Data Literacy in the Library

Data Driven

Data has always been around us, but recently it’s taken center stage in all areas of society. Earlier this month I attended the virtual Empire State Library Network Pillars Symposium. During the conference, I gathered valuable resources and ideas about information literacy, college readiness, the open web, and research skills. All the presentations were engaging and useful, but the one that I’ve kept coming back to over the past few weeks is “Data Zines,” given by Tess Wilson. As she outlined a 2017 workshop she held for teens in a public library in Pennsylvania, her enthusiasm about compiling physical data pamphlets motivated me to start thinking of data-related activities for my high school library.

Tess Wilson’s one-page data zine guide for her public library workshop

Data Postcards 

Inspired by the book Dear Data, in which the authors Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec sent daily postcards to each other with creative doodles and charts documenting weekly data, I plan to do an activity called Data Postcards. Using blank index cards that I’ll distribute in the library, I’ll approach willing students and present them with a data focus of the week, which might be something like how many times they took a photo on their phones or how many homework assignments they had in the past four days. Then, I’ll give them color pencils or markers so they can make simple drawings displaying this data. I’ll show them the Dear Data book so they can view the ways the authors cleverly shared their data. 

Dear Data: A Friendship in 52 Weeks of Postcards by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec

Not only will this engage students with the data that directly relates to their lives, but it will also allow them to view a physical record of the data. This might help them think critically about the facts and numbers they see throughout their days, whether in math, science, social studies, or language arts classes. One of the most important aspects of teaching students to create evidence-based ideas and solutions is to have them understand the meaning behind the process. When students write an argumentative paper, for example, they need to support their opinions with data. The more they interact with data in all forms, the more likely they’ll be able to draw insights.

Data Literacy

Teenagers are affected by data every day. Just as information literacy resources guide teens in analyzing information responsibly, data literacy awareness can help them learn how to read and analyze data. According to researchers at Masters in Data Science, “data science taps into students’ natural reasoning abilities and helps them understand the world” (Bennett 2020). There are many ways to incorporate data instruction into library lessons. For a collaboration with a math or science teacher, I might have the students compile data from research on an environmental issue or mathematical problem. During a library lesson, I can help them create Google Sheets spreadsheets to organize and analyze this information. Language arts students can choose a topic from their community and record the data, which then can be used as the basis for a paper. As Tess Wilson explains, “learning to tell a story to amplify data is a really important skill” (2021). For art classes, I can expand the data postcard exercise, allowing students to generate their own data focuses. Their practice using data in the classroom will also help them in their roles for the school newspaper, debate team, and other extracurricular clubs. 

DOMO, Inc infographic of how much data is generated every minute

Data Tracking

Another way of getting students involved in working with data is to show them how to track their own academic progress. Some school districts have found that having students track their grades has shown a significant improvement in those students’ performances. As Dennis Li, co-founder of Sown to Grow puts it, “The opportunity to regularly own and work with their data can be transformative for students” (2017).  In the library, I plan to encourage students to create spreadsheets for their classes, recording their grades, homework assignments, and even their absences. Not only can this help them hold themselves accountable for their progress, it can also serve as evidence if they disagree with a teacher’s assessment. 

postcard from Dear Data

Data as Power

Each day 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is created digitally (“Data Never Sleeps 5.0” n.d.). From social media to online news stories, students consume an overwhelming amount of information, statistics, and visuals. As students watch data expand and diversify, they will benefit from learning how to demystify data and be able to use it as a force for positive change when they head out into the world.

Works Cited:

Bennett, Nicole. 2020. “Resources to Teach and Learn Data Science in High School.” Master’s in Data Science (Aug. 10).

“Data Never Sleeps 5.0.” n.d. BI Leverage at Cloud Scale in Record Time. 

Li, Dennis. 2017. “Why Student Data Should Be Students’ Data.” Edutopia (Dec. 11). 

Lupi, Giorgia, and Stefanie Posavec. 2016. Dear Data. Princeton Architectural Press.

Wilson, Tess. 2021. “Data Zines: A Hands-On Approach to Community Curiosities.” YouTube (July 9). 

 Data Resources:

Partners in Data Literacy

Resources to Teach and Learn Data Science in High School

The Data Literacy Project

Social Science Data and Information Literacy Toolkit–University of Houston Libraries

Dear Data Project

Tess Wilson’s presentation on Data Zines

DOMO data infographic


Author: Karin Greenberg

Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, STEM/STEAM, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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1 reply

  1. Hey Karin, love this idea! How did it work out? I am working on a data literacy project for a research paper in my MLIS program and would love to hear how it’s going.

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