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Libraries no longer just about the books

WALLA WALLA, Washington —  Local librarians are training to help you find open data that is useful to you. Walla Walla County’s Rural Library District is part of beta-testing for a growing program called Data Equity for Main Street that is training librarians to handle open data requests from the public. They are trying to move away from the public asking cities, counties and state government officials for information on how to navigate open data on the internet — and are training librarians to help residents navigate the information instead.

“They felt that getting libraries involved early in the process would be a great way to get this knowledge to people who may need it,” says IT Manager Mundy Mulligan, who works with the library district. “The program is designed to teach the teachers. In other words, they are building a curriculum which could be used to teach the public how to find open data on the internet and what they can do with this data.”

A survey by Pew Research Center in 2016 found that about 80 percent of Americans still name their local libraries as a place to learn about new technology.

“What is you are looking for the cheapest health care or a pharmacist who has a great track record and no claims against them? Where would you look? What if you are concerned about E-rate discounts for your local schools and libraries and want to know how many students receive free and reduced-price lunches? Maybe you want to move and can’t decide what part of the greater Seattle area has the least crime. Would you know where to start looking?” Mulligan continued to say, “Let’s say you Googled it. You have found open data, now what do you do? Part of the training explains how to download the data as a CSV file and sort and filter as needed. This all requires a computer and a bit more than basic computer skills. If you don’t have a computer or all of the knowledge necessary to do this research, a library can be a great place to start.”

Technology is expanding every day, and it has made it easier to look for information. Mulligan suggests that with the right training and guidance, everyone is capable of doing research and finding accurate open data.

“Not every state is as proactive as Washington,” he says. “I am very excited that this project has started taking place. I have used open data for years and know the full benefits.”

The open data can be found in a single location, and Mulligan says it’s growing. As the program matures, officials say training materials will become more readily accessible and will provide more options to those who want to gain useful information from the internet.

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