Data Analysis + Paper Processes

May 19, 2011

Referrals from a couple of colleagues led me to read a couple of articles recently—one (relatively) old and another hot off the press. The "old" article, Malcolm Gladwell’s "The Social Life of Paper," proved to be fascinating reading. It even provided a plausible explanation for my physical desktop—to say nothing of its digital equivalent:

The messy desk is not necessarily a sign of disorganization. It may be a sign of complexity: those who deal with many unresolved ideas simultaneously cannot sort and file the papers on their desks, because they haven't yet sorted and filed the ideas in their head (p. 93).

The current article, James Neal’s "Prospects for Systemic Change across Academic Libraries," provides a fitting follow-up to Charles Henry’s "National-Scale Solutions." Given my love for data-driven practice, I find it easy to agree with Neal's statement:

Academic librarianship is an "information-poor" information profession. We need to develop--together and in partnership with our IT colleagues and appropriate faculty--a robust R&D capacity to enable data-driven decision making and progressive services. We need new knowledge creation through a network of laboratories for experimentation that can help us move ideas much more quickly from concept to market (p. 11).

Correlating these articles, I conclude that . . .

  • rigorous data analysis is crucial to success in libraries, higher education, and elsewhere--and this will surely be enabled by ever-more-powerful data processing hardware and software

  • there is a human side to the management of these enterprises, and as we make sense of all of the data available to us, we will find paper--an ancient technology--to be a true ally


Gladwell, M. (2002, March). The social life of paper. The New Yorker, 78(5), 92–96. Retrieved from

Henry, C. J. (2011). National-scale solutions. EDUCAUSE Review, 46(1), 10–11. Retrieved from

Neal, J. G. (2011). Prospects for systemic change across academic libraries. EDUCAUSE Review, 46(2), 10–11. Retrieved from

Want to learn more about library management and related topics?

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