Learning Tableau

Creating interactive visualizations of data to tell a story is a great skill to have, but what if you don’t have programming skills?  I fall in the non-programmer boat (although hopefully I can fix that knowledge gap this year by learning R), but fortunately there are a ton of free online visualization tools, many of which don’t require programming knowledge.  Tableau is one option for creating free or low-cost interactive visualizations of large data sets using a drag-and-drop interface.

What is Tableau?

Tableau is data visualization software that includes both subscription and free versions.  The free version of the software is called Tableau Public.  Through Tableau Public, users can download the Tableau Desktop Public Edition app, upload and clean data, create visualizations, and then save and store visualizations (called “vizzes”) to your Tableau Public Profile.  You get 10GB of space in your Public Profile, and vizzes can be shared and embedded on websites and blogs.

How Can Libraries Use Tableau?

A quick search of Tableau Public shows some academic libraries using Tableau to create dashboards of library usage statistics (see Library Assessment for UMass Amherst Libraries or LibraryViz@OSU for Ohio State University Libraries).  Public libraries (like Brooklyn Public Libraries) may use a subscription version of the tool for indepth usage analytics and decision making.

Getting Started

For my first Tableau visualization, I decided to use a relatively large data set downloaded from PillBox.  PillBox is a database from the National Library of Medicine and can be used to identify unknown pills and capsules by visual indicators like color, shape, and size.  I wanted to explore the pill shapes, colors, and distributors for pills containing the active ingredient Acetaminophen.

My first (rather rough) attempt at a Tableau visualization can be found here.

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Visit the full visualization.

I mostly just figured out how to use the interface through trial and error and Googling any questions I had about the tool (there’s a large and active user base for the software, thankfully).  The Tableau website also offers some basic tutorial videos.

A few random thoughts:

  • I had trouble using Tableau Desktop Public Edition app on my Dell, since the Dell Backup and Recovery program interfered with the app.  I had to uninstall Dell Backup and Recovery to get Tableau to work.
  • Now that Google has gotten in the data visualization game with Google Data Studio, Tableau better up it’s game.  Here’s a comparison of Google Data Studio and Tableau I found interesting.

 

The Evolution of LibGuides

I’ve used LibGuides on a very regular basis since the beginning of my career and even back in college.  When working in the patent field, I regularly searched for LibGuides as a quick way to locate a list of resources on a highly specific technology or to find guidance on searching for obscure document types.  LibGuides basically offer free expert advice and curated resource lists from librarians around the world, so it would be silly not to utilize this deep well of knowledge whenever I have the chance.  Springshare (the creator of the LibGuides platform) has taken the basic model of an online pathfinder and transformed what used to be a solitary webpage into an interactive online community of librarians, sharing knowledge with patrons and with each other through the LibGuides Community. The LibGuides Community allows users to search across over 500,000 published LibGuides and to also locate and communicate with librarians and institutions who publish LibGuides.

The long and short of it is, I really, really appreciate LibGuides.

So I was surprised a few days ago when I came across a discussion on a library association listserv about whether LibGuides and pathfinders are on their way out.  My answer is – Pathfinders? Maybe.  LibGuides? NO.

Solitary lists of links may vanish into the past, but there is a thriving community of librarians, teachers, professors, and researchers behind LibGuides who are constantly offering guidance to each other (in the form of – you guessed it – LibGuides) on how to adapt and improve their LibGuides to meet changing technology and user needs.

Just a few examples:

Springshare also offers a variety of useful online documentation  and news resources to aid librarians with improving their LibGuides, with tips on making LibGuides more mobile-friendly and interactive.

Between an active user community and an innovative company providing regular updates, I don’t see LibGuides going away anytime soon.  Yes, they will constantly evolve with changing technology and information needs, but so will the entire library and information sciences field.

Finding Open Access Institutional Repositories

The NLM Technical Bulletin recently published a post describing how PubMed now includes links to full text of articles available through institutional repositories.  This is fantastic news, since this feature expands the possible open access resources for locating full text of indexed articles on PubMed beyond PubMed Central and publisher websites.  Institutional repositories are often overlooked treasures brimming with open access resources, including full-text journal articles (often preprint), theses, and other research output published by students and faculty at the institutions.

OpenScholarship.org defines institutional repositories as:

Digital collections of the outputs created within a university or research institution. Whilst the purposes of repositories may vary (for example, some universities have teaching/learning repositories for educational materials), in most cases they are established to provide Open Access to the institution’s research output.

So how can you find institutional repositories?  My two favorite resources are:

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Search for repositories on OpenDOAR.
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Homepage of ROAR.

OpenDOAR and ROAR have similar search and browsing features, but ROAR seems to have a larger collection of repository listings to search through.  I also prefer ROAR because it uses Library of Congress Classification to categorize repositories in its collection by subject.

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ROAR uses LOC classification, how can a librarian resist?

If you want to learn more about open access repositories, check out the academic LibGuide Open Access Repositories – UC Santa Barbara Library.  Repository66.org also has a neat visualization of repositories on a global map.  If anyone knows any additional useful institutional repository resources, please share!

 

Deciphering Buzzwords and Acronyms

 

question-mark-note-man-person-460868 (2)Today I came across an article on DigitalGov describing the hot new IT buzzwords for 2017, and reading it, I felt equal parts impressed and irritated.  It’s fantastic that technology is moving fast enough that we have to constantly innovate with language to describe the newest process or concept that’s taking the IT world by storm. On the other hand, overuse of buzzwords can make discussions between professionals turn into incomprehensible gibberish for anyone not fully immersed in the field.  This can hamper collaboration across different fields, if we literally can’t understand what the other person is saying. I know I’m not the only person irritated by buzzwords, since buzzword bingo and the Business Buzzword Generator exist.

And don’t even get me started on acronyms…if you’ve worked with any government organization, in academia, or in pretty much any professional field, you’re probably drowning in a SEA of acronyms. Yes, acronyms are definitely needed (who wants to constantly repeat “United States Patent and Trademark Office,” instead of USPTO?), but that doesn’t mean they don’t drive me crazy.

So how can we go about deciphering buzzwords and acronyms?  Google is a good place to start for buzzwords, and Wikipedia offers a handy article listing education, business, science/technology, political, and general conversation buzzwords.  For the library sciences field in particular, many academic LibGuides (see DTS, Cornell, Lesley) offer glossaries of common library and research terms. A great article by John Kupersmith describes best practices for translating research/library terminology for patrons, to improve service and reduce miscommunication.

For acronyms, I usually try a quick search of Acronym Finder or Free Dictionary.  A search of USPTO, for instance, on either site will immediately identify “United States Patent and Trademark Office” as the most likely meaning.  Both sites also list possible alternate definitions for less unique acronyms (like SEA, which has 114 possible meanings listed on Acronym Finder).  If you’re specifically looking for definitions of government acronyms, you also might want to try the GovSpeak Libguide from UC San Diego.

Acronyms and buzzwords are both necessary evils, since we need words for new ideas and shorthand for impossibly long agency names.  That doesn’t mean we should let buzzwords and acronyms hold us back, though…a quick online search will usually find a definition for even the most bizarre jargon.

Thoughts on Crowdsourcing: Patents, Health, and Libraries

While thinking about the hype surrounding “Big Data”, I started to think about another term that I’ve also been hearing tossed around a lot in the patent, health, and library fields: crowdsourcing. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “crowdsourcing” as:

The practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.

Crowdsourcing has come of age in a digital environment, especially over social media, where individuals or organizations can solicit help from thousands of people instantly.  Everyone seems to be hopping on the crowdsourcing bandwagon, due to the low cost and speed of implementation and the sometimes highly creative responses provided by participants.  The main downside to crowdsourcing seems to be the need to sift through large amounts of contributions of highly varying quality (which may be an instance where “Big Data” skills and tools can come in handy).

Here are just a few examples of crowdsourcing in the patent, health, and library fields:

  • Patent Searching – A few companies, like Patexia and Article One Partners,  successfully crowdsource patent searches by offering prizes and rewards to any participants who successfully locate and submit highly relevant patent prior art.  Fledgling searchers can use free online patent databases,like Google Patents, Espacenet, and WIPO PATENTSCOPE (Patexia also offers free patent search tools), and participants receive guidance and support through online communities created on the company websites.
  • Challenges from National Institute of Health (NIH) – NIH has offered over a dozen contests  where researchers can submit solutions to various challenges, like “A Wearable Alcohol Biosensor” or “Innovation in Breast Cancer Genetics Epidemiology.” Government agencies like NIH can use the Challenge.gov site to post “a problem or question to the public and ‘solvers’ respond and submit solutions. An agency pays only for those solutions that meet the criteria and are chosen as winners.”
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Recent challenges from the National Institute of Health on Challenge.gov.
  • Libraries Embrace Crowdsourcing – I can’t even pick a single example.  A multitude of blog posts, opinion pieces, and articles describe how institutional and public libraries use crowdsourcing for a variety of projects:
    • Library of Congress makes catalog corrections and enhancements to photographs in their collection, based on comments from users on Flickr.
    • New York Public Library is asking “citizen volunteers to provide identification, transcription, tagging and more” for a digitized collection of “bond and mortgage records from The Emigrant Savings Bank during the years 1841–1933.”
    • The Biodiversity Heritage Library, a consortium of natural history museums and botanical garden libraries, is “testing the effectiveness of gaming for crowdsourcing OCR text correction” and also “using crowds to verify the accuracy of semantic markup of text that was done by automated algorithms.”
    • The British Library has created a portal called LibCrowds, which lists challenges like “help create a catalogue of Lord Chamberlain’s Plays and Correspondence.”

I haven’t even discussed one of the greatest crowdsourcing achievements, Wikipedia, which has created a vast free online encyclopedia of modern human knowledge.

Crowdsourcing has drawbacks, but there are so many possible applications that result in brilliant discoveries and new tools based on harnessing the online knowledge base, I can’t even begin to list them all.

Online Health Information for Older Adults – 3 Government Resources

The population of adults over  65 in the US is increasing rapidly, and this growing population has an important need for reliable health information.  According to The State of Aging and Health in America 2013 from the CDC, “two factors—longer life spans and aging baby boomers—will combine to double the population of Americans aged 65 years or older during the next 25 years to about 72 million.”  Another sobering statistic from the report states “two out of every three older Americans have multiple chronic conditions.”  The bottom line is that more older adults will be seeking health information in the coming years about a variety of chronic conditions, and librarians should be ready.  Librarians aren’t doctors and can’t begin to take the place of healthcare professionals, but we can guide older adults and their caregivers to reliable websites where they can find basic diagnosis and treatment information, which they can use to begin discussions with their physicians.

And if you think older adults don’t use the internet for finding health information online, read this study.  Or this study.

Here are a few of my favorite government websites that share helpful and trustworthy information on a broad variety of health conditions and services targeted towards older adults:

  • NIH Senior Health – This site is extremely user-friendly (with options to enlarge text size and change color contrast for easier readability) and has reliable health information from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM), both part of the National Institute of Health (NIH).  Browse or search through health topics and videos with a focus on health conditions important to older adults.  There’s even a great toolkit for trainers to teach older adults how to access reliable health information online.
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Homepage of NIH Senior Health website.
  • National Institute on Aging A-Z Health Topics Index – Browse health topics relevant to older adults, ranging from Advance Directives to Vascular Dementia, and find printable fact sheets, guides, and reports related to these topics.
  • Eldercare Locator – Use this resource from the Administration on Aging to search for local resources (search by zip code or city/state) or find services and information related to topics like Adult Day Program, Alzheimer’s Disease, Behavioral Health, etc.  Online chat and a phone number (1-800-677-1116) are also available to contact.
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Homepage of Eldercare Locator.

A few others to note: CDC Healthy Aging has resources for advance care planning, chronic disease management, emergency preparedness, and more.  LongTermCare.gov has helpful information on planning and paying for long-term care.

 

Where to Start with Big Data?

Librarians have to sink or swim in the constantly shifting waters of the information field, and the latest wave sweeping over information sciences is Big Data. I started learning about the importance of data analysis and visualization while working with patents, where analysis of large patent portfolios could be used for competitive intelligence, planning acquisitions, spotting trends in a technology sector, and much more.

Now working in the health field, I’m truly beginning to see why everyone calls it “Big Data.”  The amount of data generated through general healthcare services and biomedical research is truly staggering, ranging from data in electronic health records to genomic data generated through human genome sequencing.  How do we make this data searchable and reusable, so researchers can discover new innovations from existing data sets?  How do we also protect personal information, especially with data generated from electronic health records?  Can researchers retain intellectual property rights to their data while still making their data searchable and reusable?  There are so many thorny issues to consider and new concepts to learn surrounding Big Data and data science in general, and it can be a daunting task trying to find a place to start.

Here are a few resources which are helping me wrap my mind around basic data science concepts and the current state of Big Data:

  1. To get an overview of how data science is impacting the healthcare field, I’m taking the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) online course Big Data in Healthcare: Emerging Roles.  (I highly recommend checking the NNLM Upcoming Classes list for other free courses and webinars you can sign up for.)
  2. Check out this recording of a webinar called Data Science 101: An Introduction for Librarians (also from NNLM), which provides a quick overview of data science concepts like the data science pipeline, machine learning, supervised learning, unsupervised learning, natural language processing, etc.
  3. IBM produced a great infographic called The Four V’s of Big Data, which describes how big data can be broken down into four dimensions: volume, velocity, variety, and veracity of the data.
  4. Learn about the FAIR Data Principles, which suggest that all data sets should be findable, accessible, interoperable, and re-usable.  A recent article in Nature gives a detailed overview of the FAIR Data Principles.
  5. I found the blog post Is Big Data Still a Thing? (The 2016 Big Data Landscape) by Matt Turck to be a useful overview of the current state of Big Data, especially the infographic included in the post which illustrates many of the major players in the field.