Is Your Organization Data Literate?

To the list of the many ways that special librarians and information professionals benefit their organizations—helping them make better decisions, improve their productivity, and so on—we can now add reducing sick days, according to a recent survey by Accenture and Qlik.

The survey report, “The Human Impact of Data Literacy,” states that while nearly all employees recognize that data is an asset, just 25% believe they’re fully prepared to use data effectively, and only 21% feel confident in their ability to read, understand, question and work with data. While these findings may not be surprising, their implications are downright disturbing—roughly one-third of surveyed employees said they will find an alternative method to complete a task to avoid using data, and nearly as many said they had taken at least one day of sick leave due to stress caused by dealing with data and information.

These sick days and time lost to workarounds add up to lost productivity—more than $100 billion in the United States alone. Yet rather than teach their employees how to use data, many employers have prioritized access over understanding.

“There has been a focus on giving employees self-service access to data, rather than building individuals’ self-sufficiency to work with it,” said Jordan Morrow, head of data literacy at Qlik. “Yet, expecting employees to work with data without providing the right training or appropriate tools is a bit like going fishing without the rods, bait or nets. You may have led them to water, but you aren’t helping them catch a fish.”

Librarians are uniquely situated to help their clients better understand and work with data, but they sometimes lack the skills needed to assume this role. The articles in the January-February 2020 issue of SLA’s online magazine, Information Outlook, can help fill this void. From advice about websites that offer training courses on data to an overview of the baseline competencies for data-literate employees to a tool that can help librarians identify which data skills to learn, the January-February issue offer an abundance of useful advice to librarians and information professionals interested in becoming—and helping their clients become—data literate.

For example, Jennifer Huck, the data librarian at the University of Virginia Library, recommends in her article that librarians ask clients who are seeking data to clarify details such as unit of analysis, geographic coverage, and time period before conducting a search. She also suggests reviewing the kinds of data that researchers at your organization are using and familiarizing yourself with the key sources of data in your field.

“The key question to ask yourself,” she writes, “is: Who would care enough to collect and disseminate data on this topic?”

Megan Sapp Nelson, a professor of library sciences and the science and engineering data librarian at Purdue University, acknowledges in her article that many librarians will be only minimally engaged in data literacy and management functions and thus may not know how to “skill up” if their data responsibilities expand. She recommends using the Data Engagement Opportunities Scaffold, a tool designed to help librarians conceptualize how they might engage in data management while simultaneously leveraging their existing strengths.

“Rather than attend trainings to learn generally, librarians can use this tool to discover how building up skill sets in specific areas can result in concrete service offerings,” she writes. “While specifically developed for the academic environment, the scaffold concept could be translated into a special library or corporate library environment, given sufficient knowledge of the strategic interests of the organization and the needs of the patron base.”

Want to learn more about how you can enhance your data skills and help your organization and patrons become data literate? Join SLA and read Information Outlook!

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