Last spring I wrote about my participation in a workshop on the role of libraries in open government, led by the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University of Albany and funded by the Institute for Museums and Library Services.
Overall, CTG’s key finding is straightforward:
“The traditional and important role of public libraries as trusted information intermediaries provides a powerful platform for public libraries to be key facilitators in opening government … Libraries need to work with government partners and other key stakeholders to develop portfolios of programs and services geared toward helping community members access and use information and engage with their governments.”
As someone who has been involved in open government, public technology and libraries, the role of libraries seems obvious to me in at least three ways.
First, libraries are places that almost everyone recognizes as neutral, objective and fair purveyors of information. The trust in this role of libraries is a valuable asset for any government leader who wants constituents to take seriously his/her pledges of openness.
Second, librarians have the training and experience to help the average person make sense of vast volumes of information. And the open government initiatives around the US have certainly provided a vast amount of information. Just making this information available is a bit like trying to open a library by buying a million books and dumping them all into the middle of the floor. Without the assistance of librarians in these initiatives, the ideals of openness and transparency will not be achieved.
Third, following on the previous point, librarians can do even more than help to organize and make accessible all of this new open government data. Librarians can also help train the average person to know how to make sense of the information. They can provide the space and the platform for citizens to collaborate on their use of open data. For example, John Szabo, the head of the Los Angeles Public Library, has provided a digital forum for people in south Los Angeles to use public land and building data as they consider and debate a major new development project in their neighborhood.
Of course, while giving libraries a key role in open government initiatives can make those initiatives much more successful, library resources are limited. So it would be useful if part of the budget for open government be devoted to funding the role of librarians.
CTG elaborated on these six recommendations:
“1. Clearly define the role of public libraries in community-focused open government activities.
2. Adopt a focus on the demand side of open government.
3. Adopt a community-wide perspective on open government.
4. Build capability to create and sustain new kinds of partnerships with a wider range of community actors.
5. Build a knowledge base of public library open government initiatives.
6. Fund and carry out a set of pilot projects focused on building new understanding of preferred and best public library open government practices.”
If you’re involved in government, open data/information, public sector transparency or libraries, it will be worth it for you to read CTG’s report for the rest of the story.
© 2015 Norman Jacknis