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 develop and evolve as we gather lessons about roles and relationships from civic data partners in the field.

What you'll find in this guide

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

  • identify local needs and contexts around open civic data

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

  • find pathways for building libraries into civic partnerships

  • anticipate and address common challenges data intermediaries may encounter as they help the public to apply and use open data

  • measure local civic open data health and capacity

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

  • learn from examples of successful civic data partnerships

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 gather and point to many of these related resources in this guide.

About the Civic Switchboard project

The authors of this guide are part of regional partnership in Pittsburgh that brings together a public library system (Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh), an academic library system (University of Pittsburgh Library System), and a regional open data portal (Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center, hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research). We are joined by a national membership organization of non-library civic data intermediaries, the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, coordinated by the Urban Institute. The team members include Aaron Brenner (PI), Bob Gradeck, Toby Greenwalt, Eleanor Mattern, Liz Monk (Project Manager), Kathy Pettit, and Eleanor Tutt.

In Pittsburgh, our local civic data ecosystem is unique in that both public and academic librarians are actively involved as data intermediaries, and they work in close collaboration with other civic data publishers and users. Our librarians regularly partner with local governments, non-library intermediaries, civic organizations, student organizations, and data users in a variety of ways. They play a number of roles, including helping people discover civic information, building data literacy and technical skills, providing technical assistance in data management and documentation, creating feedback mechanisms to publishers, convening and hosting events, and connecting data users. Our experience shows that libraries and librarians should be key actors in the continuing development of civic open data portals and act as core data intermediaries; their expertise adds value to a wide range of issues that affect both data publishers and users.

Many of our colleagues elsewhere, including librarians and other established civic data intermediaries, have asked us how they can develop similar relationships and roles for librarians in their home communities. This guide is developed in response to this interest and expression of need.