Harnessing the Data Whirlwind at WMLA 2014

By Liz Morris

WMLA logoConfession of an aspiring librarian #1: I love a good conference. Meeting new people, working through innovative ideas together, and exploring topics that may not regularly come across our radars makes me excited about the future of information. As the iSchool representative for the Washington Medical Librarians Association (WMLA), I was thrilled to represent our community at their annual conference in Ellensburg, WA on July 18, and am happy to share some of my learning here.

Copyright, Knowledge Networks, and Data Visualization…Oh My!

WMLA serves the needs of health information professionals in Washington State. Like information professionals in many fields, health information specialists and organizations are rapidly evolving their capacity to use digital content and data in a way that leads to more informed decision-making and end-user engagement. The theme for this year’s conference was Harnessing the Data Whirlwind, and in addition to beautiful sunshine, great networking opportunities, and yummy food, provided stellar context for emerging strategies to make information meaningful for diverse audiences.

Rachel Bridgewater, a faculty librarian at Portland Community College, presented on Copyright Basics for Librarians, and shared the fascinating insight that “copyright is the story of technology outpacing policy and law.” As we think about the very complex machines of policy and legislation working to keep pace, the role of information professionals to influence these shifts is clear.

iSchoolThe iSchool’s own Jevin West shared current perspectives and research on emerging systems for Mapping Knowledge Networks. We know that turning information into action requires much more than access. Tools and competencies to encourage data literacy and decision literacy must be able to operate in real-time, with often “noisy” inputs, and in support of complex inquiries. Collaborative efforts like the University of Washington Information School Data Lab seek to create the infrastructure to make high-level analytics useful for organizations of all types, building off of the fundamental principle that all information is ultimately connected.

One of my favorite take-aways from a presentation by Nate Wilairat of EMI Consulting  was the great distinction that infographics are explanatory, while data visualization is exploratory.  Through his presentation on Data Visualization: What’s the Big Deal?, I learned about the power of visual imagery to convey compelling stories, using information on the spectrum of very basic to incredibly complex. Cost effective tools like Piktochart  are available for those among us (myself included), who may not have a natural talent for graphical creation, but believe in the power of data to inspire ideas and new ways of thinking, doing, and being.

Library of HealthConfession of an aspiring librarian #2: I’m still figuring out what “type” of librarian I want to be, and relish the opportunities for self-discovery that the iSchool provides. A personal commitment to public service and previous professional experience in that area led me to librarianship. I truly believe that social equity requires more than equality, and that knowledge drives social change. The more I learn about the field and the varied professional paths that people navigate in their careers, the more I appreciate the roles all types of libraries play in making information meaningful for diverse individuals, professionals, and communities.

For example, the University of Washington is home to the Pacific Northwest Region of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, and provides excellent resources for health professionals and the public to support community well being. Public outreach and engagement is core to their mission, and they are a great resource to explore for Directed Fieldwork opportunities. The UW student chapter of SLA provides many opportunities for you to learn more about this and other unique library organizations and resources. As the upcoming academic year approaches, let’s keep the conversation going about what we’re discovering in the infinite world of information!

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