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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Panoramic display technology puts Davis Library on the map

Graduate student Amanda Tickner and GIS librarian Philip McDaniel look at images of sea life from the Galapagos Islands using the Liquid Galaxy display in Davis Library.

Graduate student Amanda Tickner and GIS librarian Philip McDaniel look at images of sea life from the Galapagos Islands using the Liquid Galaxy display in Davis Library.

People who want to visit the Great Barrier Reef, the Louvre or even the moon can do so without leaving campus. Thanks to a new Liquid Galaxy display system on the second floor of Davis Library, visitors can call up any Google Earth destination in a surround-screen immersive environment. The installation, made up of seven screens joined in a semi-circle, invites exploration with its high-resolution display and intuitive navigation. Library staff know of no other Liquid Galaxy in North Carolina.

“From the moment the installer closed his tool box, students have been lining up non-stop to try the screens,” said Amanda Henley, one of the library’s two Geographic Information Systems (GIS) librarians. Developers at Google created Liquid Galaxy to display Google Earth images and data linked to Google Earth, which is sometimes referred to as a virtual globe. In the Google Earth library are files such as maps, 360-degree building tours, geographic features, ocean data, street views, satellite images and images of the moon and Mars.

Henley is working to add some of the University’s digitized maps and images to the Davis Library display. Interactive maps that are part of the library’s North Carolina Maps project and Driving Through Time: The Digital Blue Ridge Parkway could be included. Both projects laid historic maps over current ones to demonstrate changes to the natural and built landscape.

Henley also is talking with faculty members from several disciplines who see research possibilities in the 7-foot-tall screens. For art history professor Glaire Anderson, the immersive display capacity may even improve upon some real-world experiences. Anderson has been experimenting with an ultra-high resolution panoramic photography process called GigaPan. She is researching a medieval aviation experiment that took place on a mountainside in present-day Spain. Anderson also uses the GigaPan to document monuments around the world as well as works of art at the Ackland Art Museum. Showing these files on the Liquid Galaxy, she said, “might be the next best thing to seeing them in person” and without obstacles such as tight schedules, poor access and crowds of tourists.

The Liquid Galaxy is part of the Research Hub, a UNC Library initiative to make the entire research lifecycle at Carolina more connected, collaborative and technology-enabled. The Davis Library Research Hub also offers consulting, software and equipment for GIS, data and data visualization, statistics and digital humanities. A Kenan Science Library Hub features a new makerspace and 3D printing facility, while the Hub at the Health Sciences Library focuses on health-intensive information needs such as grant support, data management and open access compliance.

A grand opening and open house for the Research Hub, including Liquid Galaxy demonstrations and test drives, will take place in Davis Library on Oct. 23 from 3:30 to 5 p.m.