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Home > Blog > November 2012 > The Open Data Initiative and GIS Technology

This is the first part in a multi-part series looking at tech news and issues relevant to the Free Library of Philadelphia’s customers and patrons.

One of the more recent buzzwords gaining attention in the tech world and in government circles is the idea of “Open Data”. In its simplest definition, it is the sharing of information by everyone, free from restrictions (albeit without violating any copyright laws or rights to privacy), for the common good and betterment of the community.

This past April, Philadelphia joined the ranks of other major U.S. cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., in adopting an Open Data Policy to provide increased access to and transparency of data and information in its City government. The policy allows the City to publish collected data online and for the public to have the opportunity to participate in the City agency decision-making processes. After signing the Open Data Initiative into effect, Mayor Michael Nutter assigned Mark Headd as the City of Philadelphia's first Chief Data Officer.

So what does Open Data really mean to you and how can it be used in your everyday life?

Well, you are probably already using it and interacting with it on a daily basis and not even realizing it. Anytime you look up an address or map out directions on Google, you are accessing Open Data. If you call 911 for emergency help, the information from your call is logged into a database that may provide statistics for reports at a later date.

Recently, the Free Library hosted an all-day event in cooperation with City of Philadelphia as part of National GIS Day.

Various uses of Open Data are currently being employed in City Planning, Police Operations, Streets, Emergency Management, and most recent in the development of the Philly 311 app. Online through their website or through its mobile app, you can use Philly 311 to request non-emergency city services and report neighborhood issues such as street light outage, potholes, sanitation and abandoned automobiles.

Through GIS (Geographic Information Systems), the City has developed a robust maps website, CityMaps, that creates detailed maps out of data where you can for example find information on police crime reports and statistics, what day of the week your trash is collected, or to find out the boundaries of a specific city zip code. And this is just a very small sampling of what is currently possible with GIS and Open Data.

Next time, we'll discuss the potential benefits of Open Data for the patrons and customers of the Free Library...

Tags: Events at the Library, Government Information, databases, maps, tech

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