New project to help libraries with data storytelling

From University of Illinois School of Information Studies:

Kate McDowell, Associate Professor

A new project led by Associate Professor Kate McDowell and Assistant Professor Matthew Turk will help libraries tell data stories that connect with their audiences. Their project, “Data Storytelling Toolkit for Librarians,” received a $99,330 grant over two years from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS Grant RE-250094-OLS-21), as part of the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, which supports innovative research by nontenured tenure-track faculty.

“There are thousands of librarians who are nervous about data but love stories,” explained McDowell, who co-teach a data storytelling course at iSchool with Turk. “And there are hundreds of librarians who see data as foundational, but until those librarians have a language to connect to the passions of thousands of story lovers, this movement toward the strategic use of data in the field of libraries will be stifled, as well as with the potential collaborative creativity of librarians.

Matthew Turk, Assistant Professor

The Data Storytelling Toolkit will provide a set of easy-to-adapt templates that librarians can use to quickly move from data to story and narrative. Librarians will be able to use the toolkit to integrate the data they already have and generate options for data visualization and narrative structure.

“To give an example, public libraries must communicate on the impact on employment. In this case, the data story will include who found a job based on library services, how (journey map showing a visual sequence of steps from job search to employment), structure for story of an individual’s results and a strong data visualization strategy to communicate that impact, McDowell said.

According to the researchers, the toolkit will be clearly defined so that librarians understand the potential of communicating with data, but also fully adaptable to each librarian’s context and communication needs within the organization and with the public. The project will focus on community colleges and public libraries, with initial collaborators to include the Ericson Public Library in Boone, Iowa; Oregon City Public Library (OR); Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois; Jackson State Community College in Jackson, Tennessee; and Urbana’s free library.

McDowell’s storytelling research has involved training collaborations with advancement staff at both the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois System; storytelling consulting work for several nonprofits, including the 50th anniversary of the statewide Prairie River System that protects Illinois water; and storytelling lectures for the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI). McDowell researches and publishes in the areas of workplace storytelling, social justice storytelling, and what library storytelling can teach information science about data storytelling. She holds a master’s and doctoral degree in library and information science from Illinois.

Turk also holds a position in the Astronomy Department of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. His research focuses on how individuals interact with data and how that data is processed and understood. He is the recipient of the prestigious Moore Investigator Award from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for data-driven discovery. Turk holds a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University.

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