Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Release your (library) data!

This article was written for the CILIP Public & Mobile Libraries Group journal and published in Access issue 18, Spring 2018.

Open data is information that is publicly available and has been placed under an open licence. "Open" means some (or all) of the copyright has been waived so that anyone is free to copy, use, modify and share the information, even for commercial purposes.

Newcastle Libraries have been publishing open data since March 2016; we started with information we already collected and therefore was easy to publish: number of loans, of visitors to libraries, titles in our catalogue, etc. Other UK public library organisations - for example Leeds Libraries, Plymouth Libraries, Libraries Unlimited; as well as LibrariesWest - have started releasing their own data, often publishing slightly different information.

Why open data and libraries
As library staff it is our role to facilitate access to and the sharing of information, knowledge and culture. We are used to giving citizens access to content created by others: access to books, music, films, images, online resources... but what about information we create ourselves? A lot of data about the library service is generated by the systems we use: our library management systems, computer bookings systems, automatic people counters, etc. or inputted e.g. addresses of libraries, opening hours, services offered at each site...

My opinion is that to fully fulfil our role as library staff we should also enable citizens to access the information we create about their library service. We are only the custodians of this information, and we should be giving it back to them in a way that will allow them to reappropriate it i.e. as open data.

What does open data mean for you?
Answers from participants at Next Library conference Open data mon amour workshop, June 2017.

Benefits of publishing open data
Sometimes I get the comment: "That all sounds well, but that's not going to convince my head of libraries. Why should we dedicate some time to publishing our information as open data over something else?" I'll be honest: in Newcastle Libraries we did it because we believe in it. And it worked. But here are some more arguments for you:
  • Commitment to transparency
Publishing information as open data shows a library authority’s commitment to transparency, by being up-front with the citizens it serves and providing them with authoritative data about its services.
It also means the library service cannot be accused of hiding anything since on the contrary it has made its information and statistics public and easy-to-find. In a way, it is bypassing a type of journalism looking for juicy stories or lowering the risk of those stories having a big impact.
  • Savings on FOI
Actively publishing data under an open licence saves time on some Freedom of Information requests, as the information will already be available and you can simply refer to where it is stored.
  • Benchmarking at a lower cost
If more and more library authorities publish information about their collections, their services, usage, etc. as open data and it is done in a standardised way (using a schema), we will be able to compare a library authority with another without having to pay (CIPFA) to get that information.
  • Demonstrating social impact
Libraries Unlimited have been running an Arts Council England-supported project that looks into using library data to better demonstrate the social impact of public libraries. It is worth reading about the project's outputs so far (on the Unlimited Value blog).
  • Unexpected help and insights
You never know what citizens are going to do with your open data. To be frank: they may not do anything with it, or they may do something that you won't hear about. But publishing your data gives the opportunity to citizens – some of whom may be data scientists, developers or simply curious individuals – to look at it, analyse it alongside other types of data, build something with it. They may contact you with their comments and findings, giving you new insights into your data and your library service. They may use your data in their research, giving your service some visibility in places you wouldn't reach. They may build a tool or app that would be useful for your service or your citizens.

Left icon: created by Universal Icons from Noun Project;
right: background icon created by Gan Khoon Lay from Noun Project, with added text.

How to publish open data
At the first (we're hoping to run more!) Voyage of Data Treader : library data camp 2017 at Liverpool Central Library last November, I facilitated a session on publishing your first dataset. We used loans figures as an example to discuss:
  • what data we wanted to publish: how "loans" were defined, where the data came from and how it was calculated, explaining all that alongside the raw data;
  • how the figures would be presented e.g. by year or by month? By library or by type of item loaned?
  • formats: for the dates and other elements within the data set but also for the file itself;
  • licences: Open Government Licence, Creative Commons or public domain;
  • where to publish: on the Council website, on a dedicated data portal.

National initiatives in England and in Wales
In England, the Libraries Taskforce worked with public library authorities to create an open data set which is a snapshot of libraries on 1st April 2010 and 1st July 2016. The Taskforce is now working on:
  • creating a schema – a standard way for all public libraries to release their data following the same rules so information from different libraries is easily comparable;
  • effortless ways for each public library service to regularly update the part of the dataset relevant to them.
In Wales, CILIP Cymru Wales has coordinated work to add all Welsh libraries to Wikidata. Wikidata is a Wikimedia project set up as a collaborative source of public domain data for other projects. That means anyone can add or edit information about a library on Wikidata – in a similar way to how Wikipedia is edited – as well as use the data to create useful things (in this project: maps and other visualisations).
Claire's post on Twitter

Made by us
Eventually, it's up to us library staff to discuss open data, learn new skills around data analysis and data visualisations, and perhaps even collaborate on projects. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me; if you're on Twitter and spot an interesting open data article or initiative, do use the #DataTreaders hashtag; and if you'd like to take part in an another library data camp event, please say so!

No comments:

Post a Comment