Libraries are for Use

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Open Data for LIS Research


This blog is a venue devoted to improving the utility and effectiveness of libraries, librarianship, and librarians through careful study.  This inevitably involves data, a word that has recently become hot, indeed, dare I say, sexy?  Data Science has seen tremendous growth in jobs and university programs, and there is a substantial rise in the use of the term on the Web (BTW – I found this really cool tool, Google Trends – more about that in another post).  Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed several interesting posts and projects regarding data that would be particularly useful for LIS.

Despite years of growth in databases and data management, gathering, sharing and using data is still a difficult job (hence the the demand).  Walt Crawford has been gathering and analyzing data on Open Access journals for the last several years.  After releasing his latest book, he decided to also make the data available for others.  Apparently it was not an easy task.  Even just providing a link to the spreadsheet requires the end-user to have Excel (or a program that can import Excel).  And this is data that has already been “cleaned” – gathered from disparate sources, standardized, organized, and, of course, anonymized.

Also coming to my attention recently is the Open Syllabus Project, about which I first read in the NY Times.  This piece also caught the attention of Joseph Esposito, who wrote about it on the SPSS Scholarly Kitchen.  Like Joseph, I was quite excited about this idea – “A new dataset can lead to new insights…” – but primarily from a collection development/assessment viewpoint.  And I was thrilled to see my institution in the list.  Possible uses that have flitted across my brain include list-checking and peer-comparisons.  Interestingly, this data set is dependent upon other openly-available data sets, notably the Harvard Library Open Metadata and JStor (see the FAQ).

Another, more tangentially-related piece that I saw was a post about systematic literature reviews.  This is a method of research that is very common in clinical medicine, and one about which my medical librarian readers likely know much.  Indeed, many of them collaborate with clinicians as they prepare clinical trials or meta-analyses of clinical trials, and conduct their own studies.  I’ve never understood why this method has not been taken up more emphatically by those in our profession.  True, there are a lot of literature reviews, but the most comprehensive listing of LIS Systematic Reviews, while numerous, is a pittance compared with the traditional style.  The systematic nature of the literature review requires extensive knowledge of the organization of literature in the field of interest, which, of course, is one of the foundations of our field.

All of these postings made me wonder about the availability of data for LIS research.  There are already rich sources of data that are open right now (and have been available for a long time), including: PubMed, WorldCat (this is sort of mixed open & not-so-open), Google (too numerous to link), NCES Library Survey, IMLS’ Public Libraries in the United States Survey.  But there could be more.  Much more.

One of the most frustrating aspects of trying to analyze collections and their use is having limited benchmarks and theoretical bases.  Data is still too inaccessible – locked in silos behind expensive firewalls (e.g. Web of Science, WorldCat Collection Evaluation System, etc.), or within proprietary database systems that are extremely difficult to share (most ILS’s), or within library/institutional administrations not willing to to share (are we really so competitive that we need to keep our funding & expenditures secret?), or perhaps a myriad of other reasons.  Joseph noted that the value of the Open Syllabus project was that “it gathers a great deal of information together in one place, where it can be analyzed.”  This is the value of Open Data.  This project has given me hope for the future.

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One comment on “Open Data for LIS Research

  1. Roger C. Schonfeld
    January 31, 2016

    Just to add to your list of available datasets, at Ithaka S+R we preserve and make accessible our survey research at ICPSR. http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/ICPSR/series/226

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