Public Libraries in Smart Cities and Communities Toolbox
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Open Data Portals
States and cities in the United States and worldwide have invested in open data portals, which involve the release of data by governments in machine readable formats and with licensing that allows anyone to have free access and re-use for any purpose. By opening data, governments aim to improve transparency, enable collaboration and innovation, and promote public participation, which are important features of a smart community and which improve communities’ qualities of life. Public libraries are particularly well positioned to contribute to the development of open data through playing different roles, including: 1) raising awareness and training patrons in the use of open data and 2) hosting open data portals through collaboration with local governments.
Despite the potential benefits brought about by the use of open data, use of open data remains relatively low. The literature has listed several barriers that hinder the use of open data and therefore, that limit the opportunities for value generation. One of the key barriers is the lack of knowledge and technical skills of potential users to understand and use open data.
Public libraries can help raise awareness about open data among their patrons and advocate, educate, and train patrons about how to access and use open data. As a community hub, your library may become a place where people can have a better understanding about open data and improve their skills in using open data for their own interests. Your public library can design training programs at different levels with a focus on the needs of different types of patrons.
For example, your library can offer basic training programs to educate patrons who are not familiar with open data in the basic skills and knowledge needed to understand open data and its potential benefits. Your library may also offer training programs that target professionals, such as developers and data journalists to cover more specific topics about the use of open data, such as legal aspects of open data, open data reuse, and linked data and impact of open data. Based on the time and skills of your staff and the needs and demands of your community, you may also consider providing personalized and one-on-one training with users who may have specific needs and requests.
Your public library may also contribute to the building and development of open data portals by partnering with your local governments and hosting an open data portal. This may not be a completely new role for your public library since public libraries have been traditionally known for their expertise in storing and managing information and helping the public to access and understand new information resources.
If your public library is interested in hosting an open data portal, start by approaching your local government to discuss what you can do to support the governments’ efforts in opening data. There are several options that you can pursue. You may consider fully hosting the open data portal, partnering with local government agencies.
This first option gives you the opportunity to become a community data hub. It will also require you to manage the relationships with local government agencies closely and to draw on your previous experience in storing and managing information to house the open data. You may also want to consider helping catalogue local government data into a user-friendly format. Your library can work with a specific government agency to develop metadata that is understandable to users and then that agency will fit it into the open data portal. This could greatly improve the accessibility and findability of those data.
General resources on open data in the public library:
Open Data Community Maturity: Libraries as Civic Infomediaries: https://www.urisa.org/clientuploads/directory/Documents/Journal/Vol28_final.pdf
8 Considerations for Libraries That Want to Host Open Data: https://civic-switchboard.github.io/post_14/
Open data in Public Libraries: Gauging Activities and Supporting Ambitions: https://asistdl.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/pra2.321
Libraries and Open Data: https://blogs.ifla.org/faife/2020/03/06/libraries-and-open-data/
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