Tag Archives: data

EuroDIG 2021: Takeaway messages for libraries

The 2021 edition of the European Dialogue on Internet Governance offers an opportunity to take stock of recent developments in the policies and practices within the digital ecosystem which can be of interest and impact libraries in Europe – and around the world.

1)    Moving ahead to champion Open Science

Open Science, particularly its digital dimensions, was among the key topics of interest in this year’s EuroDIG. Noting the many helpful local, regional and international (e.g. discipline-specific) open science initiatives, UNESCO and other stakeholders discussed the value of developing a comprehensive shared definition and normative approach; and UNESCO itself offered an update on its draft Recommendation on Open Science.

Here, a summary of key points raised by various stakeholders and Member States during the UNESCO consultation (to which IFLA also contributed) included references to the importance of infrastructure (e.g. internet connectivity), of Open Science monitoring, and of non-profit and sustainable services and infrastructures to support Open Science in light of the risks of commercial monopolisation. In November 2021, the draft Recommendations are due to be submitted to the UNESCO Geneva Conference with a view to their adoption, followed by anticipated adoption among Member States.

Open Data. A closely related topic which may be interesting for libraries working in this area is open data – particularly how to open and share data which is more sensitive and requires further safeguards. Noting the current legal provisions which govern the lifecycles and usage of such data (e.g. laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation), the speakers pointed out some of the existing and possible approaches which can help enable such data-sharing to take place securely in practice. These include, for example, various licensing models, or setting out rules on access to such sensitive data – e.g. for specific purposes, or to limited types of stakeholders.

This discussion also pointed to the importance of investing in infrastructural support, education, and awareness-raising, to help researchers navigate the questions around opening sensitive data. These discussions are of course highly relevant for libraries offering support or training on research data management, licensing or copyright for their institutions.

2)    Online learning: where do we stand today?

Digital divides and inequalities. The 2021 EuroDIG also offered an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from the rapid shift to digital in learning and education, which has taken place in many parts of the world over the past year. One of the most prominent challenges here is, of course, the widely-noted digital divide – inequalities in access to suitable connectivity or devices (or even suitable spaces) for learners, and the ability to use them effectively.

The social element. The social dimension of learning is another consideration – with concerns expressed over the possible impacts of all-digital learning on students’ social interactions and wellbeing. Some survey data suggests, for example, that parents reported positive impacts of remote learning for students’ math and reading competencies – but see it as having a more negative impact on their social skills. This raises the question of whether it is possible to leverage existing (and develop new) applications and digital mediums to further promote meaningful interaction and wellbeing.

These points relate to the questions many libraries themselves have been grappling with since they introduced virtual programming to support learning and social interaction for children – from storytimes to creative workshops or clubs.

Platforms, walled gardens, educational content discoverability. Another part of the discussion focused on digital learning platforms and tools themselves. Here, stakeholders noted that it is crucial for platforms to not only optimise learning – but to also take fully into account learners’ digital autonomy, digital self-determination, privacy and ethics.

Another consideration is the  “walled gardens” of some commercial learning platforms – those characterised by limited interoperability and a lack of access to their learning materials from outside of the platform (e.g with access cut off once a course ends). For libraries, this latter point relates to their own concerns over equity and availability of access to digital learning materials. One of the draft take-away messages also highlights the importance of tools that increase the discoverability of educational content across the various available platforms.

3)    Privacy and data protection – not an obstacle to productivity

Built-in privacy. Another well-noted impact of rapid digitalisation is the immense increase in the amount of data being generated and collected in the process. Naturally, this puts into the spotlight questions around data privacy (especially for personal data) and data protection.

This echoes some of the questions libraries themselves had to answer during the pandemic – which platform can be used for virtual programming? How to minimise data collection? What initiatives targeting particular user groups are possible?

Some of the suggested measures to address these concerns included clear internal policies and processes which build in privacy at the outset, increased transparency and accountability, and, importantly, actively promoting the idea that “data protection is not an obstacle to productivity and innovation”.

Digital skills. Another element that can help preserve privacy and data security is, of course, learning – both for staff members (to help guide internal processes) and users (to help understand and navigate their own use of the internet – e.g. online financial services). This will be familiar to many in the library field who are increasingly focused on supporting digital literacy and confidence within their communities.

4)    Paths towards a greener digital future

The complexity of the relationship between the ongoing digital transformation and environment and sustainability is, of course, well-noted. Technology has immense potential to help track and mitigate today’s environmental challenges. Yet it also contributes to these challenges in various ways, from energy consumption and resource extraction to e-waste.

A part of the EuroDIG discussions dedicated to environmental sustainability focused on a broader public perspective: the impacts of lifestyles and consumption patterns around technology.

As such, one of the key needed changes the participants highlighted were policies, practices and infrastructure facilitating the reuse and repair of technology. Another important element was raising public awareness and education, to enable communities to make sustainable choices – which also requires access to quality information and transparency about technology.

Such questions are of course of interest for libraries: from public procurement, to repair workshops held in libraries, to raising awareness about sustainable consumption patterns.

A related point focused on the link between sustainability and equality of access. Here, it can be worthwhile also to examine models of access that support equitable digital inclusion while keeping the number of new devices entering circulation lower (whether it is distributing refurbished technology, free public access to ICT, and others).

These are just some of the discussions from the 2021 EuroDIG which can be worthwhile and interesting for libraries to keep track of – with more sessions exploring questions around freedom of expression and content moderation practices online, formal and informal media literacy learning practices, and more.

You can take a look at the draft EuroDIG2021 takeaway messages, access all session recordings, and stay engaged with internet governance discussions to share insights, perspectives and good practices from across the global library field!

The EU General Data Protection Regulation, Two Years On

On May 25, 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in the EU. This marked a fundamentally new approach to data protection, privacy, security and user rights. Naturally, libraries as controllers of user data – patron registration data, library website uses, and much more – saw new obligations, responsibilities and processes that they needed to implement. Two years on, where does GDPR stand, and how will it continue to impact the library field?

The implementation and enforcement of GDPR has given rise to a flurry of activity over the past two years. Access Now points out that more than 140000 complaints have been submitted between May 2018 and May 2019 alone. Those found guilty of breaching its provisions have been held to account, with 231 fines or other sanctions levied over the past two years.

Indeed, just a few days ago, the Irish Data Protection Commissions issued a draft decision regarding Twitter’s GDPR compliance, moving closer towards the completion of a major cross-border GDPR case. Earlier, national authorities have already administered fines to Facebook, Google and WhatsApp; and several countries across the world introduced data privacy legislation inspired by GDPR or the global conversation it had launched.

Nonetheless, despite these arguably positive stories of authorities acting to protect privacy,  the Access Now report also points out the challenges that GDPR implementation has faced – such as the resource constraints Data Protection Authorities may face or the challenges of cross-border cases. Similarly, in their Open Letter marking the second anniversary of GDPR, European Digital Rights calls for more action to address the GDPR enforcement gaps.

Keeping Up with Events

The timing is helpful. A formal review of GDPR is due for its second anniversary. In addition, the area of data regulation will likely see more significant activities in the coming months and years. Just a few months ago, the European Commission led by Ursula van der Leyen has unveiled an ambitions EU Data Strategy, which will aim to facilitate data flows throughout the EU and enable broader use of data in services and products.

As a result, in 2021, Europe can expect a proposal of an EU Data Act; which will of course be linked to GDPR when it comes to such questions as data sharing and user rights (e.g. portability).

Of course, the current pandemic has also raised questions pertaining to GDPR. The COVID crisis has, for example, prompted questions about the more extensive use of health data for research purposes, employee data, or tracing applications and geolocation – and how these relate to the privacy and security protections guaranteed by GDPR rules.

The European Data Protection Supervisor has reiterated that GDPR is designed to be a broad legislation, with rules and regulations which are applicable to crises situations such as this. Nonetheless, there will be a lot of value in an evaluation of the degree to which violations of the right to a private live have been justifiable, and whether tougher or clearer rules are necessary.

Libraries and GDPR, looking ahead

This points us to the question of what these developments can mean for libraries. With the demand for digital library offerings and services surging during COVID, it is particularly important to keep in mind the need to at all times ensure the privacy and security of user data that such activities generate.

GDPR highlights the importance of “privacy by design”, meaning that privacy and security measures are taken into consideration and embedded into the design of new data processing operations from the outset. Similarly, data controllers need to ensure the privacy and security of users’ data when making use of any new third-party platforms or services.

If you are introducing new digital services or processes to your library, it’s crucial to consider whether these might entail collecting any new personal data, or processing it differently. On what grounds would the new data be processed? Are third party suppliers also respecting privacy?

We are yet to see the long-term impact of the pandemic on library services – including the question of whether this large-scale shift to digital will be sustained. In the meantime, it is crucial for libraries to continue putting privacy and security first in any new services or offerings, and keep an eye on any possible future legislation in the field of data regulation!

Libraries and Open Data

7 March marks the 10th Open Data Day, an annual international event to promote open data and explore the ways it can be used to address societal challenges. The goal is to push for more data – whether cultural, financial or scientific, data on the weather or the environment, or data produced by statistical offices – to be available in convenient and usable (machine-readable) formats for anyone to use, reuse or redistribute.

Data can be conceptualised as “the lowest level of raw material from which information and knowledge can be derived”, and opening access to data means that more and more people can make meaningful use of it – whether for societal benefit, self-empowerment, innovation, or other valuable ends.

Libraries have a natural affinity with the goals of the open data movement. One of their key aims is to provide access to information – as widely as possible, to as many people as possible. Libraries’ expertise in helping people find and access the information they need – as well as their efforts to promote citizen engagement and digital inclusion – makes them a natural partner for open data initiatives.

Libraries as stewards, educators, publishers and partners: from traditional functions to new roles

Given this affinity, more and more libraries are supporting various open data initiatives. More governments are developing open government plans, moves towards Open Science entail support for Open (research) Data as one if its key pillars, and the OpenGlam initiative seeks to ensure open access to cultural heritage – also a source of data. Libraries can play an important part in realising the full benefits of open data in all these spheres, often simply through traditional library tasks and services.

Consider for example the role libraries – particularly academic libraries – can play in promoting Open Data. As the materials prepared by the EU FOSTER project point out, libraries can support Open Data, inter alia, by training and supporting researchers in their institutions to help them make wider use of and contribute to Open Data.

There is also a large scope for impact through libraries’ Research Data Management (RDM) practices: they can play an important role by improving the availability, findability, re-usability and curation of research data sets. Both of these roles can be seen as an evolution of the traditional roles of academic libraries, but crucially, FOSTER points out that libraries could need to develop new processes and skills to assume these new functions.

Libraries as educators

More broadly, providing inclusive learning opportunities for the public is also a role that many libraries (especially public libraries) traditionally take on. Here, too, libraries can draw on their experience to promote Open Data understanding and awareness in their communities. Robinson and Mather (2017), for example, point out the importance of supporting the demand-side of Open Data – engaging the wider public and non-expert users in Open Data initiatives and helping them make meaningful use of the available data. They make the case that libraries can be well-suited to act as intermediaries and support this demand.

We can already see such initiatives in practice: there are several libraries and library organisations working to raise awareness and equip people with the skills needed to engage and make use of Open Data. For example, in the United States, the Kinder Institute and the Rice University Fondren Library have worked together to deliver a data literacy training for youth in two under-served communities.

Meanwhile, California State Library and the Washington State Office of Privacy, with the help of public and academic libraries in California and Washington, have developed a curriculum to teach open data literacy and awareness to both librarians and community members. Such initiatives are key to generating engagement among the broader public and making sure that a lack of skills is not a barrier for engagement and use of open data.

Taking on new roles

Government and civic data, generated by national, regional and local government and other civic organisations, are at the heart of the Open Data movement. As pointed out in a 2017 White Paper prepared by Temple University Libraries, libraries have often assumed the task of collecting and preserving local government data, beginning with paper formats. Building on this role, some libraries have partnered with various agencies and organisations to curate, host or otherwise improve access to their data.

For example, the Chapel Hill Public Library manages the Chapel Hill Open Data site, providing easy public access to datasets released by the local government departments. The web portal encourages community engagement – users can download, use and reuse data, build chats, maps or visualisations with the build-in tools.

Libraries’ unique competencies could help them effectively assume such roles. Their expertise with metadata, preservation and curation can be very valuable for such undertakings – and so is their expertise with ethical handling of data and information – as pointed out, for example, by Throgmorton, Norlander and Palmer, 2019.

Cultural heritage and open data

And of course, libraries themselves can be sources of valuable open data as well. Consider, for example, the experience of the Hamburg State and University Library with ‘culture hackathons’. During the 2016 Coding da Vinci Nord, software developers and engineers and culture institution specialists came together to create new and inventive ways for the public to access, interact with and make use of digital cultural collections, from interactive mobile city tours to quiz apps or social media tools.

In short, the roles libraries can play in open data are truly diverse: from community engagement and capacity-building to curation, publishing new data, supporting local organisations and agencies and more. The Civic Switchboard Guide has developed a classification of different roles libraries can take, and offers advice , inspiration and resources for each of them!

Celebrating the Open Data Day

Given the important roles libraries can play in the Open Data movement, their continued participation in the Open Data Day comes as no surprise! This year, two recipients of the Open Data Day mini-grant are from the library field: a Malawi librarian at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources is organising a training for librarians about open data and its benefits, and the Zimbabwe Library Association will host an event focusing on the ways open data can be used to support and empower women and girls.

Other libraries – for example, in Finland and Canada – are hosting events and taking part in the celebration. Open Data Day is an opportunity for your library to highlight the work you are doing around access to data, get inspired to take action, and find likeminded partners to cooperate with.

Take a look at the map of planned events around the world, Open Data Day event resources, and share your work!