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Knight Foundation Seeds 22 Innovative Library Projects
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Posted On February 10, 2015
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In September 2014, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (KF) opened a new round of its Knight News Challenge with the question, “How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?” The challenge was open to “anyone from anywhere, but our primary focus is on U.S.-based library projects.” Through a process described in a previous NewsBreak, the foundation winnowed the 676 entries down to the winning eight projects—and gave an additional 14 projects Knight Prototype Fund awards to allow them to continue to develop their ideas. 

The KF’s announcement of the challenge notes its belief in “three key assets of libraries that we hope to build upon: librarians, the highly trained human capital that specializes in finding and sharing information; the public trust and goodwill that libraries have built as trusted institutions; and libraries themselves, the physical assets where people can safely gather with their neighbors.”

The KF began the challenge by creating a webpage for gathering 44 ideas and “inspirations,” which the foundation saw as “an opportunity for all of us to share things that inspire us or inform our thinking about the future of libraries.” A total of 676 proposals were initially received, and in a very transparent process, the KF encouraged anyone to offer opinions and support for whichever proposals he or she felt were the best.

“Building on previous experience working with libraries,” the KF’s press release notes, “this challenge has helped us learn a great deal about libraries and the challenges they face while serving the information needs of their communities. Several themes emerged among the winners, including focusing on digital rights and privacy; history and digital preservation; the maker movement and open data.” From the initial pool of proposals, 46 semifinalists were selected and asked to “provide additional information about their projects and post it” for review on the KF’s webpage. A group of 27 experts/advisors helped the KF read all of the entries and review the semifinalists. Among these 46 proposals, the American Library Association’s (ALA) ACRL notes three general themes that had emerged: “1) maker spaces tailored to specific community needs; 2) libraries innovating new ways to publish, curate, and lend DRM-free ebooks and other content; and 3) facilitating the preservation of born-digital user-generated histories.” 

Winners Look to Technology and Innovative Services

Eight proposals were awarded final major funding, receiving from $130,000 to $600,000 each; another set of 14 winners were awarded smaller grants from the Knight Prototype Fund, which is intended to test earlier-stage ideas with modest investments of $35,000 each. In this 5-minute video, some of the winners talk about their ideas and projects.

The eight winning projects, based on information from the KF, are as follows:

Online Learning @ The Public Library
Peer 2 Peer University
$152,000 | Philipp Schmidt and Carl Ruppin

Making open online courses easier to access and complete for diverse members of the community by organizing in-person study groups for patrons in Chicago Public Library branch libraries.

Culture in Transit
Metropolitan New York Library Council
$330,000 | Anne Karle-Zenith

Helping more communities share their histories online by creating a mobile kit that will scan and digitize print materials for public archiving in partnership with Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Library.

The Internet Archive
$600,000 | Alexis Rossi and Brewster Kahle

Helping people create and share global collections of cultural treasures on the Internet Archive, one of the world’s largest public libraries.

The Library Freedom Project
$244,700 | Alison Macrina

Providing librarians and their patrons with tools and information to better understand their digital rights by scaling a series of privacy workshops for librarians.

Library for All: Digital Library for the Developing World
$265,000 | Rebecca McDonald, Tanyella Evans and Isabel Sheinman

Making educational content available at libraries and schools across the developing world through a digital platform designed specifically for low-bandwidth environments.

Measure the Future
Evenly Distributed
$130,000 | Jason Griffey

Helping libraries better manage one of their greatest assets—the building itself—by using open hardware to track data about its public spaces.


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Nancy K. Herther is American studies, anthropology, Asian American studies, and sociology librarian at the University of Minnesota Libraries, Twin Cities campus.

Email Nancy K. Herther

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