Tool Hack: Using Viewshare to Visualize Digital Collections

Gloria Gonzalez is currently mixing her interests in informatics with an archives specialization at the UCLA Graduate School of Library and Information Science. She works for the Center for Primary Research and Training at the Charles E. Young Research Library Department of Special Collections and enjoys researching philosophy of information, information ethics, and issues in digital preservation. Gloria’s favorite online pastimes are playing Tetris Arena and tweeting at @InformaticMonad.

I have what I call “recollectionitis.” It’s an infection that I contracted last summer while working as an intern for the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) at the Library of Congress. Recollectionitis gives people the overwhelming desire to create online interactive views for all kinds of information—anything from the collection you digitized last semester and that list of every craft brew you’ve ever tasted.

What’s great about recollectionitis is how easy it is to cure with a dose of Viewshare.

Viewshare is an online platform provided by the Library of Congress that’s used for generating interfaces like timelines, maps, and charts. Simply put, Viewshare works in three steps: import, build, and share. Upon first glance, Viewshare may seem intimidating; but trust me—it’s super easy to use. Anyone can request a free Viewshare account and get started using the provided tutorials.

If you’re a novice like me, upload your data in excel spreadsheets. However if you’re more experienced, XML MODS records or even Dublin Core data via OAI-PMH can be imported. After uploading, the data can be augmented for categories like date and location for timeline and map views. Then you choose from several view formats. Next, the view can be customized with different navigation facets, including tag clouds, lists, free text, and a search box. The final step is sharing your interface, which Viewshare makes very simple. You can make your view public and share the link, or embed the view into any website.

For LIS students, learning how to use Viewshare provides more than just another thing to list under the “skills” section of your resume. The underlying aims of Viewshare are rooted in access to digital collections and information, a core issue faced by our profession. By providing the technology needed to aggregate and share collections with the capacity for collaboration, Viewshare takes a huge step towards the online environment that libraries, archives, and museums need to increase access to their digital assets. While becoming familiar with the platform, students can gain practical experience with concepts we learn about in class.

The concept of openness is reoccurring in library school, e.g., open educational resources, open access, open data and open source. Viewshare is an instance of Recollection, an open-source software that NDIIPP created in partner with Zepheira (hence, recollectionitis). Recollection works through combining linked data technology (RDF) with several different open-source components (like Simile Exibit and Akara). Which means anyone can download the Recollection code and create a new instance of the software to fit their personal needs. When it comes to the benefits of openness, a central theme is that it allows for increased creativity and productivity; the openness of Viewshare allows for both.

I’m sure most of you have noticed that collaboration is another key concept in library school. Working together allows us to create dialog that supplies helpful feedback and assistance. Viewshare provides a unique collaborative space online. Each Viewshare user has a profile that lists their public views and datasets. This means you can make your own views using other people’s public data and vice versa. You can also customize your profile with personal details and make “connections” with other users. I’ve found this to be a neat aspect of Viewshare because you can see who else is using the tool, and how they are putting it to use (here’s an example of what I’ve done).

If you’re interested in learning more about Viewshare you can visit or read about it on The Signal, the Library of Congress’ digital preservation blog.

Viewshare was created for digital collections. However, it can be used for a lot more than that. Once you try it out you’ll discover the many possible applications, but I must give you fair warning… you might catch a case of recollectionitis.

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