Making Sense of Data

A table is the most simple and concise way for data to be compiled into an image. If it does its job correctly, it will quickly present variables and their values and illustrate what point is being made in the surrounding paragraphs far more effectively than words could. In the Gillmore reading, tables are used effectively to illustrate points throughout the text. One of the more complicated tables is shown below.


At first glance, this table seems to be presenting too much information. It is hard to make sense of all the values and what they mean, why does he continuously meander between percentages and sums? On a more in depth analysis, it becomes much easier to make sense of. As broad as the graph is, it is fairly easy to make sense of. He is dividing each family library by content, which expresses how many libraries there are and how many volumes there are. Because he gives us the amount of libraries in Windsor, and the total number of volumes there are, including percentages isn’t entirely necessary, but it is helpful. What I found most challenging about the graph was actually trying to make sense of the variables. He goes into little to no detail about what a “sacred intensive library” might include. He uses intensive and extensive to divide certain libraries, but doesn’t explain how he determined what books might be on the shelves on a secular intensive vs a secular extensive library. While he presented the data effectively, it was hard to make sense of a lot of it simply because he didn’t go into great lengths to explain how these two libraries would differ. He creates a category for Sacred Intensive-Extensive, but there is already one for Sacred Intensive. It doesn’t really hurt the table, because I can still make sense of what is being presented, but it was hard to understand each type of library makeup and eventually I became more fixated on trying to figure out what each library was rather than how big it was and how this compared to the rest of the libraries. 

To present this info on a graph wouldn’t be terribly difficult. You could use a histogram to show the levels for each library– the type of library would be on the x axis and the amount of libraries would be on the left y axis. For each type of library, a bar would be at the value for number of libraries. On this histogram, you could place a line to correspond with the right y axis that would show percent of all libraries. The same type of graph could be done with volumes. This explanation further proves that data is best shown visually. In this case, a table is preferred. There isn’t some overwhelming trend that needs to be shown here, so a graph would do its job, but not any better than a table would. In any case you would probably need two or three graphs to show all the data in the table, which makes comparisons of them more difficult. The table, though not pretty, most effectively shows exactly what Gillmore is trying to explain.



One thought on “Making Sense of Data

  1. I am really curious about the lack of explaining variables. I found the same issue while reading the tables (and the paper in general), but I was wondering if it was due to 3 things: 1–the author omitting the information; 2–the author not having the information; 3–me not knowing enough about the field of Book History. And maybe it’s a combination of all 3. Regardless, I think the issue for me was that the article fails to address the absence, wherever it comes from. And although I would have to closely reread the article to make sure of that, the fact that I don’t remember any explanation I think speaks to its lacking. When a chart or graph is assumed to be true, and reads as such, all components of it need to be explicitly clear.

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