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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Winter 2002

Book Reviews

Turning Numbers into Knowledge: Mastering the Art of Problem Solving

Allison V. Level
Reference Librarian
Colorado State University
alevel@manta.colostate.edu

Koomey, Jonathan G. Turning Numbers into Knowledge: Mastering the Art of Problem Solving. Oakland CA: Analytics Press, 2001. ISBN 0-9706019-0-5. $34.95.

Turning Numbers into Knowledge: Mastering the Art of Problem Solving is an engaging and readable book on quantitative problem solving and the process used to transform data or numbers into clear and useful information. The author is the leader of the End-Use Forecasting Group and a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He holds M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California at Berkeley. He has authored or co-authored seven books and more than one hundred articles and reports on energy efficiency, climate change, and environmental policy. The book is written for broad audience appeal with short clear chapters and lots of visuals including tables, charts, and cartoons. The book includes exercises so the reader can apply what is learned in print to real-life analytical examples. The quotable quotes and short topic-related stories bring the sometimes daunting world of analysis into a more comfortable realm. Students, faculty, librarians, public policy researchers, and others who use scientific or business information would benefit from this book. The {table of contents} and sample chapters of the book are available from the web site: {http://www.numbersintoknowledge.com/}.

Part One is a short twenty-eight pages but provides a good framework of ideas to keep in mind as the reader continues through the book. The chapter on peer review includes information that is familiar to science librarians but the information will be of help to others not as well versed in the research and peer review process. Most chapters have links to other chapters so for example while reading chapter 4 the reader will find links to chapters 11 and 33. These "graphical signposts" will be live links in electronic versions of the book but even in print the links make it easy to skip around and find related threads. "Be Prepared" is the theme of the six chapters that make up Part Two. Koomey focuses on the need to be organized and be productive. He champions the need to put facts at your fingertips and is an advocate for the Statistical Abstract of the United States and writes that it is, "the single most important document for a U.S.-based researcher in virtually any quantitative field."

Parts Three and Four focus on assessing the analysis of others and creating your own analysis. The reader will learn from these chapters how to take a critical eye to the analysis presented in reports, newspaper stories, or books. What do the numbers say? What's important? Is the source credible? Does the author of the study have genuine knowledge in the field? Koomey's expertise lends itself to these sections where he gives wonderful examples of what to do, what not to do, and how to question authority. He also tips his hat to librarians and encourages researchers to seek out help from the information professional.

The last part, "Show Your Stuff", and the conclusion provide the reader with practical writing tips and key suggestions for composing and presenting direct and understandable documents. Koomey includes ways to present tables, graphs, and charts which are succinct, accurate and complete. The author includes a final top ten reading list plus a very useful annotated bibliography of additional references related to each of the chapters. An index provides a quick guide to the book's contents. This book is recommended for all university and public libraries.

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