Category Archives: Library Technologies

Digital Odyssey 2015 – Open Data, Open Heritage

Sugar BeachDigital Odyssey 2015 attracted a small but enthusiastic group of individuals interested in this year’s theme of Open Data, Open Heritage.  The event (June 12, 2015) was held at George Brown’s new Waterfront Campus just east of Sugar Beach in Toronto.  These notes are from the sessions I attended at Digital Odyssey.  There were additional concurrent sessions which are summarized in the session descriptions on the OLA web site.

Storytelling From Space

The keynote speaker was Aurelia Moser of CartoDB (previously of Ushahidi and a Mozilla Fellow).  Her talk entitled “Storytelling from Space” was illustrated with images from mapping projects that use a wide variety of open and crowd-sourced data.  Many of these maps show changes in landscapes over time – disappearing lakes and forest-cover, changes brought about by natural disasters – earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, changes in conversations on Twitter by location , etc.

Moser’s current employer, CartoDB, offers many tools and resources that enable citizen cartography by allowing users to manage, import, and query their data to create customized maps.  CartoDb offers:

  • software for creating maps
  • open datasets (including hi-resolution satellite imagery)
  • APIs and javascript libraries
  • tutorials
Chicago Snowplow Heatmap

Chicago Snowplow Heatmap

Moser used one of the CartoDB projects to illustrate the need to understand your data.  It is easy to make false assumptions based on what you are seeing. A heat map created from GPS data sent from snow plows in Chicago seems to indicate that one section of the city receives frequent and excessive service.  This is not the case as that hot spot is merely the snow plow parking lot where the plows began and ended their shifts.

Another challenging project that Moser told us about was mapping water availability data from Tanzania gathered over decades by many different people in many different formats. Results of this project can be seen at the Vital Signs Water Availability website.

Of the other many interesting projects Moser mentioned in her talk, here are a few that I’d like to look at further:





  • odyssey.js, a javascript library that lets you add storytelling to maps
  • Global Forest Watch, an interactive map featuring forest cover change, land use, biodiversity hot spots and user stories
  • Fires in the Amazon, a time-lapse map of fires in the Amazon 2012-2014
  • Illustreets – An interactive map of England showing detailed information about the standard of living, crime, house prices, and schools for any location

Creating and Collecting Open Cultural Heritage Collections

This session was lead by Loren Fantin and Jess Posgate of OurOntario, a partnership of Ontario cultural and heritage organizations created to make Ontario digital content discoverable by a global audience.  They gave a good overview of what is involved in creating and maintaining cultural heritage collections and discussed what is possible, how to create value with a focus on moving beyond the search box and  creating once but publishing multiple times.  They also talked about the challenges: messiness of metadata, migration difficulties, practical and philosophical issues of crowdsourcing and issues of licensing.

Several interesting projects (in addition to OurOntario) that make use of open heritage objects were mentioned in the course of this presentation.  This is a sampling of just a few of them:

Vango Yourself

Mons 2015

Europeana’s Vango Yourself is a site that lets you recreate a painting with your friends and then share the results on social media and with the Vango site. It promotes re-use of cultural heritage and allows you to look at art in a completely different way.

Mons 2015 by Pieter Goiris
License of this image CC-BY-SA

License of original image Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution CC-BY

What’s on the Menu

What's On the Menu

What’s on the Menu is NYPL Lab’s crowd-sourcing project to transcribe historical restaurant menus dish-by-dish so that they can be found by anyone searching on the web. You can help by reviewing transcriptions of menus.

Culture Cam

Culture Cam is another Europeana offering.  It is a webcam-based similarity search tool that lets designers, artists and any creative person explore the images on Eurpeana in a new way.  You take a photo of an object, texture or colour with your webcam and then Culture Cam will return a selection of related images from its database.  All images in Culture Cam are under Public Domain or have no known copyright so can be used for derivative designs.

Culture Cam Selection

Powerhouse Museum

The Powerhouse Museum (Sydney Australia) is making its collection dataset available in a variety of forms.  In addition to traditional two-dimensional images, the Powerhouse is making available 3D files that you can download and print.

Consuming and Transforming Open Data

In the afternoon, Mita Williams of the University of Windsor led a hands-on session on using open data and free online mapping tools.  The first challenge was to map all of the branches of the Toronto Public Library on a map.  This could be done painstakingly by hand, but we started with a file of data made available the City of Toronto with geographic information about the branches of the Toronto Public Library.  Using one of several tools, Google Maps, CartoDb or MapBox, this data was then added to a map.

This is the map Chris Rumas of Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and I created using Google Maps:

The second part of the workshop was to create a time-lapse map of the building of the Toronto Public Library branches by their dates of creation.  Since the first data file did not contain any dates, we needed to combine it with a second file from Wikipedia which did have the dates. Once the data was merged it was then imported into CartoDB to create a torque map to show the  time-lapse of the buildings of the Toronto Public Library system.  Some tweaking of the data was required (more refinement is still necessary), but a map was eventually created.

Time-Lapse of the Building of the Toronto Public Library Branches

If you want to try this project yourself, Mita’s files are available on GitHub and there is a google doc with additional information for creating these maps.

Lightning Talks

The day concluded with several lightning talks on a wide variety of topics.   Alan Harnum, soon to be of OCADU, gave entertaining and illustrated talk on Barriers to Open Data in Libraryland.  Ab Velasco and Jeffrey Toste introduced an upcoming hackathon to be held at TPL in November. Dan Scott gave a short presentation on creating a linked data  bibliography on Canadian Labour Studies using Zotero. Sarah Simpkin discussed a recent Omeka Project and Mita Williams told us about the inclusive week-long PressPlay hackathon held by Hack Forge earlier this year.


Hacking Book APIs

This year on the first day of the Ontario Library Association Super Conference there was a morning hackfest.  Several map based projects (Toronto poetry, Edmonton library events, conference delegates homes) were suggested along with a few others that focused on data sets.

Cover of novel, Landing GearThe project our group tackled was looking at a book API to see what might be done with it. An API is an Application Programming Interface – a way to allow web applications to interact with one another. A book API gives other programmes on the web the ability to talk to the contents of the book and use that content in new ways. Kate Pullinger, Governor-General prize-winner, and her publisher, Random House Canada, have released an API for an excerpt of her most-recent book, Landing Gear.

Although we lacked a programmer in our group and did not develop a project, we had plenty of discussion about what we might want to do with this API and book APIs in general.  Our ideas fell into two broad categories.

API Uses

Some ideas included:

  • Character bios
  • Mapping origins and journeys of characters
  • Serializing books by releasing sections at a time
  • Using quotes to have characters speak on Twitter
  • Analyzing relationships between authors different works
  • Generate Bitstrip comics with dialogue
  • School projects
  • Creating family trees

Role of the Library in Creating APIs

We also discussed what the role of the Library might be in creating APIs and making patrons aware of API enhanced aspects of books.  Libraries might be involved in the following:

  • Creating APIs for public domain books
  • Working on establishing standards for book APIs
  • Linking physical books to extended API content via QR codes
  • Democratizing digital humanities
  • Integration of API with accessibility software

A more complete picture of our thoughts can be seen in the image below.


Notes and diagram from Hackfest session on Book APIs

The members of the book API group were: Dana Thomas (Ryerson), Helen Kula (UTM), Pat Gracey (TPL), Lisa Smith (Chatham-Kent PL), Erica Heesen (Glengary-Stormont), Linda (school library), Sally Wilson (Ryerson)

For a quick overview of the other Hackfest projects, check out Jacqueline Whyte-Appleby’s Slideshare deck:


Remembering the Real Winnie Website Project

Real Winnie Collection WebsiteThis summer and fall one of the big projects I worked on was the creation of a digital collection website as part of a larger project called Remembering the Real Winnie: The World’s Most Famous Bear Turns 100.  The larger project comprised an exhibit held at the Ryerson Image Centre from November 5 – December 7, 2014, an interactive story website, a short film and the digital collection website.  It involved a large cast of contributors from the owner of the collection to staff, students, faculty members and librarians from across campus.

The small archival collection (consisting of photographs, letters, diaries, and a veterinary kit) that was the basis for this project was lent to Ryerson University by the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian from Winnipeg.  At the outbreak of WWI, Colebourn travelled from Winnipeg to Valcartier, Quebec to join the troops heading for England.  On his way he purchased a bear cub, whom he called Winnie.  Winnie followed Colebourn to Salisbury Plain where the Canadian troops were stationed.  When the troops were sent to the Front, Colebourn took Winnie to the London Zoo.  Winnie became a star attraction at the zoo and was particularly beloved by Christopher Robin Milne whose father, A.A. Milne wrote the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

1914 DiaryThe digital collection website was created using the Omeka open source web-publishing software developed by the Roy Rozenweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. The software can be enhanced with plugins, several of which were used for this project.  As the collection contained several diaries that Colebourn wrote between 1914-1918, the Internet Archive Book Reader was used to allow readers to flip through the pages of the diaries.  The diaries were also transcribed to allow for searching of the content of the diaries.

Other interactivity was added to allow for viewing of several of the items in the vet kit that is part of the collection.  3D scans were made and added to the SketchFab site so that they could  be integrated into the collection website.  More information about the scanning is available in the 3D Scanning Essay on the Real Winnie website.

Harry Colebourn on the Front

Several interactive maps were also created by geocoding the locations mentioned in Colebourn’s diaries and uploading this data to the CartoDB website to create maps. How these maps were created is explained in the Mapping Harry Colebourn essay.

The Web in Your Pocket: Distributing Digital Resources using LibraryBox

Image of Poster Presentation

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- ShareAlike License

At the recent Ryerson University Faculty Conference I presented this poster to familiarize faculty members with LibraryBox and how it might be used in their teaching and research.  At the poster venue I had a LibraryBox for testing and had a good stream of visitors from a wide range of departments in the University – Nursing, Engineering, New Media, Sociology and Architecture.  The poster gave some background, simplified how to build instructions, some use cases, features and benefits, a map with some highlighted LibraryBox locations and some sample screenshots.  It will be interesting to see if I hear back from any of the faculty members that dropped by.

Customizing your LibraryBox v2.0 Beta

Screenshot of LibraryboxRecently I created a LibraryBox v2.0 Beta and have been spending some time customizing the look and feel of the default installation to reflect how I would like to use it and to prepare it for a couple of upcoming poster presentations. Here are a few notes on what I have discovered so far that may be helpful if you are trying to do some customization.  For more detailed information and discussion about LibraryBox 2.0 that goes way beyond look and feel, check out the LibraryBox Google Group and the Advanced Setup page on the LibraryBox site.

Files and Directories

The default installation of LibraryBox v2.0 comes with a suite of files that work out of the box.  These can be found in the LibraryBox directory on your USB stick.  Many of these files can be customized to make your LibraryBox unique. The files that govern how content is displayed can be found in the Content and Shared directories below the LibraryBox directory.  Before editing them, it is a good idea to make a back-up copy of the entire contents of the LibraryBox directory and save it to your computer.  If anything goes badly wrong when editing, you will be able to restore the original version.

Content Directory

The content directory contains several files and folders as follows:

librarybox_faviconFavicon.ico is the small 16 x 16 pixel icon that appears in the browser address bar when a user is connected to one of your LibraryBox pages.  You can create your own favicon if you wish by using a favicon generator such as:

Gpl-2.0.txt file contains the text of the GNU public license.

HTML Files

The Content directory contains several static HTML files as follows:

Home Page –  index.html
Statistics Page – stats.html
About Page – about.html

php files

dl_statistics.html.php and vc_statistics.html.php are used to track downloads and visitor counts which are reported on the home and stats pages.

STL files

These files can be used to 3D print a container for your LibraryBox.

css Directory

Contains css files used by LibraryBox pages:


The css directory contains style sheet files that govern the look and feel of your LibraryBox pages. Several of these css files come with the Bootstrap framework, a collection of tools that was used to create the LibraryBox website.  The font.css file makes use of the font files that are in the Content/fonts directory.

If you would like to change how content is displayed on your LibraryBox and use some of your own styles, it is advisable to create a separate stylesheet and put your additions and changes in that file rather than edit the default files.

dir-images Directory

This directory contains several small icon images that can be used to provide a visual cue to alert users about what type of file they can expect to download.

fonts Directory

This directory contains custom fonts for LibraryBox.

img Directory

lbx-logo-small-white      lbx-logo-small    menu-icon

This directory contains 3 small icon files.  Two of them are small LibraryBox logos and the other is the hamburger menu-icon used in the top right of the web pages.

Js Directory

The js directory contains javascript files.

Shared Directory

User-supplied downloadable files should be placed in the appropriate sub-directories under the Shared directory.  In the default installation the following sub-directories have already been set-up and are linked from the dropdown (hamburger menu) at the top right of the home page:

  • audio
  • software
  • text
  • video

These directories do not contain any files.  You can delete any that you do not plan to use (and remove the corresponding entry from the drop-down menu) and add directories for other types of content – data, images, etc.

For each directory that you wish to keep, you should have an index.html file that is the access page for the content in that directory.

Editing HTML Files

You can edit the HTML files by inserting the USB key into your computer and using your favourite editing software.  If you use this option you will need to move the USB key between your LibraryBox and computer to make and check edits.  If you have activated the ftp option for your LibraryBox, you may prefer to use an FTP client to download files, edit them and then ftp them back to the live LibraryBox.

Note about the name of the Content directory:  I found that although the name of this directory starts with an uppercase C, I could only get urls to work consistently by using a lowercase c.

Statistics for downloadable files

If you would like to maintain statistics for downloads from your LibraryBox, you will need to create the links to these files in a particular way.  All your urls should be prefaced with: http://librarybox.lan/dl_statistics_counter.php?DL_URL=/

Eg. http://librarybox.lan/dl_statistics_counter.php?DL_URL=/Shared/text/books/stoker_dracula.epub



Building a LibraryBox V2.0

TP-Link Portable RouterLast year, as part of a study leave, I built a LibraryBox using the instructions on Jason Griffey’s LibraryBox website.  I thought that I’d use it at the Ontario Library Association conference (which has very limited free WiFi) to allow attendees to download the slides for a presentation that I was making at the conference.  Unfortunately this did not work as planned as the conference venue seemed to block “rogue” wireless servers.  I could get the LibraryBox to function in the adjoining conference hotel, but not in the main conference space.  Apart from that outing and taking the LibraryBox to a makerspace symposium, my LibraryBox hasn’t been seeing much action.  To remedy this, I will be presenting a poster about LibraryBox at the Ryerson University Faculty Conference in May.  For the conference I’d like to demo V2.0 of LibraryBox, so it’s time for an upgrade.

Screenshot of LibraryboxActually I didn’t want to compromise my fully functional original LibraryBox, so I purchased a new TP-Link wireless router to make a brand new LibraryBox.  The creation of the 2.0 version was much smoother and simpler than version 1.5.  If you are thinking of creating a LibraryBox, v2.0 is definitely the way to go.

Now to load some content, do a bit more customization and to figure out why the download statistics don’t work properly.

Libraries and ebook Creation

Libraries and ebook CreationToday I presented at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference on the topic of Libraries and ebook Creation.  The slides and notes (including a list of resources mentioned)  are available  as a Powerpoint file.  The list of ebooks projects and creation tools (pdf) is also available as a separate file.