Open Everything in Libraries

I started writing this blog post quite a while ago as you can tell from the intro, but I had forgotten about it and decided to recently finish it.


Listening to the talks at Code4LibBC last week, I began to think about open data and collections, but then starting to also think about the role of libraries and the idea that it’s a public space.

Open Data

We often talk about open data, and it seems as if many people agree with the notion, but don’t (know how to) act on it. I don’t think I’m an exception to this. Hearing some of the speakers, especially Galen Charlton, made me think that maybe it’s not as hard as we think.

One of the biggest problems most libraries have is that the data about the collections live in a black box, where the data is hard to get at, let alone open for other people to harvest or query (such as through OAI or an API).

Even in the worst of black boxes though, you can export your metadata. A few years ago, Toronto Public Library publicly posted a dump of all of their metadata records. They haven’t posted any updates since then, but at least it was an effort to expose their data and give other people a chance to look at it.

Some systems are great and have an API. Most library systems probably don’t, but many libraries keep a copy of their records in search tools, most notably, discovery layer systems. Many of those have APIs. Now, most companies will only provide an API key to the library itself, but could we negotiate with vendors to provide API keys so that users could also have access? Could we post the same set of records normally ingested into discovery layers in a place where others could download or access them?

Another option would be to simply have the data for others to harvest or index. Our site does not have an API, but it does have OAI so that the metadata can be harvested. (It’s not widely known becuase it still needs to be tested, and if someone is willing to help, let me know!)

Open (Wifi) Access

Normally when we talk about open access, it’s about making research papers and articles available publicly. However, how can these people access this research if they don’t have online access? One of Scott Leslie’s points is that libraries should provide open wireless access.

Understandly, some organizations are reluctant to make their network completely open so that anyone can connect. Reasons might include that it’s harder to track infringements, and it’s less secure for users.

One alternative that I have seen is to allow users to ask for temporary accounts. I’ve seen multiple ways this has been implemented.

In some cases, ID is required and a specific temporary account is tied to a specific person. This method means that individual users’ traffic can be tracked and tied back to them.

Another method is to create one temporary account that allows as many users as requests it. The account might expire after a specified period of time, such as 24 hours. This still allows IT administrators to easily shut down a single account in case of infringements without affecting all users.

While not quite open access, at least these alternatives would allow all users to have online access.

Open Collections

Special collections and archives items are kept for preservation purposes, so understandly, a certain amount of control over access is required. What I dont entirely understand is when (parts of) a collection is made inaccessible for unknown reasons.

I heard one library that moved their least used items into storage, but with no way for the public to access the items. The library might as well have weeded those items instead of keeping them.

If you have a collection, it should be accessible. Even most special collections and archives that I’ve visited are accessible if you make arrangements ahead of time.

Open Spaces

At first, I wasn’t so sure about libraries having cafes and what not, but then more important than the cafe, the possibility of the public spaces available even when the library is closed is what intrigued me.

Numerous universities and colleges, especially with new buildings or by renovating existing spaces, have a way for the library to be closed while allowing people to use the space. The space varies, but might include some study rooms and public computers, reading areas, and just general sitting or table space.

Many public libraries will also have a cafe or something, which will have hours outside of library hours, but may still not be open as long as the general space.

In some cases, libraries are inside of community centres, in which case, obviously the building and public spaces around it will be open beyond the library hours.

Retrofitting existing spaces would be very expensive, but as more library material and resources become digital, and even the number of public computers that is needed frequently becomes less, any new spaces or buildings should definitely take into account having some open spaces for use, whether it is open all the time, or simply beyond the regular library hours.

Moving Towards Being Open

I know that having everything open is really an ideal. Especially with physical spaces, changing the current situation can be difficult, but we can definitely work towards it as we move forward.

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

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