Introducing Chicago Public Library’s new and improved website, accessible on your phone or tablet so you can take the library with you on the go! The website features an improved library catalog and search features and greater accessibility so that library resources are always right at your fingertips.


CPL has partnered with software company BiblioCommons to re-envision the library’s online experience which included the site’s development, research, design, and ongoing enhancements that will be rolled out over the next three years. The new online experience integrates with the library’s catalog, showcasing the Library’s diverse range of collections, events, and services. CPL is the first library system to date to launch this innovative online platform. The new website, catalog, and mobile apps are all “software as a service” providing the foundation for continuous innovation while reducing the need for costly in-house infrastructure and staff technical expertise.

You’ll immediately notice the more customer-friendly features, including the ability to create a unique user name and PIN, keep a history of what you have checked out and a wish list of what you want to borrow in the future. You can also rate titles, as well as write and read reviews of books, movies and music – visible not only to other CPL patrons, but also to the community of the 200 libraries around the world currently using BiblioCommons’ catalog platform.

And of course, the new website also adapts to any screen size, like smart phones and tablets; the responsive design ensures users have the same experience–no matter the mobile device. Free apps will also be available for iPhone/iPod Touch and Android.



One year after its launch, food safety application Foodborne Chicago is leveraging technology to help hundreds of Chicagoans report food poisoning incidents to the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and make Chicago a safer place to eat. With the help of Twitter, Foodborne Chicago has resulted in 150 restaurant and food service inspections that otherwise may have been reported too late, or not at all.

Foodborne Chicago flags public tweets mentioning cases of food poisoning in Chicago, reviews and replies to those individuals which have legitimate cases of food poisoning, and then directs them to a simple complaint submission form. In its first year, 233 total reports were submitted through Foodborne Chicago. Since the CDC estimates approximately 45% of foodborne illnesses go unreported, these submissions and subsequent restaurant inspections can go a long way towards preventing foodborne illnesses in the city.

Foodborne Chicago was created by Smart Chicago and civic tech developers in partnership with CDPH, and is part of the City’s commitment to using technology to make service requests simple and stress-free. Chicagoans can easily check the status of their food poisoning complaints – and other service requests – at the 311 Service Tracker.

Chicago Public Library recently submitted a proposal to the Knight Foundation #NewsChallenge grant program for their “Hotspot at Home” lending program.

If CPL is chosen for this grant, the pilot program would allow patrons at pilot branches in neighborhoods with extremely low in-home broadband use to check out an Internet Hotspot for three weeks, allowing them access to the Internet at home. Be sure to use the hashtag #NewsMatters when sharing with your networks!  Winners of the grant will be announced on June 23rd.

500px-WIFI_icon.svg[1]These Internet Hotspots are small portable devices that connect multiple devices – mobile phones, tablets and computers – to the Internet. For community members without an Internet capable device, CPL would simultaneously launch a pilot computer-lending program, in which specially-tagged and outfitted laptops or tablets would be loaned in combination with the Hotspots.

Chicago Public Library patrons of all ages come to the library to use the internet for homework help, job searches, and to create email accounts. The Hotspot at Home program would be more convenient for patrons, as well as increase Chicago’s digital skill development and engagement in online communities.

This will also enable CPL to actively support the City’s Tech Plan, which hopes to accelerate job creation, improve the quality of life for all Chicagoans, and provide increased digital access and skills.


Every year, 49,000 people from around the world come to take part in South by Southwest. This year Chicago made sure it was not left out.

The Mayor started out by attending the launch of Chicago Based Inventables new design platform called Easel, which is an easy-to-use, online maker tool allowing anyone to design their creations from home. It’s as easy as point, click, and create. It only took the Mayor five minutes to design this bottle opener.

And we brought our friends. From hackers and engineers like Harper Reed, to major musical artists like Chance the Rapper, the Chicago Made booth had something for innovators, inventors, entrepreneurs, artists and story tellers alike. It was all about showcasing what Chicago is made of, and the kinds of amazing people, ideas and creations that emerge from our city.


( The Choose Chicago Chicago Made Booth)

Did you know that only 5% of technology startups are founded by women?  This week we also announced the creation of a new tech incubator called FEMtech, which will increase opportunities for women-owned tech businesses and startups.

Recently, President Obama announced that Chicago has been awarded a $70 million grant from the Department of Defense to build a Digital Manufacturing and Design Lab – The Digital Lab. Add in the $250 million funding from other private-public partnerships, and Chicago’s got itself a new world-class cutting edge facility in the Goose Island area.

Led by University of Illinois-affiliated UI Labs, which turns academic research into profitable industry solutions, the new innovation institute will seek to address challenges faced by the defense and manufacturing industries.

The key signature of The Digital Lab will be its Digital Manufacturing Commons (DMC).  The DMC is an “open-source software platform that will create networks of people, manufacturing machines, and factories to enable real-time collaboration during design and manufacturing, unlocking significant value for Dept. of Defense and small and large manufacturers across the country.”

In a nutshell: smart people, big ideas, shared tools and practices, instant collaboration, and solutions that are available to everyone, big or small. The Digital Lab basically hopes to be the ideal conception of teamwork in the digital age.

This is what happens when you bring together 41 big-name, high tech manufacturing companies along with 23 of the best Universities, Institutes, and Engineering schools in the country.

If all works out, the Digital Lab as the potential to generate $35 billion in savings for the Dept. of Defense and over $100 billion in value for its many industry partners. The Digital Lab will make their technology accessible to the Chicago region’s manufacturing, business sector, and education centers.

Watch out Silicon Valley, Midwest Manufacturing is moving on up.

Read more from the White House.  Read more from Chicago City Hall. Be sure to check out the Digital Lab website!  Also, follow UI Digital on Twitter for updates: @digitalLab_

Chicago City of Learning, Chicago Public Schools, and Chicago Public Library wants youth, teachers, and mentors to share what you, your classroom, or after school program are doing to celebrate Digital Learning by posting to our Chicago #DLDayGallery.



We are looking for photos, links to student-made websites or digital artifacts, videos – anything that you feel showcases your efforts! We will display it here so others can get inspired by what you’re doing and we can learn from each other.

Send your photos, websites, and digital media – anything that you feel showcases your efforts to! Here are some tips to get you started, learn more about ways you can participate. You can follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #DLDAY


R is a powerful statistics program that is a favorite among data scientists. Using R with the City of Chicago data portal has been possible, but R users always needed to handle some residual issues after loading files from the data portal. These issues were also common for Chicago’s data science team, so we’re excited to release the RSocrata package to make the interaction with the Chicago data portal–and any other Socrata data portal–easier for R users.

Using RSocrata

RSocrata is available on CRAN and can be installed and loaded with:


Just use the URL of the datasets from any Socrata site to load data with read.socrata(). Below, the Towed Vehicles dataset is loaded as a dataframe with:

towed.vehicles <- read.socrata("")

You can also use the API Access Endpoint address to load data. Locate the API Access Endpoint address under the Export button and the API menu. You will need to change the “.json” extension to “.csv”. For example, the API Access Endpoint for Towed Vehicles is

Locating API Endpoint

Find the API Endpoint for each dataset.

To use with RSocrata, type:

towed.socrata <- read.socrata("")

Using either the human-readable URL or the API Access Endpoint will make the same call to Socrata and is designed to minimize throttling.

R-friendly loading

There are a couple of benefits from RSocrata. First, date values are loaded in R as POSIX formatted dates, which is not the case using read.csv. Comparing the two methods, read.csv will usually be classified as factors:

towed.csv <- read.csv("") # Reading CSV input
class(towed.csv$Tow.Date) # Check the date classification for 'Tow Date' column
 [1] "factor"
class(salaries.socrata) # Loaded with read.socrata
 [1] "POSIXlt" "POSIXt"

The RSocrata package uses a loop and Socrata’s $offset parameter to minimize throttling from the data portal.

RSocrata is available on CRAN and is open for pull requests on GitHub.

Funded with a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Chicago’s SmartData project will build the first open-source, predictive analytics platform – aggregating and analyzing information to help leaders make smarter, faster decisions and prevent problems before they develop.  “The Mayors Challenge is all about finding great ideas that can spread to other cities,” said Jim Anderson of Bloomberg Philanthropies. “While several municipalities are working to harness the power of big data, Chicago will be the first city to do so open source, making it possible for this great idea to spread and empower other cities.” More information on the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge can be found at


Chicago collects 7 million rows of data a day — data on everything from weather to traffic patterns to the location of libraries, schools, sidewalks and public parks. But this abundance of data in itself can’t solve urban problems. Most of the data exists in separate systems, often in conflicting and confusing formats. So how can government managers use the data to make better decisions? They need a tool to help them collate, sift and analyze. They need the SmartData platform.

SmartData will give leaders a tool to search for relevant data and detect relationships, analyzing millions of lines of data in real-time. This will help make smarter, earlier decisions to address a wide range of urban challenges. Chicago residents will experience services delivered earlier, sometimes even before the problem is apparent. Officials will be able to target responses that will address a wide range of urban issues — from managing weather emergencies to reducing traffic accidents. The SmartData platform turns “thinking” into “doing.” It turns “reactive” into “proactive.” At its core, it makes data-driven and effective government the norm and can fundamentally alter the way the city operates.

“Continuing to expand the use of analytics across our city is a top priority,” said Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman, who is overseeing the platform’s development. “With the SmartData Platform, we’ll not only be able to expand analytics, but develop a new method of data-driven decision making that can change how cities across the country operate.”


The project has two goals — first, to help city managers analyze trend data and engage in predictive problem-solving, and second, to share the platform with cities that cannot build the capacity themselves.  All software developed on this project will be open source and will be made available to other cities.

SmartData will allow policymakers to make sense of the city’s billions of lines of data stored in disparate systems. Managers will be able to find answers to specific questions without having to manually search for data, or even know where or how the data is stored. End users will not see the millions of lines of code, or the billions of records stored and searched for their benefit.  All a user will see is a simple search screen to perform the query. Results will be presented in easy-to-read formats, including geographical plots, customizable to the user’s preferences (police beats, school districts, sanitation districts, etc.).

The predictive power of the tool is its ability to analyze relationships in the data at a speed and on a scale not previously possible. For example, the SmartData Platform could query data on traffic patterns and pedestrian activity for a certain section of the city, and then compare it against other city data, such as weather patterns, traffic signal times and streetlight access. By doing so, SmartData might develop a prediction of where intervention is needed to reduce pedestrian-traffic collisions. The city could optimize services of all kinds in this way, benefitting citizens and reducing costs.


The first stage of the SmartData project is now complete. The first tool, called WindyGrid, presents a unified view of operational data for all public safety agencies on a single dashboard.  Varied types of data are displayed in a user-friendly single graphical interface, allowing the user to make queries and also receive automatic updates and alerts. WindyGrid includes more than a dozen different types of data, including geospatially tagged 311 reports, 911 calls and public Tweets, emergency operations data, video feeds from surveillance cameras, and city bus location data.  Users can query data by type, time and distance from a given location and determine how they want results displayed, including a heat map to show concentrations of results.

A new pilot project focused on rodent baiting is demonstrating how Chicago can apply predictive analytics to core city services that affect quality of life in the city’s neighborhoods.  Rodent complaints are one of the city’s top ten 311 inquiries. Traditionally, the city has reactively deployed rodent baiting teams in response to complaints or events, such as water main breaks, that are anecdotally linked to rodent activity. While Chicago’s 311 call center processes more than 600 types of calls, the pilot identifies and analyzes 31 key call types that can predict rodent activity spikes 7 days in advance. By doing this, the pilot will allow the City’s rodent baiting teams to deploy in an earlier, more targeted fashion to better prevent rodent outbreaks. Initial pilot results are promising, and have included the detection of rat infestations that would never have been found without the new algorithm. The pilot’s final evaluation will be based on both efficiency improvements and reduction in rodent complaints.


Any city seeking to create its own SmartData platform will benefit from the groundwork done in Chicago. Chicago is building an open-source data infrastructure and a set of algorithms that other cities can re-use with no startup software development costs. Other cities will be able to import the architecture and the predictive algorithms (both logic and source code) developed by Chicago and adjust it to accommodate their own 311 or related data sets. The technology team in Chicago is also creating an archive of instructive documents and templates that will give other cities a roadmap to develop their own predictive analytics projects.

What does the Mayors Challenge victory mean for Chicago? “Bloomberg’s support is crucial to helping us build the SmartData Platform and make it available to other cities,” Berman said.  “It reflects what is at the heart of this initiative—our commitment to make our city smarter and a better place to live for our residents.”