City of Boston seeks partners for open-data initiative

Communities / Article

Howard C. Lim is the project manager for the city of Boston’s Open Data to Open Knowledge initiative, a winner of the Knight News Challenge on Libraries. Boston photo by Eric Gendron on Flickr.

Imagine it’s a cold winter day, and three Boston residents don their thick winter coats to brave the blustery weather conditions. For longtime resident Sally and her daughter Anastasia, their local library is an oasis from the cold and one of the few places Sally can go to enjoy a few hours of quiet reading. For John, his morning trip to the local library is the road to a new life and a new career. He hopes to redirect his life and believes the library will help him gain new skills and better understand the competitive job market that he is about to re-enter. Thankfully Diana, the branch librarian, is there when John arrives and directs him to key resources and to the catalog of employers available on the city’s open-data portal.

Although the characters are fictitious, the inspiration for this story is very real. It represents the lives of everyday Boston residents who rely upon their neighborhood library to undertake a multitude of endeavors from exploring the Internet to learning how to build a resume. Even in today’s age of smartphones, Google and Big Data, libraries play a vital role in our society as a cornerstone of our communities.  Libraries are the convener and physical hub of knowledge, while librarians democratize access to data and information through their interactions with members of the community.  In recognition of this key public institution, the city of Boston launched the Open Data to Open Knowledge project, its newest open-data initiative, in collaboration with the Boston Public Library. 

Through this initiative, the city of Boston seeks to broaden the use of data by partnering with the Boston Public Library to reimagine the city’s data as a valuable resource for public knowledge. To achieve this aim, the city seeks to inventory its existing data sources to build its first data catalog, enhance the user experience of the open-data Web portal, and partner with area librarians to drive greater access and engagement with data for Boston residents. Ultimately, in just over a year, the city of Boston hopes to produce a user-centered product that provides librarians open access to city data that will serve as a model that could be replicated from one city to the next. 

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