Book Reviews

Andrew Weiss. Big Data Shocks: An Introduction to Big Data for Librarians and Information Professionals. Chicago: American Library Association, 2018. 194p. Paper, $45.00 (ISBN: 978-1-5381-0323-4).

Book cover for Big Data Shocks

In Andrew Weiss’ book Big Data Shocks: An Introduction to Big Data for Librarians and Information Professionals, the author skillfully explores the intersections between libraries and big data by examining how this powerful technology is transforming and impacting (shocking) the world of libraries and information. The book is timely, given the intensity of the ongoing debates focused around campaigns of misinformation (Facebook and Google are two examples) coupled with the erosions of individual privacy that have been enabled by the use of big data technologies. Big Data Shocks consists of twelve chapters, and the chapters are grouped into four sections: “First Shock,” “Reality Shocks,” “Library Shocks,” and “Future Shocks.” The work is well written and thoroughly researched, and the ideas explored in the book are fully developed and supported. Highlights of the book include Weiss’ description on the rise of big data and his narrative on the challenges surrounding these powerful and mostly unregulated technologies, as well as his robust examination of what our roles as librarians in this new era of big data can be, especially in light of libraries’ commitment to patron privacy. This scholarly publication is a welcome and notable addition to the growing body of works that focus on data, information technologies in the twenty-first century, core library values, privacy, and information seeking. It is written for all academic librarians, although especially those interested in data, big data, open science and data, science, technology and society, privacy in the twenty-first century, or anyone who is interested in learning more on this topic.

“First Shock” (the first section of the book) provides historical context on data and big data and a framework for approaching and exploring what data and big data are. The section comprises three chapters. Topics include the transformation of data across centuries (tied to technologies and applications), how digital technologies like the internet and other information platforms helped transform data into big data, and tools and uses of big data. The section adds a new voice—a librarian’s viewpoint on data and big data—to the literature. While the work is not overlong, it is comprehensive enough for those new to big data to become adequately informed. A standout of the section is the chapter “Approaches and Tools for Analyzing and Using Big Data.” It provides the overview of the concept of information and data tracking across sectors, which lays a solid foundation for the privacy discussion that is explored later in the book.

In section 2, “Reality Shocks,” the author devotes four chapters to addressing social issues that the use and misuse of big data technologies has given rise to. Issues such as the erosion of personal privacy due to the massive collection and analysis of individuals’ behavioral, social, transactional, and financial information, big data enabled state and corporate surveillance and information overload. Weiss provides a well-written and honest assessment of the challenges surrounding the American Library Association’s privacy policy in the age of big data. This section alone is worth reading for the discussion about evolving library polices and librarians roles as educators in an age where almost everyone uses devices that track them and records their personal information and actions. Weiss illustrates how technologies like big data have increased the ability of governments and corporations to gather information on users and citizens and to create systems for a new type and era of surveillance. The author also explores how the scale of systems that support the creation and discovery of online or digitized information has created a sense of “information overload,” including the important role that libraries and information literacy have to play due to this overload.

The third section, “Library Shocks,” focuses on how big data is directly shocking libraries. These three chapters highlight the impacts that big data are having on core library services and technologies, with emphasis on collection development and management, data management, open science, and the open data initiatives/movement. The section also explores digital humanities. The section is well crafted and researched, and the tone of the text is such that readers are encouraged to embrace how libraries might adopt and benefit from these powerful technologies in the digital age of libraries. Of interest in this section is expanding technologies for citation and link analysis. This section emphasizes the important role that libraries have in and out of the academy on promoting, teaching, and shaping data literacy and information ethics and the need for more current and future librarians to take on the roles of analysts and technologists who can model core beliefs (equitable access and the ethical use of information) that libraries promote and support.

The final section of the book is titled “Future Shocks.” These two chapters explore a couple of ideas about how libraries might benefit and adapt big data technologies through “big assessment” and smart libraries. The concept of big assessment—where libraries use these powerful technologies to help us develop and provide a better educational and user experience for patrons—is certainly worth a discussion, as is the concept of the smart library. While this section is not as developed as others, it opens the door for librarians to continue to think about how to engage and use big data and the importance of discussion, collaboration, and ethical adoption of powerful and potentially transformative technologies.

Big Data Shocks will be well received by those who are looking to further their knowledge on big data, as well as those thinking about its role in the library. Given the complexity of the topic, Weiss is strategic yet comprehensive in addressing the changes, or shocks, that big data technology is playing in shaping our society. The author also does a good and often outstanding job in exploring the intersections and possible futures of big data and libraries. This work should help further the discussion and the work on approaching and using big data technologies in libraries, as well as the evolving role that librarians should and can have in the age of big data.—Kara Kugelmeyer, Colby College

Copyright Kara Kugelmeyer

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