Open Data

By Jennifer Ashby, Library Director

Open data – what’s that? That was my question when, in 2017, I was asked whether Asotin County Library (ACL) would participate in an open data grant funded by the Knight Foundation. The answer: Open data is data that is accessible to anyone to use, redistribute, or republish without restrictions. Open data serves several functions: it makes data more accessible, allows people to combine datasets to find greater meaning, makes government more transparent, and reduces public records requests.

The goal of the grant was, in cooperation with the State of Washington and the California State Library, to publish a curriculum to teach librarians and library patrons about using open data. It was a fun and rewarding project, but when we used the curriculum with staff and library patrons, it was painfully obvious that there was almost no open data related to Asotin County. So, we wrote a grant to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to begin publishing open data. We have published 55 local datasets.

As part of this grant, which was called Accelerating Promising Practices for Small Libraries, we participated in a Digital Inclusion Cohort where we learned about closing the digital divide. This set us up for what was to come during the pandemic as people began to work and attend school from home, often with woefully inadequate internet connections. As a result, ACL took the lead in starting a Broadband Action Team which has been working to expand high speed internet access, acquisition of devices and digital learning in Asotin County.

We have since received another grant from IMLS to publish on Open Data Toolkit to be used by small public libraries across the country. We are currently working with libraries in Georgia and Minnesota. The ultimate goal is to have a national website for libraries to find tools and support for publishing their data. This project has gotten national recognition for Asotin County Library, brought in over $260,000 to the library and, we hope, will have a lasting impact.