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A Prompt Plus 2

24 May

I’ve spent most of today preparing for a joint department retreat that I’m co-leading next Friday. We’re incorporating some of the tools learned through participation in the EXCITE Transformation for Libraries learning program that several of us in the library have attended over the past year. One of these tools is the use of picture cards to prompt responses. For example, I give you a picture of a chicken and you share how you’re like the picture and how you’re not like it. You can really ask any kind of question. The goal is to use the images to help you think creatively.

Here’s one to try: 

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Kangaroo Island, South Australia

How is this picture like your job? How is it not like your job?

My answers: It’s like my job because I always have something going on, some movement, some project, some task to tackle. They ebb and flow, like waves, but never stop completely. It’s not like my job because it’s repetitive. The waves have a rhythm to them. My job can be different every day. Now you’re turn. Feel free to add your answers in the comments section. 

 

New Arrivals!

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I was most excited when my brand new, hot-off-the-press copy of Stephanie Evergreen’s Effective Data Visualization, 2nd Edition arrived early this week. The 1st edition has been an invaluable resource over the past few years. The latest offers up a whole new section on charts for qualitative data, plus additional types of charts and graphs for quantitative data. Evergreen is a terrific instructor and her knowledge jumps from the page. I’ve touted her work numerous times on my blog. Count this as one more. She’s a go-to resource, for sure.

I also treated myself to her new, The Data Visualization Sketch Book. It’s filled with tips and templates, all designed to get my thinking cap and my pencil going before I sit down at my computer. This is a vital step in good data visualization and one that too often gets skipped. The sketch book is a nice tool to build the habit into your process.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, enjoy the holiday weekend (here in the USA), and happy graduation to many! Until next time…

New Year, New Month, New Project!

1 Feb

Podcast-Art-1

You may recall that I’ve mentioned more than once how I wanted to start producing a podcast called, “Don’t Quit Your Day Job.” The podcast features interviews with people who have interesting hobbies and/or activities outside of their regular 9-5 working life. People like an X-Ray technician who organizes ukulele clubs all over town, a biomedical researcher who plays drums in a rock band, a science center director who grows hops and brews beer, an IRB director who travels all over the country as a birdwatcher, a medical librarian who writes about baseball, and on and on. The thing is that while we may live in a society and a culture that tries hard to define us by our work, not everyone falls prey to such thinking. I’ve met many people who live full lives outside of their jobs and while their jobs are often quite meaningful, they get a lot out of the other pursuits, too.

One theme that I’m exploring with these interviews is the role of creativity and how being creative in one aspect of our lives influences and benefits others. It’s something that I’m always wondering about and thought it would be cool to explore it via these chats.

And so … I’m super excited to report that I published my very first episode yesterday! I’ll be posting future episodes to this blog (my goal is a couple each month), but you can also visit my Libysn site and subscribe to the RSS feed there. You’ll also be able to find the feed soon, i.e. by the end of this week, in iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Downcast, and other popular podcasting spots.

If you’re interested, I hope you tune in! (Click the link below to access my podcast page.) I’d love to get feedback and love even more to have volunteers for interviews. If you’ve got a cool gig outside of your workplace, tell me about it!

Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Episode 1: A Guy Walks into a Bar with a Ukulele

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Social Media

23 May

goodbaduglyThe following first appeared as an article for the Social Media column (edited by Lara Killian, AHIP) in MLA News, the monthly membership magazine of the Medical Library Association. Originally, I planned to simply repost it here without any additional thoughts or comments, but in the past 24 hours, a couple of things have occurred that make me wish to add just a quick note. First, I read the New York Times article, The Internet is Broken: @ev Is Trying to Salvage It. It’s an interesting piece about Evan Williams, a co-creator of Blogger, one of the founders of Twitter, and the founder of Medium. Much of the article focuses on the the struggles of the latter as a successful business model, but the underlying theme is about the Internet and what social media has fostered, negatively, in our society.

The second thing that happened was last night, someone who I’ve never encountered in my entire life but who clearly disagreed with something that I posted on Twitter, called me a paid troll, an idiot, and a waste of oxygen. I’m grateful that they stayed away from any comments about my body and my dead mother, but … I blocked the individual before he could think of that. I’ve used Twitter for years. I know that it has an earned reputation as a platform for bullying, for hateful comments, and for even inciting violence, but until last night, I’d been immune from any of that. Twitter is a way for me to aggregate news sources, share interesting and helpful information with friends and colleagues, see pictures of puppies, and even form a few new friendships. I’ll not shy away from it due to this incident, but I imagine that I’m not alone when I observe the horrid behavior of too many people today, virtual and otherwise, and shout, “STOP IT!” 

But enough with the commentary. Here’s the piece that I wrote about why I’m a blogger. It’s been one of the best professional and personal decisions that I’ve made. It’s the Good, to the Bad and the Ugly.

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Way back in September of 2012, I started writing a blog, “A Librarian by Any Other Name.” I chose this name because my official job title had recently changed from “research and scholarly communications librarian” to “informationist.” I didn’t particularly care for the latter term, but it came with an administrative supplement grant from the National Library of Medicine, which was my impetus for starting to blog in the first place. I also chose what I thought was a fun name for my uniform resource locator (URL)—librarianhats.net—to capture the fact that librarians have many job titles, in part because we wear so many different “hats.”

I began my blog to track my experience and progress for the grant. I’m not very good with note taking in any traditional sense, but I do like to write a narrative and I enjoy the world of social media, so blogging seemed a good choice. It became a way for me to share not only with other members of my research team, but also with other librarians and/or interested readers. When the project ended, I realized that I’d developed an audience and that I really enjoyed writing for my followers, so I continued.

Since that first post, I’ve written 192 more and had 62,224 visitors from 156 different countries. Reviewing these statistics makes me feel both proud and humbled. I’ve received many kind words of appreciation, engaged in interesting discussions about blog post topics, and discovered lots of colleagues with similar ideas and in similar situations. As a direct result of contacts made through my blog, I’ve accepted at least 1 invitation each year to speak at librarian conferences, allowing me to travel to fun places and meet many wonderful people. All of this happened because I started writing about what I do and what I think about as a librarian, an informationist, and, most recently, an evaluator for the UMass Center for Clinical & Translational Science. I believe it’s one of the best professional decisions I ever made.

Want to start your own blog? Here are some lessons I’ve learned:

Be yourself

My blog is a mix of the professional and personal me. I found early on that it was difficult for me to write completely objectively, as I might do for a professional publication. Besides, this wasn’t the point of Librarian by Any Other Name. I wanted to share my personal experiences and thoughts, but in a professional manner. As such, I adopted a style that allows me to be myself: fairly informal, folksy, and hopefully funny at times, but also on point in regard to sharing content that my audience will find interesting and relevant. Finding your voice may come easily or not, but with time and practice, it develops.

Be consistent

In her piece, “Making Time to Stay Social,” Lara Killian, AHIP, notes the importance of making a schedule and sticking to it. This is important both for the writer and the audience. People follow a blog when it stays current. In the same way, they stop visiting when a site sits dormant for long periods of time. When I first started A Librarian by Any Other Name, I wrote and posted a new piece each week. When I finished the initial project and especially when I changed jobs a couple of years ago, I found it harder to maintain this schedule due to both time and material. Once or twice a month is now my norm. The key is to maintain engagement.

Be brave (if you want to)

Early on, I made the decision to announce every new entry to A Librarian by Any Other Name on multiple platforms. I wanted people to find it. I wanted to develop an audience. My primary audience—in other words, medical librarians—prefers receiving information via different means. Some subscribe; some follow on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google; and still others click from the link that I send in an email to several email discussion lists. Some may feel this is overkill, but the reality of social media platforms and information flow is that if you want an audience, you need to utilize multiple channels. You may have naysayers who think self-promotion is simply ego, but it isn’t. If you’ve taken the time and effort to write something that you want others to read, you need to tell them it’s there. After all, it’s social media, not a diary.

Final thoughts

Too often, we struggle in our profession to be visible. We feel that we are overlooked and undervalued, and that what we do is misunderstood. The easiest remedy for this is communication. Blogging is one means of accomplishing this goal—and a whole lot more.

Like that Dam in California… Overflow!

14 Feb

oroville_dam_spillover_2017-02-11Not to make light of the scary news out of California this week regarding the eroding of Oroville Dam, but some of the images did make me think of my overflowing bookmark list of things to share with with my readers. So many! So here goes:

There’s much about Fake News in the real news lately, including the role that librarians can play (see the PBS NewsHour story, Why These Librarians are Protesting Trump’s Executive Orders, by Elizabeth Flock) and can’t play (see Information Literacy Won’t Save Us; or, Fight Fascism, Don’t Create a LibGuide, by IJClark) when it comes to media literacy. I find there to be interesting and credible arguments on both sides, but more than anything, I’m heartened by the rekindled notion of the importance of our profession in the discussion.

Somewhat related is Mattie Quinn’s story for the website, Governing; For the Poorest and Sickest, Librarians Often Play Doctor. As a medical librarian, I found this story of particular interest.

A few useful resources:

  • Think Outside The Slide has a nice list of free resources to make PowerPoint presentations more effective. 
  • MapBox provides a platform for adding maps to your mobile apps. While it’s a paid service, there is a level available for free that you can try.
  • Back in October, I attended a terrific workshop on bibliometrics and research assessment, co-hosted by the NIH Library and the Maryland Chapter of the Special Libraries Association. The materials are now available online. You’ll find a couple of really good keynote talks, plus a whole bunch of interesting posters by colleagues in the field. Great stuff!
  • ProPublica the independent, nonprofit, investigative journalism outfit has created a number of applets using IFTTT, that work with different media tools (Evernote, Pocket, mail, calendars, etc.) to keep you up-to-date on different aspects of U.S. politics, including when the President signs a new law, when Congress schedules a vote, and a weekly/daily Congressional digest. These are great for staying informed and, if one is so inclined, for activism.
  •  The International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM) is a non-profit organization devoted to bettering health care systems worldwide by “measuring and reporting patient outcomes in a standardized way.” On their website, you can find a lengthy, growing list of Standard Sets for a variety of medical conditions, along with literature on how to read, interpret and use the findings.
  • Finally, WordCounter.net needs no explanation. It’s a handy online tool. 

I really enjoy following the website, StatNews. I find it to be a thoughtful, credible source for current news on health and medicine. If you’ve yet to discover Stat, here are a couple of stories that I recently read to introduce you to their work:

Another interesting health care-related story is Martha Bebinger’s story (WBUR), What if We Really Knew Where to Get the Best Cancer Care: The Prostate as Case Study. It gets one to thinking about what we know, what we don’t know, what we can know, and what we might not want to know when it comes to health data and medical treatments. 

If you’re fascinated with space and all things astronaut related, as I am, you likely know about the really cool “Twin Study” that’s been ongoing at NASA using the identical twins, Mark and Scott Kelly, as subjects to study the longterm effects of space travel – findings that also inform down-to-earth subjects like aging, muscle growth, and other aspects related to gene expression. The first findings were published on the NASA website in late January and they contained both some expected and unexpected results.

And finally, if you missed the best story of 2017 so far, I share it with you here now:

Four-year-old Daliyah Marie Arana’s being “Librarian for the Day” for the Library of Congress.

As I said, best story of the year so far. 

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah…

16 Aug

… here I am at, Camp …  well … at Townshend State Park in Townshend, Vermont. Last week’s vacation spot. It was a wonderful week of camping, hiking, reading, drawing, cooking, and more. Just what a summer vacation is supposed to be. The only downside is that it was all of one week. Too short. Ah, well…

I read three good books while camping:

The latter two are books that appeared in my Little Free Library this summer and I decided after reading them last week that I’d add a “review” feature to my library. We’ll see how – or if – it takes off.

Three work-related books that were recommended and/or loaned to me lately include:

Not quite the page-turners as my vacation books, but worthwhile reading all the same. The first two give very practical advice, examples, and exercises to help one hone his/her data science and math skills, and Few’s book is like all of his others, i.e. chocked full of information and advice for effective data visualization.

And finally, a few interesting websites to peruse and enjoy:

A Snapshot of a 21st-Century Librarian (Adrienne Green, The Atlantic) is a terrific profile piece on Theresa Quill, a research librarian at the Herman B. Wells Library at Indiana University, Bloomington. If you, like me, struggle to explain your not-so-stereotypical librarian job to friends and family, point them to this article as a good example of how we’re pushing the boundaries and redefining our role(s).

Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine is a hilarious – and informative – podcast that I recently stumbled upon. Dr. Sydnee McElroy provides the medical expertise and her husband, Justin, the banter. Actually, they both banter quite a bit, making it an enjoyable program. I see that last week’s topic was cupping. If you noticed those round bruises on Michael Phelps body during the Olympics, you might want to listen to learn about how they got there (and if the science behind the practice is real).

Speaking of the Olympics, Dynamic Dialects is just a downright awesome site to explore how people around the world pronounce the same set of words. It’s great fun!

If you bookmark sites for free-to-use images, you’ll want to add the USDA’s Pomological Watercolor Collection to your list. One “Fast Fact” from the site – it contains 7, 584 watercolor paintings, lithographs, and line drawings of fruits and nuts, and almost 4,000 of those are apples. Imagine! It’s a beautiful resource.

The Open Notebook gives visitors a wealth of insight and knowledge about science writing, and also provides tools to help one become a better science writer. Interviews, Elements of the Craft, Profiles, and Science Blogging are some of its features. 

 Finally, someone once asked how I discover all of these sharable finds. Better put, I think she asked, “How do you find the time to discover them?” The answer is that I read a lot (stories from Twitter; magazines like The Atlantic, The Economist, and The New Yorker; a number of interesting blogs), I listen to the news via public radio and podcasts of interest, and I subscribe to several email newsletters including The Scout Report from Internet Scout at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Austin Kleon’s weekly post, Banana Data News, and Wait But Why. I like that with the exception of the last one (which arrives maybe once a month), these appear in my email on Friday mornings. They’re not overwhelming in length and never cease to offer up something that I find interesting and useful – kind of like how I hope you find my blog. 

Summer Sightseeing

20 Jul

I subscribe to #dataviz guru, Stephanie Evergreen’s blog and found this morning’s post about timelines really great.  I love timelines, both aesthetically and functionally. I particularly liked Stephanie’s idea to use a visual timeline to outline a day’s agenda:

Timeline

The next time I put together a presentation and am tempted to do that requisite “Here’s What We’re Going to Cover in this Talk” slide, I’m going to use this technique rather than some boring list of bullet points. For sure.

My friend and authorstrator, Suzy Becker, shared a wonderful article with me from the latest issue of Smithsonian magazine. The Surprising History of the Infographic will be required reading for the data visualization course that I’m putting together for next spring. And as I told Suzy, I’m changing my job title to “polymath.” I love it.

If you’re interested in joining me in this new old vocation, writer Nir Eyal’s post, Three Steps to Get Up to Speed on Any Subject Quickly may be of help. “Google once, take notes, then stop Googling and start sketching” was perhaps my favorite bit of advice.

And a few other good things I’ve come across and/or have been shared with me over the last couple of weeks:

15 Data Visualization Tools to Help You Present Ideas Effectively has a few listed that I’ve yet to try. I’m always up for trying new tools.

The Analog is a brilliant site for reviews of all things analog – you know, pens, paper, pencils and such. If you’re like me and read James Ward’s, The Perfection of the Paper Clip: Curious Tales of Invention, Accidental Genius, and Stationery Obsession in one sitting, you’ll love this blog.

Design Observer is also a beautiful and enlightening blog that I came across through a tweet to its posts, 50 Books and 50 Covers. Books can be art, in more ways than one.

Finally, July is always a month of celebrations and anniversaries. This very day marks the 47th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon (Do you remember where you were?) and July 5th was the 20th birthday of perhaps the most famous sheep since Lamb Chop, Dolly. Yes, Dolly, “the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, was born July 5, 1996.” Scientific American’s story behind the story of Dolly is a fascinating summer read. Enjoy! 

‘Til next time…Sheep

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Pt.1)

12 Jul

Well, truth be told, I’ve not had a summer vacation just yet. Still, things do seem to slow down a little bit at work during the summer months and I’ve taken advantage of the time to learn a few new things that will hopefully make me better in my job. I thought I’d share some of them, along with resources in case you wish to add some arrows to your quiver, too.

One of the biggest challenges that I face as an evaluator is being able to quickly (and often on the fly) answer questions about the different programs and projects of the UMCCTS. I struggle with rarely getting the same question twice – or at least my ability, yet, to hear the same question twice – and too often find myself scrambling to gather data from different sources, analyze it, and present it back to a particular stakeholder “by the end of the day.” Granted, I was certainly used to giving quick answers to questions from patrons when I worked in the library, but I had a couple of advantages there; (1) I’d worked for a number of years as a medical librarian, so I was pretty up to speed on the library’s resources and (2) the library was a nice, neat, set container of resources as opposed to any number of individuals and project leads and program directors and data gatherers spread across the campus. Praise be the library! It’s difficult to overstate the value of organization. But I digress…

My challenge now is to make my own library, to build my own collection of resources, and to keep them current so that those stressful “by the end of the day” requests are less so. Enter spreadsheets, pivot tables, and dashboards. I was hardly a novice Excel user when I started this work, but enough reading in the literature and best practices of evaluation led me to believe that I needed to expand my know-how about Excel in order to make things easier for myself. After my last scramble to fulfill a “just in time” request, I decided to get to it. I read two excellent books on data visualization that base most of their material on examples from Excel; Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic’s, Storytelling with Data, and Stephanie Evergreen’s, Effective Data Visualization. These are both great, hands-on books to get you going. I also came across Excel Campus, with one of the best series of video tutorials I’ve ever viewed. The 3-part series on building pivot tables and dashboards was just what I needed.

With these new skills, I’m able to take lengthy, unwieldy (to me) spreadsheets and turn them into several separate sheets with associated pivot tables for analysis and interactive dashboards that let me quickly see the who, what, when, and where of our different programs. It’s a work in progress, but I can tell already that it will be helpful for me and – hopefully – when I develop more tables based upon the questions of the Center’s staff, it will be helpful for them, too.

Next up, I wanted to learn how to create both an overlapping bar chart and a heat map. I was inspired to learn the former from a blog post that I read, coupled with the task I had of writing a report summarizing the evaluation results of our annual research retreat. You know, when you create a survey to evaluate an event (a class, a retreat, a workshop, etc.), you’re often stuck with a whole bunch of questions producing a whole bunch of bar graphs showing how much people appreciated this, that, or the other thing about the event. My survey for the retreat was no different, but I knew that there had to be a better way to present the findings – “better,” meaning a one-page document. Overlapping bar charts seemed perfect. As you can see, I was able to use this type of chart to combine the results of several questions into one visual, making things a lot easier to read and a lot shorter in format.

Feedback

Five charts become one with an overlapping/stacked bar chart.

Now the heat map. Why? Oh, I don’t know. It was last Friday and a quiet day. And they’re kind of cool looking, so … back to tackling R for analysis and visualizations. (My goal here is to be able to be comfortable with these tasks in Excel, R, and Tableau, thus I switch off between them, to hone some skills.) I’ve mentioned here before that I find Nathan Yau’s books and website, Flowing Data, to be essential to understanding and doing data visualization. To learn (better said, “follow the instructions”) to make a heat map, I used the example that he offers in his book, Visualize This, but he also makes this particular exercise available in his collection of online tutorials, so you can have at it, too, if you wish. As you can see, I did indeed follow the instructions and made a nice little heat map of NBA players’ stats.

NBA HeatmapI also wanted to try making a heat map in Excel (easier said than done, though you can find resources online). I downloaded the data from my Jawbone fitness band that I’ve been wearing since December and made a nice map of my daily step count. Nothing fancy, but it worked just fine as a learning exercise.

Step Count Heat Map

I still plan to tackle making heat maps in Tableau, as well as other dashboards and charts that will be useful. The tool kit is never full and the summer isn’t even half over yet.

Enjoy!