A few years ago I came across the term “Data Visualisation” which I supposed was something very complex that turned data into those wonderful pictures of aeroplane flight paths in many colours on a map of the world.
Or, I marvelled at huge pictures of digital art, like the one below, Courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy.
I longed to be able to learn to do something just as bold and beautiful, and started finding out about the process. I didn’t realise that although these impressive images are data visualisation, there is a much simpler and far more prosaic method of visualisation data.
Quite simply it is charts and graphs – things that I have known how to do since secondary school and actually taught to quite young children in my days of being an infant teacher. This may be simpler than the digital art, but it still takes data (the height of children, for example) and communicates the information of the tallest or shortest person easily to anyone who cannot see the children standing together.
The example above is done in Google Sheets – other tools are available. In my teaching days it would have been made more interesting by doing a pictograph – little pictures of people standing in a line, something like this one:
Historically, information and data that has been communicated through a picture, or visualisation, has changed the world. For example, Florence Nightingale was actually a very astute statistician who gathered data about army deaths and their causes. She compiled the diagram below to show how many of these deaths were preventable. I particularly like the detailed explanation of how to read the visualisation
I also recently come across a rather wonderful visualisation of Napoleon’s March across Russia which is a very poignant visualisation of the human losses incurred at war. The thick beige line dwindles in size as soldiers die on the journey. The returning troops are shown by the black line which also gets thinner and thinner. In all around 410,000 men were lost. I believe that the visualisation demonstrates the enormity of that loss in a more powerful way that looking at the figures.
Comparing these simpler pictures with the digital art that I showed at the beginning of this blog, I think that the simplicity tells the story and communicates the meaning of the data in a much better way. So there is really no need to use very complex algorithms or expensive data visualisation tools to produce a picture of your data. Google Sheets and Excel have the wherewithal to produce a clear chart or graph.
At this point, I have to give a plug to JUSP and the technical team behind the resource. They have produced visualisations of JUSP data using “Tableau” so that e-resource librarians can download them and use them for analysis or presentations. So far, these visualisations are proving popular with JUSP users. We at Evidence Base will be monitoring the use of these visualisations over the forthcoming weeks and will find out how useful and powerful it will be to put journal usage data into a visual form.