a space in which i put my two cents into the world of librarianship.
The Story Behind the Idea
Currently, the USG Priddy Library website only contains a short piece written on the library’s history found in the “About the Library” tab. It explains the library’s history since 2007 and mentions the library’s partnership with Montgomery County Public Schools. The many avenues that the library has participated in outreach and developed partnerships in the community are not covered through this approach.
In 2009 the Library Director was charged with “working collaboratively and in partnership with USG and community partners to advance the Priddy Library’s distinctive role within USG by advancing its position as a cultural and educational resource highlighting topics of intellectual and social concerns”, this directive came verbatim from the Executive Director of the institution. Fast forward to mid-2014 when I joined the library team. We began to discuss how we could better represent the library’s history of partnerships and outreach and decided to use an interactive timeline, which allowed the general public and stakeholders to engage more actively in learning about our impact. To do this, I decided to use ArcGIS & Story Maps, and I will share what we have so far, which includes pictures, maps, text and interactive features that allow the user to move easily across a timeline while visualizing the outreach and partnership data.
Value in Narrating
Before getting into more of the specifics about this project, I want to step back and talk about some things to keep in mind when creating visualizations, and the importance of using visualizations to tell a story, not simply for creating pretty charts and graphs. Technology and access is advancing knowledge of analytics and visualization tools are becoming more valuable; along with this, there is a need and value to narrating. From bar and pie charts to tables and line graphs; these methods focus on data representation, not on aiding a narrative.
The example I would propose of data representation that lacks a narrative has been presented by Harvard Business Review as “using scanner data to track what happened at the point of sale.” (Gavett, 2014) This collects just the pure data which is visualized as products sold within a given timeframe. Retailers have no idea what’s really happening at a point-of-purchase decision and to get to this you need a narrative.
With the use of a narrative, a visualization can be expanded to tell the story of that purchase decision. With new technologies like location analytics we now have the ability to map in-store customer behavior; tracking the movement of a store’s customers, aggregating this data over a period of time and then identifying patterns. This turns a store floor into an analytics narrative – the story of what’s happening at a point-of-purchase decision. What can this type of analytics narrative tell us?
This analytic narrative can tell a story about a certain area people are drawn to more often or which way people turn when they first enter a store. In the Harvard Business Review article, Greg Yin says, “collecting and visualizing this data has helped his company test out in-store assumptions quickly.” (Gavett, 2014) And the narrative can be especially worthwhile when it comes to maximizing the importance of staffing.
In this example the narrative can help decisions on product placement, as a “slower-moving product can be moved to a more trafficked location, resulting in an uptick in sales.” (Gavett, 2014) It can assist in store development by shortening planning times and providing quick test phases, as “the industry cannot invest 12 months in a long research project because the technology will have changed by then.” (Gavett, 2014) And it can benefit the way in which we approach our customers by “making sure customers have a person to assist them, easing the burden of the busiest times on associates.” (Gavett, 2014) Can you see how this relates to Arts & Humanities?
Using the same technology: location analytics, we can tell the narrative of how individuals appreciate art, ensure guests have someone to assist them in a museum or relocate art in a gallery to position it better for sales. There are other technologies too, such as eye tracking analytics that could be used to analyze how individuals perceive a painting or sculpture, where their focus is initially drawn and how they view the overall piece.
These are just a handful of relations; I would add to this by saying that finding the story behind data is significantly more difficult than crunching numbers. The amount of data and data types is astounding, it makes experienced analysts the professionals who can separate what is useful or valuable from what is not. For this reason, finding the right data and the right way to narrate it is much like developing an art show.
Jennifer L. Aaker, Professor of Marketing at Stanford, is an authority on speaking about the value in narrating. Her idea is that data is meaningful when we narrate it in a memorable, impactful and personal way. She demonstrates this in her presentation “Persuasion and the Power of Story.” Jennifer touches on examples that highlight the way individuals react to information; where 5% of students recall a statistic and 63% remember the story, summarizing that “Stories are memorable in a way that statistics are not.” (Aaker, 2013) When she talks about impactful data; presenting a story of data about a child in need versus simply the statistics led to nearly double the donations from study participants. This alluded to the idea that rather than logic, emotions drive our decisions and we rationalize them afterwards. Finally when she talks about connecting personally to data she simply states that when viewing data we are capable of understanding but not feeling statistics, however when we share data through a story we establish that feeling and, thus, create a personal connection. She goes on to say that, “When a story is well told, they are able to feel connected, not just to the story but to the storyteller.” (Aaker, 2013) This holds true for our stakeholders and the public when we connect with them through narrating our data in a memorable, impactful and personal way they can then see the value of our partnerships and outreach.
With Aaker’s comments in mind, there is good news. That is that data analysis isn't all about graphics and visualizations; it's about telling a story. When you look at data, try to see it the way CSI investigates a scene. Look to understand what evidence needs to be collected and the larger picture of what happened. The visualization; whether it’s a map, graph or even a single number, will emerge once the investigation is complete.
An effective and successful visualization has two key components. First, if taken out of context, it stands on its own and the audience should still understand the message because the visualization tells the story. Second, even though too much interaction can be distracting, the visualization should integrate a layered data approach so the inquisitive can investigate. Narrating your data can do all of this. I tried to follow these guidelines in developing the timeline of our library’s partnerships and outreach history.
Why ArcGIS & Story Maps
In early 2015, I began work with my interns on a search for potential platforms in which to visualize our library’s historic partnership and outreach story. Through developing the project proposal we discovered the need to visualize our data geographically and with date specific points of interest. A major inspiration was found on Duke University’s historical timeline which included an interactive element. We built from this concept and felt that the addition of geographical aspects would help to convey the growth and importance of the Priddy Library’s outreach and partnerships.
We found tools that would dynamically present information; however we also found they were limited by that same function; such as lack of customization, few options and pages being too static. It wasn’t until our Health Sciences Librarian, who taught herself ArcGIS & Story Maps, introduced me to this platform that pieces began to fall into place. I began work on a test model using ArcGIS & Story Maps which allowed for our story to be told in the way in which we envisioned.
ESRI, the producers of ArcGIS & Story Maps technology, creates map and story map applications with templates which are continuously being updated. ESRI has also been recognized as a leader in the GIS industry. Templates serve different purposes and narrative models; for example, progressive built stories, maps and story maps that are time line or route dependent, or selected point of interest and comparison maps which are based on overlays and can change by use of a slider.
Some of the positive aspects I’ve come to appreciate about ArcGIS & Story Maps include that it has an easy learning curve, no mapping or coding skills are required. You have the capability to download apps & story maps and run them on your own server. If you do, there is Source Code which can be found online to tailor a downloaded template and modifications with Java Script are possible. Maps are in high enough resolution for viewing on both monitors as well as on mobile devices. It is free to use online with a user account and comes with a broad selection of templates for creating different geographic and story maps.
The one drawback is that for a subscription it uses a credit based system; if you need more assistance or want more features it requires you to purchase credits and apply them for these services.
The interactive visualization
Few libraries have presented their histories for the public to study. By learning from and building on those who have, the Priddy Library can have this unique aspect become part of all that it offers. This project allows the public and stakeholders to gain a better understanding of the library’s history and its role within the USG community. The interactive timeline map serves as an easy to use platform that captures the narrative of the library’s partnerships and outreach. Without further delay, here is a peek at our current project.
Aaker, J. (2013, September 14). Persuasion and the Power of Story. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AL-PAzrpqUQ
Gavett, G. (2014, May 9). How Data Visualization Answered One of Retail’s Most Vexing Questions. Harvard Business Review.
After several years of direct library experience I wanted to create a space to provide my two cents on librarianship, chronicle my lessons learned and share some insight.
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