Continuing the Library and Museum Open Data Conversation

By Maria Raviele, PhD, Evaluation Officer
Justin Grimes, Statistician
Trevor Owens, Senior Library Program Officer
Institute of Museum and Library Services

As part of the launch of, the agency’s new open data catalog, a cohort of about 30 data wonks, librarians, curators, researchers, developers, and representatives from a wide range of organizations including Sunlight Foundation, New America Foundation, Urban Institute, Azavea, ESRI, PBS, NPR, National Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Library of Congress, National Endowment for the Humanities, Federal Communication Commission, General Services Administration, and more met at IMLS’s offices.

In what we called an Open Data Open House, this cohort helped us explore and share ideas on how IMLS data could be used and how the data catalog could be improved.

Participants in the IMLS board room during the Open Data Open House

You can find the notes from the meeting online and read through the tweets from it using the hashtag #IMLSdata. We thought it would be useful to share a bit about some of the discussions stemming from three breakout sessions during the half-day event.

Comments on Data and the Data Catalog
Several participants offered suggestions and tips for using the platform based on the presentation. Sara Snyder from the Smithsonian American Art Museum noted how important the “about” button on the datasets is for understanding the context and data dictionary for the data sets. In this vein, there were also several comments regarding the licenses associated with our data. All IMLS data posted in the data catalog is in the public domain, and released without restriction, but attendees suggested that we investigate using a Creative Commons CC0 license to further clarify that all data is free without restrictions. There was also a discussion from participants that in conjunction with our awarded grants data set, IMLS make grant final reports available. This topic is part of ongoing discussions within IMLS.

Future Focus on User Stories/Use Cases
In a breakout session focused on potential use cases for the data, several participants stressed how important it is for IMLS to be proactive in identifying and communicating out about potential ways we imagine this data could be put to use. The group identified a range of potential users, including public policy researchers, potential grant applicants, chief data officers of cities, and students and teachers in library schools. In a follow-up post, we will sketch a few of these out to try to help spark other ideas about how our data could be used.

Future Approaches, Possibilities, and Policies
In another breakout session, a group explored potential directions for policies and ways that the IMLS data could connect with and enhance other kinds of data sets. One particularly lively point of discussion centered  around how to meet the needs of and connect with a range of potential end users for the data catalog. Potential users run the spectrum from the data savvy professional programing types to broader public audiences. It was suggested that we could lower the bar of entry to accommodate users with basic skills. Most believed, though, that researchers and developers who build things from and integrate IMLS data into their work are going to be the most likely vector for helping this data become useful and used by broader audiences.

This was a point attendees from other Federal agencies found particularly relevant and one to consider in their own open data policies. Reflecting on the event, John Martinez of the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of Innovation, noted, “The event was thought-provoking and informative in seeing how other agencies are trying to address the same Open Government and Open Data mandates that we must fulfill. From an archival perspective, the break-out discussions uncovered ideas that would truly benefit the quality of agency data early in the records lifecycle.”

Going forward, we plan to host and participate in more events like this and ideally strengthen connections between the collection and analysis of data at IMLS and the work that grantees engage in around these issues.

Do you have ideas or suggestions for using IMLS data? Do you have comments or questions about IMLS data or the newly launched open data catalog, If so, please let us know.

Analytics of visitors to the IMLS Data Catalog.

Analytics of visitors to the IMLS Data Catalog.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Information Infrastructure/Systems/Workflows, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), Research | Leave a comment

Discovery à la Mode

By Margaretta S Frederick
Chief Curator, and Annette Woolard-Provine Curator of the Bancroft Collection
Delaware Art Museum

In 2012, the Delaware Art Museum began the arduous task (for a mid-sized museum) of placing our collection records online in a publically searchable database. The award of a Museums for America grant for Collections Stewardship in 2013 provided us with the essential staff and resources to advance this project by leaps and bounds, allowing the curatorial department to undertake the inventory, digital photography, and records update for over 5,000 works on paper. We now have over 3,500 object records and images available through eMuseum, and every one of these records has been reviewed by a curator. While this accomplishment might seem like enough in itself (and we certainly think so!), there have been a number of additional, unexpected bonuses in the process.

The most rewarding aspect of this project (at least for those hard-working curators) has been the discovery of unappreciated gems in the collection. One of the most exciting curatorial “finds” was that of Dr. Mary Holahan, our Curator of Illustration. Dr. Holahan discovered a wonderful drawing by the American illustrator Rose O’Neill (1874–1944), who is perhaps best known for her “kewpie” cartoons (later transformed into the popular “kewpie dolls”). As a young woman, O’Neill was a regular contributor to Puck, the nation’s leading humor magazine, and Dr. Holahan was thrilled to realize, as she was reviewing the record prior to online publishing, that the museum owned an O’Neill cartoon from this publication.

Illustration by Rose O'NeillPhoto from the Delaware Art Museum Collection.

Popularity à la Mode. Mrs. Hightone – I hear that your new Rector is very popular. Mrs. DeStyle – Popular? Yes, indeed! Why, we are thinking of having his sermons dramatized.,
1901 from Puck,
July 3, 1901
Rose Cecil O’Neill (1874-1944)
Ink and blue pencil on paper
21 3/8 x 15 1/8 in. (54.3 x 38.4 cm)
Delaware Art Museum, Gift of Helen Farr Sloan, 1980

The illustration had been recorded in our database under the artist’s married name, Latham (from a brief first marriage that ended in divorce, after which she reclaimed her maiden name), because of the signature. This is a common problem with women artists, as name changes and periods of production often do not coincide. In addition, the work had not been photographed, so even when surveying illustrations in the database, there was no image to trigger a proper identification. For our collection, O’Neill is so significant that Dr. Holahan had her “on the list” for future acquisition.

The drawing portrays two society ladies mocking a pompous clergyman and was published with the caption: Popularity à la Mode. Mrs. Hightone—I hear that your new Rector is very popular. Mrs. De Style—Popular? Yes, indeed! Why, we are thinking of having his sermons dramatized! This illustration appeared as a stand-alone cartoon on July 3, 1901. Stylistically, it is a powerful work utilizing a vertical format to create a complicated ascending figural composition with overall dense patterning. The subject is multi-layered, acting as both a satire of the upper classes and a chronicle of contemporary fashion, one of the artist’s documented interests. I am delighted to announce that the drawing is now on view in one of our illustration galleries.

Posted in Collections Care/Preservation, Museums for America | Leave a comment

Fitting the Pieces Together: Progress On Linked Data For Libraries

By Trevor Owens
Senior Library Program Officer, IMLS

Following on the Linked Open Data for Libraries, Archives and Museums summit in 2011, interest in this topic has continued to grow among the digital cultural heritage professionals. For those unfamiliar, term “linked open data” can sound like a lot of different things. Conceptually, linked open data has been described as a cultural heritage researcher’s metadata paradise, but as it works its way through the hype cycle it seems to be finding a clear connection to the descriptive work that libraries, archives and museums are involved in.

In a pragmatic sense, a core idea in linked data relevant to libraries is to move toward using unique identifiers in metadata instead of simply using plain text. For example, instead of (or in addition to) having “Twain, Mark, 1835-­1910” identified as the author of a work, one can use That link, to the Virtual International Authority File, acts both as a unique identifier for Mark Twain and as a point of entry to a wealth of links to information about Mark Twain, from a range of places and in a multitude of languages. As the range of unique identifiers for people, places, and things continues to grow, there continues to be considerable promise for linked data approaches in the cultural heritage sector.

people in a conference room participating in the linked data conference.


Work Continues on Linked Data for Libraries
I was thrilled to be able to join a set of library technologists at Stanford University for a two-day workshop to explore these issues, and I’m happy to share some of the activities and work participants discussed. As part of ongoing work at Stanford, Harvard, and Cornell funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the event worked to inform the universities’ project and served to convene experts working on issues around linked data to share their work and chart future directions for the field.

Linked Open What?
For those interested in background on this area, you can read up on the issues and motivations behind the project. “Why Linked Data?” from the project proposal offers a useful introduction. For further context on the topic and the project, consider watching a video of a presentation Dean Krafft and Tom Cramer recently gave on the topic at the Coalition for Networked Information’s meeting in December.

Use Cases for Linked Data in Libraries
One of the central points of focus at the meeting was to work through a series of use cases in which librarians and library users might make use of linked data-based services to aid their use of library resources. These cases have guided the work of these teams on a range of particular implementation projects. Aside from that, they are quite useful in illustrating how linked data can help meet the needs of particular library user communities.

Linked Data Projects Moving Forward
Through a range of presentations and lightning talks, participants at the event shared a diverse set of examples of how different libraries are using linked data right now. Examples included:

If you are interested in learning more about the results, presentation, and discussion at the event, you can review the Twitter stream for the event hashtag, #ld4l. Many of the slides and presentations from the event are also being posted up on the workshop page.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Information Infrastructure/Systems/Workflows | Leave a comment

IMLS and Open Government Initiatives

Maura MarxBy Maura Marx
Acting Director, IMLS

Transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government. We consider these principles critical to the mission of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. And we have built a strong foundation of openness policies and practices that guide our activities and are part of President Obama’s government-wide initiative to promote openness in the work of federal agencies. I am excited to tell you about a number of efforts to unlock the power of government data to spur innovation and improve the quality of our services.

Our IMLS Open Government Plan, which was developed after consultation with agency stakeholders, highlights the agency’s efforts toward greater transparency. Accomplishments include completion of an agency-wide inventory of data holdings, increasing the number of publicly available datasets, and updating grant policies to continue to ensure that data from federally funded research is made publicly available.

Museum Universe Data File Q3 2014 Map: This dataset provides a list of known museums and related organizations in the United States maintained by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Museum Universe Data File Q3 2014 Map: This dataset provides a list of known museums and related organizations in the United States maintained by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The IMLS Digital Government Strategy aims to enable access to high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, anytime, on any device. Our developer page will provide information about our data and systems and promote the use of application programming interfaces (APIs).

Agency staff members have participated in several hackathons and will participate in the upcoming International Open Data Day at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. At these events, we receive feedback about our datasets and highlight the importance of public engagement, including working with the developer community.

It’s a particular point of pride to share our latest accomplishment, the launch of the data catalog site ( This resource puts IMLS data—comprising agency data such as grants administration and data about museums, libraries, and related organizations—at the fingertips of researchers, developers, and interested members of the public who want to dig deeper.

Homepage of

The data catalog site can be used to:

  • search, filter, and export datasets,
  • create and share visualizations such as maps, charts and graphs without the need for additional software,
  • develop reports and visualizations for program planning and evaluation,
  • present data analysis in interactive web-based reports, and
  • fuel apps and other data mash-ups generated through APIs.

We are hosting an Open Data Open House to engage a small group of researchers and digital library, museum, and government professionals with the new tool. They have been invited to demonstrate its features, explore IMLS data sets, and brainstorm ideas for projects using the data.

Your input is welcome. Follow our Facebook page and engage in the discussion on Twitter using #IMLSdata. Also, you can subscribe to our UpNext blog posts to hear from guest writers about new ways to use IMLS data.

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