Between the Lines

Science and Engineering Librarian Contributes to COVID-19 Research

Josh Borycz, librarian for STEM Research in the Stevenson Science and Engineering Library, has co-authored two recent papers that focused on socio-economic aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The papers, co-authored with Alex Bentley and Damian Ruck at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville (UTK), analyze sociological datasets to understand and predict behaviors related to the pandemic. “Early warning of vulnerable counties in a pandemic using socio-economic variables,” accepted in Economics and Human Biology, used county-level data from the USA to show that the spread of COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic could be predicted by certain behaviors and demographics, such as use of public transport, population density and proportion of the population that is African American. The second paper, “Cultural values predict national COVID-19 death rates,” accepted in Springer Nature Social Sciences, focused on how cultural values derived from the World Values Survey relate to the spread of COVID-19 in different countries. This paper showed that countries with high institutional trust tend to have lower rates of death from COVID-19, while those ranking high in cosmopolitanism and secular-rationality tend to have higher death rates. These cultural values were more predictive than government efficiency.

Borycz joined in the research as a library science student at UTK. He helped gather and organize the data used in each project, performed some of the statistical analyses in the programming language R and assisted in the writing process. Knowing how to find and manipulate data is an important part of engaging with researchers as a librarian. Borycz has been working closely with the UTK team for some time to gain research skills that can translate to providing practical assistance to researchers at Vanderbilt.