As many know, connecting students with the academic library is not always an easy feat. Outside of orientation tours and course instruction, many students only use the library as a meeting/study space. The reason for this limited interaction is much more complex than placing blame on the library or the students themselves. Instead, libraries must be committed to creating lasting connections with student patrons as this population is not as involved in scholarship as faculty patrons. During this year’s RDAP Summit, Ariel Hahn and Alyssa V. Loera introduced a new method of getting students with the library through data literacy.
When I came across the description for Hahn and Loera’s presentation, I immediately knew I would attend the session. My passion for the information profession has always been influenced by my interest in social activism. In their presentation, Hahn and Loera detail the creation, implementation, and evaluation of a data literacy instruction program aimed at empowering student activists. Through a series of workshops, the presenters taught student activists to leverage online data to trace economic and social power related to their respective causes. Student activists are often written off as agitators acting on angst and without reason, especially if they represent the interest of a historically marginalized group. Hahn and Loera’s decision to engage this specific community struck me as novel because it offered the library a chance to engage with students in a non-academic context. This is especially important for libraries as we are operating in a post-modern, post-truth society. Instruction in data literacy, like instruction in information literacy, can provide students with the metacognitive ability to question authority and institutionalized power structures. Furthermore, instructing students in data literacy helps them re-imagine the utility of the library, setting the stage for librarian-student relationships that are as established as librarian-faculty relationships.
As I reflect on my time at my first RDAP Summit, I am encouraged more than ever to help libraries re-envision their role in data services. Though data services librarians are known for their expertise in data curation and management, services in critical data analysis and discovery have the potential to expand the reach of the academic library. Through this reach, academic libraries can help patrons understand the importance of multiple literacies needed to conduct rigorous research and decision-making.
I would like to thank the Sponsorship and Membership Action Committees, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Network of the National Library of Medicine - National Center for Data Services (NNLM NCDS), RDAP members for sponsoring my RDAP participation! I would also like to thank Ariel and Alyssa for engaging in such sensitive work! Looking forward to attending next year!