Scholars need to use more digital research tools

Libraries can aid academics with resource discovery by helping them to use cutting-edge technologies, says Richard Boulderstone

The Garibaldi Panorama is one of the most striking treasures held by Brown University in the US. It was originally displayed to large, paying audiences in the 1860s, at the height of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s international popularity: 4ft high and 273ft long and painted on both sides, it scrolls through depictions of the life and adventures of the great Italian hero.

Its unusual format means that the physical artefact is not readily accessible to large numbers of researchers – but recent advances in digitisation and display technologies mean that the Panorama has a rich, inspiring future.

Painstakingly scanned in 6ft sections and then stitched together into a seamless whole, a virtual version of the Panorama can now be viewed via a Microsoft Surface “tabletop” viewer. Groups of researchers can scroll, extract and zoom in on details of the painting. Extra information, such as contemporary newspaper reports of Garibaldi’s exploits, can be viewed alongside, opening up new possibilities for collaborative research.

The cutting-edge technology used on the Panorama is just one of a wide range of applications that allow people to interact and collaborate, in real time, regardless of previously critical limitations such as distance, space and number of participants.

But while these technologies are widely used for social interaction, there is evidence that many researchers are not yet taking advantage of these tools, despite their potential.

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