Spreadsheet love

June 9, 2010

Alt title: Gripe 2:  Word is not for data. (Part of an ongoing series about using the right tool for the job.)

Returning to my theme (Sorry for the previous sidetrack).

Did you know that the spreadsheet was the killer app that propelled the personal computer to mainstream office use? It must be true- Wikipedia backs me up.

So why do librarians (and I admit am generalizing from the small sample I have worked with) have so little familiarity with their use?

In 1997 I was in  Library School and I particularly remember one assignment. It was the budgeting assignment. We had to construct an imaginary library budget using a spreadsheet. It was an assignment I was born to. I had been using spreadsheets in my previous employment and I lived with someone who was a spreadsheet guru. I handed up the file on a floppy disc only for it to be rejected. She wanted a printout. I was confused. How could she judge my the worth and correctness of my formula on a printout?

Now, all things being relative, I do not claim to be a spreadsheet guru. I do not regularly use the full power of Excel but I live and work with people that use it as their main tool. So I know the power exists. I can sort, filer, use basic formula, create a chart or a pivot table but macros may take me a while. Even those that use it all the time can misuse it. And a spreadsheet may not the best tool- it may be a database that is required.  It’s about knowing what is appropriate for the task that you have but also recognizing the future possible uses of your data. Now I know that many librarians see themselves as text focused but data, at the least, is a management and problem solving tool and knowing how to manipulate and best present data is, in my humble opinion, part of our  professional skill set. Our ILS are just databases. Additionally, those of us working in research or academic settings are more and more being asked to aid our researchers by building data repositories and advise on metadata.

So I wince when asked to contribute data and I have to fill out a table in a word doc.  I just do.

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5 Responses to “Spreadsheet love”

  1. Ruth Baxter Says:

    So true. I’m not good with numbers, and am constantly amazed by how much effort Excel can save me with formulas or what I still think is the magic of Pivot tables.

  2. Sue Says:

    So quick Ruth. But I was thinking beyond numbers. Maybe that was the point I should have made- do people think spreadsheets for numbers, word for text, even if the text is data?

  3. snail Says:

    Another topic close to my heart, especially as I received an order by email of a word doc containing *only* a spreadsheet! It was fun getting that into Excel as Excel doesn’t accept imports from word funnily enough 🙂

  4. Penny Says:

    We import quite a lot of “word” data into excel.. it’s very handy.

  5. Michelle Says:

    These comments fit with my experience of Excel.
    It’s very useful and powerful if you understand how to use it. Slowly working my way through a course book now. 🙂 Look forward to developing my ability to transfer data to various reference management software.


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