The Spreadsheet View

So I’ve been watching the EXCELLENT Collections as Data 2016 conference live stream all morning, and it’s really got the wheels going.

And the wheels were already going. A few weeks ago – when I finish corraling my thoughts, perhaps I can link to here – I attended a workshop in Maryland about Image Processing and Reunification.

These events, and the natural and mysterious evolution of ideas, have conspired to really hit home the idea of Collections as Data.

Doesn’t stop there. Thomas Padilla, a former nearby colleague of MSU and now in California I believe, also shared an IMLS grant just yesterday they had funded, “Collections as Data: Conditions of Possibility”.

I’m also serving on a committee about academic, R1 library collections.

And there’s no end in sight.

So, collections as data? What does that mean?

We do our best here in the Digital Publishing and with our Digital Collections to push the envelope of preservation and access, challenging ourselves to align digital objects in ways that will send them flying into the masses outstretch arms like mailbags on passing trains.


If I’m going to bury the lead, might as well throw one more blanket on the pile. I’ve also been working on a connector between the python ORM Peewee and DataTables for another project (which I hope to share at some point). As such, the scary efficient and well-understood mecahnics of a searchable, server-side processing spreadsheet has been on the brain.

So here’s the lead:

What about a spreadsheet-like view for digital collections?

You get it all. Thumbnails. Titles. Descriptions. Metadata. Filtering. Sorting. Speed. Search results already as structured data. Finesse. Fireworks.

Onwards and upwards! Putting the feelers out for a Solr-DataTables, python based connector, and we’re hoping to wire up just such an interface soon for our front-end.

Thermal Writing

Thermal Couplers of Writing

I’m penning this email with, as a foray into the worlds of an interface for a static, jekyll GitHub blog.

So far, so good.

  1. Authorized to interact with my GitHub.
  2. Found my blog repository, switched branches with ease.
  3. Clicked “new file” which put me in this editor I now find myself typing.
  4. I like this editor; so far I like it a lot.
  5. In fact, I’ve been able to preview my writing as I go.
  6. Jekyll keys off of filenaming convetions, and name of this file / post was conveniently started for me. I rue typing YYYY-DD-MM, my fingers simply can’t do it.
  7. And now, I’m hoping that clicking the adorable save icon in the corner will save this markdown file to my blog repository, and thus, publish this “post”.

If these writings to not ever make it to the Internet, may their voyage into /dev/null be quick(?) and painless.

If, however, they do find their way to a blog posting, then consider me tickled. I might end up using this for impromptu, tidy, enjoyable writing.

And here’s a picture for good measure:


Image Processing and Reunification Workshop

Image Processing and Reunification Workshop

“zooming in as de-familiarizing”, Laura Wexler

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Image Processing and Reunification Workshop at the University of Maryland, and wanted to pull together some thoughts and notes while it was fresh on the brain. I can let the workshop’s website speak to the motivation and actualization of the event, but my enthusiastic thanks and kudos to the primary organizers Ricky Punzalan and Trevor Muñoz for putting it together.

I hardly know where to begin. Maybe with the quote from above, which occured on the last day of the workshop, and work backwards.


The workshop sought to bring together people from computer vision, humanities scholars, and the Libraries / Archives / Museums (LAM) world, to share understandings around image processing and image reunification.

  • What do those terms mean?
  • How are they used differently across domains?
  • How can computer scientists, humanities scholars, and what I’ll refer to here as “digital LAMs” collaborate, share and write grants, and otherwise explore these areas together?
  • In the words of the workshop programming, what are the great challenges in each area?

I came into the workshop thinking it was going to focus on standards like the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), and the digital object repositories like Fedora Commons that serve said images.

In a nutshell, my thinking that the discussions would take those technologies and standards as the basis for conversation, is quite precisely why I found this workshop so helpful and constructive. Though I expected the diversity of attendees to steer the conversation in many directions, I hadn’t anticipated that IIIF and the technical mechanics of image sharing – which seem so central to image processing and reunification to me – would be but part of the puzzle.

This is worth restating: I understood there is plenty in this space that do not include the preservation and access of images, but the majority of my focus and energy is towards just that, and a certain tunnel vision creeps in. This workshop helped me remove those goggles for a moment, and see the role of Libraries, Archives, etc. amidst the overlapping Venns of computer vision, research questions, national and local research agendas, etc.

So the quote? A paraphrasing of something that came up in the second day’s discussion, Laura Wexler quipped that zooming in on an image can have de-familiarizing effects. This is “zooming in” literally and figuratively. As we dive into the pixels of an image, the writing on a building, the eyelashes of a face, we risk losing context of that detail in the greater landscape of the image. Similarily, even just focusing on one image, we might fail to see how it relates to other images from the same role, the same photgrapher, the same place, etc. Laura Tilton, whom works with Taylor Arnold and Laura Wexler on the excellent Photogrammar project, asked what “Distance Looking” might mean. What is happening when we take in 100k of images in one interface and moment?

I wish I had my notebook nearby to tether bullets to penned thoughts during the workshop, but alas I do not. In an effort to not lose thoughts at the lure of more, I will post this now. I would add that I hope or plan to revisit and fill in those gaps, but if I’ve learned anything about the internet, it’s that “check back often” or “coming soon” never fares well. What I can say, on the heels of this workshop I had the good fortune of listening to some of the same speakers via a live webcast of Collections as Data 2016, and I realized what had happened. My thinking had been irrevocably broadened by the workshop, and the connections abound. My thanks again to the organizers, it was a joyous romp into the intersections of computer science, archival principles, and fascinating research.