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Meet the MLA ’24 Presenters of Data Instructors: Providing Data Literacy as Part of Information Literacy

Navigating Research Data Together: Librarians, Researchers, and Students Symposium

In the weeks leading up to MLA ’24 in Portland, we’ll profile the experts leading each of the symposium sessions by sharing their answers to questions about themselves and their session. We continue the series with the presenters of Data Instructors: Providing Data Literacy as Part of Information Literacy, Theresa Burress (TB), Daria Orlowska (DO), and Ashley Rockwell (AR).

Join them for their session on Monday, May 20, 2024, 1:30-2:45 p.m., pacific time. The session will be streamed live. To learn about all the Symposium sessions and their presenters, please see the Symposium Session Schedule.

What are you most looking forward to seeing/eating/experiencing in Portland?

TB: I first visited Portland with my family in 2019. We fell in love with the vibe downtown and had some wonderful day trips. My 15 and 17-year-old Florida kids saw snow for the first time at the peak of Mount Hood in July! I’m excited to visit Powell’s, eat delicious deep-dish pizza at the Star, and try new spots. The food scene in Portland is fabulous!

DO: I have never been to the West Coast before and am excited to take in the views! I'd love to hit Stretch the Noodle, Voodoo Doughnut, and Powell's City of Books, if possible.

AR: I am definitely looking forward to all the vegan food in Portland and hope to check out some local ciders. I was born and raised in Washington State but have spent a decade in Georgia and am super excited to just be going back to the Pacific Northwest.

What’s a fun or surprising fact about teaching data literacy as part of information literacy?

TB: Most consumers of data visualizations tend to view a visualization as “fact.” It was only when I got involved in the process of creating data for instructional purposes (see Bears in Space!) that I realized how much judgment and decision-making is required to create and organize data, even before making all of the decisions needed to craft an elegant, informative visualization.

DO: As in information literacy, a large part of data literacy is giving individuals the tools to help them look at data critically. Data is often thought of as neutral ("data doesn't lie"), but decisions have been made about how to collect, clean, and aggregate it and even what standards to measure it against. Recognizing the limitations, both stated and unstated, can help researchers determine if what they have is generalizable or requires further investigation.

AR: I think one of the most fun things to do when teaching (for myself, and I think for my students) is have my students find or create bad/misleading data visualizations. Having students try to make bad data visualizations really gets them to see how easy it can be to manipulate data (on purpose or accident). Plus, it is a great way to learn how to make a good data visualization. 

How did you get started in librarianship?

TB: Oh, I’ve been volunteering and working in libraries since I was a kid. For me, librarianship was my destiny!

DO: After undergrad, I found myself running NIH studies as a behavioral sciences research assistant, trying to figure out what to do next. After taking a part-time position at a public library, I began exploring librarianship as a potential career path, only to discover that helping others with managing their research data was, in fact, a viable option. I then attended the University of Illinois iSchool where I aligned my experience running human subjects studies with providing data services as a graduate assistant for the Research Data Service unit. I began my current position in 2019 as the first data librarian hire on campus.

AR: I stumbled into librarianship and was lucky enough to be caught by some amazing librarians. I studied neuroscience and psychology as an undergrad, then sociology in grad school. (I joke that I went from micro to macro in wanting to understand people.) I have always loved research and data but was also passionate about social issues and was trying to choose between academia and advocacy when I saw a job ad for a Public Interest Data Literacy fellowship with my University Library. I was lucky enough to get the fellowship and later a library faculty position in our Research Data Services Department. Our department approaches teaching data literacy as both an educational and a social issue which means I get the best of both worlds when it comes to advocacy and academia. Plus, working with librarians is awesome. I have found my people!

What’s the main thing you want participants to take away from your session?

TB: Integrating data literacy into information literacy instruction does not necessarily require advanced statistical expertise. The language of ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy provides a flexible toolkit that librarians can use to develop integrated data+info literacy curriculum to foster student learning at multiple levels.

DO: Data literacy as a concept is broad and varies from campus to campus. As one person undertaking this initiative, you cannot be everything for everyone. Determining your community's needs and limiting your scope is the best way to develop services sustainably.

AR: I hope that participants leave the session feeling that they don’t have to be a statistician or a data scientist to promote and teach data literacy and that there are fun and easy ways to help others build their data skills.

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