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Enabling the Discovery of Thematically Related Research Objects with Systematic Spatializations

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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.

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