Benefits and Possibilities of Open Data and the Free Library

By Peter SM RSS Tue, December 4, 2012

Picking up from where we left off last week:

What does Open Data mean for patrons and customers of the Free Library and what are some of the potential benefits and possibilities?

If ever there was a perfect pairing it is Open Data and the Free Library!
The Library is a huge repository of data and information (as well as history, art, culture, literature, etc.) and the Open Data Initiative operates and thrives on this type of data. When developers have access to this kind of data, they can create apps and programs with almost limitless potential, for people to use to get information quicker and more accurately than ever before.

One recent project the Free Library of Philadelphia has worked on using Open Data is the Historical Images of Philadelphia collection.

Currently in its beta phase, data for this feature includes digital images from the Philadelphiana Collection, housed in the Print and Picture Collection at the Free Library, which contains more than 20,000 historical images of Philadelphia. Using GIS mapping, a Google map of an image’s location is generated, listing the neighborhood it is in, any historical information about the digital image, as well as giving an up to date image of what is located at that address present day. This extensive collection of data has been displayed in a way that can be easily searched, mapped, and analyzed by anyone with access to the website.

That’s one of the great benefits of Open Data, is the natural progression of cross-reference and collaboration that happens once individuals and developers see the potential. The options and combinations of the services and apps that can be created using Open Data are as limitless as the information and data available.

Currently, the Free Library and its many neighborhood branches feed events through an RSS feed to EveryBlock, which in itself is a form of Open Data, but more on the social media side of things. But to build on that idea, maybe this data collected could be used for an app that allows for interactive, real-time maps (via data from’s CityMaps) of all Free Library of Philadelphia branches with up to the minute info on schedules, events, and new books and library materials that are available?

By having patrons and customers of the library suggesting and collaborating on data and information, it could almost be like the ultimate customer service app and the very definition of interactive culture and community.

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