In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Cultivating a Data Literate Workforce: Considerations for Librarians
  • Wendy Pothier (bio) and Patricia Condon (bio)


An estimated 1.7 megabytes of data are generated per second per person on earth.1 Given the rapid growth of data creation, increasing automation, and expanding daily interactions with data, our collective need to become more data literate is imperative. As Sara Brown points out, “The tasks humans do often require judgment, which is improved by data literacy.”2 Academic librarians have long engaged with information literacy to help students prepare for success in both personal and professional pursuits. While librarians have not always found alignment with how the term information literacy is understood outside our profession, data literacy presents a different opportunity. The term data literacy has already been widely adopted in corporate and industry workplaces, as showcased through articles in many top business news and magazine venues.

Data literacy is a rapidly evolving qualification in the workplace and, more generally, a broad organizational need. Companies have an obvious stake in fostering a data literate workforce as it creates a competitive advantage in doing business—the better a company can utilize data, the more power it can wield. Projections by Forrester Consulting, a global market research company, suggest that nearly 70 percent of the workforce would be expected to use data heavily in their work by 2025.3 Decision-makers understand that data literacy skills are a requirement for their employees, with 82 percent stating that they expect basic data literacy skills from all workers in their departments.4 However, Rasheed Sabar, the chief executive officer of Correlation One, notes that companies struggle to strengthen data literacy within their organizations5 and that the data literacy skills gap continues to expand.6 As companies increasingly adopt automation and artificial intelligence to tackle the growing volume of data, it is essential for data literacy to be demonstrated at all levels throughout the organization.7

Librarians have expressed interest in teaching data literacy but hope for partnership instead of taking on the work alone.8 Interest in the development of data literacy skills is [End Page 629] far ranging and includes both individuals and organizations. Higher education institutions, research organizations, libraries, industries, businesses, and governments all have a stake in the development of data literacy skills in the modern workforce. Individual students, alumni, faculty, campus administrators, managers, executives, employees, and, of course, librarians are some of the roles identified with particular interest. With a broad and varied range of relevant groups and individuals, it is important to understand their respective roles, perspectives, and the value they place on data literacy as an essential workplace skill. It is also valuable to examine the interactions between the relevant groups to understand tensions that may surround the conversations on data literacy. Understanding the current state of data literacy education and workforce training can guide and inspire librarianship’s response, with the aim of helping students develop needed data literacy skills for their career success.

Data Literacy Education and Training

Since most employees deal with data in some form in their work, development of data literacy skills will require attention from academic institutions and business organizations alike. Tension surrounds, however, the question of who is responsible for providing data literacy education and training—higher education, companies, or individual employees. Some note that higher education has not been responsive in this area.9 As reported in a 2021 study, higher education literature fails to address data literacy in business and workplace settings despite large-scale studies by market research firms such as Gartner and Accenture that express the strong need for these skills.10 A Harvard Business Review article notes that the slow response by higher education forces the organizations to take the lead for employee education and training.11

When students and alumni lack needed data literacy skills, they face challenges that will affect their personal and professional lives. A 2020 report by the consulting group Accenture found that only 25 percent of employees surveyed felt fully prepared to use data effectively when entering their current role.12 Additionally, the report found that 74 percent admit feeling overwhelmed or unhappy when working with data.13 Employees can...