St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf students lend their data skills to the Northfield Public Library

St. Olaf students (left to right) Andrew Noecker ’23, Dominic Bledsoe ’22, Abby Halverson ’23 and Catie Rhodes ’23 served as data analysis consultants to the Northfield Public Library as part of a mathematics practicum during Interim. Photo by Jane Turpin Moore/

A team of St. Olaf students who spent Interim analyzing data for the Northfield Public Library earned high praise from the library’s director and will help shape future library programming and materials, according to a recent feature in the Northfield News. 

The four students — Dominic Bledsoe ‘22, Abby Halverson ‘23, Andrew Noecker ‘23 and Catie Rhodes ‘23 — connected with the library for a practicum course offered by the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science (MSCS). The team sorted through a wealth of data from the library system, including data related to circulation, marketing, genres and electronic options, and analyzed the responses of a recent community survey. The goal: to help the library identify trends and pinpoint key needs and issues for the library system and its users. 

The Northfield News reported on the students’ recent delivery of their findings to Northfield Public Library Director Natalie Draper and other library leaders and board members. 

“We gave them a ton of data to sift through,” Draper told the newspaper about the St. Olaf students. “They made sense of it and did a marvelous job with the presentation — a 10 out of 10. It was like working with seasoned professionals.”

The practicum course gives students the opportunity to work on consulting projects for real-world clients. Paul Roback, the Kenneth Bjork Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, helped guide the students in their work along with Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science David Walmsley.

Roback told the Northfield News that the St. Olaf team focused on using data to help the library forecast its needs for the future.

“It’s fun for the students to work with local nonprofits that may be sitting on a lot of data that’s potentially informative to them, but without the means or in-house intel to delve into it deeply,” he said.