Article Response: “Humanities GIS: Place, spatial storytelling, and immersive visualization in the humanities” by Trevor M. Harris et al.

I recently read Humanities GIS: Place, spatial storytelling, and immersive visualization in the humanities by Trevor M. Harris, Susan Bergeron, and L. Jesse Rouse. It’s a great article on using GIS in the humanities and thinking about how the two can be merged.

One of the last things discussed in the paper was Virtual Morgantown And to pull from the article: “Virtual Morgantown is a project focused on a period of rapid industrialization in this area at the turn of the nineteenth century and provides a vignette of how GIS and 3D graphics, modeling, and serious gaming technologies can be used to create an immersive and interactive environment for data exploration and the study of place.” (p.233 in GeoHumanities: Art, History, Text at the Edge of Place)

After finishing this article I got to thinking how GIS tools could be utilized in the humanities.  One tool that came to mind was ArcGIS. In ArcGIS is a map template called Story Point.  It seems possible that this GIS software would allow for the telling/mapping of stories (i.e. Cantebury Tales  or The Iliad). It would then be possible to link all of the points within the map to one another to create a navigational linear story where the major characters can be followed.


Excerpt From: “Either/Or: A Fragment of Life” by Søren Kierkegaard

…”A cursory glance at the new-found papers immediately revealed that they formed two œuvres which differed markedly also in externals. One of them was written on a kind of letter-vellum in quarto, with a fairly wide margin. The handwriting was legible, sometimes even a little elegant, just once in a while careless. The other was written on full sheets of foolscap divided into columns, in the way that legal documents and the like are written. The handwriting was clear, rather extended, uniform, and even; it looked as though it belonged to a businessman. The contents, too, proved straightaway to be dissimilar. The one part contained a number of aesthetic essays of varying length, the other consisted of two long inquiries and one shorter, all ethical in content, as it seemed, and in the form of letters. On closer examination this difference proved fully corroborated, for the latter compilation consisted of letters written to the author of the first.

But I must find some briefer way of designating the two authors. To that end I have scrutinized the papers very carefully but have found nothing, or as good as nothing. Regarding the first author, the aesthteticist, there is no information at all. As for the other, the letter-writer, one learns that he was called Vilhelm, had been a judge, but of what court is not specified. If I were to go strictly by the historical facts and call him Vilhelm I would lack a corresponding appellation for the first author and have to give him some arbitrary name. I have therefore preferred to call the first author A, the second B.

In addition to the longer essays there were, among the papers, some slips on which were written aphorisms, lyrical effusions, reflections. The handwriting alone indicated that they belonged to A. The contents confirmed this.

The papers themselves I then tried to arrange as best I could. With B’s papers that was fairly easily done. One of the letters presupposes the other. In the second letter there is a quotation from the first. The Third letter presupposes the two previous ones.

Arranging A’s papers was not such an easy matter. I have therefore let chance determine the order, that is to say, I have left them in the order in which I found them, of course without being able to decide whether this order has any chronological value or notional significance.” …



Kierkegaard, Søren . Either/Or. England: Penguin Books, 2004. 30-31. print.


For further reading:

Life in the USA-434-Either/Or: Between “A” and Judge Vilhelm

Reflection on Text Analyzing Tools

For a recent class project I was instructed to compare different text analyzing tools and give a description of the pros and cons of each, along with my thoughts on using them. The different tools I will be comparing are Juxta Commons, Voyant, and TAPoRware.

I chose to visualize a text I worked on in my undergraduate philosophy days: Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.  As the original text was written in German, a language I only know a couple words in, I have had to rely on translations when reading it.  So what would be interesting for me to see is how various people have translated the work and looking at how close they are to each other, or how different they are. 

As the original text approaches 500 pages, I narrowed down the scope of this project by focusing on the introduction to the work. The introduction is a little over twenty pages of text.  This still provides me with plenty of material to examine for the project.

Kant Knowledge

Selection for Comparison:

  1. Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant Translated by J. M. D. Meiklejohn
  2. Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant Translated by Norman Kemp Smith

Before I could begin examining the works, I needed to manipulate the text and make them as similar as I could in structure without changing anything of substance.  I copied the text from their respective sources and then saved them into a .txt file. For the Maiklejohn translation I needed to rework the line length to make it more comparable with the Smith translation. I also deleted the footnotes and added spacing between the paragraphs for the Maiklejohn translation.  For the Smith translation I needed to remove the page numbering and the various commentary, notes, and explanations that were in the online text.

Results of Juxtacommons:

Juxtacommons is  a ” tool that allows you to compare and collate versions of the same textual work.” (  Within Juxta there are multiple tools that are useful.  These tools include: Heat Maps, Side by Side Views, Histograms, Parallel Segmentation, Edition Starter, and Versioning Machine.  The last two of these, at the time of this writing, are experimental. I will try and explain more about this tool as I go through it, but for a better explanation see A User Guide to Juxta Commons.

A special note before using these tools.  As some of these take a while to visualize, it would be advisable to have something else to work on while you wait. Also, you will need to create an account to use their website, but don’t worry- it is free.

Heat Maps:

Intro Critique of Pure Reason Meiklejohn Trans Juxtacommons pic1

Intro Critique of Pure Reason NORMAN KEMP SMITH Trans Juxtacommons pic1

What we can see here is the degree of variance between the text selected and the other texts that we have in our comparison “witness” list. “The text is color-coded to indicate the degree of variance from the base witness evident at any particular area of the text.” (“User Guide to Juxta Commons” )  In the two screen shots above, we can see that there are numerous differences in the two sections that we can see.

Side By Side View:

juxtacommons side by sideThe Side by Side tool takes the results of the Heat Map and then throws them on a plate next to each other for easy comparison.  By hovering over the shapes in the middle of the tool, the highlighted sections of the text become clearer.  This allows for easy focusing on a certain passage or line of the text.   What I keep seeing in the results between the two translators is that one of the authors would focus in on one part of what Kant was saying, while the other translator would sometimes focus on another aspect of what Kant was saying within the same sentence.  (One of the jokes my undergrad philosophy professor would tell about Kant was that even German’s preferred reading him in translation because of how confusing his use of language was.)

Versioning Machine:

juxtacommons Versioning Machine

With this tool it become clear from the start the variances of the way the two translators looked at the text.  Though they are both still expressing Kant’s idea, how they choose to express that appears differently.  For instance, in the heading to this introduction Meiklejohn translates the heading as “Of the Difference between Pure and Empirical Knowledge” while Smith translates the same heading as “The Distinction between Pure and Empirical Knowledge.” Excluding the preposition at the start of Meiklejohn’s heading, the only difference between the two of them is the noun choice between “Distinction” and “Difference.” Do you think there is any significant meaning difference between the two titles?

If we continue, we can see a clearer distinction in the way the second sentence is translated.  Meiklejohn translates it as:

“For how is it possible that the faculty of cognition should be awakened into exercise otherwise than by means of objects which affect our senses , and partly of themselves produce representations, partly rouse our powers of understanding into activity, to compare to connect , or to separate these , and so to convert the raw material of our sensuous impressions into a knowledge of objects , which is called experience?”

while Smith translates the same sentence as:

“For how should our faculty of knowledge be awakened into action did not objects affecting our senses partly of themselves produce representations, partly arouse the activity of our understanding to compare these representations , and, by combining or separating them , work up the raw material of the sensible impressions into that knowledge of objects which is entitled experience?”

Besides the fact that Kant is long winded, can we pull out anything from the text through this side by side comparison?  Because I read things visually, the way each author expresses this idea forms pictures in my head (e.g. the phrases “awakened into action” vs. “awakened into excercise”, or “to convert the raw material of our sensuous impressions into a knowledge of objects” vs. “work up the raw material of the sensible impressions into that knowledge of objects.” So when I look at these two translations right next to one another, I can see the differences in the verb and adjective selections and try to discern something about what that means.

What I like about using Juxta Commons is that if one of the tools is not understandable, by taking a look at one or two of the other tools in their toolbox the text becomes more understandable.  It is then possible to go back and look at the tool that was incomprehensible at it’s first iteration.

Now that we have looked at Juxta Commons, let’s see what Voyant has to offer.

Results of Voyant:

Unlike Juxta Commons, Voyant only allows for one text to be analyzed at a time.

One of the first things I did in Voyant, after uploading my first file, was go to the settings for Cirrus to add a list of stop words from appearing in the word cloud. The list of words that I chose not to include was: the, of, a, do, which, as, b, any, not, has, any, so, such, which, and, to, in, be, it, its, by, an, at, h, or, with, and from.

Voyant Meiklejohn trans

Let’s take a closer look at the Cirrus, the word cloud for this text:

Voyant Cirrus Meiklejohn trans

Even though I pulled out most of the superfluous words from the Meiklejohn text ,as described earlier, there are still some words that aren’t as insightful that remained.  Cirrus has a limit of 75 characters as stop words. The word frequency of the remaining words is still valuable.  We can discern just from this word cloud what the major topics within this text, or at least this section of the text thereof. Some of the more important words that stick out of the text include: knowledge, reason, conception, a priori, and experience.

If you take a look at the summary located at the bottom left side in the first picture for this section on Voyant, you will see that according to Voyant’s analysis there are 6,776 words and 1,181 unique words. Now opening up the Corpus box located at the bottom right of the screen we are provided with a density ((the number of unique words/ number of words)+1000).  The density of words for this text is 174.3 which is pretty high.

In this next picture we can see two more aspects of Voyant’s toolkit.  By selecting terms in the Words in Entire Corpus tool, we can obtain a graph of word trends and how they are dispersed throughout the text.

Voyant Words in Entire Corpus and Trends

What I can extract from this tool is seeing where the author really begins to explore various aspects of his work.  If we look at the use of conception (i.e. the green line of the graph) we can see that that term is used more throughout the middle of the text we are examining, whereas the term reason (i.e. the pink line of the graph) appears more towards the end of the text we are examining.

Knowing this allows us to better ascertain where in a text we might find a particular section that is relevant to our work.  For instance, if we were looking at writing a paper on Kant’s use of the term reason in the introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason we would know where in the text we could go in and find it.

Without even needing to go back to the original text Voyant will do that for us by their Keywords in Context tool.

Voyant keywords in context

In the above picture we can look at how the term reason is applied throughout the text. We can look at what words the term is associated with. If you can see it, there are two terms that jump out to me that are often situated in front of the term reason: pure and human.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at our last Text Analyzing Tool- TAPoR.

Results of TAPoRware:

Before we get started with this tool, let’s remember that TAPoR is just a portal for text analysis tools.  That said, let’s take a quick look at what we can find on their site.  Unlike Voyant, where you only need to upload your text once, TAPoR requires that you upload your text everytime you want to utilize a different tool.

TAPoRware main screenSince I focused on the Meiklejohn translation when using Voyant, I’m going to focus on the Smith translation for using TAPoR.

The first tool I decided to use was Pattern Distribution. What I liked about this tool was that it showed me the word count of a particular word throughout a set percentile of the work.  Again, by looking at this data, and seeing where the word is most likely to appear in the text,  I can then focus in on a particular facet of my research.

TAPoRware pattern distribution

The next tool from TAPoR we will look at is Speech Tagger. Once the file is uploaded, we get to pick which words we want to focus on, or highlight, within the text.

TAPoR Speech Tagger

Though this tool sounds like it would be beneficial from a grammarian viewpoint, I was unable to figure out how to use it.  I tried selecting many different options and colors, but every time the results were the same.  If someone else has had more success with this and can provide a better description, please leave a comment.

The last tool we’ll be looking at from TAPoR is List Words.  Once a text is uploaded we are given options on how to proceed.  For convenience sake I just selected modified Glasgow Stop Words rather than create my own set.  That said, let’s see the results:

TAPoR Listwords

According to the results the most common word found in the text, excluding those from the stop list, is knowledge.  I would have thought that “reason” would have been higher than fifth in rank. One of the benefits I see of using this tool would be in analyzing Kant’s vocabulary, or his word choices.  I could also see it being beneficial to those studying philology.

Kant Meme

So What? or How can these tools be relevant for our library?

That is a good question.  How I think these tools could be of use in the library field is in assisting researchers to understand a text. All of these tools could help to bring a text to a greater understanding, but the life force behind the text will remain inherent in the text.  These tools can only assist in chiseling away at a text until it’s true form is found.

There is a story about the famous Renaissance artist Michelangelo where he was asked about how he was able to carve such a wonderful statue.  It was as if he had carved a real person out of marble.  His response to the question was “I saw the angle in the marble, and carved until I set him free.

That is what libraries can offer.  The ability to set texts free, or the knowledge that they contain. Since we are a service oriented institution, we can assist users with these tools to help them understand all of the information they are receiving from texts.


  1. Nines, “A User Guide to Juxta Commons.” Accessed March 3, 2014.

Excerpt from: The cambridge ancient history: The last age of the roman republic

“The poverty caused by the greed of the wealthy was thus accepted by a number of Roman writers as a cause of civil conflict in the Forum and ultimately of civil war, though this was sometimes seen more in moral than socio-economic terms. The poor, it was held, fought not so much because they were poor, but because poverty embittered them and made them violent and greedy themselves. Moreover, the griefs of the poor were not thought to excuse their aristocratic leaders for clashes with fellow-aristocrats. In spite of his appreciation of the miseries of the plebs Sallust both in the Catiline and the Histories declared that the claim of its leaders to be defending plebeian rights was fraudulent: like the leaders of the Senate, they were using honourable pretexts to seek personal power – a judgement deriving from Thucydides’ account of civil strife at Corcyra in 427 B.C. Florus writes in the same vein, when assessing the Gracchi. Their measures appeared just, but they damaged the wealth of the state and the interest of the possessing classes (themselves part of the people): in reality they and other tribunes sought domination for their office rather than protection for the rights of the people.”

(Crook, J. A., Lintott, A., & Rawson, E. (Eds.). (1994). The cambridge ancient history: The last age of the roman republic, 146-43 B.C. (2nd ed.). Great Britain: Cambridge University Press.)

Word Clouding

There are various word cloud programs available  online (e.g. voyant, wordle, Tagul, & Tagxedo). In this post, I am going to give a brief overview of what these are and how they can be effective tools in the library.

So what is a word cloud?

Oxford Dictionaries defines word cloud as “an image composed of words used in a particular text or subject, in which the size of each word indicates its frequency or importance.” (“Word Cloud” )

The first Word Cloud tool we will examine is made by Voyant.  As you can see in the picture below, it just looks like a jumble of words that are all different sizes and colors. At a closer look it becomes evident that these different sizes are based on word frequency.  Without scrolling down, can you tell what the text is?

Green Eggs Ham Voyant WordCloud

I’ll give you a hint:  It’s one of the most beloved children’s books of all time, or at least since the mid 20th century.

Yep, it’s Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

There are some interesting results that we can gather from the data (i.e. the text)being analyzed.  There are 783 total words and 51 unique words used by Dr. Seuss in Green Eggs and Ham. The most frequent words in the corpus are not (84 ), i (71), them (61), a (59), & like(45).  Rather than having to count all of this and do it by hand, Voyant’s program did it for me.  All I had to do was copy and paste the text (which I found available online)  into a box provided by Voyant. One of the features that Voyant provides is called “Words in Documment” which allows you to see the word frequency and provides a graph and a “relative” synopsis of a selected word per 10,000 words in the document .

Some of the tools are not very clear as to what they are and how to use them, but Hermeneutica, the parent organization of Voyant, has a useful guide to help users understand how it operates.

Now let’s take a look at Wordle.  Sticking to the Dr. Seuss theme from earlier, let’s do Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Oh, the places you'll go wordcloudSo, what do we notice?  Besides the different words, the structure of the cloud is nearly the same.

One of the things I liked about using Wordle was the ease of changing the appearance of the cloud.  For instance, the font I selected in this cloud was “Grilled Cheese BTN”.  I also changed the color scheme to Milk Paints.  It’s possible that I’m hungry, as I noticed a food pattern emerge here.  Using their tools I also decided to remove the common English words.   Pretty cool right?

There are other numerous word clouding tools available to use, such as Tagul and Tagxedo, as mentioned earlier.  Tagul and Tagxedo are a little more complicated to install, but can be well worth the effort as their design options far exceed the options in Voyant and Wordle.  If on the other hand you are looking for information analysis with your text, I would recommend Voyant.

So What?  Or, How can these be incorporated into library functions and teachings?

Mrs. Lodge’s Library, in her blog post Dewey Word Clouds, describes a project that she came up with for her fourth grade students to help understand the Dewey Decimal System.  The project involved teaching the students basic note taking skills, grouping the students into various Dewey ranges (000-900), and teaching the students how to put the information into a word cloud.  The students could then see the results of their labor by the signage that was created for the library.

Duke University’s Library Blog, in their blog post Moving Beyond the Word Cloud, speaks of using them in their “post-library instruction assessment by compiling student comments and creating a word cloud to share with the group prior to leaving the session.” (Amber 2011) This is helpful in making it easy for students to remember what was discussed in their library instruction.  Amber Welch also spoke of how Duke was moving beyond Word Clouds by using programs such as TAPoR.

Terry, writing for the Shokie Public Library Blog, wrote an article called What’s a word cloud and what’s it good for? in which she describes creating a list of titles that she has read and creating a word cloud to see if there is a common theme in her reading habits.   This is very similar to the project done by Mrs. Lodge’s Library, but has a different goal in mind.  If a library were able to pull their list of titles from the catalog record, then they could easily create a word cloud showing some of their more popular themes.  Another approach to this would be doing subject headings extracted from the catalog record.


  1. Oxford Dictionaries, “Word Cloud.” Accessed February 13, 2014.
  2. Welch Amber, “Moving Beyond the Word Cloud,” Duke University Libraries: News and Events (blog), October 31, 2011,

Blogging Tips from a Professional Blogger

I was at a conference last week and one of the speakers, Jill Stanek, gave advice on blogging.  I wanted to share her ideas because she has a successful blog that is recognized nationally.  Though her blog does not focus on digital humanities, its success can be used as a template when creating content.

12 Points to Successful Blogging According to JillNote the above link contains only ten points as the post was written a couple years ago.)

  1. Strive for Excellence
  2. Find Your Niche and Become an Expert
  3. Think of Your Blog as a Vocation
  4. Develop a Mission Statement
  5. Blog Strategically
  6. Blog Often
  7. Keep it Pithy (Edit, Edit, Edit)
  8. Give Photo Credit
    1. Fair Use Doctrine
    2. Never Crop Out Copyright or Contributor
  9. Write Original Content
  10. Cross-Post to Other Social Media
  11. Be Accurate- Check Sources
  12. Develop a Thick Skin

So what to get out of this:

When blogging, bear in mind what it is you are saying and strive to create a unique voice that will draw people in. Make sure that you know what you are talking about and have evidence, or citations, to back up your claims. And lastly, fair use is fair use.  If an object is in the public domain feel free to use it, but always sight your sources.

Research Interview Dialogue 2

I am sitting at the reference desk one afternoon when the phone rings.

Me:  Bull Run Regional Library this is Sam.

Person on other end of Phone: Hi. I’m looking for some advice on research for a speech.

Me: Ok, can you tell me more about it.

Phone: Well, yea… I’m the Valedictorian this year at Osbourn.

Me: Congratulations!

Phone: Thanks.  So, I know that the Manassas National Battlefield is near here.  I don’t really know much about the battle that took place there and I was hoping to incorporate something about it into my speech. Do you have anything at the library that could help?

Me: I bet we do. If you would like to come up here I could be of more assistance.

Phone: Ok, I’ll be up there in half an hour.

Me: I’ll start looking through our catalog and pull a few items.

Phone: Ok, Thanks. Bye. (Hangs up.)

Short time passes. A young woman walks into the library, and heads to the reference desk.

Young Woman: Hi, I just spoke with someone about a graduation speech I am writing about half an hour ago.

Me: Yes. That was me. I was able to find a few things that I think you will find of interest.  I remember my valedictorian included a poem in his speech so that leads me to this first book: Shades of the battlefield: poems by Beatrice Bright.(Prince William Public Library System, Shades) I haven’t looked at it yet and am unfamiliar with the poet- so I can’t recommend any in particular, but one of the subject headings for the book was “Manassas (Va.) — History — Civil War, 1861-1865 – Poetry”. (Prince William Public Library System, Shades)

YW: Thanks.  What else is in that stack?

Me: This next one is a novel: Unto this hour by Tom Wicker.(Prince William Public Library System, Unto) It’s a fictional account of what happened at the 2nd Battle of Bull Run; one of the battles you were interested in. One of the things that caught my eye about this one was the scope, the focus, the author did on this one battle.  Judging from the information on the jacket, he approaches the novel from many different points of view. It’s kind of long running over six hundred pages, but I skimmed through some of the pages and it looks like a good read. The author obviously spent a long time doing research to treat the topic of this one battle so immensely.

YW: That sounds interesting. I would like to look at that one more. I like how you said it approaches the story from multiple points of view; maybe I can find something in that.  I don’t know if I can finish the book before graduation with everything else going on, but I can probably read a good bit of it. What’s the next book?

Me: This next book is more poetry: Rhythmic Ramblings in Battle Scarred Manassas by Douglas Clark.(Prince William Public Library System, Rhythmic) In particular you might like the poem Alma Mater. I looked through the table of contents and when I saw that one I had to read it.  Take a look- it’s not long. (She opens the book and looks at the poem.)

YW: Hmm.  That could be interesting. I haven’t yet decided the focus of the speech, but I want to tie into it some local history. To remind everyone where it is we come from and who we are.

Me:  Ah, That leads me to this last book: Incidents of Cavalry Experiences during General Pope’s Campaign, by William Gardiner.(Prince William Public Library System, Incidents)

YW: What is it about?

Me: It is a series of personal narratives of soldiers. Perhaps one persons’ story will stick out? It is a series of papers that were read before the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society.

YW: Wow.  That actually sounds really useful.  Maybe there is one really good story in there that will stick out to me.

Me: I know you are busy getting ready for graduation, but since we are so close to the battlefield I got to thinking. What if you read these books while at the battlefield? It could really help you meditate on the meaning of the experiences you will read about.

YW: I actually had that same thought on my way here.  Great minds think alike right.

Me: It only costs $3 to get in. I’ve been there a few times.

YW:  That’s not bad.  I think I’ll check it out this afternoon. I’ll keep those last three, that first one doesn’t sound too interesting.

Me: I’ll re-shelve it.  You can check the other three out at the circulation desk. Is there anything else I can help you with today?

YW: No thank you. That helps out a lot.  I’ll take a look at these for now.  I might come back later.

Me:  We are open till five this afternoon, and will re-open tomorrow at noon.

YW: Thanks. Have a good day!

Me: You too.


  1. Prince William Public Library System. (n.d.). Shades of the battlefield: poems by beatrice bright. Retrieved from

  2. Prince William Public Library System. (n.d.). Unto this hour by tom wicker. Retrieved from

  3. Prince William Public Library System. (n.d.). Rhythmic ramblings in battle scarred manassas by douglas clark. Retrieved from

  4. Prince William Public Library System. (n.d.). Incidents of cavalry experiences during general pope’s campaign, by william gardiner. Retrieved from

Research Interview Dialogue

I am sitting at the reference desk of Mullen Library when I am approached by a student who needs help. As she nears the desk, I look up and take notice of her.

Timid Student: (in a low tone)  umm, excuse me but could you help me find a book.

Me: I would be happy to.  What book are you looking for?

Student: It’s for a class project. I believe it’s called Our Bodies. It might be over at the Nursing Library.

Me: (Turns the dual screen monitor on so that she can see what it is that I am doing, and so that she can learn how to search for books using our system in the future.) I can check and see if we have a copy here, if you would like?

Student: That would be great. Thanks.

Me: So, first we are going to go to the libraries home page-  We want to search books, so I’m going to search under the book tab.  Since we know what we are looking for it is easier to use the “classic catalog search” rather than the Summon box; it can get a little messy sometimes.

Student: Ok yea

Me: Now we want to do a title search for Our Bodies.  I’ll type that into the search box and then select title from the dropdown menu; we also want to select Catholic University to narrow down our results since we believe it is in the Nursing Library here on campus. Then we press “search catalog”.

Student: That’s it, Our Bodies Ourselves. (The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, 2005)

Me: Ok, it looks as though there are multiple years.

Student: Probably the newest one would be best?

Me: Probably. Let’s take a look. This last title is an e-resource, so you could look at it from anywhere just by logging in.  It’s from 2010.  Let me compare it to some of the others.  (Looks at the other records.)  All of the other records appear to be by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective.  This last one has a slightly different title and is by Susan Wells, so I don’t think it is what you are looking for.

Student: What about the one from 2005?

Me: Let’s have a look at it.  So, what are you doing your research on? Maybe we can see if this is an appropriate source.

Student: That would be great. I’m doing research on sexuality and um… (quietly) abortion.

Me: (In a lower tone.)  Ok. Uh, yea.  Is there any particular focus in your research, or are you looking for general information?

Student: I’m doing research on how it hurts women in the long run because of how it interrupts the natural biological process. In particular how it can complicate future pregnancies.  I know cases can vary.  My research is already pretty strong here, but my advisor said that I should find other sources that argue the other side of the issue and compare my research against theirs to make a stronger case.

Me: Yea.  There is definitely a lot of information out there. I can see that this book talks about abortion.  Let’s see if we can find anything about the book online. (Searches Google) It looks like there is a website spinning off of this book: (Boston Women’s Health Book Collective)  Well this book’s website appears to be arguing about how to go about deciding on if it is right for you.  So it is from the “pro-choice” viewpoint.  It could be helpful.

Student: Yea, I was looking for books online and this is one of the ones that came up. I asked my teacher about it and he said he thought the nursing library might have a copy. Since I didn’t know where that was I thought I would come here for help. It’s a pretty important topic.

Me: Well we are always happy to help people find information, and this does appear to be in the nursing library.  Part of the reason this is such a big issue is because of the ethical dilemma involved.  “Ethical dilemmas occur when values are in conflict.” (American Library Association, 2008)  So you picked a topic that is going to have a lot of opinions out there each vying that theirs is the correct one.

Student: I know, that’s why I thought it such a good topic to speak on for my project.

Me:  As you may know the mission of the University states: “The Catholic University of America is … dedicated to advancing the dialogue between faith and reason, … [and] seeks to discover and impart the truth through excellence in teaching and research, all in service to the Church, the nation and the world.” (Board of Trustees, 2006) From when other people have come here searching on this topic I know we have a lot on the right to life, counseling, and legal stances and implications.   Since the library is “committed to providing a balanced collection which represents a diversity of perspectives” (“The catholic university,” 2012) I’m sure we have plenty of material on the opposing side of your research.  If not, I know we can access material from one of our partner libraries.

Student: Wow. That would be great. Thanks.  I think I’ll just look at this book for now and get some ideas on how they approach the issue.  I’ll definitely keep that in mind though.  I had never read the University Mission so thanks for sharing that.

Me: My pleasure. By the way, the nursing library is in Gowan Hall. Is there anything else I can help you with?

Student: No, that has been super-helpful.  I think I can remember how we searched for those books, so maybe I can find stuff on my own next time.  Thanks for all your help. Have a good day!

Me:  You too. (The student exits.)


1.       The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. (2005). Our bodies, ourselves: A new edition for a new era . Retrieved from

2.       American Library Association. (2008, January 22). Code of ethics of the american library association. Retrieved from

3.       Board of Trustees. (2006, December 12). Mission statement. Retrieved from

4.       The catholic university of america libraries collection development policy . (2012, August 06). Retrieved from

5.       Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. (n.d.). Our bodies ourselves. Retrieved from

Researching a Reference Book

It was a warm September morn’. I, a student at Catholic University, was on assignment. My teacher, Dr. Chancellor, had given me the task of doing research on research material. Following my literary nose, I trecked downward to the local Barnes and Noble where I fittingly hailed an attendant; I inquired about the layout of his domain and if he could point me down the right path.

Under his guidance, I wound my way through the aisles, crossing many paths, to get to my destination. Upon arrival, I took a quick survey of my surroundings and decided upon one book that was above all others in scope: Norton’s Star Atlas and Reference Handbook 20th Edition.

This reference book, published by Penguin Group, was the 20th edition of Norton’s Star Atlas and Reference Handbook. The book says that it was first published in 1910 by a Mr. Arthur Philip Norton, schoolmaster and amateur astronomer. Norton’s Star Atlas is “the longest established star atlas in the world” in the words of it’s current editor, a Mr. Ian Ridpath. Mr. Ridpath has been writing, editing, and broadcasting astronomy since 1972. Ian Ridpath is also the editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Astronomy.

Since Mr. Norton ascended to the heavens, his Atlas has gone through many revisions and has lost, according to the historical component in the introduction to the resource, all contributions from it’s original compiler, but, such is to be when one deals with the passage of time and space.

There is one issue as it pertains to the authoritativeness of this particular reference book that I would like to address; this edition was published in 2003, and remains the current edition to this day; there has been a decade of advancement and research in the field since then. It would be my assumption that a new edition is being worked on. On that last criteria alone I would recommend holding off for purchase until seeing when a new version is likely to appear.

I would like to highlight this as an advancement to Norton’s credit here: from everything I can tell while skimming over the pages, the book is easy to comprehend and has a vast amount of detail that is covered. One of the additions that was added to this edition was the section on computer-controlled telescopes and CCD imaging. The scope of this work is quite universal, pun intended, in that it covers the stars. The scope of this book is to provide an overall introduction to astronomy by examining the celestial bodies and to be a resource for amateur and scholar alike. It serves as a wonderful tool in that it fulfills that scope.

One of the benefits I would argue for in adding this to a reference collection would be of it’s visual appeal, simple to understand components that the novice can utilize for their inquiry, and the manner through which the material explores more in-depth topics for those taking a more avid interest in the field.


Report on Discovery and Recovery: Preserving the Iraqi Jewish Archive

Dr. David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, gave the welcoming remarks for the panel discussion on Discovery and Recovery: Preserving the Iraqi Jewish Archive (IJA).  An exhibit centered around the collection can be found in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Building, and will be available through January 5th, 2014.  This program will be the last one for the year 2013. Future programs held at the National Archives include: Associate Justice Stephen Breyer talks with Constituion scholar Akhil Reed Amar (January 14);  various noontime lectures; and an Introduction to Genealogy workshop (January 8).

          On May 6th, 2003 sixteen soldiers from the Mobile Exploitation team Alpha entered Saddam Hussein’s intelligence building. They discovered thousands of books, manuscripts, documents and torahs lying under four feet of water in the Mukhabarart basement; the collection was rumored to have a 7th century Talmud, but no such item was found. A hasty production was implemented to preserve the material while the National Archives was called in to preserve the material in a long term project.  The initial stages involved draining the facilities of the water while the documents were taken outside, into the hot Baghdad environment, to dry where they quickly became molded. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) secured a freezer truck to prevent further damage to the material while archivists and preservation experts from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) mounted up an expedition to Baghdad to see how best to go about preserving the material.

          Doris A. Hamburg, the Director of Preservation Programs at NARA, informed the audience that the decade long project of preserving this material was nearing it’s end. Hamburg provided more background on the project, including information on the background of the Jewish people in Iraq (dating back 2500 years).  After reiterating what was said by Dr. Ferriero, she went on to add that the freezer truck smelled of mold by the time that the NARA team arrived, and that there were twenty-seven trunks of material to sift through. The material was never collected, in it’s originality under Saddam, to be an archive, but was just a collection of material. Efforts to locate local options in Iraq for drying the material were unsuccessful. It was decided that the material would be brought to the United States for preservation and would be returned to the people of Iraq once the collection was restored. A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the CPA and Iraq representatives was signed and funding would be provided by NARA.  By August of 2003 the material was being transported  to Ft. Worth, Texas to freeze dry the material in a vacuum. More funding for the project was to be provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and by the Department of State for the third phase of the project.The material was sorted by size and nothing was thrown away. A database was created and every item was assigned a number. Thus began the physical processing and condition assessment for the 2700 books and tens of thousands of documents that were part of the extensive collection. It was recommended that the archives would digitize the more interesting and rare material, while books that were more common would not be digitized because they were available elsewhere.

          Dina Herbert, the project librarian, said that there are 3486 entries in the database, 2700 of which are books ranging from the 16th to 20th centuries. Each of these entries was cataloged under a time constraint of two years. Part of her task was to set the priorities for the digitization project, the decision for which was based on “were the items unique or rare.” The collection includes prayer books, Rabbinic literature, Bibles, and textbooks. One of the earliest books in the collection was from 1568 (Hebrew 5328).

          Anna Friedman, senior conservator for the IJA project, talked about her teams role in the conservation effort.  Mold can start to grow on wet paper and breaks down connection fibers. Well established mold can eat holes in paper. A mandate was introduced to clean paper well enough to not pose a health risk to the catalogers. Her teams tools, such as the vacuum, were modified to meet the more demanding challenges of the project. Fragile materials were placed in polyester sleeves. One of the problems discovered in the project was that the stamps came off easily from their location.  To resolve this issue, a drop of glue (a more technical term was used, but I could not find a correct spelling) was used to reattach each of the stamps that the correct location could be found for. The primary goal for the digitization effort was stabilization of the material for digitization and access. When possible, the conservation team would flatten the material with weight. After the conservation effort was completed for a book, they found their home in custom sized boxes.

          Katherine Kelly, another member of the conservation team, went on to talk about the exhibit.  Twenty-four books and documents were chosen for display.  An 1815 Zohar commentary on the Torah was one of many books that received a washing to remove many of the impurities from the flood. This washing process helped to improve the physical stability of the items.  Cyclododecane, a wax like substance, was placed over hand written text on pages before they received a bath. The conservation team collaborated heavily with the project librarian. All of the material was tracked throughout the project using Sharepoint. This included dividing the material to be cataloged and boxed. All of the info for the material was pulled from the website database.  Guidelines for this portion of the project were based on NARA standards.

          Jennifer Seitz, a Digital Imaging Specialist within the Digitization Services Branch of NARA, spoke of her work in the imaging lab centering around providing high quality photos for access by the public. The lab is equipped with two digital overhead cameras, a system which was designed for museums. The cameras were fully integrated with a pneumatic foot pedal for hands free image capturing. Capture One Software was used to provide the best pictures for digital preservation. The IT infrastructure utilized RAID 5 formatting to provide secure data recovery and repair. Different approaches were utilized for archiving the imaged material.  Folio view provided a solution to the ink bleeding, while original folder view was captured on the table top instead of beneath the glass helping with emulsion. A simple page capture was used usually on oversized items.  Non standard arrangements were used for a detailed view of photographs.  Book scanning was done as a double page spread where possible. Some books scanned by single page had special page holders built. 100% of the material was reviewed for accuracy and completeness as a means of quality control, because this was the only chance for the material to go through this rigorous process, as the collection will soon be returning to Iraq. Several file types were created for each picture: Tiffs, JPEGS, and PDFs.  Many of the JPEGS had “slugs” imposed upon them to provide a brief line of text to accompany the image.  PDF’s were created with each page for easy viewing and download of the material.  So far, over 240,000 pages have been created.

          Noah Durham, the website project manager, discussed the process of designing the website for the project. There are four primary branches of the website: the preservation projectsearch the collectionview the exhibit, and connect with us.  The preservation project tells the story from recovery through preservation. The search page was designed to be as simplistic as searching google. The search page contains all entries, and provides the viewers with an ability to comment (for a limited amount of time). The exhibit was recreated online, but, it was stressed, does not recreate the experience of personal visitation and viewing.  The connect with us page allows users to provide feedback to the team. Some of the original concepts for the sites were: a simple search much like google that would allow the user to refine results as per libraries and retail sites; user experience was key and the website was loaded with fast loading images in the browser while high quality versions (PDFs) would be available for downloading; the site would have a commenting feature so that the public could contribute and foster a community; posting the technical guidelines and documentation about the project on the site; and provide an online version of the IJA exhibit. Durham said that “Planning is half the work (or more).” A publishing workflow is required to approve user comments prior to their being made visible on the site. Three months of planning went into establishing a wireframe of the site so that the look and feel of the pages could be established. All versions of the material were uploaded into a Project Management Portal (PMP), a version control repository. The file of record could be found in the PMP.

          There was also a period for questions and answers at the panel discussion. One audience member asked about the personal opinions of the project members on the return of the documents to Iraq, to which Hamburg replied that the focus of their project was on the preservation of the material.  Another member of the audience asked what the overall cost of the project was and how much of the funding was from the public trust and how much was from private trusts; he also asked what confidence the panel members had that the collection would be kept safe in Iraq. The answer to the question was that $100,000 had been provided by NEH, just under $3 Million was provided by the State Department (much of which went to support the staff), the Center for Jewish History donated their time to the project. Iraqi fellows, who assisted throughout the project, were able to get a good sense of the material, which should help in it’s preservation once returned to Iraq. On Sunday, December 15th, 2013, Iraq sent a delegation to deliver 49 parchments of text, including fragments of Torahs) to the Iraqi Jewish Community for burial. One audience member asked what the material was doing where it was found, to which the reply was that “we don’t know,” it was scooped up by the government at some point and that there was more material in the national library. One member of audience asked about the treatment of the religious artifacts, to which Friedman replied that they didn’t really do an extensive clean of them except for a surface clean (keeping in mind Jewish customs). Another member of the audience asked about why they chose to do a ritual burial rather than preserve the fragments and texts. In Judaism, anything with the name of God cannot be thrown out, and since the material was no longer able to be used it must receive a proper burial. I asked the panelists about the reason behind a limited timeline for commenting on the site.  The response was that they only had limited funding for staff to review comments, and that once the funding ran out for the project there would be no one left to review. It was added that the comments would be able for viewing indefinitely. The last question asked was how much of the website is up. The panelists estimated that between 80% and 90% of the images are up and that 2000 documents are available for viewing.

A Blog by Samuel W. Russell