On January 30 the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (KF) announced the winning 22 projects for its Knight News Challenge on Libraries. A total of $3 million will be distributed among the recipients, representing libraries and organizations from across the United States who brought a wide range of innovative ideas to advance the mission of libraries.
The winning projects were divided into two categories. Eight ideas in the later stages of development will receive between $130,000 and $600,000 each to realize their projects; and 14 early-stage concepts will each be given $35,000 through the Knight Prototype Fund, in order to help them advance to the next stage.
At the formal announcement at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Conference, KF’s director of media innovation, Chris Barr, introduced the eight winning projects. Members of each team offered presentations. The eight winners are:
- Culture in Transit from Metropolitan New York Library Council, in partnership with Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Library, will develop and implement a mobile kit to scan and digitize communities’ historical materials for public archiving.
- Space/Time Directory from the New York Public Library will work with local communities and technologists to turn historical maps and other library collections into an interactive directory for the exploration of New York City across time periods.
- Library for All: Digital Library for the Developing World is a program to provide books and educational content to libraries and schools across the developing world through a digital platform designed specifically for low-bandwidth environments and accessible on mobile devices.
- Open Data to Open Knowledge from the City of Boston will turn Boston’s open city data collection into an accessible resource by working with Boston Public Library to catalog it and make openly searchable.
- Activating the Public Library from Peer 2 Peer University plans to support online learners by organizing in-person study groups in local branches of the Chicago Public Library system.
- The Internet Archive will work to provide a user-friendly interface for the creation and sharing of global collections of cultural material on the Internet Archive.
- The Library Freedom Project will provide librarians and patrons with tools and information to better understand their digital rights through a series of privacy workshops for librarians.
- Measure the Future from Evenly Distributed is developing open hardware to Help libraries track data and usage information about their physical spaces.
The prototype projects, highlighted as well, include such diverse proposals as a Maker tool circulating kit; a model for archiving and preserving digital journalism; a program to connect people looking to learn a skill with experts in their neighborhood; a location-aware mobile app to share African-American history and link to library resources on the subject; and the development of a co-working space within the library for freelancers, entrepreneurs, and innovators. Nearly all of the proposals and prototypes involved some form of collaboration.
“This is such an opportune moment,” KF’s director of journalism and media innovation John Bracken told LJ shortly after the event, “as we see an emerging set of leaders committed to transforming libraries. Any notion that might have existed that libraries were outdated in a digital age is now outdated itself.”
Since launching its first News Challenge in 2006, KF has encouraged organizations and individuals to think innovatively about subjects including data, networks, and open government. The News Challenge for Libraries was announced in September 2014, asking applicants to answer the question: How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?
Some 680 submissions were received, out of which KF’s panel of advisers named 41 semifinalists in October. “We want to enable non-librarians to stand up and raise their hands and share their ideals, even if they’re not associated with a library,” Bracken told Hotline in September, “entrepreneurs, journalists, software developers, designers, parents, teachers who are passionate about libraries in a digital age.”
Among other forms of encouragement, KF has been advocating design thinking for libraries among its winners. KF brought the LUMA Institute, a human-centered design firm, to Chicago to conduct a one-day session with all the grantees on the principles of design thinking. In addition, January’s announcement was capped by a panel discussion on human-centered design for libraries featuring Barr, Bracken, Chicago Public Library Commissioner Brian Bannon (a 2009 LJ Mover & Shaker), and Michelle Ha, design principal of the design and consulting firm IDEO.
KF uses the OpenIDEO platform for its News Challenge entries so that anyone with interest or a suggestion can comment on the projects as they are posted, in hopes that community feedback would lead to a flexible, iterative process. “A key point for us,” Bracken told LJ, “was the passion that the News Challenge tapped into among the public—not just among librarians, but a wide array of other folks in our network: from journalists to teachers, to civic leaders, to regular people, when we gave them the opportunity to talk about libraries.”
KF plans to launch a News Challenge on a new topic in several weeks, but is interested in remaining engaged with libraries, and helping to drive transformation within the field. Bracken noted that the Prototype Fund is always open. “People with library-related ideas that they want to test, and assumptions they want to kick the tires on—the prototype fund was designed exactly for that.”
Prototype Fund winners will reconvene during the summer to share their projects’ evolution, no matter what level of success they have achieved. “A major part of our rationale for the prototype fund is to generate lessons of intent,” Bracken emphasized. “If a project doesn’t work out, we all get to learn something.”
KF also considers the more fully-realized projects to be works in progress. The eight winners will present their projects at the ALA Annual conference in June, and at the January announcement Barr told them, “If what you guys present [at ALA Annual] is what we hear about today, then something’s wrong.”