Back from boot camp

Tufts University: View from Tisch Library Roof

Image from Knar Bedian (hyekab25): Retrieved from, and used according to a Creative Commons Attribution License

Last year I attended the annual Social Sciences Librarians Boot Camp (Tufts University).  This year’s event has helped me ask various questions of data.

The opening panelists questioned the data used in responding to extreme adversities– economic downturns, armed conflicts, and natural disasters respectively.  Professor

Michael Klein (Tufts) described the controversy over a study often cited to support austerity policies.  In this study the median and the mean of the data lead to different results and

thus to different interpretations.  Professor Dyan Mazurana (Tufts) explored gender issues in various armed conflicts.  Though such conflicts kill more men directly, policymakers and

development workers need to consider how these wars kill more women indirectly (through limited food, poor sanitation, etc.).  Sarah Lowe (Columbia University) looked at resilience

and coping after Hurricane Katrina.  Baseline data and longitudinal studies helped give a fuller picture of the social inequalities that impacted the responses to Katrina.

The second set of panelists gave listeners some frameworks for questioning data.  Samantha Guss (NYU) discussed how nobody can adequately address all parts of the data cycle.

In looking at possible collaborations librarians can ask themselves what they bring to their institution’s collaborations.  Michelle Hudson (Yale) used the classic reference interview as a

way to help students think through their data-related questions.  Bobray Bordelon (Princeton) highlighted the importance of the methodology section in journal articles.  He also offered

two key questions to ask of any study:

  1. What did the researchers use for data?
  2. What did they do to it?

The afternoon sessions acquainted me with various resources.  In the first session Joan Shear (Boston College) shared useful legal resources for non-law librarians: for actual

legal issues, of course, please consult a lawyer.  Then Michelle Hudson and Samantha Guss returned for a look at various tools.  In both cases we participants actively explored the sites.

I hope to attend next year’s camp.  In the meantime I thank this year’s hosts, presenters, and fellow participants for a great experience.