Enabling the Discovery of Thematically Related Research Objects with Systematic Spatializations

Authors Sara Lafia , Christina Last, Werner Kuhn

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Author Details

Sara Lafia
  • Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
Christina Last
  • School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, UK
Werner Kuhn
  • Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA


We gratefully acknowledge the contributions that André Bruggmann and Sara Fabrikant of University of Zurich’s Geographic Information Visualization and Analysis Unit made during André’s time as a Visiting Scholar at UCSB’s Center for Spatial Studies as well as financial support from Jack and Laura Dangermond.

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Sara Lafia, Christina Last, and Werner Kuhn. Enabling the Discovery of Thematically Related Research Objects with Systematic Spatializations. In 14th International Conference on Spatial Information Theory (COSIT 2019). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 142, pp. 18:1-18:14, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2019)


It is challenging for scholars to discover thematically related research in a multidisciplinary setting, such as that of a university library. In this work, we use spatialization techniques to convey the relatedness of research themes without requiring scholars to have specific knowledge of disciplinary search terminology. We approach this task conceptually by revisiting existing spatialization techniques and reframing them in terms of core concepts of spatial information, highlighting their different capacities. To apply our design, we spatialize masters and doctoral theses (two kinds of research objects available through a university library repository) using topic modeling to assign a relatively small number of research topics to the objects. We discuss and implement two distinct spaces for exploration: a field view of research topics and a network view of research objects. We find that each space enables distinct visual perceptions and questions about the relatedness of research themes. A field view enables questions about the distribution of research objects in the topic space, while a network view enables questions about connections between research objects or about their centrality. Our work contributes to spatialization theory a systematic choice of spaces informed by core concepts of spatial information. Its application to the design of library discovery tools offers two distinct and intuitive ways to gain insights into the thematic relatedness of research objects, regardless of the disciplinary terms used to describe them.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Information systems → Digital libraries and archives
  • Information systems → Search interfaces
  • Information systems → Document topic models
  • spatialization
  • core concepts of spatial information
  • information discovery


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