6 March 2021

Libraries and Open Data in 2021: Access, Skills, Engagement

6 March 2021 marks the annual Open Data Day. This international celebration brings together a wide range of stakeholders – from librarians and public servants to developers and statisticians – to showcase creative uses and benefits of open data to drive development and help address today’s societal challenges.

In light of libraries’ mission to support equitable and meaningful access to information, it comes as no surprise that more and more libraries are actively involved in the Open Data movement. Whether through offering reference services or data literacy learning opportunities, making their own data publicly available or collaborating with public agencies to build and maintain open data portals, organising events to raise awareness or drive engagement with open data sources - libraries champion and contribute to the Open Data movement and ecosystem.

As such, it can be worthwhile for libraries to keep track of the developments and latest discussions in the field; and see how other key stakeholders operate in the open data ecosystem. So where does Open Data stand at the moment?

Open Science and Research Data

Open scientific and research data has made important strides over the past 12 months as stakeholders around the world collaborated and relied on open data sharing to help drive and inform the pandemic response.

The State of Open Data” report by Digital Science, Figshare and Springer Nature examines current trends and perceptions of researchers on open science. For example, the 2020 survey highlighted that, among more than 4500 survey respondents, the number of researchers who said they are familiar or have heard of FAIR Open Data principles continues to grow. In just two years, the percentage of respondents who never heard of these principles dropped from 60% to 39%.

This tends towards growth can be seen in research practices as well: survey results indicated that, due to lockdowns, half of respondents are ‘extremely’ or ‘somewhat’ likely to re-use open data made available by others. 51% said they are likely to do so in the next 12-28 months (by comparison, only 44% reported using others’ data before).

Open Government Data

The latest UN E-Government Survey also highlights some key trends towards more open government data (OGD). In the period between 2014 and 2020, the number of countries with OGD portals has grown significantly – from 46 to 153.

In 2020, 59% of surveyed Member States had an OGD Policy, 57% accepted requests for new datasets from the public, and in 49% of the countries there have been efforts to promote data portals, e.g. hackathons.

The report notes that there is a growing awareness of the great potential of OGD - to drive accountability, effectiveness, inclusivity and public trust. However, associated risks and challenges, e.g. around data security, privacy and capacity, highlight the need for effective data governance on a national level. There is a lot of variation in how far different countries have progressed with OGD, and many benefits of OGD have yet to be fully realised.

Drawing on library experiences to foster equitable access and use

As the Open Data movement gains further momentum, libraries can – and do – contribute valuable insights on good practices and ways to maximise impact of access to such information.

One of the recent contributions IFLA made to UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights draws on the global library field’s experiences in this area. The submission discusses ways to build and expand access to information held by public entities – both open government data and other publications and information in the public sector.

The submission discusses:

  • Supply-side good practices thar foster access to public sector information
  • Access and participation infrastructure
  • Fostering a culture of active engagement with public sector and open data

You can access the IFLA submission on the publication page.

FAIFE (Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression), Access to information, Democracy, Government information

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