The awesome things @ Michigan State University

Sometime ago I read about going out and learning about your own surroundings. Sorry, I’m completely blank on the actual resource and whether I read from one of those motivational emails or tweets or websites or image meme. The point is, we should not stay inside our own bubble.

How much do we actually know the kind of awesome services or initiatives available in our own library or within other units on campus? I only know a little, to be honest. Many times I found out a cool set of collection in the library because somebody mentioned it, a local newspaper wrote about it, or from the newsletter sent to the library supporters. Kinda embarrassing, but, hey, better late than never. Same thing with many initiatives happening around campus. With so many units established on campus, I am sure I miss many of them. But I would like to highlight several of them:

First, MSU Libraries is gathering text and data aimed for digital humanities (DH) projects either through our own digital collection or collaborate with vendors. It’s all started with a request from a research faculty wanting to work on a topic that would require Congressional data. This collaboration with the faculty prompted our Digital Humanities librarians to pursue other text or data collections that we could offer to our users (and, in some cases, to the public).

MSU Libraries Digital Humanities text collections
MSU Libraries Digital Humanities text and data collections

Another one that I’d like to highlight is Enviro-weather, a weather-based tools for Michigan Agriculture’s pest, natural resources, and production management decisions. This is a collaborative project between the Michigan Climatological Resources Program and the MSU Integrated Pest Management Program. Each yellow dot on the map represents an Agriculture Station. If you highlight the dot with your cursor, you’ll see the latest weather data pulled from the weather station positioned around the state. Click on the dot and you’ll see a more complete information on the area. You could, of course, go further and get the raw data itself by going to their Enviro-Weather Automated Weather Station Network site.

Michigan State University Enviro-Weather tool
Michigan State University Enviro-Weather tool

The Geographic Information System (GIS) unit on campus created cool and useful GIS-based applications that they developed to showcase the MSU campus. My favorite applications are these two below:

The Historical Imagery provides aerial photography of the MSU campus from 1938 to 2010 (I hope they’d add more for the later years.) While interacting with application, I, of course, couldn’t resist checking the area where the current MSU Libraries is located. By moving the slider slowly, I could see the changes happened from an empty slot to its current structure. Not all images are available; sometimes you get an empty section due to image unavailability. Still, it’s really cool to see the changes happened during the last 60 years or so.

Michigan State University GIS Historical Imagery
Michigan State University GIS Historical Imagery. The round construction in middle is the Spartan Stadium.

The Environmental Stewardship (requires Adobe Flash Player 11 or higher, unfortunately) allows one to check the energy consumption and/or waste reduction effort around campus. You can pick a building and generate the report based on the data for current or past fiscal year. One can see that they made the information available for the public to see and download due to MSU’s status as a public and land grant university; the application allows the public to inspect and interact with the information themselves.

Michigan State University Environmental Stewardship map
Michigan State University Environmental Stewardship map

There are more great projects and initiatives around campus like the ones that I highlighted above. It would be nice if I could do a “cool stuff on campus” search on the university website instead of relying on the serendipity. But, hey, I probably should go around and ask instead. :-)

Digital Collections, Data Visualization, and Accessibility: What to Do? (repost)

[This is another crosspost from the Digital Scholarship Collaborative Sandbox blog from the MSU Libraries. The original blog post can be read there.]

In my earlier post “Digital Collections and Accessibility”, I touched upon the considerations we would need to address when building or creating digital collections (or other things that rely heavily on utilizing images such as data visualization) for public use. Here are the questions I put down in that post:

“Given the ubiquitous nature of digital collections, the goal that these collections would be used as part of scholarly activities, and the library’s mission to disseminate the information as widely as possible, there is one aspect that many of us need to address when we plan for a digitization project: how do people with disabilities access these collections without getting lost? Can they also get the same access and benefit from our collections if they only rely on their screen readers (or refreshable Braille, or any other assistive technology)? Can people move around our website easily using just a keyboard (for those with hand-coordination difficulty who cannot use a mouse)?”

So: planning. Planning is an important part when incorporating accessibility into building a collection. Typically, building a digital collection starts with designing the metadata (PDF) and then proceeds to further development activities such as database design, content creation, data entry, and coding/front end development. Whichever process that we develop, we would like to see that the website is well designed and the information presented is useful for our audience (I am assuming that most digital collections created and made available are designed for web access, with an added bonus if they also employ a responsive design.)

Image Display

If you visit digital collections developed by various institutions, you’ll see that they present their collections differently. Many would display the collections be like a catalog that shows an image, the physical description, and related information such as the owner, creator, and copyright statement at the minimum.) Some also include an interpretation of the object (think the label of an object or painting displayed in a museum.)

Regardless how the object is presented (by description or interpretation), accessibility considerations are still the same. The most common considerations: the web page needs to be properly structured by using proper headings; the flow of information presented on the page needa to make sense for screen reader users or keyboard-only users; search forms need to be properly labeled; images need to have alternative text (usually referred to as “alt-text”.) This is when the planning for the page design and coding becomes important.

Consider this page:

Feeding of America page featuring a butter mold

and consider how the flow of information would be read by a screen reader and how a screen reader user might hear it:

Textual representation of the Feeding of America page

Typical screen readers read the information displayed as if the CSS is disabled; they read web content in the order that it appears in the code.
(Bonus: if you have not seen or heard how screen reader users interact with a website, you can view the recording of accessibility test of our e-resources page (.mp4) done by my blind student. We did this as part of our accessibility test routines for the library electronic resources.)

Both images above should be sufficient to give us ideas of how a sighted user might interact with the page and how a screen reader users might hear it. Our eyes can focus on and narrow down to a certain section faster while screen reader users need to listen to the whole thing first before they can work on distinguishing the part that provides the actual information of the object being displayed. Hence, careful planning when designing the metadata and the page is needed to make sure our collection is both useful and usable for our audience regardless how they access it.

Data visualization

A lot of data visualization rely on colored graphics when conveying the information. It is trickier to tackle because of the colors used and, unlike most images used in digital collections, data visualization conveys very rich information.

Consider this example with three different color representations:

Data visualization on children age 0-14 years old population of the world
(Data visualization of world population of children age 0-14 years old. The information is grouped by regions (South Asia, East Asia, Africa, South America, Middle East, Europe and Russia, and North America.) Original data can be found at http://datatopics.worldbank.org/hnp/popestimates.)

By looking at the colors used on the image above, we can see that the information is grouped based on the region (South Asia, East Asia and Pacific, Africa, Europe, etc.) and the color density of each individual block reflects the population density of the area.

Data visualization as seen by a color blind person with protanopia (red green color blindness)
(Data visualization of world population ages 0-14 years old as seen by a person with red green color blindness, such as protanopia.)

The second image shows how the visualization might be seen by those with the red green color blindness (protanopia), one of the most common types of color blindness. Here, East Asian and African regions are no longer distinguishable. Similarly, South American,Russian, and European regions are also no longer distinguishable.

Data visualization on population of the world as seen by a color blind person with achromatopsia (total color blindness)
(Data visualization of world population of children age 0-14 years old as seen by a person with total color blindness (chromatopsia).)

This last image shows how those colors don’t really convey the grouping of the regions to those with total color blindness (achromatopsia, which is a rare condition but still exists.)

The point of these examples: do not use color alone to convey meaning.

As far as I know, there is no practical solution yet for making data visualization fully accessible. Several options that can help increasing the accessibility: supplement the color with text or provide summaries or text description right after the image (alt-text or image caption). If the description is too long to be listed on the same page, create a separate page and link to it. Similar to designing for digital collection, designing for visualization also needs careful planning.

Conclusion

Designing for accessibility for our digital collection or data visualization should be done as part of the planning phase. This would allow us to optimize the output of our work and eliminate or reduce the need to revisit the design for corrections later on. Careful planning on how we want to display the information and to convey the meaning of the graphics/images would benefit all of our users regardless how they access our collections.

Resources

Public Domain Day: what could have entered it in 2015 and what did get released

Every year, January 1st also marks works from around the world that would be entering the public domain thanks to the copyright laws in theirs respective countries.

Public Domain Reviews put a list of creators whose work that are entering the public domain. http://publicdomainreview.org/collections/class-of-2015/ (Kandinsky! Whooh!)

Center of Study for the Public Domain put a list of some quite well-known works that are still under the extended copyright restriction: http://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2015/pre-1976

John Mark Ockerbloom from the University of Pennsylvania pointed out that EEBO is now out and, among other things, promoted several arternatives to http://everybodyslibraries.com/2015/01/01/public-domain-day-2015-ending-our-own-enclosures/

The sound version of a Google (old) reCAPTCHA

Last month, Google announced the new no-captcha reCAPTCHA that is supposedly more accurate and better at preventing spams. We’ll see how this goes.

In the mean time, plenty of websites that employ Google’s reCAPTCHA still use the old version like this:

Google old recaptcha

The problem with this reCAPTCHA is that it fundamentally doesn’t work with screen readers (among other things, like forcing you crossed your eyes trying to figure out each character in the string.) Some people pointed out that reCAPTCHA offers the sound version (see that little red speaker?) that should mitigate the problem.

Here’s the link to sound version of a Google reCAPTCHA: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/9074989/google-recaptcha-audio.mp3

This example was taken from the PubMed website and happened to be set as a string of numbers.

Enjoy!

p.s. what is this a about PubMed using inaccessible reCAPTCHA? There are other ways to employ non-captcha security techniques without using that kind solution. :-/

p.p.s. In case you’re curious, I could not decipher two out of the eleven (if I counted it correctly) numbers said in that recording.