Workshop: Datavisualizations in the public library?

The first workshop in the Data Democracy programme was November 6th at Dokk1 in Aarhus, Denmark. The workshop was about data visualizations in the broadest sense of the word. We had four very different approaches to the theme throughout the day. The workshop was aimed at colleagues and other information specialist in the public library sector. We were around 40 people in total – so a relatively small crowd. But, working with data literacy in 2018, this does not come as a surprise – and this is exactly the reason for public libraries to get involved in data literacy. Because who else will take this rather unsexy task upon themselves? 🙂

First, we had an overall introduction to the smart city concept and how streams of data are slowly, but definitely changing our lives. Lars Kabel from the Danish School of Journalism and Media pointed out that both news media and public libraries had a common agenda in making data available and useful for the citizens. According to Lars we need the ability to tap into the data stream in order to change the society. This also means we need to work across platforms; technological, relational etc. We need to see data as the raw material or basic building blocks. Lars introduced us to the nature of data and the different variables of data, eg. organic versus purposeful data (ie. Facebook data vs. data generated for a specific purpose.)  Finally, Lars shortly introduced a new term he was working with – data dreams – and how we need the citizens to see beyond the initial purpose of data and think bigger – imagine their potential.

Next up we introduced data as seen from an artistic perspective. This point of view was presented by Rasmus Vestergaard, an independent art historian now working with curating and promoting digital art. Rasmus pointed out three main tracks for art to cross over with data:

  • The critical track: Concern for the digital footprints we leave behind, what a digital persona means to us as individuals
  • The utopian track: Anticipating a brighter future with technology
  • The dualistic track that combines the other two

Rasmus pointed out that crossing data and art can facilitate new conversational tracks about data in our society. Digital art can present and reveal new perspectives, by introducing (aesthetic) abstractions.

Working with digital art – and technology in art – is also a new and expensive genre for the artists to take on. So, there is potential for new collaborations between public institutions and digital artists.

Then Rasmus introduced us to a lot of examples, including:

  • Adnauseam
  • Floodwatch
  • Wanna Play?
  • The Black Machine
  • Exploded Views 2.0
  • Mirror Piece
  • En telefon af bange anelser
  • Networth
  • Flooded McDonald’s
  • Universe of Particles on a Rock where People Gather
  • Data-flux
  • Rain Room
  • Delicate Boundaries
  • Ways of Folding Space & Flying
  • Drowning/Burning
  • DUST Crate Map
  • Modern Times
  • E-LO performances
  • Interactive sound installation at CPH Marathon 2017 by DIAS
  • Marble
  • YETI TV – a bouquet of pixels

After lunch we turned to a more hands-on approach. The workshop participants were invited to join a small data literacy workshop. The members of the DataDemocracy project group have previously used this workshop in order to introduce data literacy to both tweens, teens and librarians. The tools used are all described and available on We find that statistical literacy seems to be a relatable way for people to approach data and to make it very simple, fun – although they will use small data – and  not big data.

The day ended with a pep-talk from research librarian Jeannette Ekstrøm, from the Technical University of Denmark. Jeannette described her personal transformation from a traditional research librarian to a data librarian – being honest about the challenges. But she also used these challenges in a constructive manner, by making use of newly learned tools and methods to solve tasks in her everyday work life. Jeannette reminded us all that working in the library sector provides a good foundation for working with data; we are very familiar with bibliographic data and meta data. So, maybe we should start the transformation right there? Following this Jeannette introduced a variety of tools aimed at the different steps when working with data; access, cleaning, visualization, management, and validation. Finally Jeannette introduced us to the Data Librarian’s Handbook – and pointed out that critical thinking goes a long way, when it comes to working with data.