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Continuing the Library and Museum Open Data Conversation

March 10, 2015

By Maria Raviele, PhD, Evaluation Officer
Justin Grimes, Statistician
Trevor Owens, Senior Library Program Officer
Institute of Museum and Library Services

As part of the launch of, the agency’s new open data catalog, a cohort of about 30 data wonks, librarians, curators, researchers, developers, and representatives from a wide range of organizations including Sunlight Foundation, New America Foundation, Urban Institute, Azavea, ESRI, PBS, NPR, National Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Library of Congress, National Endowment for the Humanities, Federal Communication Commission, General Services Administration, and more met at IMLS’s offices.

In what we called an Open Data Open House, this cohort helped us explore and share ideas on how IMLS data could be used and how the data catalog could be improved.

You can find the notes from the meeting online and read through the tweets from it using the hashtag #IMLSdata. We thought it would be useful to share a bit about some of the discussions stemming from three breakout sessions during the half-day event.

Comments on Data and the Data Catalog
Several participants offered suggestions and tips for using the platform based on the presentation. Sara Snyder from the Smithsonian American Art Museum noted how important the “about” button on the datasets is for understanding the context and data dictionary for the data sets. In this vein, there were also several comments regarding the licenses associated with our data. All IMLS data posted in the data catalog is in the public domain, and released without restriction, but attendees suggested that we investigate using a Creative Commons CC0 license to further clarify that all data is free without restrictions. There was also a discussion from participants that in conjunction with our awarded grants data set, IMLS make grant final reports available. This topic is part of ongoing discussions within IMLS.

Future Focus on User Stories/Use Cases
In a breakout session focused on potential use cases for the data, several participants stressed how important it is for IMLS to be proactive in identifying and communicating out about potential ways we imagine this data could be put to use. The group identified a range of potential users, including public policy researchers, potential grant applicants, chief data officers of cities, and students and teachers in library schools. In a follow-up post, we will sketch a few of these out to try to help spark other ideas about how our data could be used.

Future Approaches, Possibilities, and Policies
In another breakout session, a group explored potential directions for policies and ways that the IMLS data could connect with and enhance other kinds of data sets. One particularly lively point of discussion centered  around how to meet the needs of and connect with a range of potential end users for the data catalog. Potential users run the spectrum from the data savvy professional programing types to broader public audiences. It was suggested that we could lower the bar of entry to accommodate users with basic skills. Most believed, though, that researchers and developers who build things from and integrate IMLS data into their work are going to be the most likely vector for helping this data become useful and used by broader audiences.

This was a point attendees from other Federal agencies found particularly relevant and one to consider in their own open data policies. Reflecting on the event, John Martinez of the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of Innovation, noted, “The event was thought-provoking and informative in seeing how other agencies are trying to address the same Open Government and Open Data mandates that we must fulfill. From an archival perspective, the break-out discussions uncovered ideas that would truly benefit the quality of agency data early in the records lifecycle.”

Going forward, we plan to host and participate in more events like this and ideally strengthen connections between the collection and analysis of data at IMLS and the work that grantees engage in around these issues.

Do you have ideas or suggestions for using IMLS data? Do you have comments or questions about IMLS data or the newly launched open data catalog, If so, please let us know.

Analytics of visitors to the IMLS Data Catalog.