Last September, I found an interesting Forbes article, “20 Mind-Boggling Big Data Facts Everyone Must Read.” Most of them were of the “very big numbers” variety; how many billions of connected devices there are, how many photos we took on our smartphones last year, how much is being invested in big data projects, etc. I think we’ve gotten used to the idea that “big data” is really big.
The only fact on the Forbes list I found really “mind-boggling” was the last one: that of all the data collected in the world, only about half a percent is ever analyzed.
You might think this doesn’t apply to libraries. Your library may not collect user data the same way that typical “big data” commercial entities like Amazon or Google or Facebook do. Maybe that’s because of privacy issues. Maybe it’s not data you need for your operations. But there is often an ocean of data already available to libraries in other formats. You can get it from direct observation of library users. Cataloging activities. Surveys. Discussions. Website metrics. WorldCat itself is a growing collection of data about library resources, activities, locations and entities.
And that data may be trying to tell us something.
From data to insight
Last month at ALA Midwinter, I had the opportunity to speak to a large group of our members along with two OCLC leaders, Mary Sauer-Games and Lynn Silipigni Connaway. The topic was “Transforming data into impact,” and followed a theme of moving from data to insight and then to action in order to create impact at the library. They provided some great examples:
- VIVA (The Virtual Library of Virginia) using shared-print data to develop electronic collections.
- Nevada State College using EZproxy logs in order to analyze usage patterns, evaluate collection options and predict student success.
- Librarians using real-world observations of how users do work in order to redesign services.
In these and other examples, Mary and Lynn showed how data collected both locally and through cooperative programs can have an impact on library goals. In every case, they showed how data was transformed, through insight, into action.
From insight to action
Libraries don’t collect data in order to preside over giant vaults of information for its own sake. We do it because library users are trying to accomplish things in their lives. People want to learn, to grow, to succeed. Often it’s the insight of librarians that takes the potential stored in our vast collections and helps transform it into action that changes lives.
That’s what we’ll be aiming at here on the OCLC Next blog. The insight piece of the puzzle. Taking information and providing a perspective that, hopefully, makes you think, “Yeah. That makes sense.”
Even more importantly, we hope our many authors will provide some thoughts that help you make a difference in your library, institution and community. Because while we can collect data and form an opinion on what it means, what’s next—the final step of putting that insight into action—is up to you.
I look forward to hearing about your insights.