While earning his master’s degree, recent graduate Evan Lynch gained new skills for presenting and interpreting data during the Information Visualization course offered by the SJSU School of Information. According to Lynch, the skills he learned in the course are especially relevant to the booming data science career field, and can help all information professionals better understand changing customer needs.
In LIBR 246 Information Visualization, instructor Dr. Michelle Chen introduces students to this emerging field in which information professionals create graphic representations of data in order to better understand and interpret the data. The course was offered for the first time in fall 2013 through the school’s Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program.
Lynch, who completed his MLIS degree in summer 2014, said he chose to take the course to learn more about a skill that is extremely useful for information professionals, regardless of the job environment where they work. For example, information visualization can help companies that have built massive databases make good use of this data, and use it to gain new insights into their business and customers.
And traditional library settings offer plenty of opportunity to apply this skill. For instance, he points out, information graphics could be used in collection development to answer questions such as what parts of the collection are turning over rapidly, what parts aren’t, and why not. Librarians can also use information visualization to analyze and interpret data to see if community needs are changing, and if so, does the collection still meet community needs.
The class assignments required students to think critically, he said. Using given data sets, students were told to ask questions about the data and then answer those questions with graphs created from these data sets.
“Creating information visualizations is one way to answer these questions,” he said. However, it’s much easier to read and understand a well-made infographic than a table of raw data, Lynch explained.
“Coming up with a visualization that answers questions about data means more than just creating an infographic,” Lynch said. “It means thinking critically about how you can use the data to illustrate what you are trying to explain. When completing an infographic, I felt it helped to ask myself questions like, ‘Does this visual make sense? What kind of questions can I answer with this graphic? Is my graphic helping clarify things, or is it too complex to be useful?’”
Lynch feels the course gave him a broad overview of the process of creating information visualizations, and he would “absolutely” recommend it to other students.
His favorite assignment in the class, which he took in fall 2013, was creating an “adjacency matrix,” which he explains as “a type of graph where you have a dataset with a set of numbers that are connected to each other, and you need to connect them all without having the lines cross.” Lynch described the process as “tricky,” but a worthwhile and interesting project. As an example of a real-life application of an adjacency matrix, retailers can use it to determine what items customers typically buy at the same time and then arrange their displays accordingly to boost sales, Lynch explained.
Lynch earned a bachelor’s in business information systems, with a focus on management information systems, from California State University-Chico in 2008. He worked in Web and software development before starting the MLIS program in fall 2012, “loosely” following the Academic Librarianship career pathway when choosing his electives.
In August 2014, Lynch completed a 10-month internship at the Dudley Knox Library of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. His duties as an intern included creating a LibGuide for the library’s patrons on finding and citing images; gathering metadata on features that academic publishers of electronic resources provide to libraries and library users; shadowing the reference librarian; and scanning documents for inclusion in an institutional repository.
He also gained academic library experience by volunteering in 2012 and 2013 at Monterey Peninsula College. Working the reference desk, he answered directional and basic reference questions and helped with the reorganization of a LibGuide on community resources. And for nine months he also worked at the Monterey Public Library, helping the Youth Services Department with selecting books to acquire, updating a science fiction book list for children, and organizing and managing volunteers.
One reason Lynch switched careers was that he likes working with people, and computer programming doesn’t offer many such opportunities. Plus, not only has he always liked libraries, he’s fascinated by “the overall information landscape beyond libraries.” With new technologies spurring the exponential creation of new data, he said, “I feel that the opportunity to harness this data and make sense of it would be extraordinarily fulfilling.”
Lynch hopes to find a job as a reference librarian, either in general reference or specializing in information literacy. “This specialty appeals to me because I really like learning how things work,” he said, “and I feel that I would enjoy helping other people learn more about the world and how it relates to their lives.”
Favorite Thing about the MLIS Program
“The breadth of course offerings is what I liked best about the program.”
“Do your homework on the job market. Don’t limit yourself in your job hunt either geographically to one area or jobwise to one particular type of job. It’s great if you can find the exact type of job that you want, in precisely the place you want to live, but there’s no guarantee of this happening.
“Another important thing to keep in mind when job hunting is not to limit yourself to stereotypical library jobs like public and academic librarian jobs. There is nothing wrong with these jobs, but the LIS world is much broader than just libraries. I recently applied to a job at the Monterey Bay Aquarium that didn’t mention the words library or librarian anywhere in the job description, but the great majority of the job description duties are those that a typical person with an MLIS should know how to do.”
“Partway through graduate school, I stumbled across Zotero, a program that helps with citation management. I highly recommend it to all LIS graduate students. It makes the process of creating the References section in essays much easier. It’s best at extracting the bibliographic data from PDFs from peer-reviewed databases and worst at Web pages. You still have to know how to write references in proper APA style because it’s never going to be able to handle all the sources that you may use in an essay, but I found it to be a huge timesaver.”
“I attended the Internet Librarian conference in 2012 and 2013, conveniently located right here in Monterey, so all I had to do was walk downtown to visit the workshops. I haven’t attended any other LIS conferences, so I can’t compare it to other conferences, but I can say that it is an excellent conference. I felt it was well worth the $100 student price.
“My recommendation to anyone attending or planning to attend a professional conference: Don’t just attend the workshops, go to the networking sessions as well. I attended the Special Libraries Association (SLA) networking meetings both years that I attended the Internet Librarian conference, and found these networking meetings to be extremely helpful.”