If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a map worth?

By Robin Miller


I have always been  intrigued by the power of maps and their ability to draw the viewer into the narrative they illustrate. It is understandable that I was thrilled when I learned the Information School at Pratt would be hosting a workshop entitled “Storytelling with Maps: Visualization as Narrative” presented by Jessie Braden from the Pratt Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative (SAVI). After attending the workshop, I knew that I wanted to learn more about SAVI and geographic information systems (GIS) technologies, so I approached Jessie with a request to visit onsite at SAVI and she was kind enough to accept.

So, on a cold and blustery autumn morning, I travelled to Brooklyn and had the pleasure of spending three hours in the warm company of Jessie Braden, Case Wyse and their hardworking team at the Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative. Located in a newly redesigned subterranean space on the Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn campus, SAVI serves as a technical research and service center for the greater Pratt community as well as external clients, through the use of mapping, data and design. When I arrived I had the opportunity to speak one on one with Jessie Braden, SAVI Director and co-founder, who gave me an overview of what they do, who are their clients, and what type of technologies they use. In brief, the SAVI team provide GIS lab support to Pratt students and faculty on the Brooklyn campus and consulting services for non-profit and community-based organizations, often pro-bono. She also noted that they have been very fortunate and have never had to do any formal advertising. All of their contract work comes via word of mouth from previous clients. When I asked what a normal day looked like, she told me it would be roughly 30% consulting services, 30% support to the Pratt community, 30% administration of SAVI, and 10% research.


Additionally, she provided a detailed overview of their certificate program for professionals as well as information on upcoming workshops at SAVI. They also offer a GIS and design certificate program for professionals to incorporate data driven mapping and visualization tools into their problem solving toolbox. As I am very interested in GIS work, I was excited to learn about the different technologies employed by the SAVI team. Jessie was happy to provide a short list of the products they use most often which include:


  • Arch GIS – (heavy usage)
  • QGIS
  • Carto
  • Map box
  • Leaflet
  • Esri


  • Excel
  • R & Python
  • SQL (in ArchGIS)
  • Open Refine
  • Adobe

I was then invited to attend their Friday check-in meeting where the full team discuss current, upcoming, and possible future projects. During the meeting Jessie discussed several projects that are currently being reviewed including the Hudson River project for graphic design and data mapping services, pro bono work for Mixteca working with undocumented immigrants, and a vacancies project which looks at commercial vacancies in New York City. The meeting closed with a team review of their new business cards.


After the meeting, I was able to meet one on one with Case Wyse, who works as a Spatial Analyst. He gave me an overview of his work which he stated is more on the data analysis side, whereas Jessie does most of the visualization.

Additionally, I had time to speak with their 2017 GIS and Design Certificate Program Student Fellow and two of their graduate student assistants who were working in the lab. All three provide support to Pratt students and faculty who come to use the lab or need help incorporating GIS and mapping tools into their own work, as well as work on projects, as assigned by the SAVI team leaders.

“We are absolutely inundated with volumes of geospatial data,” says Mike Tischler, director of the US Geological Survey’s National Geospatial Program, “but with no means to effectively use it all.”1

In conclusion, SAVI is doing great work and if the folks at Wired and the US Geological Survey are to be believed then they are going to continue to be very busy. I am grateful to Jessie, Case and their team for taking the time to speak with me.


1 Enthoven, T. 2017. Mapping the Future: Cartography stages a Comeback. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/mapping-the-future-cartography-stages-a-comeback/

Response to “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing”

By Robin Miller

After reading Jennifer Vinopal’s article, “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action” (2016), I have to admit I wasn’t surprised at the lack of diversity in the American Library system, but I did feel nonetheless a deep sense of disappointment. After reviewing the latest numbers published by the American Library Association (2009-2010), 88% of the credentialed librarians in this country are white. Of the 22% in our field that represent African Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders (API), Native Americans, including Alaskan, Two or more races, and Latinos, there are only 138 active African American library directors in the US, according to Michael Kelley in “Diversity Never Happens: The Story of Minority Hiring Doesn’t Seem To Change Much.” He also notes that “African Americans and Hispanics are some of the strongest supporters of libraries, and yet they continue to be thinly represented among the ranks of librarians.” All of these figures are very disturbing, to say the least, and left me asking myself the same question, what can we do to effectively challenge the current racial and power structures that exist in our profession? (Hudson, 2017) I don’t believe that I have an answer, not just yet, but I want to be part of the conversation and take a stand.


In “The myth of the neutral professional” (2006), Jensen challenges us to stand up and take a side because “neutrality is impossible.” He continues, “[i]n any situation, there exists a distribution of power…To take no explicit position by claiming to be neutral is also a political choice, particularly when one is given the resources that make it easy to evaluate the consequences of that distribution of power and, at least potentially, affect its distribution.” We as LIS students have the resources. So now it is time for us to choose a side. Are we to stand by and idly watch as this lack of diversity continues to repeat itself, or do we choose to use our privilege and resources to affect change? We need to look at the failures of past diversity programs and not allow ourselves to repeat those failures by “diversifying without dismantling power differentials” (Vinopal, 2016) that currently exist.

These racial and power structures are not limited to the LIS profession, they are deeply entrenched in every area of our society today. But who will we be tomorrow? In “Why Diversity Matters: A Roundtable Discussion on Racial And Ethnic Diversity in Librarianship,” Juleah Swanson, Head of Acquisition Services at the University of Colorado Boulder, gives us a great place to start by asking ourselves, “What innovative ways can we educate and teach colleagues and students about complex issues like microaggressions, institutional racism, and privilege, reflecting both traditional means of teaching such as lectures and readings, and through learned experiences?” It is our responsibility as LIS students to continue to research and try to understand why these racial and power systems exist and lead the change that will diversify and better our profession.

“ ‘Diversity’ is named and defined in places of great power.” – Sandra Ríos Balderrama



Balderrama, S. (2000). This Trend Called Diversity. Library Trends: Ethnic Diversity in Library and Information Science 49 (1): 194-214.


Hudson, D. J. (2017). On “Diversity” as Anti-Racism in Library and Information Studies: A Critique. Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1(1). DOI: 10.24242/jclis.v1i1.6

Jensen, R. (2006). The myth of the neutral professional. Questioning Library Neutrality, ed. A. Lewis. Library Juice, 89–96. http://jonah.eastern.edu/emme/2006fall/jensen.pdf

Kelley, M. (2013). Diversity Never Happens: The Story of Minority Hiring Doesn’t Seem To Change Much | Editorial. http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/02/opinion/editorial/diversity-never-happens-the-story-of-minority-hiring-doesnt-seem-to-change-much/#_ .

Swanson, J., Damasco, I., Gonzalez-Smith, I., Hodges, D., Honma, T., and Tanaka, A. (2015) Why Diversity Matters: A Roundtable Discussion on Racial And Ethnic Diversity in Librarianship. http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2015/why-diversity-matters-a-roundtable-discussion-on-racial-and-ethnic-diversity-in-librarianship/ .

Vinopal, J. (2016). The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action. Lead Pipehttp://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2016/quest-for-diversity

Forensic Architecture, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

By Robin Miller


A bomb cloud is the consolidation of architecture, ‘a gaseous representation of both a grave and a building.’ Daily I reflect on the poetry and horror conveyed by Eyal Wiezman’s words as I am bombarded with images of violence and destruction via social media. I hear some say these images desensitize us to the brutality of violence, but what if they could be used for something else, something good? What if they could be used to prosecute those that perpetrate this violence? Earlier this month, I attended a lecture by Eyal Wiezman, founding member of Forensic Architecture research agency, as part of the Cooper Union Intra-Disciplinary Seminar (IDS) public lecture series. I become interested in the work of Forensic Architecture (FA) after reading a Twitter post by one of my LIS 651 colleagues on the Ayotzinapa case FA worked on in Mexico in which 6 people where murdered and 43 students were forcibly disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero.

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I was in awe as the researchers discussed their project. I am new to the world of data visualization and I was astounded by the 3D architectural models and cartographic incident mapping used in this case. As they spoke, I was immediately reminded of Yochai Benkler’s book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, and his hope for “a new information environment… one in which individuals are free to take a more active role than was possible in the industrial information economy” (2006). Consequently, I visited the FA website and was thrilled to discover that Eyal Wiezman, one of the founding members of Forensic Architecture, had been invited to participate in the IDS series and was to speak at Cooper Union less than a week later.

In addition to his role at Forensic Architecture, Wiezman is an architect, professor of spatial and visual cultures, and Director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London. His lecture introduced the audience at the Rose Auditorium to the incredible work being done by FA, through 2 examples – Rafah: Black Friday, a detailed account of battles on the worst day of fighting in Gaza, and Saydnaya, an architectural recreation of a secret Syrian detention center from the memory of several survivors. He began his lecture by reminding us of the complexity of publicly available data. Citing one of his early projects, a drone mapping of the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories, he went on to explain that once their data was published, it was used by the Israeli military to facilitate the extension of their border wall causing further disruption and destruction for the Palestinians living in the surrounding areas. This was a strong reminder to all those involved with data collection, that no matter how noble are your intentions, the data can be used against you and the probability of abuse must always be at the forefront of your mind.

So what actually goes into the production of a split-second moment? For the Forensic Architecture agency each case is built by using gathered testimonies of witnesses compiled with data and images obtained through multiple channels such as satellites, ground footage and social media. Additionally, they analyze clouds, explosions, smoke plumes, and shadows to verify and correct the metadata of these gathered images. Wiezman demonstrated the forensic architectural building process through a projected video. The result is a critical narrative that he calls the Image Complex, which allows his team to probe the spatial and temporal relationships between the images and begin to reconstruct a timeline of events in realtime. Watching the build process is stunning and absolutely worth going to the FA website where they have videos available for all their projects.

The mission is simple, Forensic Architecture works with the UN, Amnesty International and other activist groups to help them build cases and bring violators of human rights to justice. The technological and ethical complexities of their work are, well, complex. In a world where anyone with a mobile phone can be an activist and an image is “currency in real-time storytelling” (forensic-architecture.org) we open ourselves up to incredible possibilities, but will we use them to help or to harm, engage or exploit? I left Cooper Union that evening and walked up 3rd Avenue with a feeling of optimism, quite rare for me these days, towards the future of Forensic Architecture and their pursuit of justice for those who violate the human rights of others.


Benkler, Yochai (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Yale University Press, 1–18.

PERCS: The Program for Ethnographic Research & Community Studies. “The ethics of fieldwork.” Elon University.











The Ayotzinapa Case

Rafah: Black Friday


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