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Calling All Hackers!

May 22, 2013

By Susan Hildreth
Director, IMLS

At IMLS we place a high priority on public engagement. We believe that everything we do can be made better through transparency and collaboration. For example, our grant decisions are made with the advice of hundreds of library, museum, education, and technology professionals working outside of government. And the recent development of our strategic plan involved 1,400 participants in an online idea-generating exercise that will help guide the agency for years ahead. That is why we are enthusiastically embracing a new opportunity to engage the public.

On June 1 and 2, IMLS will take part in the first ever National Day of Civic Hacking. The event will bring together people with many skills--techies, entrepreneurs, developers, and activists--to use publicly available data to develop innovative solutions to civic problems large and small. Hacking events will take place at more than 90 sites in communities across the country, where citizen hackers will use more than 37 data sets, including library and museum data sets, to create computer or mobile platform applications.

National Day of Civic Hacking

It is so exciting to be a part of this large-scale event. Its organizers are both private and public; it has the leadership of the White House Office of Digital Strategy and Office of Science and Technology Policy; and the participation of twenty federal agencies, including NASA, the Census Bureau, the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Archives and Records Administration, and, of course, IMLS. Currently there are twenty challenges issued by federal, state, and local governments and groups such as the Digital Public Library of America.

One of the data sets IMLS is providing may be very familiar to you: the public library survey, which has been a collaborative effort between state, and federal government since 1989. The other data set is brand new: administrative data that comes from our ongoing MuseumsCount survey. When complete, MuseumsCount will be the first comprehensive view of the museum sector in America, with basic information about each of the nation’s museums, which we think number about 35,000.

I can’t wait to see what folks will do with our grab bag of data. Museums and libraries are so trusted, known, and loved by community members that I predict people will be truly inspired. Maybe we’ll see simple visualizations, like maps, charts, or interactive graphics. Or maybe we’ll see apps that take advantage of the fact that all of our records are “geocoded” (latitude and longitude coordinates). Hackers can combine our data with the power of social media apps, like Flickr or Twitter, to create something entirely new.

What new uses do you see for our data? I challenge staff at libraries and museum to find an event and participate. And I hope to hear about many museums and libraries getting caught up in the excitement and hosting events of their own.