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New York, Boston Share Part of $3 Million Library Innovation Funding

The Knight News Challenge on Libraries funded 22 projects across the country that build more knowledgeable communities.

Public libraries are taking on a larger role in the digital era.

Boston's public libraries will play a key role in transforming government data into useful knowledge for residents, businesses and researchers. Although the city releases massive amounts of digital data on everything from building permits to potholes, the information is not organized well, according to Boston CIO Jascha Franklin-Hodge.

“It’s like we had a pile of books, and we put them on the floor and said, ‘Hey, here’s your library,' ” Franklin-Hodge said in a recent Knight News Challenge video.

Franklin-Hodge expects that will change thanks to a $475,000 award from the Knight News Challenge on Libraries, which last week announced $3 million in funding for 22 innovative projects. The Boston project, Open Data to Open Knowledge, will harness the skills of local librarians — cataloging, curating and connecting data — to create a digital data catalog for the community. From there, the city will partner with libraries to provide introductory classes or data challenges that encourage people to analyze and visualize the data.

“There is a growing demand for libraries to evolve their role and become more dynamic, living platforms, responsive to community needs,” John Bracken, Knight Foundation vice president for media innovation, said in a statement. “The winners are working to reinvent the ways in which people experience the library, and providing citizens with the tools and information they require to contribute and strengthen our democracy.”

The New York Public Library received $380,000 to create a free, historical mapping service called the NYC Space/Time Directory. Users will be able to “explore forgotten neighborhoods, look up long-ago vanished buildings and streets, and discover the history around” them, according to a description of the project. “It will be open source and community-built, engaging local museums, historical societies, universities, citizen cartographers and the New York tech community to help gather data, and to contribute code and expertise.”

View the list of winners here.

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Feb 03 2015

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