Connecting digital tools with academia: First event of Digital Social Science Lab

Faculty Library of Social Sciences, Copenhagen University Library, will mark Tuesday the 14th of April 2015 as a special day in the library’s history. This day we had the pre-opening of Digital Social Science Lab kicking of with the event ‘Digital tools in social science’ and it was a blast. There will be lab cake and fireworks on this day every year in the future.

The Digital Social Science Lab (DSSL) is far from finished (hence the pre-opening). It’s in the process of being created in a 80 square meters large room at the library and the purpose of the lab is threefold:

1) To make a highly mobile study environment with the opportunity of events, teaching, lectures and collaboration.

2) To provide software and hardware relevant to social science to students and faculty members plus guidance in these programs. Programs relevant could be NVivo, Atlas.ti, R Studio, Zotero and different kinds of GIS-software.

3) To facilitate events and workshops focusing on digital tool within social science

In other words: to connect digital tools with faculty to create value in research, education and learning. The median is the librarian – both as an expert and as a facilitator. Read more about the background thoughts in this Library Lab blog post: Bringing technology and academia together: The making of Digital Social Science Lab

So even though the lab is actually just an empty room at the moment (we are gonna open in January 2016) we couldn’t really see any reasons not to start connecting faculty with various digital tools within social science. So with 50 chairs and a borrowed projector we’re made room for the first event of DSSL: ‘Digital tools in social science’ by the great Dr. Christina Silver.

Christina is ph.d. and research fellow at University of Surrey, Department of Sociology, and is highly involved in the Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Network Project (CAQDAS). We had co-organzied the event with associate professor Merete Watt Boolsen from Department of Political Science and this connection made a strong platform for the planning and promotion of the event and made sure that it was surely grounded at the faculty.

Interesting picture on the physical library space and the library development were are caring out these years: DSSL is being created in the room that just a few months back contained the larges volume of physical books in the library, a huge massive body of knowledge manifested in books filling up the room, and today, with events like this and the creation of DSSL, it’s a whole new and more active approach to knowledge creation that is going on in the library. I like this picture and I like were we are going. Providing faculty with information resources will still be a core task for the library, no doubt about that, but we don’t use the same time and space and resources on handling electronic materials as we do on physical ditto and the migration to e creates resources to focus on other things.

The DSSL badge at the first DSSL event – notice the palm (I’ll get back to that)

‘The lustful staring code’

Merete Watt Boolsen kicked off the event outlining the need for this kind of focus: Data is not was it used to be, much research has gone online and scholars got new tools and new methods than just a few years back and the access to work with big data is wide open (in some areas at least).

In her presentation Christina focused on the use of qualitative software in social science and gave an excellent introduction to the principles and role of qualitative software, similarities and differences between products and, how to plan the choice of software and in the end some software demonstration.

I really liked Christina’s very systematic approach to working around qualitative software and she firmly outlined the principles of CAQDAS and nailed some very important questions on deciding which CAQDAS packed to go with:

1. What is you metholodological context and specific analytic needs?
2. What kinds and amounts of data do you got?
3. Are you working individually or as part of a team?
4. Is there a package (and peer support) available at your place of work? (and if not what kind of budget do you got?)
5. How much time do you have to learn the software?


Christina focused mainly on NVivo, Atlas.ti and MAXqda in the following but there are dozens of other programs to pick out (Dedoose, Transana and Quirkos to name a few).

Scholars can get help in this process on the CAQDAS website
Choosing the right package 

After going over principles and process of choosing the setup for your qualitative software Christina went on to demonstrating some of the software in practice. She had an awesome case on how Coca Cola commercials reflect the gendered stereotypes of there time. By using Atlas.ti she could keep track of both the actually commercial movie (YouTube format), the saying of the actors and her research coded setup. Concerning the last part I meet the coolest code of all time: ‘The lustful staring code’. You will see the code make total sense around 20 seconds into the commercial which was the subject of research

I’m a library director, not a qualitative social science scholar, and much of that Christina was talking about went over my head but I really connected to the vibe at the event; 50 people, asking questions, debating methods and software, talking data over coffee and danish pastries – it made so much sense to me.

Got it! The whole event of ‘Digital tools in social science’ got taped and will be released after editing 

From the traditional to intelligent study environment

This first event of Digital Social Science Lab really put fuel to my believe that we are on the right path with this. We are adding a valuable and important function to the academic community by taking the library space and fill it up with something new. What is it that we are filling it up with to create this value? What is it that separates the intelligent study environment from the traditional? It’s the people that makes events like this happen. It’s the librarian as an expert or facilitator and it’s people like Christina and Merete that collaborates with libraries to lift faculty and students within digital tools and methods.

It’s people like the ones below.

The team that made it all happen, from left: Anders, Marie, Erik and Michael (all from the library), Merete (from Department of Political Science) and qualitative software superstar, Christina 



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