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Data visualization tool developed at MIT gets Library of Congress support

MIT Libraries receives grant for work on 'Exhibit 3.0' software
Exhibit has been used by to help demonstrate new ways of visualizing government data.
Exhibit has been used by to help demonstrate new ways of visualizing government data.

A $650,000 grant from the United States Library of Congress will fund work on a new version of Exhibit, the popular open-source software tool developed at MIT that helps with searching, browsing and visualizing data on the Web.

The MIT Libraries, in collaboration with the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and Zepheira, LLC, will redesign and expand upon features of the tool to create “Exhibit 3.0." The goal is to provide an enhanced tool that is scalable and useful for data management, Web display and navigation; particularly for libraries, cultural institutions and other organizations grappling with large amounts of digital content.

“This innovative work has already made a considerable impact on digital content communities whose data is diverse and complex. The visualizations bring new understanding to users and curators alike,” said Martha Anderson, director of program management at the Library of Congress.

Exhibit was originally developed as part of the MIT Simile Project, a collaboration of the MIT Libraries, CSAIL and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to explore applications of the Semantic Web to problems of information management across both large-scale digital libraries and small-scale personal collections. Exhibit runs inside a Web browser and supports many types of information using common Web standards for data publishing.

Since its release, Exhibit has been used by thousands of websites worldwide across a range of diverse industries and institutions. Most recently Exhibit has been used by, an Open Government Initiative by President Barack Obama's administration to increase public access to high-value data generated by the executive branch of the federal government.

The Exhibit 3.0 project will redesign and re-implement Exhibit to scale from small collections to very large data collections of the magnitude created by the Library of Congress and its National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP). The redesigned Exhibit will be as simple to use as the current tool but more scalable, more modular and easier to integrate into a variety of information management systems and websites — making it valuable to an even larger audience of individuals and organizations publishing information on the Web.

In addition to the Library of Congress, the MIT Libraries and other organizations that manage large quantities of data will collaborate on the project for their own collections.

"Libraries are dealing with more and bigger collections of digital data every day, and tools like Exhibit pave the way to making them more useful and easier to combine in new and valuable ways. We're grateful to the Library of Congress for helping us take Exhibit to the next level and getting it into the hands of librarians and others who work in data-intensive fields,” said MacKenzie Smith, research director at the MIT Libraries and the project’s principal investigator.

Users of the software and software developers will be encouraged to contribute improvements to the open-source tool and the project will also incorporate research by students at CSAIL that will focus on improving the user experience in Exhibit, and incorporating new data visualization techniques that allow users to explore data in novel ways.

“Impressive data-interactive sites abound on the Web, but right now you need a team of developers to create them. Exhibit demonstrated that authoring data-interactive sites can be as easy as authoring a static web page. With Exhibit 3.0 we can move from a prototype to a robust platform that anyone can use,” said David Karger, professor of electrical engineering in CSAIL.

The project began in January for a period of one year. For more information see

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