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Open Data

A Quick Post-mesh Post

April 9, 2009 | Alan H. | Comments (5)

As mentioned previously, members of the web team attended the recent mesh conference and found it quite valuable.  I was expecting to be somewhat out of place as a librarian (albeit a "web" librarian) but the great strength of the conference was the diversity of voices and perspectives.  I got many insights into potential directions for library web services that I'm not sure I would otherwise have found.  A part of this was just talking to tech-savvy people who still thought of the library as "books only" (not that this isn't still a big part of our identity!) and thinking as a result about how we might make our web presence better known--I'm hoping at least a few of them will start using Safari Computer Bookshelf or some of our other tech-focused resources (we have a ton of electronic journals and magazines dealing with computer science, information technology and technology in general available with your library card through our website).  Thanks to everyone I met at #mesh09 who shared ideas and thoughts with me.

I wanted to quote (perhaps paraphrase) two lines from Mayor Miller's second-day keynote, where he discussed plans for opening up city data and using web services to improve civic life that I thought were of especial relevance to the library's own efforts:

  • "When we share our information and open up our data, individuals will create new applications that benefit both the community and the city."
  • "In the future, systems can be redesigned to ensure they are open."

We have written previously on "Toronto 2.0" and our vision of the library's place in it and our efforts to open up our own data.  Major attention is being paid as part of our ongoing redesign of the library's web presence to changing the "underlying" model and structure of our data to make it more open, both to improve our own ability to build interesting and helpful web services in the future, and to enlist the ideas and skills of the community in adding value to our data, like the Red Rocket iPhone application has done with data shared by the Toronto Transit Commission.

So we are on board here at the web team with the vision of a more open city (the library is a city service,  though we report to an arms-length board rather than to the city directly), and hope to make some pretty exciting announcements relatively soon about our own data-sharing.  Watch this space! :)

Toronto 2.0

January 31, 2009 | TPL Staff | Comments (6)

Toronto 2.0 Globe and Mail, Saturday, January 31, 2009I was thrilled to open up this morning's Globe and see an article about the City of Toronto and open data:  Toronto 2.0: Data Sharing Source.

A few weeks ago we created a post about opening up the Library's data because making our content accessible and mash-able is a priority for the Library.

Today's article talks about Toronto being a real leader in social computing uptake and also a innovator in civic engagement.  It specifically talks about Change Camp, which took place last weekend.  Change Camp's mandate: 

"How do we re-imagine government and citizenship 

in the age of participation?"

At the Library we imagine many possibilities.   Like you looking for a book from your mobile phone and then being able to get TTC, driving or walking directions to the nearest available copy.  We also imagine you browsing the internet and being able to see related Library resources and programming information.  We're not entirely there yet, but the willingness and the motivation is and the capabilities are definitely coming along.

The web team will be at Toronto's Mesh Conference again this year and are looking forward to a lively discussion about social computing and open data that meets civic needs.  So if you happen to also be attending, make sure you stop one of us for a chat.

It is an exciting time for us here at the Library and for all Torontonians!

Library tip for accessing news online: Do you ever get a "To continue reading, you will need to purchase this article." message from newspaper websites?  That message is your cue to go to the Library's website where you will able to find, read and print the full text of newspapers articles that are no longer available through the news company's website.  As always, it's free, with your Library card.

Opening up our data - after all, distributing information is what we do

December 3, 2008 | Dara Renton | Comments (7)

Come In, We're Open Sign The Toronto Public Library is working to open up its data for people to use. After all, distributing information is what we do. By enabling Torontonians to access and use the information that the library has, including its branch location information, program and event information and the content within our library catalogue, we truly embody the mandate of a public library.

What this means is anyone with the skills and inclination could list, display or integrate linkable TPL data into their website. 

Some useful examples might be a community group who wants to show the nearest libraries or upcoming library programs in their neighbourhoods on their website, a special interest group would be able to list relevant linkable content within our collections or an individual would be able to easily blog about a TPL item, event, service or branch.

So in that light, as a first step we have made it easier for people to take branch location information and map it for their own needs.

Use our stuff on your own site

If you're building a website about your community or local business, or just hacking around and want to show nearby Toronto Public Library branch locations in Google maps, you can use this data just like we did on our hours and locations page.

You can take the geocoding the library has used for our Google maps and use it on your site.

 Link to Toronto Public Library's branch Google maps data.

There is a really good tutorial, some handy Google documentation and a developer forum if you're looking to get started with Google maps.

This is our first "API"  and there is much more to come.  In addition to this, our blogs already enable content syndication through RSS.

We are working to open up other sources like our library catalogue and our programs and events listings. As we move forward, we are looking at ways make our site more modular and easier to integrate using mashups, semantic-markup, microformats, embeddable widgets, APIs, and further content syndication.

Book Cover for RESTful Web Services

(Warning, unapologetic Library service plug follows)

If you fully understood this post and found it relevant to your interests or profession, you'll be happy to know that you can get *every* O'Reilly book online through the library with your library card. Either search the library catalogue for the title or interest of your choice, or go straight to Safari Books Online by typing It's free with your library card.

Staff from the Toronto Public Library's eServices team talk about recent changes, future plans and ideas and issues you raise about the library's online and mobile services.

What the Web Team is reading on the web