Introduction

Welcome to the Civic Switchboard Guide, a living document designed to help libraries become more engaged in their local civic data ecosystems. This work is the product of an Institute for Museum and Library Services funded project called Civic Switchboard: Connecting Libraries and Community Information Networks.

We believe that strong partnerships between libraries and other local civic data intermediaries better serve data users, further democratize data, and support equitable access to information. This guide aims to support libraries and civic data intermediaries to establish and grow these partnerships. Over the project's two-year period, this guide will evolve as we gather lessons about roles and relationships from civic data partners in the field.

What you'll find in this guide

This document is modular in nature, with practical guidance and case studies. It will help library workers and their data partners to:

  • identify local needs and contexts for open civic data

  • consider roles, practices, and governance in a regional civic data ecosystem

  • find pathways for including libraries into civic partnerships

  • anticipate and address common challenges encountered when helping the public apply and use open data

  • measure the health and capacity of local ecosystems

  • promote use of data in alignment with community-based concerns

  • learn from examples of successful civic data partnerships

We organized this guide to reflect broad stages of work for libraries that are developing civic data partnerships and involvement. It begins with strategies for understanding the civic data environment in which you are working and moves through guidance and case studies that reflect deepening engagement with civic data. However, the stages are not intended to be followed in strictly sequential steps. You may that you'd like to begin to engage partners and begin your library's civic data work concurrent to mapping your ecosystem (as described in the "Understanding" section) or seeking out funding resources ("Maintaining" section). Rather than thinking of this guide as a checklist or chronological schedule of activities, use it as a flexible roadmap.

What you won't find in this guide

Our focus is on developing library roles and relationships around data in their communities, so we won't cover very general topics like "what is open data", nor very specific ones like "how to archive local community data sets". The good news is that many other people have created excellent guides and reports on topics like these! We'll point to many of these related resources in this guide.

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