Data Reinvents Libraries for the 21st Century

 in GovTech: “Libraries can evoke tired assumptions. It could be a stack of battered books and yesteryear movies; that odd odor of wilted pages and circa-1970s decor; or it could be a bout of stereotypes, like obsolete encyclopedias and ruler-snapping librarians.

Whatever the case, the truth is that today libraries are proving they’re more than mausoleums of old knowledge. They’re in a state of progressive reform, rethinking services and restructuring with data. It’s a national trend as libraries modernize, strategize and recast themselves as digital platforms. They’ve taken on the role of data curator for information coming in and citizen-generated data going out….

Nate Hill is among this band of progressives. As a data zealot who believes in data’s inclination for innovation, the former deputy director for Tennessee’s Chattanooga Public Library, led a charge to transform the library into a data centric community hub. The library boasts an open data portal that it manages for the city, a civic hacker lab, a makerspace for community projects, and expanded access to in-person and online tutorials for coding and other digital skill sets….

The draw in data sharing and creating, Hill said, comes from the realization that today’s data channels are no longer one-way systems.

“I push people to the idea that now it’s about being a producer rather than just a consumer,” Hill said, “because really that whole idea of a read-write Web comes from the notion that you and I, for example, are just as capable at editing Wikipedia articles on the fly and changing information as anybody else.”

For libraries, Hill sees this as an opportunity and asks what institution can better pioneer the new frontier of information exchange. He posits the idea that, as the original public content curator, adding open data to libraries is only natural. In fact, he says it’s a logical next step when considering that traditional media like books, research journals and other sources infuse data points with rich context — something most city and state open data portals typically don’t do.

“The dream here is to treat the library as a different kind of community infrastructure,” Hill said. “You can conceivably be feeding live data about a city into an open data portal, and at the same time, turning the library into a real live information source — rather than something just static.”

In Chattanooga, an ongoing effort is in the works to do just that. The library seeks to integrate open data into its library catalog searches. Visitors researching Chattanooga’s waterfront could do a quick search and pull up local books, articles and mapping documents, but also a collection of latest data sets on water pollution and land use, for example.

Eyeing the library data movement at scale, Hill said he could easily envision a network of public libraries that act as local data hubs, retrieving and funneling data into larger state and national data portals….(More).