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Dangerous Liaisons - UW Libraries

August 28, 2017

Data Literacy: “What It Is and Why You Should Care”

Ann Glusker

Open data… big data… data management…  These terms swirl around us, and often we just let them flow past.  But, to understand and navigate the rapidly changing landscape that is data, we need certain skills, and these are characterized as “data literacy”.  One definition of data literacy, from DataPopAlliance.org, is “the desire and ability to constructively engage in society through and about data” (click here if you want to know the thinking behind this and here if you want to see a quick video).  But I like this one, from the wonderful Data Journalism Handbook, better:

“Just as literacy refers to “the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently and think critically about printed material” data-literacy is the ability to consume for knowledge, produce coherently and think critically about data. Data literacy includes statistical literacy but also understanding how to work with large data sets, how they were produced, how to connect various data sets and how to interpret them.”

The graphic here (and at the bottom of this post) is a good representation of how the skill sets needed for data literacy intersect. I think some of us worry that we don’t have the necessary statistical literacy in particular to really feel data-literate, but if you are a librarian who thrives on orderly arrangements of information, such as pretty much any library classification system, you are fine!  Orderliness goes far, as does a critical eye towards credibility, currency, reliability, and all those other good criteria we use to assess information every day.  Those are essentially the messages of this piece, “Become Data Literate in Three Steps”.

Which brings me to, why should we care?  To answer that question, I commend to you a wonderful article which appeared recently in Public Library Quarterly, “Open Data: What It Is and Why You Should Care” (hence the quotation marks in this post’s title!)

As librarians, we know that data is distilled into information; information is distilled into knowledge; and knowledge drives better decision-making. When librarians help patrons, students, business owners, community members, and public servants harness information, we are helping them make better decisions in their communities, business, and lives. And librarians can benefit from this data focus ourselves: whether we are analyzing our libraries’ data as part of our internal management processes or witnessing the insights made by enterprising data-savvy constituents, it is important to make sure that our data is driving our own success.”

This is, of course, a defense of data meant to sway public librarians (consider the source), but I believe that even in cases of the most esoteric research data in the academic setting, these concepts still hold.  Either way, it’s worth learning more about data literacy, enhancing your level of data literacy, and considering how you may want to teach data literacy (which is an aspect, these days, of almost every academic discipline).  For fun, check out the HipHopLibGuide’s Data Literacy page.  Because, speaking data-wise, who DOES have the largest Hip Hop vocabulary?

What is data literacy? (1/6)