Grant to Establish Northeast Ohio Libraries as Hubs for Data, Business Intelligence | Kent State University

Grant to Establish Northeast Ohio Libraries as Hubs for Data, Business Intelligence

Kent State University’s KNEXT Project Receives IMLS Funds to Bridge Data Access Gap Between Large and Small Businesses

A half-a-million-dollar grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) will put Kent State University at the forefront of bridging the big data access gap between large and small businesses.

The three-year, $458,319 grant, part of IMLS’s National Leadership Grant for Libraries, will fund Kent State’s Knowledge Extension (KNEXT) Project, which is reigniting libraries’ role as knowledge institutions in today’s highly technical and data-driven world.

Currently, small businesses and entrepreneurs struggle to compete with their large, well-funded counterparts, in part because they do not have access to data needed to make smart business decisions, said Emad Khazraee, assistant professor in the School of Information, who will serve as principal investigator of the grant. Libraries can help level the playing field by providing access to advanced data analytics and business intelligence.

“It’s kind of revitalizing the role of libraries as community anchors,” he said.

Through the grant, Khazraee; co-principal investigator, Susan Winter of the University of Maryland; Karen MacDonald, Kent State assistant professor in University Libraries, a collaborator on the project; and the rest of the team, will work with libraries and small business development centers in Northeast Ohio and Prince George’s County, Maryland, to build a model that can be replicated nationally.

“The network is in place so that if we can figure out how to do it correctly in Ohio, we can do it nationally,” Khazraee said.

During the first year of the grant, which begins October 2017, the KNEXT team will focus on needs assessment.

“What are the most pressing questions (small businesses) have that data analytics can answer?” Khazraee said. “Through that, we’ll build a centralized hub in … public libraries for free open data that can serve those questions.”

The KNEXT team will take what business owners say would be helpful, build scenarios, and then train librarians to run queries. For example, Khazraee said, a small business owner who produces kitchen cabinets could use his or her local library as a resource to mine social media data for insights into current trends in remodeling, or the library could provide data about what kinds of material distributors have sold the most of over a period of time.

Community advocates will also benefit from this project, Khazraee said.

“Imagine that you’re living in a town, and there’s going to be a development project,” he said.  “How can you assess the impact of the project on the well-being of your community: how much traffic it will bring, how much it will affect other social aspects of your community? It’s not easy for advocacy groups or community groups to do advanced data analytics to get a good understanding of the impact of such a project.”

Amy Reynolds, dean of Kent State’s College of Communication and Information, said this project is a great example of how academic research can make a direct and significant contribution to society.

“We are so fortunate to have Emad’s expertise on our faculty,” she said. “His work with machine learning and data and web mining is not only critically important for our students, but also for advancing knowledge in the information science field. This IMLS-funded project serves the wider community, and our College really values this kind of engagement.”

Kendra Albright, director of the School of Information, added that it is an excellent demonstration of the power of information in today’s global economy.

“Dr. Khazraee and Ms. MacDonald’s work will have a significant impact on the ways in which small businesses and entrepreneurs are able to utilize business information to better position their organizations, help them grow and create jobs, and contribute to the economic development of Ohio,” she said.  

About IMLS

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is celebrating its 20th Anniversary. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s approximately 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook,  Twitter and Instagram.

POSTED: Monday, September 11, 2017 - 11:19am
UPDATED: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 - 10:59am
Christina A. Russ