Get the latest articles and downloads sent to your inbox in a monthly newsletter.

Get the latest articles and downloads sent to your inbox in a monthly newsletter.

The data visualization lab: Library support for the graphical output of research information

By Katy Kavanagh Webb, East Carolina University | July 11, 2018

Duke University, The Edge

Duke University, The Edge Common Area



This article is the fourth in a series about creative spaces in libraries. For a definition of library creative spaces, read the first article in the series.



SAS, SPSS, GIS, NVivo, R: The names may sound like alphabet soup, but these data visualization software suites have helped libraries provide a new kind of creative space and a slate of services.


Data visualization is simply the representation of information—usually including a visual design element—so that other researchers can make sense of it. David McCandless, a data visualization expert and the author of two books about infographics, has said, “Personally, I find visualizations great for helping me understand the world and for sifting the huge amounts of information that deluge me every day.” (See examples of data visualization created by McCandless at


Data visualization services assist students and faculty in effectively displaying their statistical and research findings. Simple examples of data visualization might include an Excel graph that shows annual giving levels for a non-profit organization, or a map created using ArcGIS software and census data that displays average household income levels for a certain geographic area.


An academic library’s data services can range from a single librarian with these skills to a highly funded, technology-rich space. In libraries with a large data visualization lab, the space is usually staffed by librarians, IT staff and data scientists. They will offer one-on-one consultations, which may lead to multiple meetings with researchers who have additional data needs. The staff may also offer workshops for particular tools or types of analysis. The focus of the space should be on helping researchers learn a new tool or assisting them in their work, but not doing the data analysis or visualization work for them.


The University of Rochester’s VISTA Collaboratory is a well-funded data visualization space in the Science & Engineering Library of the school’s River Campus. The lab is part of the university’s Health Sciences Center for Computational Innovation (HSCCI), which is funded by the university, the state of New York, and IBM. Together, they have invested $30 million in this initiative. It includes a visualization wall that consists of an array of 24 monitors, is 20 feet wide and 8 feet tall, and has a resolution (50 megapixels) approaching that of IMAX theaters. The visualization lab has a direct high-speed fiber-optic connection to the university’s data center. (Office of Andrew M. Cuomo, 2014) Although not all data visualization labs boast such incredible hardware, most dedicated spaces will include a large screen to display the possibilities for the visualization of data. The hardware might include touch-screen capability or the ability to show video in a near-360-degree immersive studio experience.


Development of Creative Spaces in Academic Libraries book coverMy book, Development of Creative Spaces in Academic Libraries: A Decision Maker’s Guide (2018) from the Chandos Information Professional Series, includes a literature review and case studies of some innovators of the data visualization lab model in the library field, including Duke University, Penn State University and Georgia State University. The CURVE at Georgia State is a hybrid model that also incorporates many elements of a digital humanities lab.


We are pleased to offer our Library Connect readers an exclusive look at the book by providing a PDF of Chapter 20, Case Study: Duke University, The Ruppert Commons for Research, Technology and Collaboration (Also Known as ‘The Edge’).




Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. (2014, June 23). News release: Governor Cuomo announces preview of University of Rochester’s new data visualization lab. Accessed at:


Webb, K.R. (2018). Development of creative spaces in academic libraries: A decision maker’s guide. London, U.K.: Chandos Information Professional Series.