Future Signal 2: Data Privacy

For my second “future signal” post, I was assigned to the week were were talking about Data Privacy. You can see my post on Medium here.

“Public libraries are the first defender of digital privacy; we have expertise in data policies and information management, and we have long played that role in city building.” — Pam Ryan, Director of Service Development and Innovation, Toronto Public Library

Bookshelf in the Toronto Library Reference Section. Photo from  Creative Commons .

Bookshelf in the Toronto Library Reference Section. Photo from Creative Commons.

There are at least 90 US cities that maintain open data portals. In most, these are run out of a branch of the Mayor’s Office. But recently, there have been proposals and efforts to make the institution we already trust with information management, education and equitable access the new owner of these data: the library.

This is already happening in Tennessee where the Chattanooga Public Libraryhas been managing the city’s open data system for the past five years, an institution that believes libraries can be “pioneer[s] of the new frontier of information exchange.” In cities around the country, libraries have made digital and tech access and education a core part of their programming, and it is becoming more common for open data strategies to be included in these initiatives. A new report by the Toronto Region Board of Trade highlights the tension between technological innovation and personal privacy in Sidewalk Labs’ smart “Quayside” development in a district of Toronto. In order to address these concerns, the Board proposes to give the Public Library full responsibility and authority in developing a “Civic Data Hub.”

Libraries themselves are still figuring out exactly what their role should look like in this context. Groups like the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) and Digital Public Library of America are some examples of efforts to drive data in libraries forward. One of the ULC’s core principles along with Education and Health, Sustainable Communities is Digital Inclusion. Their website states that, “for millions of people, libraries are their gateway to the digital universe and digital readiness.” This new direction in open data management indicates that cities are recognizing exactly that — as well as the fact that simply putting data online in a “user friendly” format is not enough to ensure equal access and privacy protection.


Poon, L. (2019, Feb 11). Should Libraries Be the Keepers of Their Cities’ Public Data? Retrieved February 23, 2019, from www.citylab.com.

Shueh, J (2015, June 5). Data Reinvents Libraries for the 21st Century.Retrieved February 28, 2019, from www.govtech.com.

Toronto Region Board of Trade (2019). BiblioTech. Beyond Quayside: A City-Building Proposal for the Toronto Public Library to Establish a Civic Data Hub.Toronto, Ontario.