Exploratory data visualization of Harvard Geospatial Library collections

Harvard Map Collection · Vivian Nha Nguyen · Dhruv Chugh · Aug 25, 2023 · 3 mins read

This summer, we were pleased to host two rising seniors, Vivian Nha Nguyen and Dhruv Chugh as May-Crane fellows . Vivian and Dhruv worked on a project to apply data analysis methodology from their coursework to a real-world corpus of data – the over 11,000 metadata records for GIS datasets hosted in the Harvard Geospatial Library (HGL) .

We framed this project as a way to get a better sense of both the data hosted in HGL, as well as the way we collect and describe GIS data at Harvard Libraries. Were there patterns to uncover which could help inform how to make materials more discoverable and usable? We threw this question to Dhruv and Vivian, who each study Art, Film and Visual Studies, and Statistics and Government, respectively.

In this blog post, you’ll hear from Dhruv and Vivian as they reflect on their experience working with the data and the Harvard Map Collection.

Why were you interested in this project?

DHRUV CHUGH: I was interested in this project for a couple of independent reasons. The prospect of learning about the Harvard Map Collection’s unique resources appealed to me as a unique and once in a lifetime opportunity. I have worked with financial data, life sciences data and automotive data in the past, and I was curious to apply my skills to this one-of-a-kind collection of GIS data.

What did you do?

To learn more about the project, visit the project homepage , or check out:

How did this project benefit you?

VIVIAN NHA NGUYEN: It would be difficult to overstate the benefits this fellowship has brought to my professional and academic development over the course of this summer. Firstly, getting the chance to meet and speak to our very own Bonnie Burns , Marc McGee , as well as Drew Keener from Duke University was an incredibly rewarding experience. Previously, I had little opportunity to directly interact with our incredible libraries and even less opportunity to chat with the librarians. This summer, I was delighted and lucky to learn about how Bonnie decides on the direction of the collection and data acquisition, how Marc grapples with the many questions and constraints surrounding clean and helpful metadata, and how Duke University maintains their geospatial data differently and similarly to Harvard through Drew’s insightful comments.

Finally, of course, the project this summer allowed me to develop my data science skills, especially in the data cleaning and data wrangling aspects in Python, while getting to know the Harvard Map Collection intimately. I came to understand how to think about data on a more meta level than ever before – the complexity of metadata and recordkeeping, the different ways in which data-keepers and data-users might use and interpret descriptions, and the art of visualization and metadata storytelling.

I am very excited and proud to add this fellowship’s work to my professional portfolio and keep its takeaways and skills in my mental toolkit. Thanks to the May-Crane donors, this has been a perfect summer experience for me, that enabled profound professional development, a beautiful addition to my data portfolio, and an intimate look into the data we collect at the Harvard Geospatial Library.