Commons?

We have a small section of great books aimed at new coders and those working on specific projects here in the space and online through the library catalog. Along with the classic Think Python book, some highlights include:

Python Crash Course: A Hands on Project-Based Introduction to Programming

Python Crash Course is an introductory textbook for Python, which goes over programming concepts and is full of examples and practice exercises. One unique feature of this book is that it also includes three multi-step longer projects: a game, a data visualization, and a web app, which you can follow for further practice. One nice thing is that with these instructions available you have something to base your own long term Python projects on, whether for your research or a course. Don’t forget to check out the updates to the book at at their website.

Automate Boring Stuff with Python: Practical Programming for Total Beginners

Automate Boring Stuff with Python is a solid introduction to Python with lots of examples. The target audience is non-programmers who plan to stay non-programmers; the author aims to provide the minimum amount of information necessary so that users can ultimately use Python for useful tasks, such as batch organizing files. It is still a lot of information and I feel some of the visual metaphors are more confusing than helpful. Of course, having a programming background helps, despite the premise of the book.

This book can also be found online for free on this website.

Learn Python the Hard Way: A Very Simple Introduction to the Terrifyingly Beautiful World of Computers and Code

Although focused on Python 2, this is a book about teaching programming skills to newbie coders. Although the author does not specifically use this term this book is based on what is known in psychology as deliberate practice or “the hard way,” which is described in Cal Newport’s blog post “The Grandmaster in the Corner Office” (Newport, 2010).  And Learn Python the Hard Way certainly lives up to the title. Even the basic command line instructions prove difficult. But based on my own learning experiences with deliberate practice, if you follow the instructions I imagine you will have a solid understanding of Python, programming, and from what I’ve read in the book definitely some of your more techie friends’ programming jokes.

Online Resources

If the command line makes you scared or if you want to get started right away, definitely check out PythonAnywhere, which offers a basic plan that allows users to create and run Python programs in their browser. If PythonAnywhere isn’t your speed, check out this article, which lists the 45 best places to learn to code online.

Interested in joining an online Python learning group this summer?

Definitely check out, Advent of Python, an online Python co-learning group through The Digital Humanities Slack. It started Tuesday May 30 with introductions, and every week  there will be Python puzzles for you to help you develop your skills. IT IS NOT TOO LATE TO JOIN! The first check-in and puzzle solutions will be June 6. The solutions and check-ins are going to be every Tuesday, except the Fourth of July — that meeting will be on Wednesday, July 5.  There is a Slack, a Google Doc, and subreddits.

Living in Champaign-Urbana?

Be sure to check out Py-CU a Maker/Hacker group in Urbana welcome to coders with all levels of experience with the next meeting on June 3rd. And obligatory heads up, the Urbana Makerspace is pretty much located in Narnia.

Question for the comments, how did you learn to code? What websites, books and resources do you recommend for the newbie coder? 

Works Cited:

Newport, C. (2010, January 6). The Grandmaster in the Corner Office: What the Study of Chess Experts Teaches Us about Building a Remarkable Life. Retrieved May 30, 2017, from

Telling Your Story With StoryMap JS

Earlier on the blog, we talked about ways to create story maps so we’re following that up with a tutorial for one of the options on there, StoryMapJS.

StoryMapJS is a web-hosted program that lets you create interactive maps by adding Google slides and images onto a map layout from OpenStreetMap. More advanced users can overlay their own map using the Gigapixel mode. But today we are keeping it simple and creating a map giving an around the world tour of cookies.

Getting Started:

  1. Click “Make a Story Map” and sign in with your Google account and come up with a snazzy title!

Name your map

2. If you come up with an even snazzier title you can change it by clicking “My Maps” and choosing the map and the settings option.

arrow pointing to My Maps in top left corner and arrow pointint to gear icon on

Finally, remember to save your work. StoryMapJS can get a little confusing and better to be safe than sorry.

Creating Your Title Slide:

Slide editing mode StoryMapJS

This is the title slide editing page but it’s not that different from the page to create your slides for the map. You can write a title — I’ve chosen “Cookies, Biscuits and Other Circular Treats” — in the “Headline” section and either write or paste your writing on the right side. You can  use the “Media” side to upload an image, but you also change the background of the slide itself by clicking Slide Background and uploading an image into StoryMapJS. To see how your map is coming so far you can check it out in the Preview section as seen here:

cookies in a plastic bag as background image of title page

If you’ve ever wondered who makes sure that cookies leftover from library events get eaten, you can thank the brave and dedicated graduate assistants of Scholarly Commons for providing this service.

Don’t want it to say “Start Exploring” for your title page instructions? Don’t worry — you can change that, too! Click Options and check “Yes” for “Call to Action” and add a custom call. This is also where you can change the type of map (such as creating a Gigapixel) and other important features.

Options in StoryMap JS

Creating Your First Map Point 

Click “Add Slide”

We’re going to start this journey off knowing that various versions of cookies originated in the ancient world, with National Geographic, a trusted source, saying the first cookies appeared in Persia during the 7th century (B. Patrick, & J. Thompson, 2009). Since there’s no mural, painting or visual documentation of “The First Cookie” (like there should be for such a historically significant event), I am not using an image here, making this similar to a title slide. However, this time we’re using a location!  If you’re not sure exactly where something happened simply search the country and click on the correct date.

Adding a location on the map

Creating A Map Point With Images and More!

Unlike many types of cookies, we know exactly where chocolate chip cookies were invented and we can even look up coordinates in Google Maps. Specifically, they were invented by Ruth Graves Wakefield and were originally sold in Whitman, Massachusetts at the Toll House Inn, which has since burned down (Michaud, 2013). However, we have an address! Simply search the address on the map and it will place a point on the map approximating that location.

Typing in Whitman MA address in StoryMapJS

Upload media into your slide:

For this slide, I will be using a picture of a chocolate chip cookie in the GA office that I took myself. Since I took the picture myself I am the copyright holder, please take at least a minute to think about copyright law especially if you are using your StoryMap as part of, or in lieu of, an article. Go to the “Media” section and simply paste a link to your photo from your preferred photo cloud storage (make sure it you have the share settings so that it is public) or the source hosting the photo or upload an image from your computer. You can write where the photo comes from in the next box and can add a caption below that.

Uploaded media demo

Sharing Your Work:

Alright, so you’ve told your story through slides and map points. You’ve moved your slides into the order you want by dragging and dropping them on the side bar. You’ve edited your text, attributed your photos to their sources, and are ready to go. Simply hit “Share” in the top right corner and choose whether you want to embed your map on your website or share the link itself. A word of warning, these sites use aspects through Google and may have issues with link rot so make sure to back up your text and images elsewhere as well!

For Further GIS Assistance

If you’re looking for a more in-depth approach to GIS, please contact James Whitacre, our GIS specialist.

Works Cited:
Drop Cookies – Oxford Reference. 2017. 1st ed. Oxford University Press. Accessed April 17. doi:10.1093/acref/9780199313396.013.0166.

Michaud, Jon. 2013. “Sweet Morsels: A History of the Chocolate-Chip Cookie.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker. December 19.

Olver, Lynne. 2017. “Food Timeline: Food History Research Service.” Accessed April 17.

Stradley, Linda. 2015. “History Of Cookies, Whats Cooking America.” What’s Cooking America. June 28.

Sweets. (2009). In B. Patrick, & J. Thompson, An Uncommon History of Common Things. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society. Retrieved from

Toll house cookie. (2014). In J. F. Mariani, The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (2nd ed.). London, UK: Bloomsbury. Retrieved from