Open Data BR Launches

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Digital Initiative Opens Public Access to City-Parish Data
Mayor-President Melvin “Kip” Holden announced this week the launch of his new Open Data BR initiative, a state-of-the-art digital platform that will dramatically improve how the City-Parish approaches data management and digital engagement. Open Data BR – publicly accessible and downloadable today at – is the first in a series of key digital initiatives highlighted in Mayor Holden’s recent State of the City address to provide a more transparent and accessible City-Parish government. “The launch of Open Data BR is a critical step toward growing a strong, vibrant digital economy here in Baton Rouge,” Mayor Holden said. “We believe this initiative will truly revolutionize how the public interacts with our City-Parish data.”


Previously, much of the data was kept in information silos within separate agencies, where public access was limited. The new initiative represents a targeted effort by all of the City-Parish departments to work together, reduce those data silos and embrace technology as a tool to make government more efficient, effective and accessible.

The first phase of the Open Data initiative, available today, includes data sets such as fire and police data, employee salaries and detailed property information. Additional data sets will be added to the platform while existing ones will be maintained and updated. “Our eventual goal is to create an open government at all levels by publishing each and every City-Parish data point that may be of public interest,” Mayor Holden said. The Open Data BR initiative, led by the Mayor’s Department of Information Services, also follows the recommendations in IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge Grant last year.

“When IBM sent in its team of experts to study Baton Rouge and recommend how to improve our internal operations, one of the main points they kept going back to was data – both improving how we manage our data and how we then support the public’s interaction with it,” said Interim Information Services Director Eric Romero. “While we were already working on this effort, IBM’s recommendations served as validation that we were on the right track.”

Over the past year, Romero and his staff studied a number of other cities that are leaders in the “open data” movement, including New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Raleigh.  In many instances, software developers in these areas have used this new level of access to data to produce applications with a civic or public-sector focus.

“We believe this initiative will serve as a catalyst to engage the software development community to leverage our data – provided at no cost to the public – and work with us to develop technology-based solutions to public-sector problems,” said Romero.

In other cities, developers have utilized data from a number of public sources such as new building permits and new business licenses to build websites that are useful for new residents or new businesses.  Other applications use city data to track which streets have been cleared of snow during major snow events. In Baton Rouge, similar technology could be used during emergency situations such as heavy rain, icy road conditions and hurricanes, when knowing the real-time availability of key roadways can mean the difference between life and death.

Book Review: My Salinger Year

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My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff. Reviewed by Louise Hilton. 

Joanna Rakoff’s nonfiction debut chronicles her year spent as the assistant to the head of a literary agency in Manhattan in the late 1990s. The agency’s most important client? J. D. Salinger, hence the title. A bright and eager twentysomething, the bookish Rakoff is thrilled at landing a job at the prestigious Agency, as the never-named company is referred to throughout the book. Imagine her surprise when she arrives in the dimly lit office to find a dusty old Selectric typewriter and a stack of tapes waiting for her to listen to on a Dictaphone (remember those? I didn’t think so.) This, in 1996. The office is so old-fashioned that by the end of Rakoff’s time with the agency, her boss’s one concession to the encroaching digital age is the addition of a sole computer for the entire office to share.

Far from what she’d thought would be the glamorous world of publishing, Rakoff spends her days transcribing her boss’s dictated letters and sorting through the Agency’s most important client’s fan mail. When she started working there, Rakoff had yet to read any of Salinger’s work so she’s at first surprised by the dozens of letters that arrive each week for him. Once she reads the heartfelt messages from frustrated teenagers à la Holden Caulfield to aging veterans like Salinger himself, she realizes the profound effect novels such as The Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey had on his readers. She decides to write personalized replies to some – utterly ignoring Agency protocol of sending form letters to fans – which leads to interesting consequences.

Rakoff also touches on the post-graduate ennui she and some of her friends experienced and details her life outside of work, living in Brooklyn – before it was cool – with a tiresome man. Luckily she finally realizes what a nightmare their relationship is (jealous “writer” boyfriend with socialist leanings and an absurdly healthy ego, need I say more?) and strikes out on her own.

A highlight of the book is when Rakoff settles in to read all of Salinger’s novels one lonely weekend. She captures perfectly the transformative experience of reading Salinger for the first time, discovering that his novels are not just for angst-filled teenagers like his beloved Holden: “Salinger was not cutesy. His work was not nostalgic. These were not fairy tales about child geniuses traipsing the streets of Old New York. Salinger was nothing like I’d thought. Nothing. Salinger was brutal. Brutal and funny and precise. I loved him. I loved it all.”

Far from a gimmicky tell-all about her brush with literary fame – although her retelling of the phone calls she received from the famously reclusive Salinger and their one meeting in the flesh are exciting to read about – My Salinger Year is a lovely ode to books, reading, and New York. It’s also an engrossing read about a young woman finding her way in the world and at a mere 249 pages, I found it woefully short. This is by far my top pick of 2014.

*An abridged version of this review first appeared in The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La.) on 1/25/15.


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Want to start the new year off right by learning something new? We’ve got you covered! A great recent addition to our Digital Library is Pronunciator, a language learning database, featuring 80 language courses, along with English as a Second Language courses and tools. You can access it with your library card from any computer or download the mobile app for iOS or Android and use it on the go! Pronunciator has a wide variety of language learning exercises including quizzes, music, radio, and movies. You can take self-paced courses or sign up for structured 8-week courses. Check it out on our Digital Library page today!


National Readathon Day

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Visit the Main Library at Goodwood this Saturday, January 24, to celebrate National Readathon_square_220x250Readathon Day! It’s a marathon reading session from noon to 4 p.m. Join readers across America in making time to read that afternoon. Four straight hours is a lot of reading so this could be your opportunity to finally tackle that challenging longer book that’s been sitting on your newsstand. Or maybe you want to bring a whole pile of books, and read a bit from each. We will have loads of books on hand for you to read here too — we are the library after all! Refreshments will be served.

The focus of the event is to celebrate reading and literacy and to raise money for the National Book Foundation (a 501c3 nonprofit). All donations will support the National Book Foundation’s nonprofit work to promote literature and reading in America. *Donations are not required to participate in this Library event though.

Khaled Hosseini plans to read The Children Act by Ian McEwan, novelist Emma Straub plans to read Evelyn Waugh as well as some Babar, and the National Book Foundation’s Executive Director Harold Augenbraum plans to read the Lemony Snicket series. Share your photos and experiences during the Readathon and tell us what you’re reading on social media using the hashtags #timetoread and #ebrpl. See you Saturday!