Sunday, June 17, 2018

Thing 10.5: Networking Tools Follow-Up

[Time for a bit of housekeeping. For Thing 10, Task 2, I posted a tweet referring to an assignment in a completely different MOOC. Below is the content of the "explanatory Doc" referred to in a subsequent tweet, in case it becomes uncoupled.]

I figured it was unfair to tweet a “teaser,” so here’s the follow up. While pursuing Rudaí 23, I’m also enrolled in “Dazzling Data Visualization,” a free MOOC offered by the U.S. National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Southeastern/Atlantic Regional Office. For that class, I had to create a visualization based on a public data set. Living in the boondocks and being a liaison to some clinical departments on campus, I was drawn to the opportunity to visualize a large data set about federally designated “Medically Underserved Areas.” What follows is partly edited from the context I provided for my classmates, who get to critique my visualization.


I wanted a simple data set that would be accessible when visualized, so it was necessary to reduce the sprawling original set to less than 1,000 data points. (Tableau Public counts “marks” in legends as well as in the data itself.) Most of the measures used to determine Medically Underserved Area (MUA) status were incompletely populated, so I abandoned those criteria as a focus for the visualization. After much fumbling, I realized Tableau could handle minor civil divisions as “cities.” And so I decided to follow the guideline (invented by me) of “Visualize what you know,” and focused on the three rural states of northern New England.

Hoping that consistency would make for better comparisons, I used filters to get:

  • Designation Type of Medically Underserved Area and Medically Underserved Area - Governor's Exception
  • Designated status with no Break in Designation
  • Medically Underserved Area/Population (MUA/P) Component Geographic Type Description of Minor Civil Division
  • Common State Name of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

  • This retrieved a manageable set of 221 records.

    I discovered that Minor Civil Division Name lacked some values, and turned to Medically Underserved Area/Population (MUA/P) Component Geographic Name. This still made for a lot of work. First, my current home state of Maine has a lot of minor civil divisions needing special handling in Tableau. For Maine's "unorganized territories" (and one Native American reservation) I even had to resort to using the GeoNames server to find coordinates, and then a USGS converter to transform them into decimal format. Second, there are some names in common between states. I suspect this is what accounts for some of my missing values, but a) I couldn’t figure out how to fix the problem and b) 4 missing values do not change what I eventually discovered.

    With all the missing data, I wasn’t even sure what to focus upon in the visualization. So I started with something easy: the 2 different types of MUAs. Bingo! The raw data is not sorted by state, concealing what turned out to be a striking pattern: for some (unknown) reason, most of Maine’s MUAs earn their status “by the numbers.” Adjacent New Hampshire, on the other hand, requests MUA designation in the majority of cases.

    To make the map as accessible as possible, I used both color and shape to identify designation status. The colors are Tableau's suggestion for color blindness. (They check out on the Coblis color blindness simulator.)

    In theory, there are ways of overlapping legends to create the illusion of 1 legend capturing color and shape. In theory, there are ways of using IF statements to conceal tooltip display of a variable with a null value (e.g., Infant Mortality Rate, for many of the MUAs on the map). I tried to follow the directions on assorted blogs and guides and Tableau help screens, I failed, and after several hours, I had to cut my losses and present something decidedly less than ideal. That’s my visualization story, and I’m sticking to it!


    The final product my classmates will critique is here if you’re curious.

    Sunday, April 29, 2018

    Thing 22: Reflective Practice

    This final unit of Rudaí 23 encouraged us to look outward to our profession and forward to its future. For the majority of us, our parent libraries are not financially independent. Their and our professional survival depends on convincing funders that library services and resources provide value for money, and do so better than an open market would. The exercises in this unit served as an introduction to what we need to do to continue pursuing our careers.

    Part of me thinks Thing 19, on podcasts, should have paired a complementary Thing 20 on videos. The other part of me, tracking hours ticking down to the final deadline for reflection, is relieved that this wasn’t so. I’d like to see a study of activities concurrent with listening to podcasts. Is this medium primarily for the harried working adult, fitting in conveniently delivered acoustic education, entertainment, or news around some relatively mindless but necessary activity? Or is there some significant percentage of the audience that devotes their time and attention exclusively to a podcast itself, the way people used to gather around a sole household radio or television? Regardless of the answers, I regret not being able to create a first podcast of my very own. I waited as long as I could, but a lingering cough and sore throat convinced me to pursue the less constructivist option.

    Advocacy and engagement, the topic of Thing 20, are vital to what we do. And it’s not just the new that needs to be promoted. Library users forget about—or never develop awareness of—existing services or resources, so attention-drawing or appealing reminders of what we continue to provide should be part of our outreach strategy. Thinking about marketing is what led me to muse over a Thing on videos. We must use multiple channels to deliver our external messages. Our approaches to internal advocacy, on the other hand, will vary with our unique situations. In my current workplace, sometimes the most effective way to provide a new service is to do so undercover, in a way that blends in with already assigned duties. Once faculty start praising something new, it becomes politically awkward for a library administrator to insist that it’s a bad idea.

    While the content of Thing 21 was largely familiar, I found writing up some of my involvement in professional associations to be gratifying. In some years, I feel I grow more through external service than through assigned and permitted activities at my job. We are so isolated here, and so underfunded for travel, that it’s a real treat to have the occasional chance to get out and meet colleagues whose jobs are similar to ours—and yet so different.

    And a reflection on the MOOC overall, as all good Things must come to an end…

    I found Rudaí 23 to be a rewarding experience. While my particular path through the MOOC included times of frustration, and some deliberate decisions to pare down and postpone specific activities, I’ve already had the opportunity to apply some of the skills I learned. This spring semester, I returned to my concept for a “quick and dirty” video about library seating (Thing 4), and developed it into a quick video tour of the library. I tried showing the video as part of my instruction session within a large introductory class, and it seemed to be well received. Thing 17 reminded me that I need to improve the dissemination of my work. This summer would be a good time to (re-)create and upload the text of more of my book reviews into our institutional repository.

    I’ve met some new colleagues through Twitter and look forward to continuing to follow them. And perhaps in the future, there will be another version of the course to work through, or similarly organized free programs on other topics. I thank the WRSLAI staff who organized and presented Rudaí 23, and thank all my fellow learners for sharing your discoveries and creations.