By Donald T. Hawkins (Freelance Editor and Conference Blogger)
The 2021 Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference, originally planned to be held in Seattle, WA, was held virtually on April 13-16. It attracted about 3,650 participants from the US and 20 other countries and featured 2 keynotes, 3 invited presentations, a wide variety of contributed papers, a virtual exhibit hall, and several social/wellness events.
Tressie McMillan Cottom, Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science, began her keynote address by describing two courses that she is developing: (1) Writing across public life—who participates and on what terms, and (2) Networks of racial capitalism—information, platform capitalism, who the players are, and what the terms are of living in a society dominated by technology platforms. The academic library is uniquely positioned to help determine what information is, what its implications are, and how it derives its value. The next logical step of literacy is to teach people how to read around and through information. Cottom wondered what it would look like for an academic community to develop a code of data rights similar to a code of human rights.
Information gets its value from how we value the human beings that access it. In a university, we rarely talk about the rights of users. What do people have a right to expect from their academic institution as it applies to their data? Students should expect more than just privacy, but should also have autonomy. The academic library is at the heart of understanding what information is.
The academic library is a front porch into the community and tends to be one of its more accessible spaces. Those who work there should be leaders and partners in conversations because libraries are where people go to get high quality information. We all love libraries at the beginning of a semester! There is a tremendous amount of respect for librarians among faculty members, but many of them do not know how the library works.
Taking the Temperature: Research in the Time of COVID-19
In a fitting opening to her presentation on how librarians have responded to COVID-19, Lynn Silipigni Conaway, Director, Library Trends and User Research, OCLC Research, noted that the Merriam-Webster word of 2020 was “pandemic”. She described a survey of 29 leaders of public and academic libraries and found that in 83% of them, no staff members were laid off. Three areas of impact were noted:
- The work experience. Many things are different when we are working remotely. Community needs and expectations must be met, traditional divisions of labor are challenged, and everyone needs to support their colleagues and embrace work flexibility. Self-care and child care have become important.
- The collection experience. We need to be strategic in acquiring digital resources, reevaluate the print collection’s use of space, expand lendable technology resources, and collaborate in collection development. The digitization of books by the Internet Archive has been very helpful.
- The engagement experience. We must partner in teaching and learning, focus on student success, become an academic community hub, collaborate, advocate, and communicate. We need to let students know that what they need can be acquired by the library. At many universities, the library staff has been working closely with others; one survey respondent observed that the relationship with the faculty has changed and the library has become a leader in their eyes, which has not always been the case.
Many trends were accelerated by the pandemic. A new model library is being developed by adapting physical spaces into learning centers. We must be agile and move quickly to meet the needs of the community and focus on building relationships.
Three librarians from Rutgers University described how their library transitioned immediately to remote services, which resulted in a sudden and extensive impact on reference services. A survey of 300 librarians conducted by Ithaka S+R found online reference to be challenging and stressful. Changes in user behavior were noted: there was less engagement with classes; many assignments had to be modified; class complexity changed; and some users needed very detailed instructions. More students and faculty were accessing resources from off campus.
A “Magic Wand” question produced some interesting observations; the most important one was to increase virtual reference service (VRS) use.
Respondents wanted free access to all online textbooks, 24/7 access to librarians, a librarian embedded in every online class, and an emphasis on the importance of context. The implications for our profession are significant; we must manage rapid transitions in time of crisis, and librarians must continue user-facing services.
Is the Institutional Repository (IR) Storage or Showcase?
Gail McMillan, Director of Scholarly Communication, Virginia Tech, began her presentation with a quotation from Clifford Lynch, Director of the Coalition for Networked Information, who defined an IR as a place for management and dissemination of digital materials such as intellectual works of faculty and students and records of events and performances. IRs are often measured by the data they contain, but that does not describe them in a larger context. A more relevant measure is how well the IR reflects the host institution, which can be done by creating vocabularies to show that the IR is a reflection of the whole. At Virginia Tech, the IR is routinely searched as well as the online catalog. Electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) provide an important view of the institution and its intellectual life.
Creating an Open Vision for 21st Century Libraries and Archives (Invited Presentation)
Katrina Davis Kendrick, Dean, Ida Jane Dacus Library and Louise Pettus Archives & Special Collections at Winthrop University began her invited presentation with the observation that there is an excitement in higher education. Rising tuition costs are a concern to students; in libraries, we focus on quality and access and are concerned about student retention. In the academic world, there is competition with community colleges and other universities. COVID has given us an opportunity for new ways and expanded support processes. Many students come to the campus only for certain events; what does campus experience mean during the pandemic?
There is also excitement in libraries; COVID has shown their true value. Students now see the library as a social area, not just for academic work. COVID has made us focus on library worker status and safety. We need to increase the morale of employees, focus on a sense of purpose in our libraries, and attract people who may not have felt welcome by offering a sense of place when people come in; they reflect what is going on at the campus. The welcome is illustrated by the Why, the Way, the Waylay, and the WOW!
- Sense of purpose: Honor the mission, creed, and history of the institution. Develop strategic succession plans, assessments, and visioning. What do you want your library and archives to be known for? Look at work through a critical lens. Have a positive nature and show the true value of information gathering.
- Sense of belonging: Evaluate organizational culture, and support development and empowerment. Create spaces and give people opportunities.
- Sense of place: The library is a student life entity and a hub; it should be equal to the student union. We must neutralize silos, bring people together to do things, and maximize our human resources. Purposely invite marginalized voices and create a more inclusive policy. Make sure people know they are welcome in our spaces.
- Sense of value: Budget oversight and resource evaluation are opportunities to be creative and engage with spaces, resources, and people. Engage with the people who run the library.
Creativity is iterative; be strategic in it and know that we can improve. Emphasize perfection over excellence. Value individuals over communities; neglecting marginalized communities and shame and blame will not get you to welcome. Neither will you get to welcome if employees do not feel secure in their jobs and give poor service. Their work is an essential part of their identities. We will not get to welcome if we have low morale in our workplaces and people are fearful in their jobs.
Following these principles will result in increases in collection usage, creation of new services, and growing library space usage. People will use the space if you offer it to them. Make the buildings safer and more efficient to increase faculty development and research collaborations.
Library employees should become leaders on the campus and in the community. They are ambassadors, and ambassadors don’t stay home! The library should be involved in student retention and recruiting. We need to empower people because those not empowered will not engage.
Col. Mustard in the Library With Learning Analytics: The Student Data Privacy Game
Three librarians from Oklahoma State University (OSU) discussed learning analytics (LA) (data about learners) and privacy of student data. LA can help improve teaching, but there is a dark side. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) governs access by parents to students’ educational information and records, but if it is inadequately applied by an institution and required data privacy policies are lacking, harm to students can result. Whenever student data is involved, special care must be taken. Students do care about their privacy, and we should be too.
Some of the steps taken at OSU to deconstruct and rebuild LA were:
- Delineate values. Prioritize ethics of care and student welfare. Honor students and maintain their privacy.
- Setting an ethical scholarly stance. OERs need an additional layer of ethics. Sometimes vendors offer something in exchange of data for a product. Prioritize student data privacy to protect them, respect their autonomy and intellectual freedom, and build trust between students and the library..
- Deciphering paradigms for practice. Follow frameworks for ethical LA use such as those promulgated by the Open University, JISC, NISO, and others. Only collect data that benefits students directly and supports the mission and goals of the university and library.
All LA must fit within the core principles of responsibility, transparency, privacy and consent, confidentiality and security, and access. OSU audited their use of LA to determine how they were collecting and using LA and what changes were needed. Students reviewed the conclusions of the audit and made suggestions for edits. Several complications occurred during the process, such as lack of time, LA outside the library’s control, and the institution’s privacy umbrella policies. Here are some useful policies for institutions wishing to draft their own guidelines:
- Identify in-house expertise,
- Articulate your values,
- Review ethical paradigms for student data use,
- Set broad objectives,
- Outline your core principles,
- Add new LA and edit current practices as needed,
- Incorporate students’ voices, and
- Consult with legal if necessary.
- Recognize that Google and Amazon are everywhere!
Making Collections Visible: A Case Study in Revitalizing Unused Collections
for Instruction and Outreach
Deborah Cooper and Selena Bryant, Librarians at Cornell University, were discussing how to discover little known items in their special collections after they were approached by the great-grandson of one of the early editors of The Modern Farmer, a journal founded in the 1930s for African-American farmers and containing both agricultural and sociological articles. They found that the Cornell library had the only known full run of the journal and decided to digitize it to make it more available. A Wikipedia page and LibGuide were created; the interdisciplinary nature of the journal was emphasized. The Wikipedia page went live on December 1, 2020 and has had 145 views since then.
Benefits of this work included presentations of many talks on Black history and agriculture, allowing the library to make connections to new audiences, the creation of new public-facing tools, and an increased awareness of the library’s special collections. In the future, a survey of the faculty will be conducted to determine how they discover special collections materials.
How a Student-Centered Digitization Project Can Advance Inclusive
Collections and Student Scholarship
Two librarians from California State University, Los Angeles described the digitization of Statement, a prize-winning magazine containing creative writing and art that began in 1950 and has been authored and edited by students. The digitization project began in 2019 and was intended to preserve the magazine and amplify the voices of the students. Back issues of the magazine were largely inaccessible because most of them were kept in a locked room. Some of the issues had been digitized, but the copies were of poor quality, had many broken links, and there was no metadata. Financial support was obtained from a library innovation grant, which permitted the hiring of 2 student assistants.
The library has developed a digital laboratory and has had 6 years’ experience in digitization. A student assistance program is available for students interested in the process. The workflow consisted of training, scanning, post processing to check the quality of the scans, converting them to text with OCR software, and metadata creation using Dublin Core standards. This project gave students insight in what is necessary to convert text to digital media.
COVID interfered with the project; all the metadata was created, but 20 issues remain to be scanned. Benefits of the project include celebrating and supporting student scholarship, creating a space for students to share their work, increased awareness of library programs and resources, and fostering community engagement. Producing content for the web and graphical design were also part of the learning process. Copyright issues were addressed; notices will be placed to protect students’ material, and author agreements will be developed.
Page Against the Machine: Two Former Pages Deconstruct Imposterism in Academia
Two librarians who had worked as pages in libraries described imposter syndrome (IS), which is defined as feelings of intellectual incompetence in high achieving white women and their inability to internalize accomplishments. IS was identified by 2 psychologists in 1978 who studied 150 women in academic environments over a 5 year period and found that the subjects largely felt that they were incompetent and had fears of being found fraudulent. For example, health science librarians without science training may have IS and a feeling that they do not belong in their role.
The librarians were working as pages in a public library in a college town and attended the same library school online. Pages are usually considered temporary employees. Working as a page is generally marked by part time at minimum wage with no benefits, irregular schedules, and physical labor. Pages have few opportunities for advancement because of large numbers of qualified candidates; many pages feel limited by unspoken job requirements. Many institutions do not support professional development for pages, so the only way to be promoted was to beat their friends and colleagues; qualifications like having an MLS degree from a good library school mattered little.
Life in library school did not provide courses on transitioning into the workforce, but tended to focus on information scientists, not librarians. Requirements for academic librarian positions require internships, scholarships, conference attendance, and work experience, which do not occur in library school and discriminate against students attending remotely who cannot work in the campus library. So in order to advance, library school students were required to sacrifice time with friends and family, which leads to symptoms of IS such as low self-esteem, pressure from family to succeed, long working hours, and a lack of acceptance of praise. Some societal practices may be misidentified as IS, such as student loans, prior experience being invalidated, or reluctance to take time off.
A white supremacy culture impacts organizations’ and employees’ well-being. In libraries, there is a fear of open conflict because of a desire to be well liked. Communications tend to be restricted to persons in power, leading to a reluctance to make contributions or ask questions and feeling that work does not matter. The result is burnout, which is a response to stress and leads to feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. Without intervention, highly qualified people will leave the profession.
Questions for consideration include:
- What is the organization’s responsibility when someone shows IS symptoms?
- How have IS conditions surfaced during COVID-19?
- What can managers do to prevent a culture of IS?
Actions we can take:
- Know when to make a referral if IS becomes evident,
- Provide funding to hire more staff,
- Adjust workloads to accommodate a healthy work-life balance, and
- Trust staff, especially when they share challenges or sources of stress.
The Future is Now: Making E-Resources Cuts in Time of Budget Crisis
The COVID pandemic has forced many academic libraries to make budget cuts. Three speakers in this session represented small, medium, and large universities and discussed their experiences with cuts, how they provided access to cancelled publications, and the lessons they learned.
- Northern Arizona University librarians made sure that their spending matched the budget. Some cuts were initially made, but then another 25% had to be cut when COVID hit, so it was necessary to find what contracts could be cancelled. At the same time, 25% of the library staff retired or moved on, so the remaining staff members had to learn how e-resources work.
- Catholic University is part of a research group that shares many print and electronic resources. They did a cost per use analysis and looked to see which journals were available through aggregators. Standing orders were cancelled. Some of the funds from the savings were invested in a subscription to the Web of Science. Because the cuts had to be made quickly, there was not time to get input from the faculty which was distressing.
- The University of North Texas had 3 major (20%) budget cuts spread over 5 years, so they had to develop methods for making decisions on what to cut. Fortunately, when COVID hit, they did not have to stop paying invoices, but they could not acquire anything new.
Here are some innovative things that one or more of these 3 libraries did.
- Got faculty input from a survey even before budget cuts and asked them to identify their 5 most important journals.
- Negotiated as a consortium. Put each university’s money in a pool which allowed them to get better deals from publishers.
- Provided access rather than building a collection. Looked at what journals were available from aggregators and provided articles on request. Discovered some journals that were not heavily used.
- Used ILL in public services and GetItNow for acquisitions by staff. ILL fees were lower than the cost of a subscription so they saved money.
- Asked faculty and students how they accessed materials not in the library and how difficult lack of access in the library was making their life. Emphasized that some adequate resources can be provided, but the library cannot collect everything.
- Moving to an access-based collection development policy.
- Conducted an annual review of ongoing costs. Set aside money for one-time requests. Looked at costs even in the absence of budget cuts to be were prepared for them.
- Fuzzy Lookup, a plugin for Excel, is a big time saver when you are looking at journal titles.
- Got comfortable with making a “good enough” decision. Communication is very important.
Lessons learned from budget cut experiences:
- Watch how you communicate, centralize decision control, and try to push out more information,
- Faculty members often have misconceptions of what things cost.
- You cannot rely on one model of acquisition. Look at how you can provide materials to users.
- Cutting budgets does not always mean you lose things altogether.
- Be nimble and accept that you might make mistakes. Have your data available.
- Things are changing, and there are many new models.
Leveraging Open Library Spaces for the Whole Student: Opportunities for Inclusion,
DIY Dangers, and Policies that Nurture
Librarians from Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) and Harry S Truman (HST) College, both in Chicago, described some physical space projects in their libraries, which included family study rooms, meditation spaces, classroom updates, and kid kits. In addition, both of the colleges provided services tailored to the special needs of their students; for example, a “power closet” with clothing for students going on a job interview, a student pantry, and funds for emergency situations (car repairs, etc.). These services provided aid for students so that they can continue their attendance at the college.
Family study rooms
Many families were coming into the library to get resources or study in a quiet place. At HST, an abandoned AV storage room was remodeled to provide space for families to use. Some library furniture manufacturers make small kid-sized items which are very useful. At NEIU, the family study room was created from a second-floor office away from the busy area of the library. A somewhat different approach was taken when some students asked for a quiet place where they could pray or meditate because there was no such space on campus, so a “serenity room” was created from a storage closet. It could also double as a study room, so computer manuals, etc. were provided.
Caregivers and people with small children were coming into the library with their children, especially when a teacher strike in Chicago shut down the schools. To occupy the children, some of the librarians bought toys, books, art supplies, and similar items for them. NEIU provided a grant to cover the costs.
NEIU had some underused spaces and renovated them into new classrooms. A representative from the Department of Teaching and Learning advised on how to organize the spaces, and the Director of Student Disability Services consulted on how to make the spaces more accessible. Electrical outlets dictated the arrangement of the space, and a projector was purchased using money from the library’s budget.
Dealing with policies
The new spaces had to be managed, and users were required to agree to policies, especially those relating to supervising children and not leaving them unattended. The family rooms could be reserved ahead of time for 2 hour periods.
Here are some questions that should be asked before undertaking similar projects:
- Who should I consult and collaborate with to make the project better?
- Who should be informed about the proposed changes?
- How can I thank those who helped?
- How do we educate one another about our spaces?
- Should the spaces be widely marketed or not?
- Who are the policies about the spaces for and what is the procedure for changing them when necessary?
There Are Many Ways to be Open (Invited Presentation)
In consideration of the conference theme, “Ascending into an Open Future”, Meredith Clark, Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia, addressed how we might be more open, provide access, and think more about the future. She said that this was the most difficult talk she has ever given because it is hard to talk to Zoom. Before the pandemic, we were bound by strict adherence to schedules, modes of delivery, and appearances, but now we are free to pursue liberation in ways we could not imagine, which has prompted us to think more about the future.
We are encouraged to think from a position of vulnerability: Black women are some of the most vulnerable in our society—they are able-bodied mothers, naturalized immigrants, and citizens. What does it mean to ascend? We must climb, but first we must learn to let go of things that are holding us down. To be open means that we are able to become something precious and meaningful which is a challenge to us.
This talk is an invitation to radical imagination: a practice or engagement for work in liberation and a state of living in the world as it should be, not as it is. Information workers are its conduit and extend to us the promises of a boundless future. So let us consider 3 questions:
- Why are we weighed down? Whose standards are we measuring our work and limiting ourselves by? The systems built from our collective beliefs are lack of money, time, connectivity (libraries may not have enough connections to users and the communities where they are based), and knowledge. A study by Harvard University found that up to 1/3 of students lacked the ability to read at a college level and process the information.
- What did we once deem “impossible” prior to the pandemic? What we formerly deemed impossible is simply challenging, and we are able to do it. There are many ways to make learning and connections open and possible for all. We can embrace liberation as a collective project, and we must think about what we want our pursuit of liberation to look like.
- How do we plan and design for vulnerability? We must keep it in mind as we move into our future, think about the intersection of different oppressions, and position ourselves as a conduit for different kinds of information, which requires empathy. We must look at the value of knowledge where it may have been discounted in the past, find ways to accommodate the impossible, and move forward. Emphasize the value of the local community, design for it, use practices and technology so that we can ascend into a future that is open.
The answers to these questions are in our communities, workplaces, and places where we live, work and play. Prioritize indigenous communities and yield some of our power to those on the margins. Provide opportunities for them to practice and teach, amplify what they are able to do, and learn from it. You are the conduit for radical imagination. The task ahead is the work of generations.
Educating About the Past in Hopes of a More Equitable Future: Identifying, Building, and
Using Collections as Data for Social Justice
An interesting project, “On The Books”, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill libraries was to create a corpus of North Carolina laws from 1866 through 1967 and then use machine learning techniques to identify those which were Jim Crow laws. It required expertise in the historical subject, project management, technical skills, and data skills. Ensuring successful collaboration among the project team required radical collaboration to achieve more as a team than could be achieved separately.
The project was spawned when a library patron asked if the library had any record of Jim Crow laws enforcing racial segregation in North Carolina. A book listing such laws was found, but the project expanded to investigating whether search engines reinforce racism. A training set of search algorithms was used to uncover subtle forms of racism that would be missed by those without subject expertise.
Images of laws were downloaded in bulk from the Internet Archive and converted to text by optical character recognition (OCR). Each section of the text was treated as a separate law using automatic pattern recognition, and then cleaned manually. Several challenges were encountered: errors in the original volumes, chapter breaks in the margins, chapters labeled with Roman numerals, generally poor OCR scans of numbers, fractional section numbers and unusual fonts and scripts. Training sets of laws were created to identify Jim Crow laws and classify the text files.
The project website, On The Books , includes sections for educators, researchers interested in text analysis, and lawyers. Searchers can view the full text of laws or images of how they appear in books. For educators, laws are linked to K-12 lesson plans.
If…Then…Else: Algorithmic Systems, Bias, Knowledge Structuring, and Our Epistemic Crisis
Ian O’Hara from the Weinberg Memorial Library at the University of Scranton reviewed algorithms and epistemology as applied to information searching and literacy. An algorithm is commonly described by computer scientists as a description of a method by which a task is to be accomplished. This simple definition can apply to anything from a recipe to a sophisticated computer process. Algorithms are small pieces of a software system; we are concerned with vetting the accuracy of information that is frequently being expressed by algorithms because of our increasing reliance on software applications for our needs. Algorithms are usually opaque to the user.
Philosophers define epistemology as the study of the nature of knowledge and justification, and an epistemic crisis occurs when a community begins to question the correctness of its rules and structure. Algorithms can indirectly cause these crises and can contribute to a trust bias toward highly ranked items in a search result; for example, it is well known that many searchers only look at hits on the first page of a result set. Although 2/3 of searchers believe that search engines are neutral and unbiased, Google is an advertising platform and does not rank results on their content or information efficacy. Instead, its ranking algorithm aims to appease advertisers and generate revenue, which has nothing to do with the value of the information retrieved. For example, high ranking search results containing extremist and radical terms have been implicated in recent violent and racially motivated hate crimes. When searches result in these types of problems, Google alters the algorithm to prevent such terms from appearing. Similar considerations exist with the algorithms that generate and prioritize Facebook’s news feeds.
We are at a critical epistemological point in society because we have granted authority over our information activities to opaque algorithms controlled by corporate organizations that can prioritize specific perspectives based on their economic interests. We must advocate for a reorientation of algorithmic designs to produce a proper epistemological foundation. Academic librarians must develop knowledge about algorithms and incorporate it into information literacy classes.
TechConnect Group 3
Three librarians described how they integrated technology to create innovative applications in their libraries.
Ascending Above the Pandemic Blues: Engaging First Year Students with a Digital Escape Room
Mandi Goodsett from Cleveland State University described how incoming students are required to complete a first year experience course, in which the library is involved. The library designed a scavenger hunt to introduce students to the facility, but when COVID arrived, it was necessary to develop another way to engage students. So a digital escape room, in which a team of students collaborate to find a way out of a room, was created. Many public libraries have successfully created digital versions of escape rooms. They are fun and engaging for participants, can gamify learning, and can teach students about the library’s virtual services.
Design considerations for a digital escape room:
- Establish simple learning outcomes first,
- Choose a theme,
- Look at some examples, and
- Choose an online platform.
Google Forms is a popular choice for these types of systems. When choosing a theme, consider what activities students will be doing, what references they will understand, and what will be fun for them. Some options are clues and puzzles, hidden objects or messages in an image, and language codes and ciphers. It is important to consider how to make this activity accessible to everyone; for example, don’t hide clues in images or make them dependent on colors, consider ESL students, provide clear help and instructions, and create a text-only version of the escape room.
Troubleshooting the escape room is very important. Let many people test it, get faculty feedback, and learn about term associations that students may make: some of them may be inappropriate for general use.
Feedback on the escape room was generally positive. Here is a sample escape room for attendees to try.
Augment Your Library: Creating an AR self guided tour in your library
Hannah Pope from Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, said that many organizations are now using augmented reality (AR) for training and content creation, so an exposure to AR helps students prepare for their real world experiences. COVID spurred the development of non-contact ways to introduce library services and a way to integrate technology into library tours. There was a demand for them, but librarians rarely had time to conduct them.
The Assemblr app was used to create markers for the tour. It is easy to implement and use, allows for a variety of content—text, videos, and 3D models—and it is free. It generates QR codes for markers which can be printed and placed in tour locations. An iPad was made available for checkout in case students did not have their own devices for downloading the app.
The response to the tour was positive. Lessons learned: The tour was easy to create; it allows for social distancing, was easy for students to download and use, and saves librarian time. Challenges: The app has some limitations: no custom markers are available; students are confused about AR vs. VR; and the markers were sometimes difficult to read.
Expanding the Experiential Library: Using Twitch to Adapt Hands-on Learning Spaces During a Global Pandemic
Colin Nichols and Claire Cahoon at the North Carolina State University (NCSU) Library said that they were not able to safely share the innovative services of the library when COVID arrived, so they were live streamed on Twitch, an informal live broadcasting service that can share video, PC screens, chats, and games on a drop-in basis. It is widely used, casual and informal, anonymous, synchronous or asynchronous, and accessible in browsers.
Twitch is being used at NCSU to stream the library’s drop-in hours, makerspace, VR studio, and digital media lab. Students can stream from home if they have special equipment, and library personnel and guests with special skills can participate in the makerspace. When the library launched a new innovations lab, it was not possible to conduct tours in person so it was introduced with a live stream on Twitch. Local musicians have conducted events virtually as well. From August 30, 2020 through March 7, 2021, 130 streams were conducted from over 30 streamers; an average of 5 people viewed each stream.
The closing keynote was by Mona Chalabi, Data Editor of The Guardian. She loves numbers, especially visualizations, and in this presentation she described her work with data.
Data can be found in a wide variety of places. Statistics can be turned into written articles or illustrations. When considering an illustration, the two most important criteria are clarity and beauty, which can be represented like this:
Chalabi then went into detail on how she created a pretty and clear visualization using some data on air pollution exposure experienced by different races. It took 5 iterations to arrive at the final version. Here is her first attempt:
And here is the final version:
As librarians well know, sometimes language is important, especially when different communities are represented in the audience; notice the use of “caused” vs. “emitted” and “exposure” vs. “inhaled” on these charts. And a simple thing like the line down the center makes the message clearer. It is important to consider what verbs and nouns can be used to be as inclusive as possible, and scale is also important when creating charts. Graphics that bring the human side of a story to life are the best to use.
The biggest problem in creating graphics is too much information, which can result in visualizations that do not hold people’s attention properly. One solution is to create sequences and break down information in its parts by only showing one piece of information at a time, thus slowing down assimilation of it. Data works better when the scale on the chart is 1:1. When the data is properly sequenced, you understand exactly where your eye should travel. Sometimes in a good visualization, you find something that you would have otherwise missed.
Sometimes visualizations must be made for people who face different obstacles. For example, for blind people, you can 3D print the data points at different heights so they can be felt. When the space you are trying to represent is fundamentally flawed, it is best to ask for help and get suggestions to humanize the data. For example, here is a visualization of how to determine the proper 6 foot separation for social distancing.
ACRL 2023 will be held March 15-18 in Pittsburgh, PA.
Donald T. Hawkins is an information industry freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. In addition to blogging and writing about conferences for Against the Grain, he blogs the Computers in Libraries and Internet Librarian conferences for Information Today, Inc. (ITI) and maintains the Conference Calendar on the ITI website. He is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, (Information Today, 2013) and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits (Information Today, 2016). He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked in the online information industry for over 50 years.