Blog Post

Visualizing an Artists' Book Collection

As my final project for a fantastic Digital Scholarship seminar this semester, I created a spreadsheet with bibliographic data from the artists' books collection at the Frick Fine Arts Library, University of Pittsburgh, and sought out various entry-level tools for visualizing this data. My goal was to identify some ways for a (non-programmer) humanities librarian to better understand a collection through visualization. My slides are available to view online.

I ran into a variety of hiccups and frustrations along the way, and although the semester is over, my interest in this question is not. I thought perhaps the HASTAC community could help me brainstorm some other tools or workarounds for the challenges I encountered, including:

  • inability to easily export bibliographic data from an OPAC to a spreadsheet
  • visualization templates that weren't equipped to handle the number of items in the collection, or became unwieldy
  • lack of programs that can easily import data from Excel or Google spreadsheets/ programs that required data to be reformatted or marked up
  • inability to treat dates like dates and not raw numbers/quantities

I would also be interested to know of any literature related to this topic. The articles I turned up were all geared toward a computer science audience and dealt with visualizing academic citation data, rather than library collections.

Thanks in advance for your feedback and comments, as I would love to pursue this further!




Exporting information from an OPAC can be an enormous pain. 

What program do you use for your OPAC?  Do you have IT people who might be able to go in the back end and get exports of information into Excel spreadsheets?  I think you might want to look into a database software like Access or FileMaker (or any of a number of other ones) for things like dates as dates, and visualization.  I think you can also probably get those programs to add markup language (of a standard sort) to data they export, but I'm not sure, since I haven't done it yet. 




This is really great.  We're planning to do the same thing here, to aid in collection development and exhibition planning.  We've invested more staff time into doing specialized and more in-depth cataloging of the collection, so I'm hoping that means we'll be able to really make meaning from visualizations like these.

Thanks for sharing!

Heather Gendron