Meet Eleanor Dickson, the Visiting HathiTrust Digital Humanities Specialist

Photo of Eleanor Dickson

This latest installment in our series of interviews with Scholarly Commons experts and affiliates features Eleanor Dickson, the Visiting HathiTrust Research Center Digital Humanities Specialist.


What is your background education and work experience? What led you to this field?

I have a B.A. in English and History with a minor in Italian studies. As an undergraduate I worked at a library which was a really fun experience. I also took an archival research trip to Florida for my undergraduate thesis research and realized I wanted to do what the archivist was doing. I have a Masters in Science in Information Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, and completed a postgraduate fellowship at the university archives / Emory Center for Digital Scholarship. And now I’m here!

What is your research agenda?

I research scholarly practice in humanities and digital scholarship, specifically digital humanities with a focus on the needs and practices in large scale text analysis.I also sometimes help with the development of train the trainer curriculum for librarians so librarians can be better equipped with the skills needed to teach patrons about their options when it comes to digital scholarship.

Do you have any favorite work-related duties?

My favorite work-related duties are talking to researchers and hearing about what they are up to. I am fascinated by the different processes, methods, and resources they’re using. With HathiTrust I get to talk to researchers across the country about text analysis projects.

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend to researchers?

I wish more people came to the Digital Humanities Savvy Researcher workshops. If people have suggestions for what they want to see PLEASE LET US KNOW.

(To see what Savvy Researcher workshops might tickle your fancy click here to check out our complete workshop calendar.)

If you could recommend only one book to beginning researchers in your field, what would you recommend?

Debates in Digital Humanities, which is an open access book available free online!

Need assistance with a Digital Humanities project? E-mail Eleanor Dickson or the Scholarly Commons.

Scholarly Smackdown: StoryMap JS vs. Story Maps

In today’s very spatial Scholarly Smackdown post we are covering two popular mapping visualization products, Story Maps and StoryMap JS.Yes they both have “story” and “map” in the name and they both let you create interactive multimedia maps without needing a server. However, they are different products!

StoryMap JS

StoryMap JS, from the Knight Lab at Northwestern, is a simple tool for creating interactive maps and timelines for journalists and historians with limited technical experience.

One  example of a project on StoryMap JS is “Hockey, hip-hop, and other Green Line highlights” by Andy Sturdevant for the Minneapolis Post, which connects the stops of the Green Line train to historical and cultural sites of St. Paul and Minneapolis Minnesota.

StoryMap JS uses Google products and map software from OpenStreetMap.

Using the StoryMap JS editor, you create slides with uploaded or linked media within their template. You then search the map and select a location and the slide will connect with the selected point. You can embed your finished map into your website, but Google-based links can deteriorate over time! So save copies of all your files!

More advanced users will enjoy the Gigapixel mode which allows users to create exhibits around an uploaded image or a historic map.

Story Maps

Story maps is a custom map-based exhibit tool based on ArcGIS online.

My favorite example of a project on Story Maps is The Great New Zealand Road Trip by Andrew Douglas-Clifford, which makes me want to drop everything and go to New Zealand (and learn to drive). But honestly, I can spend all day looking at the different examples in the Story Maps Gallery.

Story Maps offers a greater number of ways to display stories than StoryMap JS, especially in the paid version. The paid version even includes a crowdsourced Story Map where you can incorporate content from respondents, such as their 2016 GIS Day Events map.

With a free non-commercial public ArcGIS Online account you can create a variety of types of maps. Although it does not appear there is to overlay a historical map, there is a comparison tool which could be used to show changes over time. In the free edition of this software you have to use images hosted elsewhere, such as in Google Photos. Story Maps are created through their wizard where you add links to photos/videos, followed by information about these objects, and then search and add the location. It is very easy to use and almost as easy as StoryMap JS. However, since this is a proprietary software there are limits to what you can do with the free account and perhaps worries about pricing and accessing materials at a later date.

Overall, can’t really say there’s a clear winner. If you need to tell a story with a map, both software do a fine job, StoryMap JS is in my totally unscientific opinion slightly easier to use, but we have workshops for Story Maps here at Scholarly Commons!  Either way you will be fine even with limited technical or map making experience.

If you are interested in learning more about data visualization, ArcGIS Story Maps, or geopatial data in general, check out these upcoming workshops here at Scholarly Commons, or contact our GIS expert, James Whitacre!

Love and Big Data

Can big data help you find true love?

It’s Love Your Data Week, but did you know people have been using Big Data for to optimize their ability to find their soul mate with the power of data science! Wired Magazine profiled mathematician and data scientist Chris McKinlay in “How to Hack OkCupid“.There’s even a book spin-off from this! “Optimal Cupid”, which unfortunately is not at any nearby libraries.

But really, we know you’re all wondering, where can I learn the data science techniques needed to find “The One”, especially if I’m not a math genius?

ETHICS NOTE: WE DO NOT ENDORSE OR RECOMMEND TRYING TO CREATE SPYWARE, ESPECIALLY NOT ON COMPUTERS IN THE SPACE. WE ALSO DON’T GUARANTEE USING BIG DATA WILL HELP YOU FIND LOVE.

What did Chris McKinlay do?

Methods used:

  • Automating tasks, such as writing a python script to answer questions on OKCupid
  • Scraping data from dating websites
  • Surveying
  • Statistical analysis
  • Machine learning to figure out how to rank the importance of answers of questions
  • Bots to visit people’s pages
  • Actually talking to people in the real world!

Things we can help you with at Scholarly Commons:

Selected workshops and resources, come by the space to find more!

Whether you reach out to us by email, phone, or in-person our experts are ready to help with all of your questions and helping you make the most of your data! You might not find “The One” with our software tools, but we can definitely help you have a better relationship with your data!

Review: The Infographic History of the World by Valentina D’Efilippo and James Ball

The Infographic History of the World, created by Valentina D’Efilippo and James Ball, consists of various infographics with accompanying commentaries. You can find this book and read it at Scholarly Commons, near our other infographic and visualization books! You can also check it out from a nearby library!

Overall, this book is a compelling read and an interesting idea as a project and some of the infographics were really well done. This book demonstrates the power of infographics to help us present and break down important topics to wider audiences. Yes, this isn’t supposed to be a serious read, but there was a lot I did not like about this book, specifically throughout I got a sense that:

Statue of a person with hands over face. Located by the Main Library entrance facing the UGL

Somewhere a political scientist is crying…     Photo credit to E. Hardesty and the Main Library with the original image found at https://flic.kr/p/rw2Ldz

  • “The story of the last 4,000 years is one of nations being founded, breaking apart, going to war, and coming together” (D’Efilippo & Ball, 2013). For those confused why this is a problem, “nation” is a very modern term and concept so that’s a serious anachronism.
  • Why is the theocracy symbol notably non-Western and not used for the English Civil War, which was apparently about republicanism?
  • A history of the “Net” that doesn’t mention Minitel.
  • First flight goes to the Wright Brothers. No mention of Santos-Dumont or the controversy (for everyone who noticed that inexplicable early aircraft cameo at this year’s Olympic opening).
  • The book is very Anglo-centric.

Sloppy stats!

 

  • I’m suspicious anytime Luxembourg wins something. Are they really the biggest drinkers or how does their small population make this data less meaningful?
  • “Absolute number of cannabis users by region” Absolute? Really?
  • Overall, not enough information on where and how a lot of the statistics were generated and why we should trust those sources. Yes, there is an appendix on the back that explains this to some extent in tiny text but not helpful for people who just glance at the infographic and assume it’s giving us useful information about the world.

Visualization issues!

 

  • Emphasizing form over function — much like the new Macbooks with so few ports they are practically landlocked — many of the infographics fail to present the information in a way that is appropriate for what they are trying to present. For example, the Mona Lisa paint by numbers probably would have been more effective as a timeline.
    • Maybe I’m just too attached to the idea of timelines being well on a line or perhaps maybe the spiral depicted on the book’s cover art.
    • Some of the infographics have way too many things going on and are trying to make too many points at once.
  • The colors on the mental illness brain are too close (and I can’t imagine how that would look to someone who is colorblind), and there are other examples where the colors are very close and render the infographic pretty, but hard to actually use to learn something from.

Finally, the authors’ claim of “not trying to be political” / “this is just for fun” is no excuse for not being thorough especially with information targeted to the public. Full disclosure or not, artists and journalists still need to be careful because what people see can influence the way they think about things. Infographics are not a neutral presentation of information, certain choices were made, and audiences need to think about who made these choices and why. Not as bad as some of the examples on this Visual Literacy and Infographics blog post, but still problematic. Please, do not be reckless when making infographics!

To learn more how to create infographics of your own check out our Savvy Researcher workshop: Introduction to Infographics Using Piktochart!

If you are an undergraduate interested in conducting research and becoming information and visual literate there is an entire set of classes in the history department for this through SourceLab. Take a look at their schedule or talk to Professor Randolph to learn more!

 

Spring 2017 Savvy Researcher Schedule Available

Hello Savvy Researchers! The moment you have all waited for has arrived… the spring 2017 Savvy Researcher Workshop schedule is now available on the University Library website. We have the old standbys like “Improve your Research Strategies,” a variety of citation management sessions, “Introduction to Infographics Using Piktochart,” “Understanding Impact: Impact Factor & Other Bibliometrics,” “GIS for Research II: GIS Research, Data Management, and Visualization.” There are several new workshops including ““Copyright for Educators,” “Show Your Work! Publishing in IDEALS for Grad Students,” “Papers and data deposit drop in hours,” “International Fieldwork 101: IRB and Beyond,” and “Usability for Researchers – Office Hours.”

To see the full schedule, click here.

Spotlight: Postach.io Blogging Platform

Many people use Evernote to keep their research (and life) organized. This notebook-based note-taking platform has grown in popularity so much, that the creators of Evernote created Postach.io, a blogging platform that connects with Evernote, and uses Evernote notes as the content of blog posts. Basically, you can take the notes you’ve created in Evernote and directly publish them for anyone to see!

If you’re someone who is already familiar with, and using Evernote, Postach.io may be a great, free platform for you to get your research out there. While it doesn’t have the same kind of customization options that you can have on WordPress or Tumblr, nor the built-in audiences of those sites, its simplified style and integration with Evernote makes it a useful tool, especially since Postach.io is free, and only requires that you have/create an Evernote account.

To start, you must link up your Evernote account with Postach.io. After submitting your contact information, the site will automatically transfer you to Evernote.

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The first step to creating a Postach.io site is to give your name, email address, and password.

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The Evernote page that Postach.io links you to.

Evernote will then ask whether you’d like to create a new notebook for your Postach.io site, or link to a notebook already in use. Note that linking to an already-created notebook does not automatically make your notes public. Each note on the site must have a ‘published’ tag attached to it to in order to be public. I’ll have more on that in a little bit.

You can also choose the length of time Postach.io will have access to your notebook. Lengths range from a minimum of one day to a maximum of one year. After that period, Postach.io will either lose access to that notebook, or you will have to reauthorize it.

After you authorize your account, you will have the opportunity to create an Evernote note that will serve as your initial Postach.io post. The most important part of this process is tagging the post as “Published.” A note that lacks this tag will not be put on your Postach.io site, even if it’s in your authorized notebook.

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Me adding my “published” tag to ensure that my post is added to my Postach.io site.

Once you finish and tag your post, your Postach.io account is officially up and running.

As far as the site itself, your options are somewhat limited. This is what your site will look like immediately after you publish your first post:

A very generic theme.

A very generic theme.

You do have the option to change your avatar and background image, as well as choose from a little over a dozen themes to work with. These themes, however, are all incredibly basic, with few customization options outside of the basic appearance. In order to access the source code for your site or to create a custom theme, you will need to upgrade your account to a paid account.

A paid account will let you access that source code, as stated above, as well as create multiple sites. With a free account, you can only have one site at a time. $5/month gets you five sites, $15/month will get you twenty sites, and $25/month will give you fifty. If you pay for an entire year in advance, you’ll get two months out of the year free. In my opinion, you’re better off using a free platform like Tumblr or WordPress and transferring your Evernote data than opting for a paid account.

Overall, Postach.io is a simple way to get work that you’ve already started in Evernote published and readable by the world.

Do you think you’ll use Postach.io? What blogging platforms do you use? Let us know in the comments, or Tweet us at @scholcommons!

Digital Preservation and the Power of Markdown

My markdown file in Notepad++.

My markdown file in Notepad++.

Many of us tend to think of digital documents as everlasting, and don’t put a whole lot of thought into how we’ll access our Word documents ten years from now. However, digital documentation tends to become obsolete within five years — as compared to a book, which lasts thousands, or microfilm, which lasts five hundred — and needs to be constantly refreshed. If you’re someone who is paranoid about losing your work, or who knows that they won’t remember to convert their documents every few years, saving important documents in markdown can be an easy way to ensure that you never lose the digitally-born documents that are most important to you.

There are a number of places to learn how to write in markdown. For example, you can take a look at our quick and easy guide to the basics of markdown, but that’s just one of many markdown language cheat sheets.

Write your document in a text editor — make sure that it’s in plain text mode, especially if you’re working with TextEdit — and save it as a .txt file. That .txt file can then be converted into other files with the styling in tact. To convert, you will probably need to download a specific piece of software. Most of us at the University of Illinois iSchool use Pandoc, but there are alternatives, if you’re interested. Using Pandoc and your command line interface, you can then convert your markdown file into whatever kind of file you need, whether that’s html, docx, pdf, or some future kind of file that we haven’t even heard of yet.

The input I put into Command Prompt in order to have Pandoc convert my document from .txt to .html.

The input I put into Command Prompt in order to have Pandoc convert my document from .txt to .html.

My file as an HTML file, viewed on Internet Explorer.

My file as an HTML file, viewed on Internet Explorer.

While this may seem like a lot of work today, it’s helpful to remember that you’re doing this for the you of tomorrow. Important research, dissertations, or even love letters can get corrupted, lost, or just become obsolete. Saving things in markdown allows you a safer route to long-term preservation in an uncertain digital world.

Meet Elizabeth Wickes, Data Curation Specialist

colossusselfie

Elizabeth with a rebuilt and functional Colossus computer at the British National Museum of Computing.

This post is the third in our series profiling the expertise housed in the Scholarly Commons and our affiliate units in the University Library. Today we are featuring Elizabeth Wickes, Data Curation Specialist.


What is your background education and work experience?

I started in psychology and then moved to sociology. I also have a secretarial certificate and I use that training a lot! I worked at Wolfram Research as a Project Manager and then Curation Manager before I started library school.

What led you to this field?

Data curation just finds you. It’s a path where people with certain interests find themselves in.

What is your research agenda?

I’m exploring new and innovative ways to teach data management skills, especially computational research skills that normalize and practice defensive data management skills.

Do you have any favorite work-related duties?

My favorite thing to do is leading workshops and teaching. I really love listening to people’s research and helping them do it better. It’s great hearing about lots of different fields of research. It’s really important to me that I’m not stuck in a single college or field, that we’re a resource for the whole university.

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend to researchers?

I think consultation services in library are underutilized, including consultation for personalized data management.

If you could recommend only one book to beginning researchers in your field, what would you recommend?

Where Wizards Stay Up Late by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon. It’s a book all librarians should read, and it would be great for undergraduate reading, too. It’s the history of how the internet was born, explained through biographies of the key players. The book also covers the social and political situation at the time which was really interesting. It’s fascinating that this part of the world (the internet, data curation, etc.) was developed by people who were in college before this was a major or a field of study.

There are a lot of statistics out there about how much data we are producing now: For example: “Data production will be 44 times greater in 2020 than it was in 2009” and “More data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race”… How do you feel about the increase in big data?

Excited. When people ask me “What is big data?” I tell them that there’s a technological answer and a philosophical answer. The philosophical answer is that we no longer have to have a sampling strategy because we can get it all. We can just look at everything. From a data curation and organizational perspective it’s terrifying because there’s so much of it, but exciting.


To learn more about Research Data Service, you can visit their website. Elizabeth also holds Data Help Desk Drop-In Hours in the Scholarly Commons, every Tuesday from about 3:15-5 pm. To get in touch with Elizabeth, you can reach her by email.

Running low on Zotero storage? Sync your files through a cloud storage service

I’ve recently returned to using Zotero for collecting, organizing, and citing references after not having used the software for a couple of years. While I was a bit rusty, it only took a couple of days for me to get up and running at my previous level of Zotero expertise (which really wasn’t that high to begin with). But despite feeling comfortable with the program, it wasn’t long before I found myself running out of storage space.

Zotero’s sync feature allows you to keep your citation data up to date across as many devices as you’d like. And while this is a great feature, I’ve found that it isn’t of much use without also being able to access my PDFs on all these devices as well.

The good news is that Zotero allows you to attach PDFs to items (i.e. citations) in your library. The bad news is that it only gives you 300 MB of free storage (with an option to pay for more). While PDF files generally aren’t that big, 300 MB can get eaten up pretty quickly if you have a lot of documents.

In the past I generally didn’t store my PDFs within Zotero, but I quickly fell in love with this feature upon my recent return to the software. And since I’ve yet to be willing to pay for cloud storage, I was afraid I’d have to resign myself to storing PDF files in one of the many free cloud storage services I use, rather than having them attached to my Zotero data. But, I thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to both store my PDFs via a third party cloud storage service, and have these PDFs linked up to Zotero? Well it turns out there is!

In order to accomplish this feat, you’ll use something called WebDAV (Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning). While I still don’t completely understand what this is, for our purposes a WebDAV service is the third party cloud storage service that you can use to store your Zotero PDFs and other attached files. Zotero provides a list of services that offer free plans and that are known to work with Zotero (I use Box).

Once you’ve decided on a WebDAV service, setting up Zotero to work with it is fairly simple. First open your preferences by clicking the icon that looks like a gear.

zotero2

In the File Syncing section of the preferences menu, select WebDAV in the dropdown menu next to “Sync attachment files in My Library using.”

zotero4

Next, enter the URL for the WebDAV service that you’ve decided to use, along with your user name and password associated with that service.

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If you’ve chosen one of the services on Zotero’s list, you can find the URL there. Note that the menu pictured above already includes the “https”, “://” and “/zoter/”, so make sure you don’t enter this into the field as well. After entering your information, click on “Verify Server” underneath the password field. If everything has worked correctly, you should get a message that says file sync has been setup!

You can continue attaching PDFs and other files to items in your Zotero library as before. The only difference is that now these files will be stored through your WebDAV rather than through Zotero’s own storage system.

For more information you can consult Zotero’s syncing documentation. If you would like more general information about Zotero, you can consult the Library’s Zotero Libguide or attend a Savvy Researcher Workshop. And as always, send us an email if you have any questions.

Have your own tip for getting the most out of Zotero? Let us know in the comments below!

Note that WebDAV only works with personal, not group, libraries.

Scholarly Smackdown: Scalar vs. Omeka

Scholarly Smackdown is the Scholarly Commons’ new review series comparing popular online research tools and resources. This week we’ll be taking a look at Scalar and Omeka, resources for presenting research digitally.

No scholars were harmed in the making of this column.

Scalar

Scalar is a content management system for creating digital books of media scholarship from The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, based out of University of Southern California. It features a WYSISWYG editor that allows you to edit different types of pages within a digital book. You choose how and in what way these pages connect. It’s free and you can create as many Scalar books as you want. It makes it easy to incorporate content from partner archives such as the Internet Archive and Critical Commons. The biggest selling point to Scalar, especially for media scholars, is that it lets you present media without having to host the media yourself, which is especially relevant for those analyzing media that is still under copyright. However, please do not let all of this potential power go to your head, and instead check out our copyright resources and feel free to contact the Copyright Librarian, Sara Benson with questions you may have.
In my opinion, Scalar is not as easy or intuitive to use as the people who created it seem to think it is, though USC provides some instructions for Scalar 2. The latest update has been buggy, and while ANVC/Scalar GitHub is very helpful, Scalar is clearly still a work in progress. If you do have any experience with web development, there is very limited customization, and I was not able to find specific instructions for CSS styling for Scalar 2. Finally, you cannot import  your own files larger than 2 MB, which can be frustrating if you want to use your own very high quality scans of items.

Omeka

Omeka.net is a content management system designed for creating online exhibits from the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and Corporation for Digital Scholarship, the people behind  Zotero and THAT Camp.
Omeka basic features a WYSIWYG Editor and 500MB of file storage. The biggest advantage of Omeka is that it makes it very easy to add a lot of metadata about items that you want to display in an exhibit and create and arrange collections of these items. It also features lots of plugins (such as a CSS editor and a PDF embedded documents viewer), and the website provides very clear and thorough instructions. However, you can create only one Omeka site per account on the free version. If you contact the Scholarly Commons we can set up an Omeka site for you through the library institutional account, and you can learn more information and request an Omeka site here. 
One major difference between Omeka and Scalar is that with more storage, comes more responsibility; specifically, making sure that you have the permission to use items so that your research does not get taken down. Once again — please check out our copyright resources. Other notable drawbacks include the fact that customization is limited and Omeka.net is not great at creating things that aren’t online exhibits or exhibit-like sites.

Conclusion
Omeka and Scalar are two options of many for creating digital humanities projects. For specific questions and to learn more about Scalar and Omeka and other digital humanities resources at Scholarly Commons email us, and don’t forget to join us for a Savvy Research workshop about Scalar October 17 from 1-2 pm.

Let us know in the comments about your Scalar and Omeka experiences! Which do you prefer and why?

Further Reading:
Omeka Libguide: http://guides.library.illinois.edu/omeka
Scalar Libguide: http://guides.library.illinois.edu/scalar

Sources:

“Alliance for Networking Visual Culture » Overview.” Accessed October 12, 2016. http://scalar.usc.edu/features/overview/.
Marcotte, Alison and Alex Villanueva. “Red Cross Work on Mutilés, At Paris (1918).” SourceLab Prototype Series 1, no. 1 (2015). http://scalar.usc.edu/works/red-cross-work-1918/index.
“Image of Research” Accessed October 12, 2016.  http://imageofresearch.omeka.net/