How to visualise all that data we gather

A few months ago I had an interesting conversation with a work colleague about data visualisation. He had used data visualisation when preparing his thesis and had lots of good things to say about the ways he had been able to present otherwise difficult to comprehend findings. Around that same time I had been wondering about ways to better present management data for our library’s planning and review sessions.

Libraries collect a lot of data, from a wide range of sources. To identify trends in these data they are scrutinised in great detail but having a visual of what the data is saying would take some of the pain out of that process.

I spoke to my IT colleagues about what they felt might be a good solution in our existing tool kit and one of them was able to demo PerformancePoint Services in Sharepoint. I provided the excel files that stored the data and he was able to render these in to a dashboard and this met my needs in an introductory way. Anyone that has ever used SharePoint however will recognise however that it is less than intuitive when it comes to tasks therefore I was still keen to find out more. I went back to my colleague who had used the data visualisation tool called Tableau and decided in parallel to look at some samples of it in action.

Cornell University uses Tableau to present university information that you can manipulate yourself in a visual way Harvard’s Law Library Explorer  uses Tableau also to present information about their collections

There are probably many more examples of tableau in action but these are the ones I found that are trying to do something similar to me. If you know of other examples I’d be interested in seeing them.

I installed Tableau public (free) and played around with it and am still curious about the level of systems involvement in getting the data of each of our major library vendors in to Tableau, and also, what people’s experience is of the single user licence ($1,999 per annum)  – is 1 licence dequate for a library, does one person basically present the data and others then view it and interact with it?

While I experimented with Tableau another tool appeared on my radar, Power BI from Microsoft. This product is currently being explored at my institution so it’s too early to say if it will be the corporate solution but I will be keeping an eye on it too. Power BI Desktop allows you to visually explore your data through a free-form drag-and-drop canvas; that sounds like Tableau so I guess a lot of it will come down to user experience, and pricing of course.

When it comes to data visualisation, the big message seems to be ‘Less is More’.  In my view, having the set of metrics we KNOW we WANT TO zoom in on frequently is the very first part of the puzzle to get right. With some exceptions Tableau or Power BI should be able to do the rest.


Storytelling, an art form you need to see

For the 5th cosneemstorynsecutive year, the small village of Sneem in South Kerry (Ireland) hosts an international storytelling festival in November. Storytelling is not just a made-up idea, not just a clever off-season touristic draw, storytelling has real meaning in this South Kerry parish.

Although not everyone considered it in any depth at the time, the local children at St. Michael’s National School in the village were lucky to have had the festival’s founder, Batt Burns, as their teacher in the 70’s/80’s and 90’s. You couldn’t fail to be mesmerised by the stories Batt sometimes rehearsed on us for part of his own stage shows in far flung irish and folklore communities in America. Batt would cite Eamon Kelly as a major inspiration for his delivery in seanchaí style of these Irish tales.

The weekend programme is jam packed for newcomers and seasoned storytelling enthusiasts. Household names like Jon Kenny, Mary McEvoy, Alice Taylor & Seán Ó Sé (the Poc ar Buile) feature in this year’s programme. With daytime events, guided storytelling walks, llectures and workshops, story swaps, performances for and by children, a performance of John B Keane’s The Matchmaker and a local drama soc’s production of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer there is a lot to see and hear over the 3 days. Check out the programme and make your plans and reservations now for a weekend guaranteed to shorten the winter! In addition to the accommodation listed on the site, I can highly recommend Ardmore Lodge (5 miles from the village) as superb family accommodation for the weekend. 

A first timer’s reflections on becoming a published author

Academic librarians are surrounded by research, it is part of the fabric of our organisations, and topics on which to conduct research abound. So although publishing is not at the moment our ‘bread and butter’ more and more academic librarians in Ireland are becoming published authors. Terry O’Brien’s recent article discusses the research output of his librarian colleagues in Irish higher ed in a recent New Review of Academic Librarianship article.

publishedAt the University of Limerick, research is central to the institution’s mission. All staff can participate in research avtivities in a supportive environment where your findings can enhance the university’s research output and profile, no matter what the topic.

The idea for our research came from analysis of many years of LibQual data; the objective of the study was to measure the impact on library users of noise management interventions implemented at the Glucksman Library (UL) from 2007 to 2014 through retrospective analysis of LibQUAL+® survey data.
The full article is here (Open Access repository at the University of Limerick). 

I had delivered several conference papers, many presentations and written for blogs and industry magazines but writing for a peer reviewed publication was a new challenge for me. Believing that I had something valuable to contribute to the literature was the first mindshift that I had to grapple with.  The literature review and the collection and analysis of the data was made easier by having a clear research question and by being an experienced liaison librarian who had guided many students through the same process. Having a mentor and experienced co-author in Ciara McCaffrey eased my passage in to publishing; together we teased out a topic dear to many librarian’s hearts; the intractable ‘noise’ problem.

Choosing to pursue writing as part of an already busy job is a very personal decision. Devoting evenings and weekends to searching, reading, underlining, writing, re-writing, re-reading and always questioning the validity of your work is a significant undertaking.


Nervously submitting the work to a prominent journal felt, ironically, like a release, a stage in the work completed. Having your work scrutinised by peers brings a degree of fear; journal editors in this case were extremely human, 100% honest and always encouraging with their suggestions. With the feedback taken on board, the article improved, felt polished and felt like something we could be proud of. Finally seeing it in print this month brought a pride, the sort of pride that you feel at graduation, or at other significant life events for which you have worked hard.

So if you have yet to go down the road of writing for peer reviewed journals I can definitely recommend it as a learning experience, and a rewarding thing to do. Putting a new publication, a ‘real’ one now, on your LinkedIn, ResearchGate or ORCID profile isn’t something you get to do very often when you’re not a full time researcher, but it feels nice to do it.

As we benefited from the work of those we reference in the paper, we now have a duty to share and promote the research so that the next author can learn from what we did, and improve on it. To this end we are becoming keen students of scholarly communication, research impact on social media and finding new ways to communicate our research, all topics that will be discussed at a librarian’s seminar in Maynooth University this week.

With one peer reviewed publication ‘in the bag’ I suspect that I may have caught the bug and if my co-author will have me, I would go after the thrill of getting published again.

Basecamp a good option for working collaboratively

As librarians we are aware of the challenges of RDM (Research Data Management) and we know that managing research data is an integral part of the research process. The how and where of sharing data associated with research so that the correct versions are in use by all parties and that the data is accessible after the project has presented a dilemma for researchers. In typical librarian experimental mode but in a live piece of research that we were conducting,  we planted ourselves firmly in to the shoes of our research brethern.

Our challenge was, where would we share our drafts, our data gathered from surveys, associated charts, all our files associated with the project. I  didn’t want to use our office based systems i.e. Outlook or SharePoint as we wanted to be able to update things on the fly from multiple devices, and use a cloud-based solution.

In the summer I began the search for a good (free and easy to use) tool that a small group could use to collaborate on a piece of research. I tested and quickly eliminated tools over a 4 week period; some were too ‘big’ a solution, others just did not have the features we needed, i.e. the ability to use on multiple devices without paying a subscription.

The shortlist that I tested included OneNote, Wiggio, Evernote, Slack and Basecamp. Each had its strengths, but basecampBasecamp (V3) was the eventual winner. Due to its pricing beyond 2 devices, Evernote despite being a personal favourite, lost out. I found Slack too feature-rich for what we needed.

Despite all the new terminology we’ve had to ‘onboard’ while getting to grips with Basecamp, our three person research group at the Glucksman Library in UL has been using Basecamp on mobile and desktop to share files, ideas, to do lists, meeting agendas and all project updates.We are learning to live with the alerts, we arrived at a commun understanding of what a campfire is for, and are learning how to replace old versions with new. It’s all a learning curve for us. The archiving of the files afterwards will be a follow up activity I will report on but for now we are pleased with the simplicity of Basecamp for collaborating on a piece of research and I can recommend it to colleagues who need to work on files with colleagues scattered around the country/globe.


Is Snapchat worth it for academic libraries?

The library I work at further enhanced its social presence this September by launching a Snapchat account. I manage digital communications and online engagement at the University of Limerick’s Glucksman Library so the responsibility for this is mine. . . . a slightly uncomfortable position to be in when you are outside the key demographic that uses Snapchat.

So our target audience for daily comms at the Glucksman Library is our undergraduate population. To date we have used Facebook and Twitter, and most recently Instagram, in addition to emails and digital notices to get messages directly to these groups.

It is important that our library services reach people, in this case young people, where they already are. With Snapchat being the most popular network for 16-24 year olds, we felt it was time to explore this as a comms option.

So what do academic librarians do when they want to start offering a new service?

  1. Look around to see what other libraries do
  2. Worry about how much analytics and data there will be to defend/justify use of the service/tool

So when I looked around to see what other libraries were on Snapchat I found Paige Alfonzo’s list of libraries on Snapchat. Thanks Paige and all the other amazing librarians around the world that grab on to the latest in tech and comms and share it with the rest of us!

Glucksman Library UL Snapcode
With Snapchat, some could argue that time spent creating content is time wasted as the content is very temporary, it disappears after 24 hours – unless someone wants to screenshot the image that you’ve posted. But if you are having an impact, and people are actually seeing your messages, it has to be worth 10 – 20 minutes of your day. So where’s the impact, the data, the performance indicators? I haven’t been able to get any yet apart from who has viewed the snaps and how many people have added he library to their network but I will keep looking.

So the library will use Snapchat to give students a behind-the-scenes look at what we do, introduce some key library faces, announce events, notify people of the things we used to just put on Facebook and hope people saw. Snapchat will allow us to be creative and have more fun than we can on other platforms. Snapchat will exhibit the library as a welcoming persona that students will engage with, either in person or online.

Students who work in the library are currently populating the Snapchat account but they have brought Yours Truly along with them in their establishment of the account. I can now confidently run the Snapchat account but this early input was invaluable. 

If you are not using Snapchat or not familiar with it at all the terminology is a minefield; snaps, snapcodes, snapstreaks and emojis are not in the vernacular of the under 24s. But compared to all the other hard stuff you’ve learned how to do, this one is easy enough.

Snapchat is an informal, impermanent comms channel but one that is used by the college population so if you are not already on it, I’d be having a chat with your most trusted under 25 friend and learning the how tos.

Snapchat won’t replace our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts but we need to be aware that students use (probably in this order) the following social networks:

  1. Snapchat
  2. Instagram
  3. Facebook

Because our Snapchat is relatively new, we will initially use our Facebook to send people to our Snapchat and then ask fans from there to add us on Snapchat. We  will also display the snapcode at prominent locations and change our Facebook and Twitter profile images to incorporate the snap code for a few weeks.

Being aware of how Snapchat works and how people are using it is important for your overall social media and digital outreach strategy. You’ve read to the bottom of this article so you are already informed about Snapchat in academic libraries – so why not give it a go yourself?




Is it worth an all-nighter to watch Clinton & Trump’s TV debate?

Many parents around the country are bound to be awake tonight around 2 or 3am, feeding babies or tending to the night time needs of young children. US Presidential debates will be very far from their thoughts; getting back to bed and having some sleep is the most important thing on their minds.

hilaryFor 100 million people however, tonight’s debate (which will be streamed live on YouTube Facebook and Twitter) marks the real start of the election proper. The candidates have clocked up the miles and the appetites of political enthusiasts have been whetted with the mouth-watering soundbites from almost 2 years of media coverage.

I am looking forward to seeing Hilary Clinton come out and surprise commentators, being human and being a better all rounder than Trump. I hope she can stand her ground against what some anticipate will be Trump’s big reveal i.e. can he ‘behave’ in a Presidential manner.

Real Clear Politics will be worth a look daily for the coming 6  weeks, it’s an aggregator that monitors various poll data. For enthusiasts there’s no season quite like US Presidential Election time. Like the Olympics,  it’s a pity it only comes around once every four years. I stayed up late for one TV event this year; when Thomas Barr competed in the semi final of the 400m hurdles in Rio, I don’t know if I can do it a second time. I will let you know.

Could a library and a post office co-exist?

It struck me recently that the proposed closure of some public libraries around the country is like other decisions taken in this country where we could be accused of acting in haste, repenting at leisure. At the start of the 20th century, Ireland had 4,200 km of railway, the current status is less than half that amount. Would anyone today agree that the right decision was made then? When Garda Stations were closed in recent years, we witnessed campaigns to re-open them in the face of increasing crime statistics, particularly in rural area. The closure of Post Offices now, and the proposed closure of libraries fits that category of decision making too, far too closely linked to cost, not measured in terms of its impact on communities.

Many people have spelt out the consequences of closing public libraries, a most insightful contribution was Diarmuid Ferriters piece in last Friday’s Irish Times. To get a sense of the widely felt anger and disbelief at the proposed closers, read this opinion piece on the Journal, and view also the comments that followed. During the summer I highlighted a parallel story to the library closures; the recruitment of staff as ‘branch librarians’ to moreorless keep the show on the road. I won’t re-hash these and other points of view on library closures but I will propose instead an alternative, if only to get a debate started about alternatives.

The controversy that surrounds public libraries at the moment is a prickly one that has come about mainly due to a resourcing issue in local authorities. Far be it from me to advise government officials, but if Ministers Simon Coveney and Denis Naughten put their heads together, perhaps an elegant local information service solution could be devised. Libraries provide many public services; like Post Offices they provide citizens with access to the electoral register for example. There are many parallels between these two services and with both under threat of extinction it is time for a proactive response.

Denis Naughten has already claimed that the post office issue is one that is “close to his heart“. As Minister for Communications, perhaps Denis has the answer right under his nose; post offices can provide more services, libraries can provide more services.. . . the implementation won’t be easy but for bodies such as the LGMA who have played such a large role in mergers perhaps it is time to facilitate some exploration. Employees of the local authorities and those of An Post would no doubt be relived to hear that some out of the box thinking was going on in government that would not only save their jobs but also bolster their local communities in the provision of two crucial local services.

Actions speak louder than words; paying tribute to Caitriona Lucas

On Monday afternoon in Kilkee Bay, Caitriona Lucas paid the highest price imaginable as she carried out a rescue mission with her two volunteer colleagues on their Doolin Coast Guard rib.

As a longstanding volunteer, Caitriona gave her time and her talents unselfishly to the community that needed her. The many seafarers, adventurers, and holiday makers who Caitriona would have helped over her 10 years with the Irish Coast Guard can be grateful today for Caitriona and for the volunteers like her wicgho do this job every day. Every emergency they respond to brings unknown danger. They run the risk of becoming one of the lost souls for whom relatives and friends endlessly grieve.

In the search for a missing teacher from nearby Lissycasey, this young mother gave her life in the most tragic of circumstances.  A mother and a public librarian, Caitriona exemplified all that is good about our communities and our volunteering sector. LinkedIn lists her many professional achievements and paints a picture of a hard working and driven woman whose contribution to society is impossible to measure.

Everywhere we look there are volunteers; you may be one in some of your daily activities. Whether you help out with scout groups, put out the cones at hurling, wash the football jerseys or run a few soccer drills, take a youth club or homework clubs under your supervision; you are a volunteer. We may not all be able to climb down a cliff face, secure a winch, man a high speed RIB or any of the other incredible things that Caitriona could do. But every ounce of energy you put in to helping others, being a volunteer in your community is a tribute to Catriona, and to her grieving husband and children.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dilis.


Sharing our secret; the Wild Atlantic Way

Although I left South Kerry in 1995 to go to college and now live about two hours away from there, I still think of, and often refer to Sneem as home.  The memories are good, despite the annual swimming lessons described fondly by Marie Toft in today’s Irish Examiner as the  “blue lips and chattering teeth of our childhood” The venue for the brave little swimmers and lifesavers was the beach featured in the header of my blog. You won’t see it advertised anywhere but it’s a gem of a place called The White Strand, between Sneem and Castlecove, the safest little sandy haven where we spent long days every summer.

Kerry Beach
My sons making sandcastles at the White Strand May 2016

Growing up by the coast is a privelege and one that allowed us to get involved in rowing, fishing, and other seaside pursuits although as with many things, we didn’t take full advantage of these natural facilities when children. When we were old enough to realise that these things had been on our doorstep for so many years I, like many of my contemporaries and siblings were scattered to the four winds.

Now that we appreciate fully what we had, and still have, it is great to see and hear so much about the beauty spots that were our childhood playgrounds in international publications and on TV shows broadcast globally. Kerry needs to share its secrets with the world, in order to keep the local tourism economy vibrant. A little part of me worries that what has been enjoyed by so many could be overtaken by commercialism and the inevitable growth in visitors to these places. This is a delicate balancing act for tourism bodies and locals alike, whose need to make a living is always competing with the need to preserve our countryside and natural heritage.

So to those who are lucky enough to hail from anywhere along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, do your bit to promote it as a destination but also tell your friends that it needs to look the same after they’ve visited as it did a thousand years ago. It’s ours, and yours, so respect it and the Wild Atlantic Way will be there for future generations to enjoy.