Hot topic: Authoritative Health Information on Emerging Infectious Diseases

By now I’m sure you have heard about the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Perhaps patrons at your library have asked questions about the disease. Maybe they are worried about the potential for Ebola to enter the United States, or maybe they have friends or family members living in a country affected by Ebola. As librarians, we know how important it is to direct the public to current, accurate, and authoritative sources of information. This can be difficult when a situation changes rapidly, and news media reports vary widely. In this post I will answer five often-asked questions about Ebola and point you to several authoritative sources of Ebola information.

Ebola Questions and Answers:

  1. What is Ebola, exactly?

Ebola is a disease caused by infection with one of the four Ebola virus strains (Zaire, Sudan, Bundibugyo, or Tai Forest virus).

  1. What are its symptoms?

Symptoms of Ebola include high fever, severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and unexplained bruising or bleeding.

  1. How is the disease spread?

Ebola can only be spread through direct contact via broken skin or mucous membranes with the bodily fluids of a person who is infected with the disease.

  1. How many people have Ebola?

As of today there are 3,707 suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola, and 1,848 suspected case deaths. That means there are approximately 1,850 people living with Ebola.

  1. What is the likelihood that the disease will spread to the United States?

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Ebola poses no substantial risk to the U.S. general population.” (CDC, 2014) The CDC recommends that US travelers avoid all non essential trips to Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. In addition, the CDC and partners work at international airports and land borders to investigate cases of ill travelers entering the United States by plane or ship. Even if a person infected with Ebola were to enter the United States, it is highly unlikely they would spread the disease to their fellow passengers because a person with Ebola is not contagious until symptoms appear.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, August 28). Questions and answers on Ebola. Retrieved from

Authoritative Information on Ebola:

*Note: The sites I mention can also be used to find current, accurate health information on other infectious diseases or health topics!

  1. National Library of Medicine (NLM) Medline Plus Resource Guides



This guide includes information on Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers written for the layperson. It also includes links to other credible sources of health information.

  1. CDC Resource page

This page contains a wealth of information, including a link to the latest news on the outbreak (

and an infographic (

  1. World Health Organization Ebola virus disease page

This excellent resource has maps, videos, and an infographic that responds to the health concerns of travellers (

I hope these resources help to ease any potential fears you or your patrons may have about the spread of Ebola. Or, if you’re like me, I hope you enjoy reading about infectious diseases!

If you would love to see a blog entry on a particular Hot Topic in our field, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments!

Data Science for Librarians: why you should care and what you can do?

Big data and small data

2012 is the year when everyone gets to know about the term Big Data. Like other buzzwords, there are various definitions for this term. In his article about this topic, Timo Elliot enumerates seven definitions of Big Data from its originality, and the aspects of technology, data destination, and a new term for old stuff, etc.

Big Data is listed in the Top 10 Technology Trends in 2013 by the renowned Gartner Inc. But more importantly, people are seeing it every day. One example is Nate Silver’s prediction of the 2013 US President Election. As a statistician, he successfully predicted the winner of the election in all 50 states in the US by exploring, collecting and analyzing large volume of data.

But on the other hand, it is felt by many that the concept of Big Data is too broad and vague to define. Moreover, due to the resources and expertise required by Big Data, it may not be the best solution for smaller companies. As such, some people coined the term “Small Data”, which means smaller datasets often resides on smaller software or platforms, whose structure is also more decentralized. Regardless of the names and volumes, it’s probably safe to say that what really matters is data science, including but not limited to collecting, managing, preserving and presenting data, rather than these dry catch phrases.

Why librarians should care about data

First of all, libraries are in the bigger information industry. Data are the source of information which we care about. As librarians, we offer library members all kinds of information (books, other materials, and reference). And before offering them, we need to collect and manage the information. As a result, many library processes can be seen as a part of data science.

Another, which may be a more direct reason, is that our members (especially those of academic libraries) need these services and we have the expertise to support their needs. From January 2011, data management plan is required for all grant applications to National Science Foundation. As a result, research communities need librarians to help them with data and data management, which is also a chance for librarians to rebrand themselves as a more valuable facilitator for academic research.

Last but not least, when we are offering services and when members are using libraries, a huge amount of data are also created, for example, the data about our members and how they are using the library. These kinds of data, after appropriate gathering and analysis, can help us build better services.

Data services

Data services are one example of libraries’ participating in Data Management movement, many people see them as a promising library services for the future. An increasingly number of academic libraries is offering these services to their university communities. ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee identify data curation as one of the top ten trends in academic libraries in 2012.

According to a survey about how academic libraries in North America are offering data services conducted by ACRL in 2011, even though data services are still in an early stage for most of the libraries, many libraries are doing a good job in using their traditional expertise to enter this field, for example, nearly half of the participants (44.1%) are offering reference services to help members find and cite data or data sets.

Learning Resources

As promising as the future of data services seems to be, a number of gaps between where we are and where we will/should be can be easily found. Besides traditional library skills, better technical skills and knowledge of specific research fields are definitely needed for librarian to offer these services. This list of expertise may look daunting for new-comers in this field. But don’t’ worry. There are various resources you can make good use of.

The first kind of resource is Open Online Courses. Bill Howe from University of Washington offered a MOOC on Coursera this summer titled “Introduction to Data Science”, which includes some “hard-core” technical skills needed in this field. Another course with the same title will be offered by School of Information Studies at Syracuse University in this fall. For Open Online Courses that are not that massive, RDMRose and 3TU.Datacentrum are the two projects in which you can find useful course materials.

Increasingly more library researchers and librarians have been paying attention to this field. A large number of books, articles and reports talking about this topic have been published. One example is Professor Jeffrey M. Stanton’s book “Introduction to Data Science”, who is a professor in School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. You can download the PDF version of this “open source” textbook at Professor Jeffrey M. Stanton’s website.

Another source worth mentioning is conferences. For example, in this year’s ALA Annual Conference, there are a number of sessions about this topic. One of the sessions is Data, E-Data, Data Curation: Our New Frontier, in which practitioners from California Digital Library, Purdue University Libraries, and University of Illinois at Chicago shared their experience and observation of this field.

Is your library offering data services? Do you know any other sources for data management that can be used by librarians? And what’s your opinion about this article. We are interested in hearing your voices.

New Series: Hot Topics in Libraries

Introducing a new blog series on the NYLA NMES Communications Blog, we’ll feature a hot topics in libraries. These topics will be of interest to new members in particular.

This month’s highlight is on Linked Data.

What is Linked Data

Linked Data is one of the hottest buzzwords in the data world in recent years.

Based on W3C’s definition, Linked Data is about using Semantic Web technologies, including RDF, OWL, SKOS, SPARQL, etc. to expose datasets themselves as well as relationship between these datasets. As the founder of the concept Linked Data, Sir Tim Berners-Lee defines four fundamental principles of Linked Data which were commonly accepted later, namely:

1. Use URIs as names for things.

2. Use HTTP URIs so that people can look up those names.

3. When someone looks up a URI, provide useful information, using the standards (RDF*, SPARQL).

4. Include links to other URIs, so that they can discover more things.

Why the library world (should) care about Linked Data

The importance of data to librarianship cannot be more emphasized. Libraries used to be the gate of all human knowledge. Even though we are no longer the only source of knowledge in our society, the fact that “Libraries are currently largely isolated in terms of data exchange, since data is primarily collected by libraries for libraries” as pointed by Jan Hannemann and Jürgen Kett, is still a serious problem for librarianship.

In a presentation given in 2011, Eric Miller pointed the needs for all the libraries to weave themselves into the web by adopting the current web technologies, so that they can work with different groups at the same time in terms of data exchange, which will help to establish a broader foundation of librarianship. Like Eric Miller, many people see Linked Data as a chance for libraries to use their unique and high-quality data to make a bigger contribution to a larger data community.

Moreover, Gillian Bryne and Lisa Goddard identifies three benefits Linked Data model can bring to the library in terms of management and service, namely, decision making processes can be better facilitated after adopting a single data “format”; interoperability and integration of different systems can be greatly improved; and, offering better searching methods.

The library community has been one of the most enthusiastic players in the Linked Data movement. Datasets published by libraries (including OCLC, Library of Congress, British Library and some other national libraries around the world) are a major components in the Open Linked Data project.  Library of Congress also started Bibliographic Framework Transition Initiative in 2011, which aims to replace MARC format with a new model that is based on Semantic Web principles.

Why librarians should care about Linked Data

From a professional perspective, I want to propose two reasons why librarians should care about Linked Data movement (even when one is not a metadata librarian or a system librarian).

First of all, librarianship is about lifelong learning. We should not only help our members become lifelong learners; we should always learn new things ourselves. Linked Data is important for our profession. Moreover, the model is also a great way to form a better understanding of the world. There are great values for librarians to know about Linked Data model or Resource Description Framework (RDF).

Second, Linked Data is also a great way to build one’s brand, making one’s information more visible on the Internet. For example, librarians can create an FOAF (Friend-of-a-Friend) document and publish it online so that their information can be better exposed to searching engines, thus their information can be easily found and consumed by either computers or human users.

How to publish an FOAF document

FOAF project is not a Linked Data project in nature, but it can be seen as a lightweight and easy-to-start Linked Data application.

One can use this simple generator to produce an FOAF document about him/herself, and publish the file on one’s website or blog. One can follow this guidance to add a <link> tag in the original HTML code if possible, which will make it easier for the FOAF document to be discovered.  Even though it’s always easier to personalize the code in Drupal or self-hosted WordPress websites, it’s still very easy to add this tag in WordPress blog or Blogger.

This post was written by Kai Li. Kai Li is a second year library science student in Syracuse University. He was a cataloger in the past, and is now interested in metadata and innovations in the library community. You can contact him at or @nalsi to talk to me.

**If you’d like to suggest topics, or write one, please email** Thanks!!

Welcome to the New Members Engagement Subcommittee (NMES) Blog!

This is a simple introduction to NMES… thanks for stopping by!

We are here to welcome new NYLA members – those who have been members 5 years or less – and to encourage their active membership within NYLA.

Check out our NMES page on the NYLA site:

Also, if you haven’t done so already, please like our Facebook page:

Over the next month, we will be posting about various topics that are important to new members within NYLA. These posts will come from new and experienced voices.

If you have any concerns/feedback on how we can better serve you, please let us know.

You can leave a comment on the blog, or email