open data


What is open data? And how does it play out in our everyday life?  The answer depends on who is asking – open data for government, citizens, researchers, and businesses can mean very different things. The people who created the Open Data Handbook describe it as “…data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share-alike.” For a more detailed definition, check this out: Open Definition 2.1. In 2016, the FORCE11 community released the Fair Data Principles, which have driven the open data discussion across many research communities. In the EU, this movement has developed into an implementation effort due to the GoFAIR Initiative. In the US, the Enabling FAIR Data Project is working to “develop standards that will connect researchers, publishers, and data repositories in the Earth, space, and environmental sciences to enable FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable) data on a large scale.”

So, open data can be:

  • Freely used (you can get your Facebook data, but it’s not free for anyone to use so it doesn’t count)
  • Re-used (it has to be in a format that anyone can download!)
  • Redistributed (it’s fine for you to modify the data and send it out again)
  • May sometimes require attribution and share-alike (check what attributions are expected/required before sharing– the “About” information will often have this)

How does this show up in our daily life? Often, governments will release data about their programs and processes (try searching Google for <[your city name] data portal>, without the carrots). Other sources of open data include sites such as Zillow and IMDB and Twitter, which will let you download the information they have and analyze it. How about this data set, in which you can find the most popular pet names (and types) in Seattle?

Other ways we come across data without even realizing it — for example, from PQ Systems:

  • Baseball
  • Beach temperatures
  • Graduation rates
  • Gas prices
  • Mortgage rates

And, data are in the news all the time!  When considering what we read, critical thinking is a must.

Since the late 2000’s, open data has become a topic of discussion across the globe. Increasingly, government data that was once difficult to access is now open for global citizens to use in education, business, and other aspects of our daily life. The variety of open data strategies varies from country to country.

Key resources

Key Questions

There is much debate about the theoretical and tangible benefits and risks of open data. The conversation has become increasingly nuanced as particular research and professional communities engage with the opportunities and barriers associated with making data open. Common questions include:

  • What types of data can be made open?
  • When should data be made open?
  • How can data be shared openly?
  • How can data authors get credit for the data they generate, manage, curate?


Activity #1: Hold a discussion about how to help developing countries build up the Open Data Kit (ODK). A great resource is Open data kit: tools to build information services for developing regions.

Activity #2: Explore the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Public Libraries Survey 2016: State Profiles.  You can visually scan the data, or export it to another format and play with it in Excel or other program. What patterns do you see? Could you combine this data with another data set and find new patterns? How might you visualize the patterns? Do any stories emerge?

Activity #3: Check out the site , “a suite of easy-to-use web tools for beginners that introduce concepts of working with data”.  Check out a basic open data set (from your city or state’s open data portal, for example) or even a text file—how about newspaper reports from the day you were born? See what the Databasic tools do to help you understand your dataset better.

Activity #4: Contribute to the open knowledge base by coordinating a Wikidata event. Learn more about what Wikidata is, what it can do, and how others have contributed.

Activity #5: (For library workers) With your library leadership and colleagues, discuss what library data could be shared openly (in a responsible way) to improve service, gather support from your community, or communicate the value of your services. Are these data ready to be shared? Do the costs outweigh the benefits of preparing the data for sharing openly?