What else can we do with Data?

As we approach the end of our DITA module, I’ve found myself reflecting on all of the concepts we’ve learned; what data is, how it can be tamed, organised, disseminated, counted and analysed. There’s so much we’ve explored with data yet we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of Library Science.

A couple of weeks ago, David Bawden taught us about exploring the meaning in data and the various tools we can use to analyse it. My personal favourite was Word Clouds, a tool that analyses frequently occurring words in a text and displays them in a visual form. There are several websites that are free and easy to use, I liked www.wordclouds.com due to its variety of customisable options. I put in my lecture notes from this session into the website and came up with this:

blog wordcloud

As you can see, the words ‘analysis’ and ‘data’ are rather large, but so is the word ‘can’; having an option that ignores stop words is valuable, you don’t want a word cloud that comes up with ‘the’ or ‘and’ as the most frequent. This is a common critique behind word clouds, that they are too simple. Jacob Harris, a software architect with the New York Times argues that word clouds are harmful as they analyse words outside of their context. This is a valid point however I would argue that word clouds are meant to a starting point to analysing content, not an end-all result.

In my spare time I also thought, what can word clouds tell us about fiction? I used to write my own fiction quite frequently, less so nowadays *insert quip about Masters and tiredness* Usually it consists of fragments or passages that could possibly end up in a story (never say never!). I stuck the whole text into wordclouds.com and came up with a rather large cloud. While words like ‘didn’t’, ‘said’, and ‘thought’ were some of the largest, on the outskirts, it gave me words like ‘coffee’, ‘dress’, ‘night’, and ‘London’. It seems rather basic but it gave me an idea of the atmosphere I was creating in my work. We wouldn’t have been plausible in the past to gleam this kind of analysis from reading a text. Now, we can gather insights into documents and inspire creativity just by scanning the most frequently used words.

In our last session, we gave our thoughts over to the future. Can the data replace us? Our class had an invigorating discussion about the implications of Artificial Intelligence for us in society and as Information Professionals. We touched on the idea of humanity and souls; could a robot ever have the empathy and emotional intelligence of a human? Could it ever become malignant? These are all compelling and interesting questions that don’t have answers; exploring the options will be half the fun.

The DITA module and our other module (Library and Information Science Foundation) have given me a wonderful first look into the world of Library Science. I’m so glad to be undertaking my Masters at #CityLis, roll on 2018!


Harris, Jacob (2011) Word clouds considered harmful. Available at: http://www.niemanlab.org/2011/10/word-clouds-considered-harmful/ (Accessed 09/12/2017)


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