line decor

" their best, graphics are instruments for reasoning about quantitative information.  Often the most effective way to describe, explore, and summarize a set of numbers -- even a very large set -- is to look at pictures of those numbers."(Edward Tufte)

line decor

Numbers count!

When you hear “data visualization” do you think paint-by-numbers? Or, do you worry that it will require years of your life to develop expertise in a complicated, specialized software program? Well, stop worrying and start seeing numbers!

Libraries are abundant producers of numbers, and librarians make decisions based on numbers provided by others. Circulation and Interlibrary Loan librarians collect and communicate the amount of demand and usage of their services. Collection Development librarians critically interpret publishers' claims and provide reports about budgets and requests. Library directors report to deans on library decisions and use of resources, as well as plans for the future. Reference librarians collect desk statistics. Instruction librarians help students whose research and production media (visual posters and presentations, not just papers) increasingly involve numerical evidence. Furthermore, librarians are participating in discussions of quantitative literacy as it relates to and is aligned with information literacy. Thus, all librarians need to be critical readers as well as careful conveyers of numeric information.

Since numerical evidence is frequently presented in visual form, effective communication both within and beyond the library requires skillful use of graphs and charts. With this in mind, this workshop will focus on three ideas:

1. Design principles: When is a visual aid an impediment to your argument? Using excellent and poor examples of design, we discuss some of the principles that can make or break a presentation.

2. Critical reading: Instead of teaching you how to lie with numbers, this segment focuses on cultivating an awareness of how charts based on numbers, like writing, always involve rhetorical choices. Participants will examine charts, discern their arguments, and think about how other visualizations could be made with the same data.

3. Production: It's one thing to critique someone else's work, but can you make a good chart? This final segment will focus on moving from numbers in a table to a clear visualization of the idea you want to convey. Using only pencil and paper, participants will design a persuasive chart based on real-life data. While software is not the focus of this workshop, we will discuss some applications and strategies for moving from your design idea to a finished product.

No Excel or detailed computer experience is necessary for this thoughtful discussion. In short, this workshop is an occasion for librarians to focus on and have conversations with each other about the challenge of visualizing numbers.

Workshop leaders:

Doug Foxgrover, Academic Computer Coordinator
Paula Lackie, Academic Computer Coordinator
Kristin Partlo, Liaison Librarian
Ann Zawistoski, Liaison Librarian.


William S. Cleveland
Graphical methods tend to show data sets as a whole, allowing us to summarize the general behavior and to study detail. This leads to much more thorough data analyses.

Edward Tufte
Graphical elegance is often found in simplicity of design and complexity of data.

John Tukey
Numerical quantities focus on expected values, graphical summaries on unexpected values.