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FreePint BlogBig Data = Big Opportunity

Tuesday, 20th November 2012 Please login top-right to be able to star items

By Amy Affelt


Harvard Business Review listed "data scientist" as the "sexiest job of the 21st century". Librarians and information professionals are data scientists, as well as experts in finding, evaluating and transforming data and information into insightful deliverables that enable strategic decision-making. If we gain a basic understanding of how Big Data can be used to solve problems in the industries in which we work, we can gain a place at the table when Big Data initiatives are unveiled in our organisations.


Big Data presents a big opportunity for info pros, but the challenge lies in determining how Big Data can be used in specific industries and situations. In order to find out about Big Data initiatives within the industry in which you work, you can start by doing a search on the phrase “Big Data” within the industry publications read by your requestors.  For example, a librarian at a chemical company might search for the phrase “Big Data” in “Chemical and Engineering News”, whereas a librarian working in management consulting might search “The McKinsey Quarterly”. The results will discuss Big Data opportunities for the professionals in your industry, and you can then alert your requestors of these developments, as well as align your research with the Big Data projects that are of interest to the people that you serve. 

Another way of thinking in terms of Big Data: when faced with a vexing issue, ask yourself, “could Big Data be used to solve this problem?” For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the US in October 2012, there is a lot of debate over the installation and use of sea barriers - steel and concrete gates that sit on the ocean floor and can be raised and locked into place to protect inland areas from a storm surge. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has expressed concerned over their cost, but the total cleanup bill from Hurricane Sandy is being estimated at $50 billion or more. Could Big Data algorithms be applied to mash current and future disaster recovery costs with the price of preventative measures to determine cost/benefit analysis?

It is also important to understand the overall mission and goals of your organisation. Once we understand where our company wants to go and how it plans to get there, we will be better able to choose which data should be tracked and used. We also have to remember that no matter the buzzword of the moment, we always bring our traditional skills and capabilities to every research situation. We are experienced in working with traditional data as well, so we can take that data and mash it up with Big Data to create even more value.  We are also uniquely poised to:

  • Demonstrate changes in data over time
  • Set the context to build connections between data points
  • Look for patterns in the data
  • Implement analytics to create deliverables that drive decision-making
  • Tell data-driven stories with visuals
  • Embed with Big Data and IT teams in our organisations to conduct research at the point of need, while integrating data and analysis simultaneously
  • Rely on our inherent sense of curiosity to remind users to question the source of the data to ensure that it is of high quality.

The above skills, along with our ability to curate, evaluate, analyse and transform data and information into insightful deliverables that enable strategic decision- making, prove that librarians and information professionals are the sexy data scientists that HBR talks about, and so much more.

FreePint subscribers can read more about Big Data. Log in to view Big Data: The Opportunity Formerly Known as Information Overload.


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Amy Affelt is Director, Database Research, at Compass Lexecon, a global economic consultancy, where she finds, analyses and transforms information and data into knowledge deliverables for PhD economists who testify as experts in litigation. She is also an author and conference speaker on topics such as adding value to information, evaluating information integrity and quality and marketing information services. She has a BA in history, Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Master's degree in library and information science from Dominican University.

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