This website is the online hub of a $414,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop extensible models and programs for the creation and sharing of digital scholarship in large-scale and immersive visualization environments. Entitled “Visualizing Digital Scholarship in Libraries and Learning Spaces,” the project aims to increase the impact of academic visualization environments and the scholarship created within them.
The grant brings together a cohort of institutions to complete projects related to the challenges in creating, disseminating, validating, and preserving digital scholarship for large-scale visual environments.
An important element of the grant is to develop an online community of practice. Please visit our Getting Started resource page to see ways in which you can be involved in this effort.
The funded grant proposal can be downloaded here (pdf).
Over the last few years, display walls have garnered significant interest in the library community as visible investments towards a digital, collaborative, visual approach to academic endeavors. As some observers have noted, display walls have been around a while in the academic context, and more are being installed all the time.
Brown University Library was early to the display wall scene, opening the Patrick Ma Digital Scholarship Lab (with its 16×7 foot display wall) in late 2012:
There is a problem, though: these walls are expensive, and there are few out-of-the-box applications that immediately serve to demonstrate their value. Two examples that we have found are:
Google Earth, which, as anyone who has managed a display wall will tell you, is spectacular on a display wall:
... and Adobe Lightroom, which we have put to good use in the context of visual research, sorting, comparing, and processing large numbers of images:
In addition to out-of-the-box applications, we have also built custom wall-oriented applications from scratch — for example, this application to explore and visualize a digitized collection of historical plant specimens (an ongoing collaboration with the Brown University Herbarium):
These examples represent exceptions to a general rule: there are few easy-to-setup, easy-to-use, flexible applications to show off the potential of display wall hardware.
Custom-built solutions require significant investment of staff time with considerable programming and design skills. Many institutions (including Brown) do not have the resources to develop such tools in a way that can be sustained over time, but nevertheless want to demonstrate the value of their display wall investment.
(There are also commercial solutions available, but they are typically expensive, locked down, and limited)
Faced with this situation, we began to design a generalized framework for developing interactive display wall content and applications.
Going in, we had some fundamental criteria:
In thinking about how to balance simplicity and flexibility, we asked ourselves a basic question:
What are the foundational functions required to provide a platform for innovation?
Thinking back on our experience developing display wall applications, we identified four foundational functions:
With these four functions, a framework would support multiple use cases, including:
With these criteria and foundational functions, we built a rough proof-of-concept prototype and called it Glider. Here is an early prototype of Glider being used in a faculty presentation:
(See the Glider project page for a short video of the Glider pilot in action.)
With the funding from the Immersive Scholar project, we will be turning our in-house prototype into a production-ready open source tool.
We will use the grant period to fix up the pilot's rough spots and expand it where needed, package it for easy distribution and installation, and run pilots to test the system in the classroom, the exhibit space, and the digital archive. Given the time and resources, we also hope to develop a visual authoring interface.
If you're interesting in finding out more information about the project, you can visit the Glider website, or feel free to contact the project's PI, Patrick Rashleigh (edward_rashleigh at brown.edu).