A Tour Guide in a Multidisciplinary World

JSTOR Sustainability

A Tour Guide in a Multidisciplinary World

I’ve been thinking about the impact of a truly great tour guide.  Maybe it’s because I just took my family to Italy for vacation, and the difference between last week’s tour through the Vatican and my previous one could not have been greater.  Chalk some of that difference up to the heat wave currently choking Europe, and to the fact that this time my wife and I had two (lovely, tired) children to lug around.  But much of the difference is that the last time we were there we had a tremendous tour guide leading us through.  I think his name was Michael and he was both deeply knowledgeable and also quite charming. In a museum overflowing with masterpieces, he led us to those works most worthy of our attention.  He told the stories of works we didn’t know and he deepened our appreciation of known works like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  We walked away edified and inspired, all because of his expert guidance.

All of which brings me to what JSTOR Labs has been trying to do in a new prototype we’re building for people working in or interested in the subject of Sustainability. Whether they’re a student just learning a topic that could be their future specialty or an established scholar branching out into new territory, researchers of all kinds have to introduce themselves to new topics and fields. When they do, researchers use tour guides just like I did in Rome. The tour guide might be a thesis advisor or it might be a colleague familiar with the topic.  Whoever it is, they perform many of the same functions as Michael at the Vatican:  they point out the key works (articles, books); they provide context for and connections between these works; they tell the story of the topic.  With JSTOR Sustainability, our goal was to augment these tour guides.

To achieve this, we’ve combined a number of methods:

Content Selection: We used a series of topic modeling exercises to identify over 250,000 articles currently available in JSTOR that are relevant to Sustainability, environmental stress and the related challenges for human society.  Since Sustainability is an inherently interdisciplinary study, topic modeling allowed us to discover relevant content across the sciences, social sciences and humanities. This content set formed the base for us to build upon.
Keywords: JSTOR has been developing a corpus-wide semantic index that can algorithmically associate all of our documents with subject keywords – in fact, many of the Labs projects have taken advantage of this new index.  With Sustainability, we worked with scholars and subject matter experts to review the keywords for their areas of expertise in order to both broaden and deepen the index and make it even more valuable to researchers.
Topic Pages:  For Sustainability-related keywords, we’ve created individual pages to serve as quick overviews and jumping-off-places.  Using Linked Open Data, we’ve connected DBpedia overviews with JSTOR-specific information about each topic, such as Key Authors and Related Topics.
Influential Articles: Last, we partnered with Jevin West and the University of Washington DataLab – the folks behind the citation-network-based metric known as Eigenfactor – to understand article networks and to incorporate a timeline on each topic page showing the topic’s most influential articles.

I encourage you to see the results for yourself by checking out the prototype at labs.jstor.org/sustainability.  On that site, you can search and browse through all the topic pages you want openly, checking out the keywords and the influential articles timeline.  If you want to access individual articles through the site, you or your institution will have to sign up for our beta program.  If you’re interested, please shoot an email to service@jstor.org with Sustainability Prototype in the subject line or reach out on Twitter or Facebook.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll shine the Labs Blog spotlight on each of these methods, much like, oh, a tour guide might introduce you to one painting after another.  There are a lot of exciting stories to tell, and I can’t wait to share them with you.  In the meantime, enjoy the site, something that will be easier if you can avoid hundred-degree temperatures and two cranky kids…