The Spokane Public Library is distinctive in having a Community Data Coordinator position shared between the City of Spokane and the Library. Working through this connection, the library is partnering with the City to convene data producers and data users, to develop a master data management plan, and to work towards governance policies and goals for open data for the City of Spokane. The library's role in the partnership has included bringing a focus on data ethics and community care.
Our project was a partnership between the Spokane Public Library, Eastern Washington University, and the City of Spokane. The interrelated goals of our project were to understand our local data ecosystem and publish open data. There are various efforts in Spokane surrounding open data and these are largely siloed. We worked to connect these various groups and consider how we could all work collaboratively.
Community Data support page on Spokane Public Library Website
The Public Library's role in Spokane is unique because the Community Data Coordinator position is shared between the City and Library. Based on our shared interests in Open Data, the position grew out of our hopes to maximize resources and coordinate efforts. Particularly, we both hoped to leverage the Library's role in the community to be a connector between city data and the community consumers. We share the funding of the position, but it is a Library position. We collaborate on goals and objectives. Our project's main activities have been to bring together data producers and users.
Currently, these have been mostly larger organizations (e.g., city, schools, health department, university). We have also worked to get a sense of the various roles that are already being filled and where the gaps are (ecosystem mapping). The Library has been tasked with taking the lead on open data publication which has led to larger discussions about ethical and responsible data use.
In the initial months, we focused on networking among various groups producing and using data. In recent months, we have worked closely with the city on their master data management (MDM) plan and the development of governance policies and goals for open data. The MDM is still in early phases, but the infrastructure is set up for open data publication and various municipal agencies are on-board with open data. Our strongest partnership right now is with folks involved with the Community Management Information Systems (CMIS). This team works with very sensitive data about the unhoused in our city and has facilitated a lot of great conversations around ethics and data storytelling.
The open data publication part of our project is inextricably linked to the city’s efforts to centralize data collection in a data lake. This master data management project parallels our open data goals somewhat but is also a huge undertaking. Working out some really important things like governance, privacy, and use have been great to be involved with but have slowed down our data publication. We have thought through the implications of data and what we want in our community much more conscientiously than if we could have just raced forward.
Being involved with the larger data management plan has helped us work out the Library’s role and has kept us at the table in data discussions
Being involved with the larger data management plan has helped us work out the Library’s role and has kept us at the table in data discussions. Within the city our presence and reminders about data ethics and community care have influenced the overall arc of the MDM in positive ways. We are very optimistic that the activities and partnerships that we have built this year will help sustain the library’s role in open data initiatives in the future. We have ended up pursuing a lot of smaller data projects as needs have arisen due to the pandemic. For example, we worked with the City and Spokane Public Schools to understand and visualize technology inequity and come up with solutions for students in need.
One surprising thing that this project has shown us is the importance of being able to provide services and skills. The library has a unique culture, knowledge of curation, and capacity for programming that makes it really suited for leadership in open data projects. While it is not always easy to straddle the line between the Library and the City, it also provides some great opportunities for both organizations to do what they do best. Due to the pandemic, we have not really planned or conducted any good community engagement and education programs. We have been able to do a lot behind the scenes instead, which has set us up to hit the ground running on community focused open data projects in the future.
Shiloh Deitz, Community Data Coordinator, The Spokane Public Library