A data librarian’s toolbox

Posted by Jane Frazier

A data librarian’s toolbox

This is a curated list of tools that I think will be useful to data librarians and other folks working in data management. Included are tools I use currently and those that I’ve used in the past. My personal list is constantly changing depending on what projects I’m working on. I’m including information about tools I prefer, but have listed some tools I don’t love using (and why) at the end of the list.

I will mention, since it’s a tool I’ve used daily for years, that Google Drive is my core tool for document storage, organisation & sharing, word processing, spreadsheets, diagramming, and presentations.



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Slides (http://slides.com/)
A browser-based tool for creation & presentation of multi-directional slide decks. The bi-direction slide feature (horizontal & vertical) is pretty cool, but the fact that it’s not terribly interoperable with other systems can be a bit aggravating at times.

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Google Slides (http://www.google.com.au/slides/about/)
My presentation workhorse. I use the crap out of this tool (especially in tandem with Google Drawings), because I feel that it strikes a great balance between creating professional-looking decks and making it possible to churn out a deck really quickly. Drive sharing makes it really simple to disseminate & give in-person and video chat presentations, too.



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Balsamiq (https://balsamiq.com/)
Easy rough wireframing, great user interface, lots of features.
PAID SERVICE (starts at $79 USD, prices depend on the number of users)

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Cacoo (https://cacoo.com/)
Easy rough wireframing (fewer features than Balsamiq, but free!). The “freehand wireframe” assets are some of my favorites.

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Coggle (https://coggle.it/)
Mind mapping & conceptual visualization tool. I find this tool particularly useful when trying to reorganize pages in a legacy website.

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Google Drawings (https://support.google.com/docs/answer/177123?hl=en)
Google Drive based drawing & diagramming tool. Like I said before, I use this tool constantly. It’s very easy to whip up a really beautiful diagram.

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Gliffy (http://www.gliffy.com/)
Browser-based diagramming tool that works well for workflows & UML diagramming.
PAID SERVICE 5 diagrams for free, monthly subscription for more

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Draw.io (https://www.draw.io/)
Another great browser-based tool for if you create lots of workflow or UML diagrams. Works well with Google Drive & Dropbox.

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Lucid Chart (https://www.lucidchart.com)
A browser-based tool I haven’t used much personally but have heard good things about. Check it out!


Word processing/Documentation sharing

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Google Docs (http://www.google.com/docs/about/)
My go-to word processing tool. It lacks some features that Word has, but I won’t go back. The collaborative features (live-updating of changes & comments) make is super, super useful.

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Apache OpenOffice (https://www.openoffice.org/)
An open source alternative to Microsoft Suite. If you’re looking for a desktop-based word processing tool that’s not Word, this would be my recommendation.

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Confluence (https://www.atlassian.com/software/confluence)
Atlassian’s wiki app. It’s possible to use it as a completely internal or public-facing wiki, or both (specific pages can be selected to be available to the public). There are tons of really slick plugins for calendars, Jira tickets and more. Obviously, it works really well with the other Atlassian tools.
PAID SERVICE, free trial available, pricing available here.


Code editing

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Sublime (http://www.sublimetext.com/)
Code & markup text editor. Sublime is a pretty lightweight code editor that fulfills my everyday needs (mostly examining/editing XML & RDF).


Data modelling

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Neo4j (http://www.neo4j.org/)
Browser-based graph database management & visualization tool. Really fantastic for learning about graph database principles and it’s fairly simple to spin up a beautiful visualization that can help anyone understand the usefulness of relationships between various entities. The devs also provide great documentation for their query language, Cypher.


Data capture & cleaning

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Open Refine (http://openrefine.org/)
Google-developed data cleaning/transformation tool. Great for cleaning up large amounts of dirty, dirty data in a less painful way. The powerful clustering and geocoding features are fantastic.

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Google Sheets (http://www.google.com/sheets/about/)
I’m definitely sounding like a broken record here, but I use sheets daily. Collaborate & never worry about spreadsheet version control again!

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Google Forms (http://www.google.com/forms/about/)
I haven’t done tons of survey creation & collection, but I have used this tool, and again, it’s pretty simple to put together a professional-looking survey. The automatically generated Google Sheet that allows you to view the survey data can be a bit clunky, so make sure to label your survey questions properly!


User testing

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Silverback (http://silverbackapp.com/)
Silverback is a pretty cool tool that allows you to simultaneously record a video of a user performing a task using the screencam and record their desktop. It looks like they’re just about to release a new version of the app soon…


Learning tools




Tools I don’t love:

LibGuides (http://springshare.com/libguides/)
This is an incredibly popular tool for publishing library guides & finding aids. I’m not a huge fan because the system is quite limited architecturally and public viewing options are limited as well. Disclaimer: I’ve never used LibGuides for creating a classic library guide or finding aid, so take what I say here with a grain of salt!

Prezi (http://prezi.com/)
I’ve really wanted to like Prezi, but for some reason I just can’t get in to it. The fact that it’s quite unstructured means that I have basically unlimited options for what I want to do with my presentation, and this makes the tool a bit overwhelming for me. I’ve seen a few great Prezis but for the most part they make me a bit seasick!


Other tools I’ve used on-the-job:


There you have it. Do you have any favorite tools that aren’t included here?


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