Data and information literacy starts with librarians

UMSI Clinical Assistant Professor of Information Kristin Fontichiaro and University of Michigan Learning Librarian Angie Oehrli have received a $240,000 grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to fund her project, “Supporting Librarians in Adding Data Literacy Skills to Information Literacy Instruction.” The award will be used to train librarians in providing data literacy instruction to students in accordance with current developments in data and information technology. 

Traditionally, librarians have relied on subscription databases for connecting students to quality and authoritative sources of data. However, as incidences of manipulated or incorrect data reporting pepper the world of scholarly research, simply trusting any content – as Fontichiaro and Oehrli state in their proposal – whether on the open web or in scholarly journals, is a practice of the past.

The challenge, in our current world of data and information technology, is instilling in students a different way of thinking. While students often learn in school that numbers are neutral and objective, data in the world is rarely so; as a result, the need for careful human interpretation of data becomes crucial.

“An improved understanding of data practices means that better questions can be asked and better life decisions can be made," state Fontichiaro and Oehrli in their project proposal. "From selecting a college to saving for retirement to assessing local and national political candidates...this impacts not just quality of individual life but the quality of participation in citizenship and democratic society.”

The project will address this challenge by improving the capacity of librarians to cultivate data literacy in students. The cross-disciplinary nature of school librarianship makes this an ideal position for helping students improve their understanding of data practices, such as interpreting statistics, data and visualizations while conducting research.

The first stage of this project will involve training librarians in critical information literacy skills, particularly in data and statistical literacy, through sustained professional development. Following that, the second stage will involve teaching high-leverage, practical and instructional strategies that librarians can use to directly impact student learning.

For this project, Fontichiaro and Oehrli will assemble a team of highly-skilled experts in information literacy, curriculum design, data literacy and statistical literacy to create a series of print and multimedia professional development materials. U-M experts will include data visualization librarian Justin Joque, the Library's Research Data Services Manager Jacob Carlson and Lynette Hoelter of the Institute for Social Research. The resources will include webinars on data literacy, professional development modules drawn from archived webinars, conferences and case studies, and a data literacy handbook to be published online.

Participation in these events and interaction with the online resources will help the team evaluate current interest in and preparedness for data literacy instruction.

Posted on September 15, 2015