Rebecca Stavick doesn’t wear reading glasses dangling from an old-timey, faux-jeweled lanyard. And she’s not so very big on “shhh-ing” patrons roaming the stacks of the W. Dale Clark Library, where she works in staff development. The Dewey Decimal System, formerly the bread and butter of any self-respecting library professional working in a space that Norman Cousins once called “a delivery room for the birth of ideas,” today elicits little more than a shrug and a “Meh” from Stavick. And she bears no resemblance to the tunefully frumpy Marian-the-Librarian from The Music Man.
The stereotype of librarians has changed greatly over the decades, just as has the increasingly digitized and web-based services that they provide. But Stavick’s passion for data—lots and lots of data—now extends far beyond the walls of the library system’s Downtown anchor facility.
Last year Stavick co-founded Open Nebraska along with Omaha World-Herald reporter Matt Wynn, University of Nebraska-Lincoln software architect Nate Benes, and Bergman Incentives chief creative officer Mike Battershell.
The nonprofit advocates for and acts in the “open data” movement through what Stavick calls “civic hacking.”
“Think of all the government information that is out there,” Stavick says. “It’s often readily available, but is almost always in the form of raw and virtually unusable data. Put that in the hands of a talented developer and designer, and you end up with a tool that Nebraskans can not only easily access, but it is now in a form that has real meaning for advocacy, action, and other uses.”
Want to know how much time it takes to traverse the city using only public transportation? Check out Open Nebraska’s Transit Party hack. Looking for a single-source listing of the seemingly countless and disparate government and quasi-government boards that operate in Douglas County? There’s an app for that.
Open Nebraska also promotes tech education in a variety of disciplines in support of a mission that aims to drive innovation and community engagement all across the state by making local information more accessible to the public.
She has also taken her data-driven gig on the road. Last year Stavick hosted a session for the librarians, museum professionals, and other information specialists attending the South by Southwest festival.
“I’m an information activist,” Stavick explains. “Libraries are among the most inclusive places on the planet because we serve anyone who walks through the door. We look to that same sort of goal—access to data for all—in our work at Open Nebraska.”