The Evolution of Data Literacy Education at Florida State University Libraries

May 17, 2021

Nick Ruhs, Ph.D.
STEM Data & Research Librarian
Florida State University

The advent of the 21st century has resulted in an explosion in the amount of quantitative and qualitative research data created and consumed. That data is often disseminated widely within the digital community, located in journal articles, data repositories, lab websites, and mobile applications on smartphones. 

Not surprisingly, as the amount of available data has increased and has become more easily accessible, there has been an increased focus on data literacy education in academic libraries, including at Florida State University. Data literacy is considered vital because it informs good data stewardship practices, helps to create a culture of informed researchers, and leads to a more data-literate public. Glusker defines data literacy as “the ability to consume for knowledge, produce coherently, and think critically about data” (2017). This definition highlights three overarching components of data literacy: information literacy, statistical literacy, and technical skills. We kept these concepts in mind as we began the process of designing data-focused workshops at Florida State University Libraries. 

At FSU Libraries, data literacy workshops have their origins in research data management support–a service initiated in 2014 in response to the Holdren (2013) memo from the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Instructional and consultation support was initially focused on assisting researchers with research data management plans that were in compliance with public access mandates. As part of these efforts, one-time workshops were created and presented to faculty and registered student organizations (RSOs) across campus. Interestingly, as time passed and new data sharing mandates became more ingrained within the research ecosystem, we saw an increased demand from faculty and students for additional training around data analysis and visualization software, finding data, and general data literacy skills. There was also interest in discipline-specific techniques for working with research data. 

FSU STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Libraries responded to these requests by organizing a one-day boot camp during the Spring 2018 semester focused on data analysis and management tools, titled “Tools of the Trade: Boot Camp for STEM Researchers.” Three STEM Librarians, along with the STEM Libraries graduate assistant, were involved with the planning of the boot camp. Furthermore, the department’s outreach associate coordinated marketing efforts for the event. The sessions were marketed through direct outreach to campus departments, printed flyers, digital signage in the library, and social media posts. Topics for the sessions were selected based on previous requests from faculty and students, as well as the skill sets and expertise of the librarians teaching the workshops. Tools covered during the boot camp included ChemDraw, the Open Science Framework, SQL, and MATLAB. A similar one-day boot camp organized by the same team was held during the Fall 2018 semester, with the inclusion of a Tableau Public workshop in place of the SQL session. Surprisingly, despite these efforts and the perceived need and interest from researchers, attendance at both boot camps was low. After assessing the workshops themselves and the response from STEM faculty and students, we surmised that the low turnout was likely due to the one-day format not being conducive to STEM researchers, who often have many other priorities vying for their time and often aren’t able to commit a whole day to a set of workshops. Thus, we decided to re-think how we organized and offered these workshops. 

In Spring 2019, the STEM Data & Research Librarian coordinated the launch of a workshop series called “STEM Everyday,” wherein trainings on data analysis and visualization software were offered as a series of one-shot workshops instead of a one-day boot camp. It was believed, based on previous trends, that offering the workshops in this format would bring in more scholars who may not be able to commit to one specific day.  In designing the series, we were inspired by the “Data Day to Day” workshop series developed by the New York University Health Sciences Library (Surkis, LaPolla, Contaxis, and Read, 2016). In designing that series, the NYU librarians were deliberate about partnering with campus departments external to the library to deliver workshops. This allowed them to meet demand for education around the ever-growing amount of data and visualization software used by researchers and alleviated some of the capacity issues faced by the librarians organizing the workshops. 

Furthermore, designing a workshop series involving other stakeholders provides an opportunity to develop long-term connections with campus departments and take advantage of cross-departmental promotion. One significant connection that we have developed over the course of these workshops is with Florida State University’s Research Computing Center (RCC). The RCC provides computational resources (particularly in the area of high performance computing) to the campus community to support multidisciplinary research. The staff at the RCC have expertise in many different software and operating systems that were desired for this workshop series, including Python, Linux, MATLAB, and High Performance Computing. Also, they are located adjacent to the STEM Libraries on campus and often work closely with STEM researchers. Thus, this partnership seemed like a natural fit for both the library and the RCC. Another critical partner for this series was the FSU Libraries’ Office of Digital Research and Scholarship (DRS). Located within the library, DRS partners with members of the FSU community on topics related to open publishing, digital humanities, and technology. They also engage in education and outreach around various software and data analysis techniques, such as R and QGIS. 

Five sessions were offered as part of this initial series, covering Python, MATLAB, Linux, R, and QGIS, with the Research Computing Center teaching the Python and Linux sessions. The R and QGIS sessions were designed and taught by librarians from the Office of Digital Research and Scholarship, while the STEM Data & Research Librarian covered the MATLAB session. Much to our delight, attendance for this workshop series was increased from the previous one-day bootcamp, with 25 attendees at the Python workshop alone. Inspired by the success of the initial series, we expanded the series in the Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 semesters to include more software and data methods, including SPSS, Adobe InDesign, Microsoft Excel, and an Introduction to High Performance Computing, among others. Topics were chosen based on consultation requests from library patrons and requests from attendees of our previous data workshops. The “STEM Everyday” title was also replaced with “Data @ Dirac” (Dirac Science Library is the science- focused library at FSU.)  As the series expanded in scope and as a workflow for marketing was cemented, we saw increasing engagement and excitement around the workshop series.

Another key collaborator on data literacy training at FSU Libraries starting in fall 2019 was the Social Sciences Research & Data Librarian. They developed an analogous workshop series to the “Data @ Dirac” series, titled “Data @ Strozier,” which was focused on data tools, methods, and resources for the social sciences, such as NVivo, SPSS, Stata, and SAS. (Strozier Library is the main library at FSU, focused on humanities and the social sciences.) Workshops on survey design and data collection in Qualtrics, for which FSU has a site-wide license, were also offered.  This series also featured sessions that overlapped with the Data @ Dirac series, such as sessions on R, Tableau, Microsoft Excel, and finding data. Notably, while the workshops in each series were developed with a specific disciplinary audience in mind, all workshops were open to the entire campus community. Because of this, we saw a significant overlap in who attended the workshops, which we surmised was reflective of the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of data-driven research within academia. At the same time, both the STEM and social sciences data literacy series saw increased attendance and engagement in the fall 2019 and spring 2020 semesters. These observations lead us to begin exploring ways to broaden our scope and more effectively serve the data literacy needs of our entire campus community. As a result, in Fall 2020 the STEM and Social Sciences data librarians collaborated on merging the two workshop series together into one comprehensive series, now titled Data @ Your Desk. A new webpage was also created featuring all of the workshop sessions in an easy-to-read list, with each listing linking out to a calendar event and registration page. This gave the librarians and the FSU Libraries marketing team a new and more visually appealing way to market and increase engagement around this new combined series. 

One challenge of launching this new series was doing so in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which incidentally started just as we were wrapping up our Spring 2020 workshops. Due to safety protocols put in place, all our Fall 2020 workshops were offered virtually using the Zoom web conferencing platform. This was particularly challenging for data and software workshops, which often feature live coding and offer attendees the chance at hands-on activities and troubleshooting with software. Several solutions were employed to ensure participation and engagement from the audience. Zoom polls and multiple-choice questions allowed audience members to participate anonymously and offered real-time feedback on learning. Screen sharing by the instructor allowed participants to follow along with any live coding or demonstrations. The primary method for audience questions was the Zoom chat, which was moderated by a designated co-host other than the instructor to ensure all questions were addressed. While these solutions were well-received, there are issues which we feel still need improvement, such as accessibility to software and workshop materials. Overall, the development of virtual training opportunities is an ongoing process, and we plan to continue refining our virtual workshops in coming semesters. 

Data literacy training at FSU Libraries has undergone a significant evolution in the past several years. What started as a handful of one-shot workshops focused on research data management has expanded into a mature series of multi-disciplinary training opportunities focused on data analysis and visualization software. At the same time, we continue to offer research data management workshops and consultations as requested. Future efforts will be focused on designing training opportunities for other aspects of the research data lifecycle, including finding, storing, and preserving research data.  As the landscape of research data continues to evolve, there will be ample opportunity to shape our data literacy curriculum into one that meets the changing needs of students and faculty. 


Glusker, A. (2017, September 26). Data Literacy: “What It Is and Why You Should Care.” Dragonfly. 

Holdren, J.P. (2013). Expanding Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research. 

Surkis, A., LaPolla, F. W. Z., Contaxis, N., and Read, K.B. (2016). Data Day to Day: building a community of expertise to address data skills gaps in an academic medical center. Journal of the Medical Library Association. 105(2).