Vol 24 | No 1 | Fall 16
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Gearing up for Data Literacy Support

ImageThe growing importance of data in both scholarly and everyday life requires that academic libraries respond by incorporating data literacy into traditional information literacy programs. We are surrounded by data: when we read, watch or listen to the news we are presented with conclusions drawn from myriad data sources. A literate person is expected to be able to look critically at data as well as create examples to illustrate or support arguments or conclusions. The UCI libraries are hoping to offer a comprehensive data literacy initiative for undergraduates starting fall quarter 2017.

In order to prepare for this, we have embarked on an ambitious program of self-study, beginning with a six-part in-house training program for librarians and other library professionals called Data: Deal with It. As a follow-up, individual and teams of librarians are doing 10 minute demonstrations of free and easy to use data literacy tools in bimonthly meetings. We are also investing in our staff by sending individuals and cohorts to trainings around the country.

Many of us went to college and graduate school in Library Science at a time when inserting "multimodal" charts and graphs was much more difficult than today. In the days of typewriters or even early computer word processing, only experts were expected to include sophisticated data in their research. Now, however, even first-year college students are expected to both create and cite images as well as texts, and there are expectations of statistical literacy in classes across the curriculum.

A basic definition of data literacy is the ability to interpret, evaluate and communicate statistical and visual information. Data literacy requirements vary from discipline to discipline, and the libraries do not expect to have the expertise for all of them. Rather, we want to support basic data literacy and help students make sense of data, and understand the importance of data collection and interpretation.

We will present students with examples of many free tools such as Social Explorer, which allows users to tell a story with data about the United States using census information; Google Public Data Explorer, which makes large datasets easy to explore, visualize and communicate; Raw, which allows vector-based visualizations of information; and Weave, web-based analysis and visualization environment. Follow the links to learn more about these tools.

We found this project pretty daunting at first, but now that we are in the middle of it we are enjoying stretching our expertise. Librarians are enthusiastic life-long learners, and we are demonstrating that to ourselves and others by undertaking this effort.

For more information on the Libraries' Digital Literacy Initiatives, contact Alison Regan, Assistant University Librarian for Public Services at aeregan@uci.edu.