Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Google, public data, and visualization

Google offers a recently added feature (discussed on the Google blog in April here) that allows for both searching and visualization of public data.

There is no special doorway to this data; just search on "unemployment rate Philadelphia" (for example) in the plain old Google search box. The first link in the result list will be accompanied by a chart illustrating the latest data for your search.

When you click the link, however, you are taken to a larger interactive chart where you can compare the unemployment rate in Philadelphia with the rate in other cities and states.

The Google blog states that the visualization aspect of the public data search comes through their acquisition of Trendalyzer, a program that enabled the animation of statistical data.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Librarians and Programming Skills

A recent article in Research Information (and referenced on the LISNews blog as well as the ResourceShelf Blog) talks about transforming the role librarians through their acquisition of programming skills.

One point that author David Stuart makes in the article is that librarians are still somewhat bound to the concept of "document," even in an age where the web abounds with all kinds of "structured data" that is not necessarily in a "document" format per se. Stuart believes that if librarians had the right technical skill sets, they could make this data available to their patrons through the use of programming APIs and mashup tools such as Yahoo Pipes. In particular they could integrate it into the result sets of an open source ILS or OPAC.

I think this is a great point. Librarians, especially at academic institutions, are moving away from being guides to stacks of paper books toward being gatekeepers of digital resources, subscription or otherwise. It's exciting and quite fitting to consider librarians as imaginative data aggregators -- using technical skills to combine data from different sources into a result portfolio for a patron or selected audience -- for example, engineers or humanities students.

Check out the article -- it's a great read!