Interview with Susannah Barnes about the SLA Data Community

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

April 23, 2024

Susannah Barnes is the Co-Lead of the Data Community for the Special Libraries Association. If you work with data in any capacity, this interview will be of interest to you.

Lauren: Would you start by introducing yourself?

Susannah: My name is Susannah Barnes. I am the staff program manager for Alation, which is a data intelligence platform company. I have been there for a couple of years. Before that, I worked for several years in business working in data governance and data cataloging for a large insurance company.

Lauren: What can you share about your role with SLA?

Susannah: In SLA, I am one of the co-leads of the data community. We have three co-leads, and we split our duties working on webinars and events, managing the website, and managing the operations of the community itself.

Lauren: For those unfamiliar with the data community, can you share some of its goals and describe what the community focuses on?

Susannah: The data community focuses on supporting and empowering people in the Special Libraries Association who work with data daily, and who serve in roles that support people who are working with data. It might be research data at universities, hospitals, or research institutes, or it could be in the business world. The data community also supports people who are working with data catalogs and enterprise data management, data governance, and data research for new organizations or law firms. People who are looking for specific data sets and need to understand how data is curated, cataloged, and managed in an organization are the users that we are trying to support.

Lauren: How specifically does the community support those users?

Susannah: We have a series of webinars and other events. We recently had one on data cataloging. We bring in experts from a variety of fields, and we have them talk about what they do, the different tool sets, they use, and the different skills that they need in order to work with data in their jobs. Additionally, we often focus on how people translate library science training and library backgrounds into these different types of roles within organizations. We look at many job coaching opportunities, and we try to set up external training groups when people are interested. For instance, we are about to launch a Python training group for several interested people.

We gather a lot of user feedback within our community to find out what people are interested in at that moment, and then we try to meet those needs. We also have an ongoing resource list where people contribute, so that people can find all kinds of different information, free training, and different opportunities to learn more about how to use data.

Lauren: If someone is interested in joining or learning more about the community, how would they go about that?

Susannah: Usually, we would direct people to our SLA website, but it is under revision right now. When it is back up, they can go to the SLA site, and they can join SLA. Then, they can look in the communities tab, find our data community, and join.

Lauren: Does the community have any goals or specific projects that you would like to share with readers?

Susannah: We are trying to foster a conversation about data so that people start thinking about data as a resource and an asset like other types of objects or content that are regularly curated, cataloged, or collected. It is essential to think about the impact of data, especially in the world of AI. We have to be aware of privacy rights and the data about us that people capture as we go through our daily lives. It is crucial to understand how that data is collected, how it is managed, how it is cataloged, and how it is curated by these organizations so that you can understand your rights. You need to understand the kind of information that is being fed into the algorithms and models that are impacting your life. Within our communities we want to raise the level of data literacy and awareness as much as possible. We can do that by empowering our members.

Lauren: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Susannah: The data community is an excellent cross-section of people who work in special libraries. We have people from businesses. We have people from special collections who are doing more of the system side of the management. We have people in law firms, hospitals, and academic libraries who are purchasing data sets and helping aggregate research data sets. It is an opportunity to meet many different types of people from different types of organizations and professions and get real insight into the different ways that data is affecting various types of employment.

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Dr. Lauren Hays is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter and interviewer on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. Take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.

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