Published: Sept. 8, 2020

Data is the lifeblood of 21st century museums. It's how they share and manage their collections and how they advocate for their impact on science and society. Data visualization illustrates the nature of a dataset in engaging and intuitive ways, tapping into the brain's amazing ability to pick out visual patterns. While data "viz" has recently exploded in many other fields, it was an emerging frontier in museums, until now. 

As a graduate student at CU Boulder's Museum and Field Studies program, Jessica Mailhot was exposed to all aspects of an accredited campus museum and was able to fully dive into the many practical pillars of zoology collection management. She was encouraged to pursue her interdisciplinary interests through her thesis project exploring museum data visualization, contributed to public educational programs, and even created a mural for the museum’s popular Discovery Corner. Throughout the program, working closely with various museum professionals, Jessica saw an opportunity to gracefully reimagine the data she worked with and created a free tool to support museums.

Jessica Mailhot

CollViz, short for "collection visualization," offers tools and resources specifically tailored for museums, their collections and their staff, to make data viz more accessible. 

"Natural history collections are large and complex resources. Jessica's project offers some great tools to better understand these resources, track projects that utilize them and demonstrate their applications to a wide range of stakeholders," said Patrick Kociolek, director of the CU Museum of Natural History. "The application will be helpful to curators, collections managers, students and a wide range of users of collections, and demonstrate the myriad of uses to those who support collections." 

CollViz is a one-stop hub for museums interested in bringing data visualization into their work. There is a suite of five data visualization dashboards specifically designed for managing collections, including ones that showcase the scope of the collection, advocate for its impact, manage grant projects and more. Anyone can download one of these dashboards for free, plug their own data into it, and tailor it to address their unique needs, all using the free and user-friendly Tableau Public software; no programming experience is required. CollViz also offers detailed tutorials, videos, a discussion board, and extra resources about data viz and its use in museums.

“I gravitate toward museums because they are interdisciplinary places where science, creativity and community service come together,” Mailhot said. “going forward as a CU graduate, I hope to continue defining the future of museums by crossing disciplinary lines."