Google loves data: using tools to understand trends, keywords, and correlations

Google loves data. I’ve reviewed Google nGrams before; built on top of their massive project to scan published books, it’s a way to study how our written culture changes over time. Below, I’ll cover a few more interesting tools, which I hope will be fun for you to play around with:

1. Find what everyone’s searching for with google trends 

As I found out when working as a data janitor for an online content producer, people write the funniest google searches about everything from worrying stigmata to their pet hamster. But how do I know what’s important to lots of people?

One way is to search Google Trends. For instance, say I’d like to know who searches for classic anthropologists like Margaret Mead, Franz Boas, and Zora Neale Hurston vs more recent ones like Napoleon Chagnon with his controversial book, and Tanya Luhrmann with her consistently insightful research on our culture and minds.

Typing their names into Google Trends, I’ll see how frequently people search for them, across time and place (CoSchedule explains this some more). For instance, Franz Boas is way more popular than other anthropologists in urban Brazil:

Franz Boas is popular in Brazil

I can also download data about their popularity to Excel, sort it, then upload to as a basic infographic:

Easy enough, but there’s a lot more to explore. Google has used this tool to track the spread of dengue fever and the flu, which they currently rate as “intense” here in Continue reading →

Moving Cultures, Moving Worlds

I sometimes think that as an anthropologist, I should be better at understanding our place in the world, the people I live among, and how they dwell in this place.

Yet with every move, I’m surprised by what I don’t expect. Warning–this is a long post!–but dig in, if you’re so inclined.

1. Grad School in Texas

Before I moved to Texas, I knew there would be cowboys: big hair, big blonds, big trucks, rugged independence, big religion.

Well… yes and no. When I moved to Bryan/College Station (pop. 100,000 or so), I found a flat, agricultural land, a sprawling town of low houses around a massive university with 1960s concrete-block buildings. Conservative freshmen from across Texas mixed with grad students from around the world—and all this in a town laced with retired Aggies and lower-income workers, a short drive from Houston and Austin.

As a then-conservative Christian, I expected to find a home in Texas. But when I visited Continue reading →

Celebrating New Year’s the Alsatian Way

Lotte Fischer crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1861, on a steamer that likely took seventeen days to travel from Bremen to New York. Travelling alone, she reported that she was German; within three years, she married a German immigrant named Johann and settled in Ohio. But as she got older, she listed herself as French on the census.

Ship - Collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Both Lotte, on my father’s side, and Mary, on my mother’s, were likely Alsatian emigrants to America. A province bordering France and Germany, Alsace moved from French to German control in 1870/71…was annexed by France after WWI, taken by Germany in WWII… and then returned to France after the war. Whew! Perhaps this is why Alsatian emigrants show up as French-German-French-German on the early American censuses:

Classy looking costume, is all I'm sayin'

Of course my family assimilated into American society generations ago, so claiming an Alsatian identity is tenuous at best. Like many white Americans, we nurture a mélange of ethnicities through ritual: sauerkraut and bratwurst, a high-school elective in French or German, days for Sinterklaas and Continue reading →

How many librarians are there? How many library school graduates?

I’ve discussed numbers of library school graduates vs. total librarians before, but wanted to give you guys a few more numbers. Keep in mind that these are rough estimates at best: we’re dealing with large numbers, and everyone uses data to serve their organization’s goals, from the American Library Association, Library Journal, the library schools, and the census, to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I’ve tried to be fair and comprehensive, but I’m sure that even I have a bias. So, please do check and cite the original data, while citing me for any graphs you use.

The Library Journal Placements & Salaries Survey

First off, Stephanie Maatta & the Library Journal run a yearly Placement & Salaries Survey. It’s great, and the reports are useful. I’ve made my graphics below from LJ’s 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 (& here) and 2008 data. Often, they only reported partial data or estimates for grads in that year; the numbers in italics are my calculation given other data for that year:

LJ Placements and Salaries 2008 2014

This suggests that in the last 7 years, almost 40,000 Americans have gained an ALA-accredited MLS, Continue reading →

The Librarian Survey: Working with Results in Excel

It’s a snowy weekend as I draft this with a cup of hot cocoa in hand :-) I went over my survey of 385 young librarians before, as well as critiqued my own methods. In this post, I’ll try working with Excel data. Please bear in mind that a) I’m blogging my own learning curve, and would love your feedback, and b) I got responses from only 1% of the 40,000+ MLS graduates in the past ten years alone. This all points to a need for more discussion, and more people exploring the data :-)

Working in Excel: Cleaning the Data

I’m going to work with the 2014 Recent MLS Grads survey, so I hope you’ve reviewed the basic results and survey methods. If you haven’t run numbers in Excel before, do pause and read School of Data’s intro to data in Excel, or better yet, the Data Journalism Handbook.

Should we be running data in Excel? Well, it’s clunky compared to other statistical tools, as Eva Goldwater at UMass points out: it takes a lot of time, doesn’t like missing values, only lets you do simple stuff, and limits how you can re-arrange and visualize data. But on the plus side, you’ve probably used it, and can find a computer that runs it easily.

The Glamorous Life of a Zine Librarian [59/365]

Descriptive Statistics in Excel: Librarian Salaries

You’ll see below that I asked individuals to report their salary a) before library school, b) during library school, c) 6 months after, d) 2 years after, and e) 5 years after MLS graduation. To get these numbers, I cleaned up punctation from the numeric data. By looking at the raw data, I noted that some responses seem to be typing errors (an annual salary of $430,000? Was that $43,000… or am I working in the wrong library?).

For descriptive statistics, I copied non-$0 salary data on a new page, then ran descriptive statistics on each column (data tab –> descriptive stats). What you see took a half hour of fiddling to produce. I’m suspicious of how outliers may have impacted the results, even using the median, but I like the detailed statistics produced:

Descriptive statistics in Excel - young librarian salary data

Salary before MLS, during studies, and 6 months/2 years/5 years after.

Above, then, we see a median wage of $22,900 before grad school, $18,000 during school, $35,000 six months after graduation, $40,000 two years after, and $47,000 five years after. Note that the ‘count’ of responses drops after two years out, due to the recent grads, and also that these statistics only include those who had a non-zero salary. Including unemployed folk in the totals would make it a bit lower! Continue reading →

Surveys for Librarians 101: Evaluating the Data

I recently surveyed 385 young librarians on Facebook about their job-seeking experience, and reviewed the initial results here. In this post, I’d like to reflect on what I learned about online survey methods and cleaning data, before going on to discuss results in more detail in my post on using Excel.

Survey Methods: Using the SurveyGizmo Software

First, I used SurveyGizmo for this. Right now they have a free basic account, and offer 50% off any other level of account for current students, or 25% off for teachers/nonprofits.

To be honest, I like SurveyGizmo because I have a pretty sweet legacy account, and I’ve worked with it on a number of prior projects. If you’re a library student or academic librarian, you may well have an institutional subscription to Qualtrics or something more comprehensive, so ask around to see if you can use full-featured software for free, or share your favorite free option in the comments below!

Survey Methods: Check the Mobile View

mobile view

One thing I regret is that I didn’t try out the mobile version before going live. SurveyGizmo has a responsive design that looks good on a smartphone, and I assumed that would be fine. Continue reading →

Results from the Facebook Survey of Recent MLS Grads 2014

Where do young librarians end up? In conversation with the ALA Think Tank group on Facebook this fall, it’s evident that recent grads struggle to understand the job market and whether their experiences are comparable to others. Library Journal gives out yearly stats on salary and placement, but it doesn’t ask what we want to know: how many jobs are recent grads applying to? How many jobs are out there? How long does it take to get a job? If people leave the library field, where do they go? What could we do differently?

So! I set up a quick four-page survey and got 385 responses. I’m calling it the “Facebook Survey of Recent MLS Grads” to emphasize it’s biased sample and casual nature. It’s a good experiment, but please don’t cite these numbers without reading this full post plus a methodological critique. You can also view the original survey prompts here. And zoom in (Ctrl+ on PC, Cmd+ on Mac) or click through to Flickr to see these screenshots more clearly:

Where did you go to library school?

These are summary charts from SurveyGizmo; click through for a larger image. I first asked which MLS program people graduated from. The most common schools, with 20-25 respondents each, are here:

1 schools responding

Oh, you want the full details? Don’t say I didn’t warn you… Continue reading →

Lor on marriage: “Let’s not get New-Age-Hindu Here!”

“Bible Study Love,” by marynbtol

A few years ago:

I saunter up to an apartment building and a man rings me in. Inside, the apartment door is open; shoes lie scattered in a wood-paneled entryway. A large woman sits on the sofa,  and a short one introduces herself. Amy* then follows her infant son around the room, patiently picking up blocks as he scatters them. I serve myself tea and chat with the women, smile at their toddlers, nod to the married men with wives back in their home country. There are just two single women here: myself and Carrie.

We sing a few songs. And then Lorence* starts the bible study:

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord…”

His text is Ephesians 5:22-33, a contentious, 2000-year-old divine word Continue reading →

Data Files: getting information from websites with Kimono

Have you ever wanted to grab information from a website but found it time-consuming to copy-paste everything? Well, here’s your way around that!

A few weeks ago I ran across an extension of Chrome that lets you gather and transform information from webpages. Normally, this sort of thing requires some technical skill, but Kimono makes it easy for almost anyone to pull and reuse what’s posted online. Here, I’ll show you how to use Kimono to pull small sets of information from a single webpage in a structured form, either in RSS or Excel formats:

Getting the Data

Let’s suppose I’d like to get regular updates on news concerning Augusta, the state capital of Maine. Unfortunately, the Morning Sentinel doesn’t provide an RSS feed (that I can see) for just one town. I can narrow it down to get 100 articles about all of Central Maine each day… but who has time to read that?

1. So, I can go to Kimono Labs and Continue reading →

World Values Survey: Kazakhs and Americans

I’ve been taking a free course on statistical inference online, which mentioned the World Values Survey. For this survey, interviewers ask people about religious, political, sexual, community, and life values. I haven’t looked at whether sample size, selection, fear of interviewers, or bias may affect the results. I suspect there are some issues in that area: for instance, Kazakhs were asked if elections are fair and if officials take bribes, while Americans were not. However, it’s still a great survey to use for thinking about social values, especially if you’re already familiar with the cultures and histories involved.

Grandmother in Kazakhstan, by Scott Koch

Below, I’ve cherry-picked data and paraphrased liberally. “Lies, damn lies,” and all that… In other words, I’m listing a few interesting differences (e.g. 2/3 of Kazakhs think something, but only 1/2 of Americans agree). But in 500 other instances, Americans and Kazakhs agree rather closely. So please don’t cite these extracts until you look at the full data yourself!

Kazakh and American Perspectives on Life

What’s important in life? Kazakhstan America
Family is very important 92% 91%
Friends are very important 48% 54%
vs… Friends are not so important 12% 5%
Work is very important 62% 36%
Religion is very important 22% 40%

Kazakhs and Americans both value family strongly. Kazakhs are more willing to verbalize that work is important to life (perhaps because good careers are harder to find in a still-developing economy), while American culture leads us to say we value friends and religion just as much. As we’ll see below, religion is a more active part of family life in Continue reading →

Баня парит, здоровье дарит: a morning at the Keremet Banya in Astana

March 21st, First Day of Spring

Annie calls at 10am, and I roll over to pick up the phone.

“Banya, at 10:45, you coming?”

“I… maybe,” I say, gravelly-voiced. “Call you back in five.”

I contemplate the possibilities. Sleep in and lounge around having coffee all day, or undertake an awkward naked Russian bathing experience?

Because it’s the spring holiday, I decide on the latter. SMS: I’ll be there.


I’ve lived in Kazakhstan for three years, yet this is my first “banya experience,” as the expats say.

Banya is a Russian word that simply means bath. In Mongolia, our “banya” was just a small building in the town center with private shower stalls, because most locals had no warm shower at home. More often, the post-Soviet banya is a group experience between same-gender friends or family members. I’ve met a few ardent fans: the colleague who voluntarily hangs out in northern Siberia in the winter (!!), as well as my bubbly housemate, Zara.

This morning, I walk into Zara’s room and ask if she’ll go with me. She’s on the sofa watching TV and tapping her tablet screen in search of spring fashion photos on Vkontakte.

“It’s Friday!” she reprimands me. “Muslims don’t go to the bath on Friday!”

Her view Continue reading →