Information Visualization in Academic Libraries


Published: September 22, 2022 by Dr. Michelle Chen

In recent years, as data have become more voluminous, versatile, accessible and digitized, new technologies have emerged with the goal of providing advanced analytical capabilities to support knowledge discovery and decision making. Information visualization, the technique of creating “2- or 3-dimensional representations of data that enable discoveries of insights and knowledge” (Soukup and Davidson, 2002), is one of the primary technologies being adopted as an analytical tool to enhance and shape data interpretation. More specifically, information visualization’s unique pattern and outlier detection capabilities render it an essential tool for disciplines ranging from computer science to the humanities. The digital humanities community has also increasingly witnessed its prevalence in both the literature and in practice. Employing various visualization techniques, information professionals can analyze metadata, tags, text, images and any digital information through visual means to gain a better understanding of how humanities material has been created to present, communicate and deliver messages.

To advance the understanding of academic librarians’ roles in digital humanities, I conducted a content analysis to analyze recent publications and online LibGuides in the digital humanities. First, articles from three selected journals were analyzed to investigate the percentages, tools, applications and purposes of information visualization use in digital humanities research. Then, to examine the situation of academic libraries, ten online LibGuides provided by academic libraries in support of digital humanities research, such as library research guides for digital humanities research, were also examined via data mining techniques.

The results of the content analysis revealed a significant gap between the three selected research journals and the ten selected university library research guides. While the university library research guides focus on providing a broad view of visualization use in the digital humanities, such as its definition, introduction and accessible tools, this research demonstrates that the “depth” matters more – namely, how information visualization has been applied (applications), and why it has been adopted (purposes). This gap presents opportunities as well as challenges for academic librarians to conduct or support digital humanities research using information visualization.

According to the content analysis results, I proposed some “best practices” for academic librarians interested in applying information visualization to research in the digital humanities:

  1. be familiar with visualization software and tools so that the humanities data, research needs and adopted information visualization techniques can all be aligned;
  2. recognize the importance of understanding the “applications” of using information visualization in digital humanities research to better assist the research process, such as suggesting the best possible analytical methods (e.g. for document analysis or linguistic analysis); and
  3. always be clear about the “purposes” of using information visualization in digital humanities research, which tremendously helps the researchers to define and position their work in vast digital humanities research topics.

The area of digital humanities represents a growing interdisciplinary field that seeks to redefine traditional humanities scholarship through digital means such as information visualization. The new landscape, with rich data, sophisticated analytical techniques and diverse applications, makes it challenging for academic librarians to participate and to contribute effectively. Future research may consider analyzing a broader set of research guides to help to identify additional key components in information visualization that academic librarians can act upon.


Soukup, T. and Davidson, I. (2002). Visual Data Mining: Techniques and Tools for Data Visualization and Mining. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ.


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