Leveraging Use of Open Data by Public Library Staff for Community Benefit
The Technology and Social Change (TASCHA) Group within the University of Washington Information School (UW iSchool), in collaboration with a variety of public library and data-oriented partners, will investigate the data needs of public library staff to determine which of those needs can be met through the use of open data to support effective program, service, and partnership planning. Our key research question asks: what are the current barriers among library staff to using open data for planning and decision-making? The primary output for this project is a plan, driven by input from public libraries, for the design of an open-source open data platform to strengthen public libraries’ understanding of their communities.
Executive Order 13642, “Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information” paved the way for many state and city governments to implement open data policies. Today library staff have the potential to access large amounts of federal, state, and local data to aid them in answering questions about their communities such as: Are our library’s services evolving to meet current community members needs? Do our programs address current and relevant challenges in our community? Are we utilizing partnerships with other community organizations efficiently? Yet the process of finding, curating, and understanding this data, alone or in combination with internal operational data, is complex and prevents many public library staff from taking advantage of this public resource. Libraries may not have the capability, capacity, or resources to overcome the barriers to open data use. Employing a user-centered, collaborative approach, we can design a system that reduces or eliminates these barriers and will aid libraries in understanding their communities.
During a 12-month period we will answer our research question through semi-structured interviews, surveys, and an in-person workshop. We will also perform a review and mapping of open datasets to issue areas identified by interview and survey participants. The mapping methodology we create will serve as a model nationally for the public library field. While this planning grant will generate crucial findings about available open data and barriers to its use for the public libraries, we also will use it to develop a future project grant for building an open-source open data platform for public libraries. We have discussed these plans and have received encouragement and support from these key organizations in the public library field: Public Library Association, Washington and Colorado State Libraries, the Civic Switchboard Project, and individual public libraries. This support will help us to draw upon local and national expertise to solicit diverse viewpoints from a broad range of public libraries across differing geographic, community, and socio-demographic settings.