Blog

COVID19 etc.

It’s the return of the blog! I’ve been thinking about doing this for a couple of months now. #COVID19 wasn’t the impetus, but it definitely had an effect and pushed me forward to type the text below. Our social, labour, government, and economic structures have been thrown upside-down, I’m exhausted from work, and super-caffeinated 18 hours a day, so here we are.

  • COVID19 Ontario Summary File

For the past week, I’ve been collecting the summary stats posted by the Government of Ontario at this link and throwing them into a spreadsheet, hosted here. The Gov’t and our public health agencies in Canada are doing a great job in this time of crisis, but this work I’m doing is a required step right now because the provincial numbers are only cumulative snapshots of the provincial casecount, at the date and time that they’re posted. i.e., there is no room for historic analysis in the existing page. If you want to track data into a trendline, you need the file I’ve posted.

So, by using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, I’ve been harvesting older versions of the page, scraping out the data, and throwing it into the spreadsheet. Until the province has the time to put together a better document on their own, I’ll continue doing this. When this crisis ends, I’ll likely pull an ATI request to get a complete dataset right from the source. In the meantime, this is what we’ve got, provincially.

I’ve done a lot of this work by hand and need to automate some of it in the future. There are better methods and functions out there but given the timeliness of the issue, I’m choosing to post now and re-learn skills I used to have later. (See the last bullet below for context.)

Links:

  • RDM Policy in Canada

So, the last time i posted about this topic (around the year 1961), RDM policy in Canada was still largely a set of intentions, motherhood statements and ideal states we’d like to get to. We knew what worked and what didn’t by way of looking at what other nations had instituted, but policy-setting and implementation – two very big, distinct, and slow-moving things – were still in their infancy.

Now, in spring 2020, we were expecting to see a policy announcement through Tri-Agency, but #COVID19 has got in the way. Word on the street is that a policy, based on the existing draft pillars of institutional strategy, data management planning, and data deposit, will still hit implementation this spring (or this year), but we need to give the Agencies space and time to deal with COVID19 themselves. As a firm believe in social distancing, I’ll give them that.

  • Where have all my coding skills gone?

Related to the first bullet above. There was a time I had enough harvesting skills by way of rudimentary tools and apps to easily harvest text from the web. I suppose that time ended about 5 years ago as my position responsibilities shifted, so that’s fine. But I’m really saddened to have lost these skills. I’ve been feeling a bit out of touch on this front for about a year now, to be honest, and this COVID19 harvested has shone a spotlight on the issue. When things are all said and done, I think I’m going to allocate some leave time to re-learn what I used to know.

2016 Waterloo Region CMA Population Density by Census Tract map now live

 

2016 Waterloo Region Population Density

A Wednesday morning FYI for you:  I’ve now posted a map detailing Waterloo Region CMA’s population density in 2016 by census tract.  I went back to my old ways and developed the map with QGIS and then exported it into leaflet.js, which basically means that it’s super fast.  Tableau’s maps are very easy to develop, but their usability isn’t ideal.

Take a gander at the map here…

Ontario Population Change, 2011 to 2016

OntPopChange2016-bannerStatistics Canada has released its Population and Dwelling Counts from the 2016 Census.  This is the first of several releases scheduled for StatCan – it plans to release data products for all modules (e.g., income, labour, ethnocultural diversity) before the end of 2017.  Hats off to them!

This is a map I quickly rendered in Tableau. I’ve played with Tableau in the past but usually stuck to hacking out code and data myself.  After a December meeting and tutorial with Lucia Costanzo at the University of Guelpgh Library, though, I’ve become a bit of a convert.  The proprietary nature of the software is sometimes problematic, but it certainly speeds up the development of your maps and visualizations. Perhaps more on that later.

This map shows the population change in Ontario’s Census Divisions (CD’s) from 2011 to 2016.  The percentage change is based on one census cycle to the next, but the color gradation ends up comparing this percentage change from one region to another. Note well that this can cause issues in interpretation of your numbers.

Some interesting things to note or remember:

  • This is considering population change only.  It doesn’t take into account the value itself.  So, while Kenora, in the northwest, shows the most significant population change, it might still be unfair to draw a comparison against any of the regions in the golden horseshoe or GTA

The Shortsighted Closure of 54 Public Library Locations in Newfoundland

Here are some quick thoughts on today’s announcement that the Province of Newfoundland will close 54 public libraries, leaving the system with only 41 locations. It’s a travesty for a province’s educational, literacy, and information access goals, regardless of its fiscal crisis. You can follow the public fallout of this poorly conceived plan by following the #nlpublib hashtag.

 

One thing that really bothered me in this announcement is the consolation that the Newfoundland Library Chair, Calvin Taylor, tried to make. What follows is a statement that tries to focus on the positive in a very bad situation, but what it does is pinpoint how awful and shortsighted this action is.  The CBC reports that:

[Taylor] said 85 per cent of residents in the province should be within a 30-minute drive of a remaining branch — which will be open a minimum of 30 hours a week — and available to people in a service area where they go for groceries or to do their banking.

This argument is incredibly shortsighted. It presumes that all library users have vehicles or are able to drive, or even have access meaningful public transit. But that doesn’t begin to describe the makeup of our contemporary towns, cities, and communities. Even in rural and remote communities, the poor, the young, and the elderly often don’t have access to a car, and these three groups often represent a very, very large percentage of a library’s users.

If a library is open for only a paltry 30 hours a week (and likely mostly during afternoon weekday hours) but only a few can make their way to its doors, will anyone care?

The CBC article also mentioned that Newfoundland has some of the lowest literacy scores in Canada.  I can’t speak to that since literacy is not my field, but certainly closing so many access points to free learning, educational, and cultural resources cannot improve such a rate.

If you live in Newfoundland and Labrador, then you should contact your MHA and your local councillors immediately to make a protest because time is of the issue in situations like this. If you live outside of Newfoundland, like I do, then you can still lend a hand by raising a flag and making the situation known.  The closure of so many library locations is an unacceptable policy decision and unacceptable cost-cutting measure than can kneecap a generation.

October 2014 Unemployment Rates

This week’s map visualizes Canada’s unemployment rates for October 2014, which were announced last week:

I coded this map with trepidation since comparing unemployment rates across provinces isn’t always as important as considering one province’s current rate against its own historic numbers. For example, this map shows us that Ontario’s unemployment rate still lags behind Alberta’s. No surprise there. What the map cannot do, though, is show that Ontario’s unemployment rate for this month – 6.5% – has finally recovered since the Sept 2008 crash.  The last time Ontario’s unemployment rate was this low was in October 2008. To best visualize the province’s unemployment trend back to pre-recession numbers, one should simply chart the data, or even just give the real numbers in tabular format. The best way to do this on the web is with charts.js, which seems to be some of the easiest coding I’ve ever seen.  That will be my project for later this week.

This map is created with:

2011 Population Density, Brantford, Ontario

This week, I’ve taken the same population density variable I used last week and plotted it for Brantford, Ontario. I’ll be speaking about open StatCan data to our journalism students in Brantford in a few days’ time, so it was only fair to plot the same variable for our students in this city, too.

 

(Click here to open the map in its own window.)

This map is created with:

Mapping for the masses: Population Density in Kitchener-Waterloo

One of my sidebar projects this fall has been to get back into mapping socio-economic data. This is something I used to do quite a bit four years ago (these maps have sadly succumbed to linkrot and plugin abandonment). Projecting numeric data onto maps is easier than most people think, and ever since I moved to a new city in 2013, I planned to pick up this skill again to learn a few things about my new town. And as a data librarian, I know where to find and work with census data, so it was easy to kickstart things into gear once more.

Below is a map showing population density in Waterloo Region’s census tracts at the 2011 census. Click through to get the entire map:

The interesting thing about this map isn’t so much its colorful polygons, (based on statistics anyone can download here) but the tools I used to build it.  When I was creating maps in 2010, the average person who wanted to hack something out was limited largely to using Arc on his or her campus, or using the open source (and still maturing) variant, QGIS, or working with Google Maps. These days, QGIS is very mature and has a strong developer community, GMaps is still going strong, and users can use services such as Mapbox’s TileMill. The options to choose from are stronger, and there is an option that can meet your background, whatever it may be.

As an example, I’m linking over to Mita Williams’s recent work mapping population change in Windsor, Ontario, as well as making the case for electoral change in her hometown.  Mita is a UX librarian and far more of a coder than I’ll ever be, so her recent work with maps shows a freer hand at hacking out java to make things go, while I use plugins within QGIS to automate some of the coding for me, which frees up my time to spend on analysis.

At the end of the day, our maps are projected with the same code and with data from the same datasets, so our endpoint is the same, but the tools we’ve chosen to use may be better suited to our own particular abilities. That is something I didn’t see in 2010 as much as I see today. And that change is a good thing. Getting these datasets into the hands of the masses, and then making them usable and understandable for everyone, is crucial to the precepts of openness – open access, open government, open data – that we espouse as librarians. One can have completely open access to data, but its value is lessened when it cannot be used or understood by all of society. Yes, open data is a crucial part of today’s citizen-to-citizen and citizen-to-government relationships, but the more tools people have to work with that data, the better.

Share the CLA Statement on Cuts to Statistics Canada

CLA: Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians (October 23, 2014)
CLA: Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians (October 23, 2014)

This week, in the middle of Open Access Week, the Canadian Library Association issued a statement criticizing the government cuts that have been made to Statistics Canada in recent years. This critique is strongly worded and it packs a punch; I expect it to gain traction beyond our regular librarian circles.

But getting the word out cannot happen without your help. Read the statement and share it with your colleagues and friends, especially with people outside of your typical library and archives networks.  To make the case that StatCan is not just a numbers factory but a social barometer for the nation, we must extend our voice. We must be on point, and we must persuade.

I have copied the text of the statement from the original PDF in order to help circulate this statement. When you share, please link to the original document or to www.cla.ca.

-Michael

Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians
October 23, 2014

The Canadian Library Association / Association canadienne des bibliothèques (CLA/ACB) is the national voice for Canada’s library communities.

Canadians know that access to reliable and high quality information, from the widest variety of points of view, is critical to a prosperous, functioning and democratic society. The decisions that citizens, communities, and governments make are better informed and have the ability to be more innovative when there is a free exchange of ideas facilitated by open and equal access to information. It is with these values in mind that CLA responds to recent and ongoing changes at Statistics Canada.

Recent programme cuts and policy changes at Statistics Canada have made it more difficult than ever for Canadians to track changes to critical issues that affect their communities, such as unemployment rates or the education of our children. The replacement of the mandatory long-form census with the National Household Survey, at a significantly greater cost, and the cancellation of many social surveys has made it increasingly challenging, if not impossible, for municipalities, hospitals, schools, and government agencies to administer social programmes and to track their success. In some cases, municipalities are financing their own surveys to gather the critical data they once had access to through StatCan. StatCan cuts and changes are continuing to impede effective planning for all agencies, making future programming a costly gamble. Additionally, with all levels of government focused on social and economic innovation, it is imperative that municipalities have the ability to look back on trends in order to plan for the future with reliable data.

Statistics Canada withering on the vine
Budget cuts have affected Statistics Canada enormously, which in turn affects all Canadians and all levels of government. While StatCan extended a lifeline to surveys and tools that tracked the nation’s economy through these cuts, it did so at the great expense of its social surveys, where significant budget reductions to the agency and ill-advised policy changes to its census program created major gaps that cannot be filled.
Canadians have forever lost valuable research that affects their communities as a result of cancellations of and cuts to surveys such as:

  • The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, which followed the development and well-being of Canadian children from birth to early childhood
  • The Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, which provided valuable insight into the financial situation of Canadian families
  • The Workplace and Employment Survey, which examined employer and employee issues affecting the Canadian work place, such as competitiveness, technology, training, and job stability.

Canadians and their communities are now suffering the consequences of budget cuts and policy changes at Statistics Canada. Major, long-standing surveys that paint a dynamic picture of Canadian society have been eliminated, making it nearly impossible to do year-over-year comparisons and to track the changes in social data and programs over time. It is hard to imagine less responsible measures in the age of open data, open government, and evidence-based policy-making than limiting the supply of data or replacing it with inferior products.

In the context of fiscal responsibility, CLA believes that the government can be much more effective at planning and supporting sound planning. The current government is determined to balance the books and bring Canada into an environment of economic prosperity and growth. In order to plan for these outcomes, careful public spending is dependent on correct information to inform decisions. Statistics Canada has long been the core agency for Canada’s ability to plan and spend carefully at all levels of government, and within the business and not-for-profit sectors. CLA believes that without consistent and reliable data, this ability will be lost.

The CLA urges the government to return Statistics Canada to its status as one of the world’s most respected National Statistical agencies by restoring its funding and the long-form census. The CLA urges the government to provide Statistics Canada with the support it needs to collect, analyze, and publish data that has proven, longstanding value for decision-makers, communities, and Canadians alike.

The Canadian Library Association/Association canadienne des bibliothèques (CLA/ACB) is the national voice for Canada’s library communities, representing the interests of libraries, library workers, and all those concerned about enhancing the quality of life of Canadians through information and literacy. CLA/ACB represents 1410 library workers, libraries and library supporters; and Canadian libraries serve in excess of 34 million Canadians through the nation’s public, school, academic, government and special libraries.

For more information, please visit
www.cla.ca
Valoree McKay, CAE
Executive Director
vmckay@cla.ca
613-232-9625 x 306

New Article on RDM and Collaboration (and Canada)

Image CC @ Wikipedia
Image CC @ Wikipedia

This week, my article on research data management and collaboration inside and outside the academic library was published in Partnership.  And here’s my shameless plug: you should go read it now.  The article examines the different facets of research data management – collection, access, use, and preservation – and it locates them within the different part of the academic library. It is also advocates for real collaboration with our peers and stakeholders across the entire university, such as our colleagues in Research Offices and Research Ethics Boards (IRBs for our American friends).

The article also examines the current policy gap regarding RDM in Canada, as well as ongoing efforts by different groups to develop RDM provisions in our granting formulas, and to provide resources and share expertise in order to ensure that we don’t create a paper tiger. What’s needed is not just policy but action, and both must be considered in the same breath.

Here’s the article’s abstract:

Research data management (RDM) has become a professional imperative for Canada’s academic librarians. Recent policy considerations by our national research funding agencies that address the ability of Canadian universities to effectively manage the massive amounts of research data they now create has helped library and university administrators recognize this gap in the research enterprise and identify RDM as a solution. RDM is not new to libraries, though. Rather, it draws on existing and evolving organizational functions in order to improve data collection, access, use, and preservation. A successful research data management service requires the skills and knowledge found in a library’s research liaisons, collections experts, policy analysts, IT experts, archivists and preservationists. Like the library, research data management is not singular but multi-faceted. It requires collaboration, technology and policy analysis skills, and project management acumen.

This paper examines research data management as a vital information, technical, and policy service in academic libraries today. It situates RDM not only as actions and services but also as a suite of responsibilities that require a high level of planning, collaboration, and judgment, thereby binding people to practice. It shows how RDM aligns with the skill sets and competencies of librarianship and illustrates how RDM spans the library’s organizational structure and intersects with campus stakeholders allied in the research enterprise.

 

For what it’s worth, collaboration has been a real buzzword at IASSIST40 and I’ve already been to a few presentations that share similar arguments as mine, and which definitely have the same spirit. I hope we’re all on to something with this, and I hope that we in Canada can get up to speed with our counterparts in other countries.

Finally, this paper began in part from an Introduction to RDM session that I co-presented with Jeff Moon of Queen’s University at OLA in January 2014 (details here).  Jeff has also written a great article on research data management, and it appears in the same issue of PartnershipHe is on the forefront of RDM in Canada and knows how to get things done, so be sure to read his work, too.

-ms