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Charts and Data Visualization: Another Great Way to Learn Something New

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This post was written by Business Reference Librarian Nanette Gibbs.

McGuffey's reading charts 1881 testimonial
McGuffey, W. Holmes. (1881). Photographic reduction of McGuffey’s reading charts. Rev. ed. Cincinnati: Van Antwerp, Bragg & co. Back Cover: Images from HathiTrust scan.

The use of charts to clarify ideas goes back many years.  In a contemporaneous review of McGuffey’s Reading Charts revised edition, dating from the 1880’s, the Superintendent of the Columbus, Ohio Public Schools, R.W. Stevenson, wrote:

Gentlemen:  McGuffey’s Revised Reading Charts are beautiful, and will be of inexpressible value in the lower grades of our schools.  They cannot only be used as an aid in learning to read and write, but their value for teaching elementary language-lessons will be worth ten-fold their cost.  I have had no faith in charts, but those are so beautiful, so well graded, so full of information in the most artistic form, they cannot fail to be valuable.  Very truly, R.W. STEVENSON, Superintendent.

McGuffey's reading charts 1881
McGuffey, W. Holmes. (1881). Photographic reduction of McGuffey’s reading charts. Rev. ed. Cincinnati: Van Antwerp, Bragg & co. (p8, 33) Images from HathiTrust scan.

For someone who expresses he had ‘no faith’ in charts, it is apparent that he took a serious and critical look at this edition.  In fact, the publication is a work well done with examples of good penmanship, and even a color wheel!

In another work, A companion to the New American reading charts, Philadelphia, J. H. Butler & co., c1879, teachers are given specific directions in their use and even how to hang them on metal rods.

A companion to the New American reading charts, with Object Lessons for the use of teachers, Philadelphia, J. H. Butler & co., c1879.

Below is a 1943 chart from the collections of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division explaining how ration coupons worked. These coupons were issued to the U.S. population during World War II and allowed one to purchase a specific amount of a product during a month’s time.

In similar fashion, a chart can convey real time data today. We regularly receive reports showing our cell phone use every week.  Putting the weeks together, we can easily see how our use of this service changes over time and why our rates increase as our usage increases, helping us understand a higher bill at the end of the month.

On the day rationing begins, the row of “A” stamps becomes valid. And a new row of stamps becomes good every week on Sunday: “B” the second week, “C” the third, and so on. Stamps will continue to be good after the week is over. But they will expire at the end of the month. At that time “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D” stamps will all expire together, 1934.

Charts can help us learn, and they often spare the learner from reading endless pages about a subject with little or no understanding.  Charts, in fact, provide avenues for differentiated learning or style-based instruction enabling different types of learners, such as visual learners, to easily grasp the ideas being put forward.

In business, not only is it critical to have both basic and advanced chart interpretation skills, it is also essential to be able to design a chart and include that chart in a presentation. This skill can be a game changer as the chart or graph will engage and allow for greater understanding. Well-designed charts call for skills in numeracy, arithmetic, geometry, data analysis, and money management.

There are several types of charts used in the business world, including bar graphs, pie charts, line graphs, and Cartesian graphs, but regardless of the type, well-designed charts and graphs will demonstrate what you want the reader to know and understand. The usefulness of the chart or graph is critical to its success.

Examining free charts will help you understand how to create charts that illustrate aspects of your business organization, including its function, authority, and growth.

While an Internet search using the terms ‘free charts’ will yield any number of sites where you can download anything from free charts for teaching mathematics to learning about cooking and maybe even how to double a recipe, it’s also interesting to check under “free U.S. government charts.”  For example, by searching “U.S. government weights and measures chart,” you will be directed to:, where you will find charts for measures of length, capacity, etc., as well as photos that could be used in charts for historical purposes.  Further, using your favorite Internet search engine and typing “data visualization,” you can find such government sites as the Centers for Disease Control web site at, and there you will discover the latest graphics associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, as an example.  The federal government’s open data site provides access to nearly 200,000 datasets, making it easy to search, understand, and share government data.

As a life-long learner, I recently checked to see what free charts the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has, and I found many interesting line charts, including one entitled:  “Arctic Sea Ice Minimum.”  I invite you to take a look to see if you, too, could learn something for free.


  1. Excellent current and historical overview to charts and data visualization. Hotlinks to government resources are particularly helpful.

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