Using Social Network Maps to Visualize Library & Grant Data

Editor’s Note: Over the past several years, IMLS has funded a significant number of digital library grant projects through the National Digital Platform (NDP) funding framework. Between 2014 and 2017, the agency invested more than 33 million dollars in 111 grants through National Leadership Grants for Libraries and the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian program.

Digital work in libraries can involve developing and sustaining shared infrastructures, as well as ensuring those tools, services, and systems exemplify library principles and values. IMLS funding for digital library infrastructures relates directly to the agency strategic plan goals to “build capacity” of library and archives professionals to “increase public access to” digital content, collections, and services.

As of 2018, IMLS has revised the NDP funding framework. We took lessons learned and created the subsequent grant project category called National Digital Infrastructures and Initiatives (NDII), which allows continuity in our funding of digital library projects across the nation.

In this essay, Diana Lisenbee, an extern with the Office of Library Services, shares an analysis of the formerly-named NDP initiative, now known as NDII.


The heart of my internship was helping IMLS map the impact of the National Digital Platform (NDP) awards. NDP is an IMLS funding area for projects to increase the digital capacity of libraries and museums. Throughout the past year, I dug deep into the NDP grant data and used that information to create a social network map.

The resulting visualization displays the partner institutions collaborating on each grant and shows the relationships between projects, partners, and geographic location. The work funded by NDP ranges from expanding digital infrastructures, to bringing resources to the visually impaired, to increasing digital inclusion in urban and rural areas. But despite the diversity of projects, most are very connected. The visualization depicts the complexity of the enormous networks that cultural heritage institutions have built in support of shared tools and services.

Behind My Analysis

I used social network mapping software Kumu.io for this project. Kumu helps users with limited coding ability develop complex, but easily-understandable network systems. It can be used to map stakeholders, systems, and community assets. It is free for publicly shared and searchable projects.

Kumu is built around two relational systems: nodes and connections. Nodes are the elements I wanted to portray as having relationships, such as “states,” “grants,” and “partners.” I connected these node types with different-colored connections. That way, users could understand which elements are connected and the relationship between them. Click around and play in the map. Not only can you read about each grant and partner, you can also click specific tags. This will bring up any other node that is tagged with the same keyword. Mousing over a node will bring up all the connections that particular node has with other grants and partners.

Patterns emerged when I mapped all the NDP projects. I began to recognize the enormous partnership networks. For example, the University of Wisconsin’s Building A Framework For Help Feature Design Supporting Blind Users: Accessibility, Usability And Utility Guidelines For Digital Libraries grant (LG-70–16–0038–16) comprises more than a dozen partners in three states and the District of Columbia. By mousing over this project in the map, it becomes apparent just how far reaching it is. The visualization helps users understand the scope of the partnership and the time, effort, and planning that went into the project.

The visualization also makes it easy to see how many institutions lend their specific expertise to different projects across the country. Partners like the Digital Public Library of America, for example, are working on eight different grant initiatives in six states.

Many universities also have far-reaching connections. Trying to understand the connected nature of these projects on a spreadsheet is very different than seeing it on a map. The program Bridge2Hyku Toolkit: Developing Migration Strategies for Hydra-in-a-Box (LG-70–17–0217–17) from the University of Houston involves partners from seven states, including Indiana and West Virginia. Washington State University’s Mukurtu Hubs and Spokes: A Sustainable National Platform for Community Digital Archiving (LG-70–16–0054–16) has partnerships from coast to coast.

Can Your Library Benefit From Data Visualization?

While “data visualization” may sound complicated and confusing, most of us have been visualizing data for years. You may have created a line graph to show change over time or used a pie chart to illustrate parts of a whole. Libraries make data visualizations to emphasize circulation statistics, conduct a community needs assessment, or even showcase community contributions.

While charts and graphs are exceptional tools for most purposes, they can fall short when trying to create a visual representation of complex data. Social network mapping is a way to visualize complex relationships by focusing on the patterns between objects, rather than quantifying the objects themselves. It is a simple and powerful tool that librarians can use to represent relationships between the community and the library. These maps give librarians a means to represent concrete data, as well as capture information that is more difficult to represent: the changing, ephemeral nature of relationships.

Using Social Network Maps at Your Library

Libraries can use Kumu to visualize many different types of data. For example, it can showcase a library’s network of donors and depict the nature of their relationship to the library.

I created two fictional mockups of this concept below. In the first image, I depicted several types of information: the kind of library donor (institution or individual), the amount of money donated, and the branch the donation supports. Take a look at the Guerra Family on the right hand side of the image. By using multiple connections from one donor, I’ve shown the relational connection between the Guerra Family, Guerra Branch Library, and Mark Twain University.

Fictional library system with donor relationships depicted.

The next fictional example is a map of library services for immigrant populations. In this visualization, cultural anchor institutions such as the Islamic Center of Portstown, the African Community Center, and the Institute of Mexican Culture are heavily involved in library programming offered through their city.

Fictional library system with immigrant programs depicted.

Looking at both maps together also produces interesting insights. For example, Miller & Associates gave money to Guerra Branch, because they assist the firm with two programs specifically for immigrants: Community resource seminars and a program called Civics and Citizenship (Figure 3).

Diana Lisenbee was IMLS’s 2017–2018 Virtual Student Federal Service Intern. A South Texas native, Lisenbee graduated from Texas Woman’s University in December 2017 with a Masters of Library Science. She is now the Supervisory Branch Librarian at Lackland Air Force Base and lives in San Antonio.