Libraries of all sizes can participate in their local civic tech movement - here are some ideas to get you started!

Project: Learn About Open Data

Data is the foundation for any civic tech application -- and there is more available every day for people working on civic tech projects!  “Open data” refers to data released to the public by government agencies.  (Yes, this means that your library can even release its own open data sets about circulation, program attendance, most-read books, etc.!)  

There are philosophical reasons for government agencies publishing data - such as transparency and accountability - but also many practical advantages as well, including the ability for programmers to build community applications using that public data.

To complete this project:

  • Explore open data sources at the local, state, and federal levels to find relevant data
  • Explore some sample applications built using open government data

Project: Build Your Data Skills

As librarians, we are trained to help people find the information they need, and that includes raw data.  But working with data requires a particular set of skills be added to our librarian toolbox.  These data literacy skills are also helpful when working on internal library projects, such as grant-writing or reporting.

To complete this project, follow our "Data Literacy 101" learning recommendations (coming soon).

Project: Build a Community-Created Map

Maps help us visualize location-related data, whether that data is about our neighborhood or our globe.  Maps can transform columns of numbers into useful knowledge about the people and places around us.  Online maps can combine data from the community with data and imagery from other sources, such as satellite imagery of your community -- and a community can build one together!

With this project, you'll convene various community stakeholders to contribute to a shared online map of community resources.  You can catalog all types of landmarks in the community: kids and youth locations, environmental points of interest, even a walking tour of historical sites.  When complete, you can publish your map and continue to add and modify it in the future.

To complete this project, follow our "Community Map Party" guide (coming soon).

Project: Build an Open Data Site

Once you've explored open data, check out publishing your city or your library's own data.  This data might be about almost anything: popular municipal data subjects include budget and finance data, local street and road maps, school educational test scores, and new business registrations.  Library data could include circulation, attendance, materials count, computer usage, budget, or anything else you can think of.  The data can be used by interested residents, businesses and entrepreneuers, researchers, journalists, community groups, and others.

A fully-developed open data portal might contain thousands of data sets, built-in tools for visualizing chart and map data, and features that allow other websites or applications to automatically download and process data.  When getting started, you may want to start with a smaller data catalog site, or even just add data resources to your existing website.

Project: Host a Local or Regional Hackathon

A hackathon is a 1- or 2-day event where interested members of the community, local businesses, and local government agencies are brought together to work on (usually) technology-related projects, such as building a prototype website, collecting or parsing community data, or creating user-friendly documentation for community services. Your event does not have to include a competition; in fact, a hackathon doesn’t even need to be about technology. (Things most hackathons do have in common: creative solutions, great conversations, and caffeine!)

The goal of a hackathon is not to end up with polished applications that can be deployed to the public that weekend. Instead, the goals include: building relationships between participants and the organizations they represent, providing technical skills and experience by skilled participants to learning participants, and identifying resources and challenges in the community that these relationships can address.

More information about hackathons, including our hackathon facilitation service, is available.

Project: Teach Data Literacy Skills

As your library team builds your data skills in-house, consider passing those skills on to your patrons.  A number of beginner data-literacy classes aimed at the public are available.  We recommend the "Data Equity for Main Street" curriculum, developed jointly by the California State Library and Washington State Library.  This customizable curriculum is a great start for libraries that wish to offer basic data literacy training to their patrons.