February 16, 2018

Time After Time | Product Spotlight

Digital archives contain a wealth of interesting images and documents that have been meticulously described by librarians, but databases are not always ideal for browsing. Tools such as time line and mapping software now enable libraries to present digital collections in new ways, facilitating serendipitous exploration for researchers.

“Our special collections have been very well described, but those descriptions are really hard to access a lot of times,” said Devin Becker, 2014 LJ Mover & Shaker and digital initiatives and web services librarian for the University of Idaho Library. “By giving [users] different ways of viewing [a collection], they’re basically viewing different types of metadata, and they’re viewing it very quickly.” For example, if researchers are looking, specifically, for photos and documents from the late 1960s, “They can quickly get to that time period and look around [using a time line]. Whereas if they’re searching through a database, they can do that, but it’s not as intuitive.”

Time lines can also be useful for instructors. Giving a student a new way to explore digital content “provides further perspective on relationships that you wouldn’t necessarily, off the top of your head, visualize,” notes Jamie Walker, web application developer for instructional design and e-teaching services (IDeS) at Boston College. “The flexibility of putting data together [that] is spatial, temporal, and visual opens up more possibilities for how you synthesize the data or use the data.”

Walker led the Ex Libris DigiTool integration as part of the Roma: Caput Mundi digital humanities project conceptualized by Boston College associate professor of fine arts Stephanie Leone and developed by the IDeS team. The Roma: Caput Mundi site enables students to explore photographs and contextual descriptions of Rome through the years using a straightforward time line and map interface. The IDeS department has since been developing MediaKron, its own web-based application to help instructors organize and present multimedia content in a variety of ways.

This product spotlight highlights a variety of open source and commercial timeline tools with uses ranging from classroom instruction to the display of large digital archives.


Product: Timeglider
Company: Mnemograph

Timeglider describes itself as “Google Maps, but for time.” The key differentiating factor for this web-based interactive time line interface is that it enables users to zoom in and out to view events embedded in time periods ranging from centuries (or even thousands or billions of years) to hours, depending on the scope. The HTML5-based app features a web-based interface for creating events via metadata input and is designed to enable multiple users to collaborate on projects. Time line designers rank the importance of individual events or time spans to make those events more or less viewable through the interface as users zoom in or out.

The basic program is free for individual students. Group plans designed for businesses, publishers, schools, and other institutions are priced per user with access to the system allowing group editing, with tiered subscriptions beginning at $24 per month for five users, up to $90 per month for 20 users. According to the company’s website, it will also take financial hardships into account potentially to negotiate lower rates with organizations.


Product: Tiki-Toki

Tiki-Toki presents what are arguably the most visually striking interactive time lines featured here. The Tiki-Toki content management system makes it easy for administrators to create 3-D time lines with images, Vimeo and Youtube videos, text, popup panels, and customized color schemes and background art. The intuitive online interface also allows visitors to highlight content by administrator-defined categories, to view content in bands or by duration, or to enter search terms to find specific events quickly. The American Library Association has created a Tiki-Toki time line chronicling the recent history of banned books, and the tool is popular with teachers.

Students and other noncommercial users can create one free time line via a basic Tiki-Toki account. Small nonprofits are eligible for an account that allows the customization of up to five time lines, with group editing enabled, for $7.50 per month. Larger libraries might consider the silver account, which allows up to 25 time lines with group editing features for $25 per month. Or Tiki-Toki’s software can be licensed for library-owned server installation for $2,000.


Product: TimelineJS
PROVIDER: Northwestern University Knight Lab

Ease of use for beginners is a key selling point for TimelineJS. Anyone who is comfortable entering basic metadata into a Google Spreadsheet template and embedding graphics or video clips on a blog can use this free, open source tool developed and maintained by Northwestern University’s Knight Lab to create professional-looking, interactive online time lines. The tool features built-in support for content linked from Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia, Google Maps, Twitter, Vimeo, Vine, and more.

Becker praised the simplicity of TimelineJS. “If you have your dates right and have information in the right columns [in the Google spreadsheet], it will make this really slick time line. It’s swipable on mobile devices and tablets, and you can click through it easily on a computer,” he said. “It looks really nice and adjusts to the size of the screen.”

The University of Idaho uses TimelineJS with its Campus Photograph Collection, which features more than 3,000 photos dating back to 1889. The tool’s affiliation with the Knight Foundation has also helped popularize its use at many newspapers and media outlets.

Libraries that would like to use TimelineJS with large digital collections can also bypass the Google Spreadsheet and use JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) to draw content from a database for display on an embedded time line, while retaining the tool’s appearance and functionality.


Product: Timeline—SIMILE Widgets
PROVIDER: open source, developed by ­Massachusetts Institute of Technology

SIMILE Widgets, including Timeline, Timeplot, and other data visualization tools, originated as part of the Semantic Interoperability of Metadata and Information in unLike Environments (SIMILE) joint project by the World Wide Web Consortium, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Libraries, and the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Although the project concluded in 2008, these widgets and their source code are available for free under an open source license that permits use and modifications by noncommercial entities.

Although SIMILE Timeline is an older solution—and it will help to have staff who are comfortable troubleshooting XML files, HTML, and JavaScript—it’s free, designed to work with large databases, and presents content in a robust interface that enables searching, filtering, highlighting, and scrolling by decade, year, and month.

The University of Idaho’s Library works with OCLC’s CONTENTdm digital collection management platform and the SIMILE Timeline widget to display in a time line interface several large collections, including the Idaho Waters Digital Library, the Experimental Forest and Savenac Nursery Photo Archive, and the Vandal Video Collection of the university’s basketball and football teams.


Product: Viewshare
PROVIDER: Library of Congress

“Interfaces for our heritage” is the tagline for Viewshare, the free web application provided by the Library of Congress (LC). The most comprehensive tool in this spotlight, Viewshare can ingest Excel spreadsheets, Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS) records, Dublin Core data from an Open Archives Initiative (OAI-PMH) endpoint, or from OCLC CONTENTdm version 4.x and then display photos and records in a variety of ways including embedded time lines, interactive maps, charts, facets, and tag clouds.

Viewshare has been used with a variety of digital archive collections, including the Brooklyn Public Library’s Fulton Street Trade Card Collection, the California Digital Library’s California Wildfires Archive, and the University of Mississippi’s John Elon Phay Collection, chronicling segregation in Mississippi’s public schools in the 1940s and 1950s.

While at the University of Mississippi, Gloria Gonzalez, now digital archivist for the UCLA Library Special Collections, helped digitize the Phay material and made it available online via Viewshare, which was then called “Recollection.”

“Creating an interface is an exploratory and interpretive act. Equally interesting is…that the resulting interfaces that are possible with Recollection invite exploration and interpretation of the collections they present,” she explains in a user story published online by Viewshare. In an email to LJ, Gonzalez said that she has continued to use the tool at UCLA and is anticipating the upcoming release of Version 2.0

“Since the Phay Collection project, I’ve found a full range of ways to use the tool and taught a few Viewshare workshops on the West Coast,” she said. “I also teach my student workers how to use it for projects here at the UCLA Library.”

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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