Data Librarians Help Researchers and the Public with Big Data

A data librarian works in an extremely important intersection where scientific research, the public, government and universities meet.

Picture a librarian. Odds are, you see a hyper-organized, cardigan clad book stacker who speaks in whispers. Today, however, there are different types of librarians as this profession evolves just like any other, and one type that is changing courtesy of science that of data librarian.

Data librarians have become vital to both academic research and making vast amounts of data accessible to the public. The availability of massive amounts of digital data has transformed the image of a librarian from someone who maintains thousands of dusty books into something much more 21st century.

While those dusty tomes aren’t going away, there are now thousands of downloads, citations, media and other data files that need to be maintained. The conversion of periodicals, novels, nonfiction books and other types of media into digital files has made the job of a librarian even more complex.

It also means the job requires knowledge in how to work with Big Data.

Data Librarians In Academic Libraries

Data librarians work in an extremely important intersection where scientific research, the public, government and universities meet. They oversee the repositories of important digital assets, and the job increasingly means having the ability to manage and maintain big data.

Research from around the world doubles the rate of output very nine years. That’s a lot of data to manage and maintain.

Data librarians have many key jobs in this area, according to a report from the 2016 International Conference On Computer and Information Science.

  • Maintaining large amounts of data
  • Transforming that data into information that can be used by researchers and others
  • Making big data sets more useful and accessible
  • Understanding and become adept at using visualization software

But scientific research libraries are not the only places data librarians make an impact

Data Librarians In Public Libraries

As noted, everyone now has access to far more data than ever before on people, events and institutions. Making that available in an understandable way to the public is part of the challenge of working as a data librarian in a public library.

Part of the job now involves access for the public to immense amounts of public records. The Obama Administration mandated in 2013 that government agencies share data in a way that citizens can analyze and use it.

That’s led to everything from journalists doing thorough research that can fact check politicians to high school and college students conducting research for term papers on government policy and actions.

Librarians are tasked with making this information available and in a form in which it can be used. Tech-savvy, next generation librarians are taking the time to learn strategies for managing large datasets.

While an academic data librarian is vital for researchers, public data librarians play an important role in giving the community access to public data.

The Future For Librarians

Such work is keeping the job of librarian vital in the modern world. And recent research shows it’s become more important than ever.

A report from Pew Center Research found that members of the Millennial generation were the most likely to have visited a library within the last year. The study found that 53% of Millennials had used a library or bookmobile in the past 12 months.

Generation X was close at 45%, with Baby Boomers at 43% and the Silent Generation at 36%. The survey pertained only to public libraries, not academic research libraries.

Clearly, data librarians will be needed in the future, as younger Americans make use of the abundance of resources available at the public library, including access to data. It’s a worthwhile career for those who not only want to work with data, but want to help make it more widely understood and utilized both by researchers and members of the community.


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