Tag Archives: open data

Digital Day 2021 – Towards a More Green, Creative and Diverse Digital Future

19 March marks the European Digital Day – an occasion for stakeholders from Member States and the EU to discuss the challenges of navigating the digital transformation, and commit to action towards a greener, more robust, fair and sustainable digital future.

This gives libraries – not just within the EU, but around the world – an opportunity to reflect on their own roles in this transformation. The Digital Day agenda points to a few key topics at the forefront of the discussion: these include fostering green digital solutions and a diverse and robust tech startup ecosystem.

What is the library angle on this – and how can libraries contribute to these priority goals?

Together for a greener digital future

Clearly, library field’s ambition to support sustainability and help reduce damage to the environment is longstanding (with many initiatives, for example, spotlighted and launched by the Environment, Sustainability and Libraries Section of IFLA). What does this mean for their role in the digital information society?

On a larger scale, the relationship between environment protection and digital transformation goals is fundamentally two-sided. Reflections on this duality can clearly be seen, for example, in the conclusions and main take-aways from the 2020 Internet Governance Forum Environment track.

On the one hand, participants underlined the vast potential of technology to measure, monitor, examine, and help address the current environmental crises. On the other hand, the ICT ecosystem consumes vast amounts of energy, and the CO2 emission is produces cannot be ignored – not to mention other environmental considerations such as e-waste.

In fact, the summary of takeaway messages notes that there are studies indicating a negative correlation between digitisation and progress towards climate and environmental SDG goals. One of the key questions this raises is how to bridge the digital divide in an environmentally sustainable way – and what is needed to leverage ICT to build a more green and sustainable future.

Open Data

Crucially for libraries, one key part of the answer here is that of opening data – a key prerequisite for developing technology solutions to help meet environmental and sustainability goals. IGF stakeholders reiterated that a lot of relevant and crucial environmental data is already being collected – but not always shared by private or public bodies, or is not easily available for others to access, use or act on.

In an earlier blog, we have looked into the diverse roles libraries play in championing and supporting the open data movement. Academic libraries assist researchers in using and contributing to available open data, curate and help ensure easy use and access to open datasets. There are excellent examples of public libraries helping engage the wider public and non-experts in open data initiatives – or partnering with public bodies to help build user-friendly open data portals which support and encourage engagement.

These competencies and potential can certainly be leveraged for opening data that helps address environmental crises. Similarly, libraries are in a unique position to offer equitable opportunities to learn skills of working with data, programming and coding to better address these challenges (see e.g. Brooklyn Public Library’s “Coding Environment” virtual offering).

Digital device economy

An equally pressing question is the sustainability and environmental impact of connectivity devices. Association for Progressive Communications has recently released a preview of a Guide to Circular Economies of Digital Devices, which highlights the current impact of a linear digital device economy model, and makes the case for circular digital device economies.

One of the interesting points the guide raises is:

“If we consider that devices are valuable for their computing resources, then we should focus on the right to use a device, not on the right to ownership. Maximising circularity asks us to see devices as collective property that circulates among users until they are finally recycled.”

Naturally, the key insights this points to focus on reuse and circulation of devices, as well as recycling to extract the value of raw materials.

However, for libraries, this also raises interesting questions about the value of the kind of collective use and public access to devices libraries offer – from PCs and printers to creative equipment like cameras and 3D printers. So it would certainly be interesting to further examine what kind of role public and shared device use models can take in the discussion of device use, as opposed to device ownership.

Together for a robust and diverse tech innovation ecosystem

Another key element of the Digital Day agenda emphasises dialogue and commitments to foster a robust, diverse and sustainable tech startup and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Certainly, this goal and ambition isn’t unique to Europe (see, for example, the Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa).

One of the persistent challenges the IT sector has been working to address are gender and diversity gaps in tech startups. While this is certainly a complex issue requiring comprehensive and multi-level solutions, is there a way for libraries to contribute their part – and support tech innovation at large?

As the experience of some libraries suggest, they are well-positioned to deliver a unique combination of two outreach initiatives that can help make a difference.

On the one hand, from Singapore to South Africa to the United States, libraries offer digital skills learning opportunities – from classes to makerspace workshops, helping nurture people’s interest in, and even develop competencies that can useful for employment in, the IT field.

The idea of diversifying the tech sector through such clubs and learning opportunities is not new, of course. But the unique position of libraries as a wide network of trusted and open institutions shows how much scope there is for amplifying these efforts and reaching more people.

And on the other side, there is libraries’ experiences with helping people find employment – including their support for business and entrepreneurship. Library support can range from access to databases with valuable information, market research and company data, to helping navigate questions IP rights, and more.

Taken together, these library capacities can help bring more people into the sector, foster creativity and tech innovation – and mode towards a more fair, sustainable and diverse digital future.

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!