A Case for Critical Data Studies in Library and Information Studies


  • Tami Oliphant University of Alberta




Library and Information Studies, Critical Data Studies, big data


The proliferation, ubiquity, and growth of data, big data, and digital infrastructure raise a number of questions for library and information studies (LIS) practitioners, researchers, and educators. While some uncritically accept and embrace the idea that big data will fundamentally alter every sector of society including economics, politics, health care, and knowledge production, others are more critical of the data turn. Data can be contradictory in that it can be used for surveillance, impinge on privacy, be used for secondary purposes (often without consent), and can be totalizing in that we continually create data exhaust, it can be hacked, searched, aggregated, and preserved for years. Conversely, data can be used for the public good, to promote progressive social change, and to empower people. The overarching argument presented in this paper is that critical library and information studies must include critical data studies. To develop this argument, this paper explores the ontological nature of data and their contradictory implications and effects in terms of broader society, the academy, and in LIS research, education, and practice. Next, the philosophical foundations and the work being done in the budding area of critical data studies are presented (most notably work by Rob Kitchin). Finally, the intersections between critical data studies and LIS are discussed in terms of research methodologies, philosophical underpinnings, and application of critical social theory, values, and ethics using Dalton and Thatcher's seven data criticisms.

Author Biography

Tami Oliphant, University of Alberta

Assistant Professor, School of Library and Information Studies






Literature Review