DSS contributes to developer community at HydraConnect 2015

hydra_logo_h200_transparent_bgLafayette’s Digital Scholarship Services is once again in the forefront of library repository development. At this year’s HydraConnect Conference, DSS developer James Griffin shared his work with the burgeoning community of Hydra developers.

Hydra is an Open Source software that, together with the repository system Fedora, forms the basis of many institutional repositories and is the foundation for preservation and discovery for many digital archives. Griffin is part of a working group looking to expand the uses of Hydra to include the preservation and display of GIS data within library repository systems. While this kind of work is largely invisible to the casual user, it can make a lasting impact on future development.


DSS Developer James Griffin presenting on Geospatial Data in Hydra

In designing the architecture of this new functionality, Griffin finds himself in excellent company working with a handful of other like-minded developers from Stanford, Princeton, and the University of Alberta, who form the GIS Data Modeling Working Group. The conference provided the occasion for the group to present their initial data models. In these initial stages, the group has begun to break down the complex data components of GIS files into a structure compatible with the repository’s internal organization and consistent with existing data models for other types of information.

The group participated in a poster session and also sponsored an “unconference” session, a free form discussion whose topics are determined by the conference goers. In addition, Griffin presented a lightning talk on their data model. “Our presentations have generated a lot of interest in how we have addressed our use cases using linked open data in the Resource Description Framework,” explains Griffin. “While few are working on GIS related projects our project gives weight to the idea that Hydra is flexible and versatile. It’s more than just a repository solution.” This work, now cutting edge, will help to guide future development in Hydra and expand its potential applications in digital library infrastructure.

Through Griffin’s work, Lafayette is an increasingly important player in this arena and the working group will present their latest developments next month at the Digital Library Federation conference in Vancouver, and at the Geo4LibCamp at Stanford University in January.


Putting the Teacher-Scholar Ideal into Practice: A Liberal Arts College Model for Digital Humanities


Neil Fraistat, Alison Byerly and Paul Barclay

On October 1, President Byerly joined Professor Neil Fraistat, Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, and Professor Paul Barclay (History, Asian Studies) for a public conversation about Digital Humanities, and more specifically, how DH fits into the liberal arts. The event was sponsored by Skillman Library and the Digital Humanities Steering Committee and is part of an ongoing initiative to enrich digital scholarship on campus.

With the benefit of a $700,000, four-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Steering Committee has launched a number of new initiatives on campus, including the DH Summer Scholars internship and DH in the Classroom program. These initiatives are in addition to their continued support of large-scale faculty research projects. The broad spectrum of these programs reveals the Committee’s goals of creating a holistic approach to Digital Scholarship that fosters collaboration across disciplines through project-based learning. In addition, these programs work to build a reciprocal relationship between teaching and research in which digital methods open new research questions while transforming the nature of engagement with humanistic objects of study for both students and faculty.


Alison Byerly and Neil Fraistat

Professor Fraistat joined us to discuss the future of these initiatives as we work to strengthen digital engagement with research and the curriculum. The event prompted an energizing conversation that elucidated the shared goals of the college, the steering committee, and the field of Digital Humanities.

We have included here the full transcript of Professor Barclay’s opening remarks and we look forward to continuing this conversation with the Lafayette community.


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DSS’ John Clark contributes to the Historical Atlas of Maine

ATLASimageforstoreWork by DSS’s John Clark, Data Visualization & GIS Librarian at Skillman Library, will soon appear in print. John is a contributor to the Historical Atlas of Maine (University of Maine Press, 2015). The Atlas, edited by Stephen J. Hornsby and Richard W. Judd with cartographic design by Michael Hermann, traces the historical geography of Maine from the ice age through to the year 2000. It includes a cartographic narrative of the long history of Maine stretching from the history of the region’s native peoples, through to industrialization and the rise of tourism. This extensive collection is the culmination of work by many hands stretching over more than a decade at a cost of nearly one million dollars. Funding for the project was provided principally by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the State of Maine, the University of Maine, and a number of private foundations.

John is one of a number of contributors and was responsible for five of the seventy-six atlas plates. These responsibilities included the overall development of the textual and visual narratives presented in the plates as well as the extensive archival research and historical GIS development that went into the original maps, graphics, and archival images which form the narrative elements of the plates.

John’s research focused on the development of energy resources and transportation between the mid-19th and the late-20th centuries and his work includes plates on railroads, streetcars, electrification, and the rise of the automobile. Each one documents how economic and technological development mixed with the state’s regional culture, creating unique patterns of modernity in Maine which persist to this day.

The book will be available for purchase from the University of Maine Press and on the shelves at Skillman Library later this month.

For more information on starting a digital project with DSS or applying for an internship opportunity contact us at digital@lafayette.edu, or call (610) 330-5796.

John Clark and GIS at the Social Science History Association Conference

sshaJohn Clark, Data Visualization & GIS Librarian with Skillman Library’s Digital Scholarship Services department participated in the 39th Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association in Toronto this week. Over the course of four days John participated in and chaired a number of sessions featuring cutting edge research projects in digital and spatial history.

The Association brings together a broad interdisciplinary group of historians and social scientists organized in a variety of thematic research networks. The Historical Geography network, for which he serves as a co-chair, features many of the earliest adopters in the use of Geographical Information Systems in historical research and for many years has been one of the principal venues for the presentation of innovative work creating new spatial histories and historical geographies through GIS research methods.

The presentations at this year’s conference reflected continued growth in these methodologies that now reach beyond desktop GIS tools to include the development of web-based virtual research environments (VRE) much like those under development at Skillman Library’s Digital Scholarship Services repository.

While at the conference John chaired two sessions. The first focused on progress made at the Collaborative in Historical Information and Analysis (CHIA) at the University of Pittsburgh’s World History Center where researchers are creating a world-historical data archive covering the past four centuries along with a data integration tool, Col*Fusion, aimed at harmonizing and normalizing datasets from a wide variety of knowledge domains.

The second, a roundtable titled Historical Atlases, Yesterday and Today featured a lively discussion of the genre while focusing on two recent publications; the Historical Atlas of Maine (University of Maine Press, 2015) and the digital republication (University of Richmond Digital Scholars Lab, 2013) of the classic Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States (Carnegie Institution and American Geographical Society, 1932) featuring animations and other web-GIS functions applied to the original content.

The sessions will be of interest to both digital humanities scholars and social science researchers at Lafayette. To learn more about the latest in new research methods and projects using GIS contact John at clarkjh@lafayette.edu.

For more information on starting a digital project with DSS or applying for an internship opportunity contact us at digital@lafayette.edu, or call (610) 330-5796.

DSS represents Lafayette at Digital Library Federation Conference

DLFrev1BL_notag_200Eric Luhrs, Head of the Library’s Digital Scholarship Services, delivered a presentation at this year’s Digital Library Federation conference in Atlanta this week. The DLF is the premiere venue for digital scholarship in libraries. The yearly conference brings together librarians, scholars, and digital experts to discuss the role of the library and librarians in the evolving landscape of digital scholarship and preservation. Luhrs presented on the panel “Catastrophic Success: The Challenges and Opportunities of Supporting Digital Scholarship at Liberal Arts Colleges” alongside of his colleagues Kelcy Shepherd (Amherst College), Laurie Allen (Haverford College), Gina Siesing (Bryn Mawr College) and
Jennifer Vinopal (New York University).

This panel, which emerged from a Liberal Arts College working group organized by Lafayette at last year’s DLF conference, has written a Manifesto on Digital Scholarship at Liberal Arts Colleges that articulates the members’ commitment to developing a strong foundation for digital methods and research no matter the size of the school or perceived limitations.

Luhrs highlighted the strengths of the DSS team in building customized research environments and the flexibility they have in their autonomy, while calling attention to the limitations of resources and time endemic to digital scholarship at small liberal arts colleges when compared to the collaboratories, scholars’  labs, and digital centers at high profile research universities.


DSS team members James Griffin, Eric Luhrs, and Thom Goodnow at DLF.

DLF_Poster_print_small copy

DSS poster

Luhrs along with James Griffin, Digital Library Developer, and Thom Goodnow, Integrated Technologies Librarian, showcased these possibilities in a poster presentation describing how this small team has been able to streamline DSS’ project development processes.  By migrating from a multiplicity of platforms onto Islandora and adopting methodologies and workflows inspired by agile software development practices, the team can now develop a greater variety of digital tools and virtual research environments than previously possible. Their dedication and hard work has allowed the team to expand services and support innovation in scholarly research and digital scholarship across campus.

For more information on starting a digital project with DSS or applying for an internship opportunity contact us at digital@lafayette.edu, or call (610) 330-5796.


The Digital World of Art History

Intern Alena Principato ’15 shares her experience at Princeton Art History conference


Alena Principato excited to attend the Digital World of Art History conference at Princeton University.

With plans to earn a Masters degree in Library and Information Science and pursue a career in academic librarianship after graduating from Lafayette, I was able to use my internship with Lafayette’s Visual Resources librarian Kelly Smith to learn more about the field.

As part of my internship I had the opportunity to attend a one-day conference at Princeton University titled “The Digital World of Art History.” The conference, organized by the Index of Christian Art and Princeton’s Visual Resources Collection and Department of Art and Archaeology, centered on the theme of “Standards and Their Application.”

Armed with enthusiasm for my first professional conference, I filed into McCormick Hall and prepared to learn about cutting edge digital art history projects along with dozens of other attendees. The agenda for the day consisted of a line-up of twelve speakers, ranging from librarians and academics to digital developers, and included professionals from various cultural institutions.

Some highlights from the presentations:

Christine Kuan, a representative of Artsy (artsy.net), kicked off the day with her presentation on Artsy, Technology, and the Power of Public Access. The mission of Artsy is to make art accessible to everyone through an online platform for discovering, learning about, and collecting art that is free to the public. The site features more than 100,000 high-resolution images of artworks.

The Art Genome Project, similar in concept to Pandora’s Music Genome Project, assigns specific values to characteristics of art and architecture—the “genes” of the artwork—and uses search algorithms to create associations between related artists and artworks. This system allows for what Kuan calls a “radial” process of searching, allowing users to discover new artists based on their preferences.

Dustin Wees and Margaret Smithglass presented for the Built Works Registry (BWR), an ongoing project “to create and develop a freely available registry and data resource for architectural works and the built environment.” The project is a collaboration between the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University, ARTstor, and the Getty Research Institute. The BWR imports data about works from multiple sources and seeks to standardize the title, date, and location of each work as well as assign it a unique ID number.

 Set to launch this October, the BWR plans to eventually give its data to Getty to turn it into one of their authoritative databases. Resources like the BWR are important for standardizing the cataloging of visual resources by providing a controlled vocabulary to maintain consistency in cataloging across multiple institutions. In my experience cataloging with Shared Shelf, I’ve been using controlled vocabularies to assign subject tags to digitized prints produced by the Experimental Printmaking Institute. (Read more about this in my previous blog post.)

 Following the afternoon presentations was a reception inside the art museum, which provided a beautiful atmosphere for networking mixed with art appreciation. Overall, the conference was a great learning experience that expanded my understanding of the possibilities for digital projects involving visual resources collections and fueled my excitement about the direction in which the field is heading.

DSS is actively seeking students from across campus and across disciplines to participate in our internship program. With us you’ll learn hands-on skills in digital scholarship, computer programming, application design, and data preservation. You’ll earn work experience while learning from a professional team on the cutting edge of digital research. E-mail us with your name, major, area of expertise, and reason for applying at digital@lafayette.edu.

Professor Paul Barclay and the East Asia Image Collection on the World Stage

Today History Professor Paul Barclay presents his paper “Playing the Race Card in Japanese Governed Taiwan – Anthropometric Photographs as ‘Shape-Shifting Jokers’” at the European Association of Japanese Studies’ International Conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

The paper stems from Barclay’s interest in the visual history of the Japanese empire with a particular focus on mass-produced ephemera. As the general editor of the East Asia Image Collection, developed in partnership with Eric Luhrs, Director of the Library’s Digital Scholarship program, Barclay has amassed a collection of over 5,000 digitized items including postcards, stereographic prints, photographs, and several other media types.

His presentation traces the material history of a single photograph. The image, taken by Japanese ethnologist-photographer Mori Ushinosuke, is an anthropometric portrait of a Taiwanese woman, Paazeh Naheh. Barclay argues that the heavy reproduction of Paazeh’s portrait and the shifting contexts of that image, from a lantern slide, to an ethnographic object of study, to a picture postcard, reveal more than the typical concerns of imperialist discourses and racist essentialism often associated with anthropometric materials. Instead, this image functions as a “shape-shifting joker,” refusing a stable symbolic function. Because the portrait appeared in a broad spectrum of venues and was utilized for a range of agendas, some of which ran counter to the imperial narratives about Taiwan and its people, it subverts the possibility for a monolithic interpretation


Images of Paazeh Naheh in the EAIC

The conference brings together scholars in Japanese history and culture with the aim of fostering an international exchange of ideas. Barclay will present his work alongside colleagues from both Japan and the United States on the panel “Photography in Twentieth Century Japan: Imaging Self and Other.” The presentation is part of his larger project, a book-length study on the history of Japanese-Taiwan Indigenous Peoples relations from 1873 to 1945.

Barclay’s work illustrates the value of the East Asia Image Collection in opening new avenues of investigation for scholars worldwide. The faceted discovery interface allows users to create virtual image sets of items that meet specific criteria while the ability to identify precise relationships between seemingly disparate items aids in the recognition of patterns of production, imagery, and context, making the EAIC a powerful and innovative resource in the field.

To learn more about Professor Barclay’s work and the EAIC visit the collection at: http://digital.lafayette.edu/collections/eastasia.

Connect with this project on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/EastAsiaImageCollection

or follow the latest from Professor Barclay on his new EAIC blog: http://sites.lafayette.edu/eastasia/

For more information on starting a digital project with DSS or applying for an internship opportunity contact us at digital@lafayette.edu, or call (610) 330-5796.

The Art of Cataloging

Alena Principato ’15 discusses her Visual Resources Internship with DSS cataloging images from the Experimental Printmaking Institute

This summer I completed an internship under the guidance of Kelly Smith, Lafayette College’s Visual Resources Librarian. I have been learning about visual resources management and assisting Kelly with the digitization of the Experimental Printmaking Institute’s body of work. Each print that is digitized must be photographed, edited, and uploaded to Shared Shelf, a cloud-based cataloging and content management system developed by ARTstor.

What is cataloging and how does it work?
According to Cataloging Cultural Objects: A Guide to Describing Cultural Works and Their Images, “to catalog a work is to describe what it is, who made it, where it was made, how it was made, the materials of which it was made, and what it is about.” This information is also referred to as metadata (essentially, “data about data”), especially when it is entered in a digital format.

Recording such data may seem straightforward, and often is; the name of the artist, the measurements of a work, and the date of creation are simple enough to ascertain. However, selecting the subject of the work is more ambiguous. As Shared Shelf explains, the subject field contains “terms that identify, describe, and/or interpret what is depicted in and by a work.”

Consider what it means to “interpret”—when a person views an art object, they draw conclusions about what it means, often through the lens of their unique background and personal experiences. A detail in a painting that captivates one person may be completely overlooked by another.

The challenge for a cataloger of a visual work is to consider all of these potential viewpoints. The cataloger must be observant and sort out what information about a work is relevant to include, and what elements are trivial or unnecessary to describe. It’s helpful to think of subject terms as the keywords used to conduct an image search. Catalogers have to anticipate future users’ research needs—which could be on a general subject or specific topic—and account for both when they are describing a work.

While there is no one standard governing the selection of subject tags, catalogers may choose subject terms from lists of pre-set subject identifiers known as controlled vocabularies. For cataloging the Experimental Printmaking Institute’s works, we selected four resources for subject terms: Getty’s Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN) and Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), Iconclass, and Library of Congress Subject Headings. Each helps standardize the cataloging of visual resources by providing a controlled vocabulary to minimize variations in cataloging by different institutions.

My process for subject tagging the EPI works begins with identifying general terms and narrowing down from there. First I evaluate the work for major concepts and overall themes. Once those are established, I take a closer look at details in the image that seem important, such as an identifiable person, place, or event. Details do not necessarily have to be a focus of the work as a whole to merit being included–if a tag could be useful in helping someone locate an image of a particular subject, it may be worth including. However, it’s not a good idea to tag details that are truly a minor or irrelevant part of the image, since this could result in overemphasizing their importance.

An Example
Here’s how I approached cataloging “Taxes on Us Without Our Consent,” a screen print by Faith Ringgold.


“Taxes On Us Without Our Consent,” from Declaration of Freedom and Independence by Faith Ringgold

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Building the Digital Humanities

 Engineering student William Stathis interns with DSS


James Griffin, Digital Library Developer, and Billy Stathis ’15.

The first time I heard the term “digital humanities” was at a lecture from one of the field’s foremost authorities, Dr. Willard McCarty. He portrayed the field as a mixing of the classical humanities with new analytical technologies – mainly computation. This marriage of the quantitative and the qualitative may, at first, seem somewhat paradoxical. However, by using new analytical techniques and a bit of imagination on the part of both programmers and researchers, one can gain new insights.

Personally, my discovery of this field was a great excitement. As a current student of Electrical and Computer Engineering, I find very few opportunities to do work in history, which has been an interest of mine for years. As fate would have it, the head of Digital Scholarship Services, Eric Luhrs, was at the same lecture. He was looking for a summer intern to work on Digital Humanities collaborations with members of the Lafayette faculty. The internship would allow me, in a practical way, to combine my technical background with my interest in the humanities.

My initial time at DSS was spent learning new programming skills. After about two weeks of reading books on PHP, Javascript, and the Drupal framework, I was prepared to tackle the first project assigned to me. I had only worked on a software development team once before, and it was in the context of a class. Being free to use the best resources for the job, and not just those approved by a professor, was a nice change. Many of the new skills I learned are readily extensible to industry. In particular, the work-flow model we used was prevalent in startups and other small web based companies. This knowledge combined with my work fixing broken sections of code and adding new functionality via server-side and client-side processing will be valuable experience as I progress into a career.

Of all the projects that DSS is currently working on, I was primarily a part of The Easton Library Company Project. The ELC database is a collaboration between English professor Christopher Phillips and the Library’s Digital Scholarship Services department.  Using a relational database of transcribed library loan records from the early 1800s, this project attempts to create an interactive model of the era’s social network. Organized in this way, the tools and records provide users with a means to analyze the reading trends, patron relationships, and other social aspects of life for those in and around Easton in the early 1800s.  While the website is not yet publicly available, additional information can be seen at: http://digital.lafayette.edu/collections/eastonlibrary.


Billy Stathis at work on the ELC project

Overall, I found my time working at DSS educational. I gained some interesting knowledge of the digital humanities, which is also useful. Additionally, the website development experience I gained was invaluable for working with web and software companies. But my experience went beyond simple coding languages and coding practices. Most of all, I learned what a job in the software development world is actually like, and how to interact with a professional team of developers. I now feel that I have a much better idea of what development jobs hold in store and that will help guide me in my career search more than anything.

DSS is actively seeking students from across campus and across disciplines to participate in our internship program. With us you’ll learn hands-on skills in digital scholarship, computer programming, application design, and data preservation. You’ll earn work experience while learning from a professional team on the cutting edge of digital research. E-mail us with your name, major, area of expertise, and reason for applying at digital@lafayette.edu.

New Website for Digital Scholarship Services

Hello all and welcome to the new DSS Blog!

Located in Skillman Library at Lafayette College, Digital Scholarship Services works with faculty members to understand the unique nature of their research. We build customized digital tools that allow new questions to be asked and we help analyze, visualize, and promote the results. We also provide expert digitization services and persistent access to digital scholarship in support of the research and instruction needs of the Lafayette College community. For more information about the services we provide, please visit http://digital.lafayette.edu/services.

We redesigned our website (http://digital.lafayette.edu) to feature faculty projects and provide information about the resources and services we provide. As part of this redesign we are also launching this blog. Information about upcoming events, project updates, posts from faculty partners, and featured content are just a few of the items you will see here.

Our new website and blog will expand our current collaborations and pave the way for new ones with the Lafayette community and beyond.  Use the contact form on the new website or send an email to digital@lafayette.edu if you have an idea for a digital project, no matter how big or small.