I’ve been a strong advocate for open data over the past decade or so. This started out with library data: influenced by the frustration of trying to create a library finder but discovering that the information sector didn’t publish any public data to support it.
It moved into a more professional role. Working in a local council to release lots of open data, I saw how it transformed insight into local public services, and became hugely influential in how a local authority could operate.
At a wider level, you start to appreciate how open data is essential in day-to-day life, though often invisible. For example, our current transport infrastructure would be dysfunctional (or at least far more dysfunctional than it is) without open data.
Being passionate about library services, it makes perfect sense to also be passionate about open library data. It’s easy to look at public library services and see how a lack of data, and specifically open data, is holding back the sector. In almost every single project, local or national, big or small, technical or non-technical, the lack of open data is a barrier to progress, insight, and making the most of that project.
Sometimes it seems there is an antagonistic attitude to open data, or at least a strong mistrust from within the sector. This is a problem, but will disappear in time as general attitudes change and roles change. But the wider problem is a lethargy and a lack of deeper understanding. The overriding attitude is that sure, open data would be good (yay for transparency!), but we’re pretty busy at the moment, and don’t really have the time to think about it.
This is where I think the role of the open data advocacy is so important. It’s not about trying to convince people that open data is just ‘a good thing’, it’s about explaining that public libraries can’t operate effectively without it, and aren’t at the moment. That’s not being overly critical, there are other major issues holding back the sector: funding, staffing, training. But open data is one that is actually relatively cheap to fix. Not doing it is the equivalent of someone offering to double the library funds but the head of service saying “no, go away please, I don’t have the time to think about that right now”.