The Innovation in Libraries chapter of The Awesome Foundation is currently accepting grant applications, with an April 15 deadline. Formed in 2009, The Awesome Foundation “is a global community advancing the interest of awesome in the universe, $1,000 at a time.” Autonomous chapters operate on a local level by raising funds from community trustees that are then given as microloans to projects in the arts, technology, community development, or other sectors, deemed “awesome” according to that chapter’s own guidelines. For example, the Seattle chapter funded “Unloop MAKEdays” in 2015, a project that brought robotics programming to the state’s incarcerated populations, and in 2016 Boys Build received Awesome Foundation chapter funding to develop hands-on learning and skill building in Pittsburgh.
As one of the few international chapters, Innovation in Libraries stands apart from the majority of those that currently make up the Foundation, which are primarily organized around local geography and not focused on a particular field or subject. It also operates under a different funding model than the locally based chapters, as Innovation in Libraries is financially supported by a network of sponsors who supply funds for the grants but do not vote on the grant proposals themselves. Instead, a board of librarians from around the world act as trustees who make the grant award decisions according to “chapter deans” Stacy Konkiel, Outreach & Engagement Manager at Altmetric, Albuquerque; Robin Champieux, Scholarly Communication Librarian at Oregon Health and Science University, Portland; Joshua Finnell, Scholarly Communications Librarian at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Santa Fe; and Bonnie Tijerina, researcher at New York’s Data and Society Research Institute and president and founder of Electronic Resources and Libraries. “The Awesome Foundation’s method of giving is great for two reasons: 1) It’s grassroots giving, from one individual to another, which helps to build community, and 2) Awesome chapters often fund project that aren’t eligible for your average grant,” say the deans.
Innovation in Libraries is looking to support and “provide a catalyst” for both technical and non-technical library innovations that “that embody the principles of diversity, inclusivity, creativity, and risk-taking.” Ideally the group seeks to support “projects that are too experimental or risky for mainstream funders.” A grant will be awarded to six projects that will then operate on a six-month pilot project format, running from March to August, with submissions accepted on the 15th of each month through August. Each winner will be featured on the chapter’s website in order to follow its progress, and the group notes that “we are also asking grant recipients to make any resources arising from our support open access, so others can build upon their work and innovations.”
The grant cycle that was launched March 1 is the chapter’s first run of funding, and the chapter deans are excited to review the submissions that come in. “We have loved seeing projects like the Tightshift Laboring Cooperative and the Aravani Art Project getting support from the rest of the Awesome Foundation community—both are very worthy projects that likely wouldn’t see support from traditional grant agencies,” the group told Library Journal. “We think many of types of library projects can fit within [our] criteria, and the broad range of applications we have received thus far certainly confirm that assumption.” The deans also share that “we’re prepared to take a chance on projects that might ultimately fail, because that experience may strengthen our understanding of affecting innovation. Additionally, we’ll be looking for and evaluating projects for their potential to support diverse communities and underserved populations.”
The Innovation in Libraries chapter evolved from the work of Library Pipeline, a nonprofit “platform for projects” created in response to the need for funding of early-stage innovative ideas in the library field. According to the group, Pipeline member Finnell suggested partnering with the Foundation due to its already existing grant-making infrastructure, which helps with the chapter’s goal of “expedit[ing] the ‘doing’ part of every project we fund.” At the conclusion of this first grant round, the chapter will evaluate the impact made by its funded projects, as well as considering the trustee structure and funding criteria. “Our main goal is to recruit and sustain a corps of trustees and sponsors indefinitely” in order to keep new projects flowing, stated the deans. The chapter looks forward to collaborating with city-specific Awesome Foundation chapters in the future, noting that the Chicago chapter in particular “has been very generous in amplifying our publicity and providing support.”
The current slate of Innovation in Libraries trustees includes representation from a variety of libraries around the world, and a broad range of experience, from student to director. Anyone in the field is welcome to apply for a trustee position, according to the deans: “Librarians from all walks of life [can] serve as trustees, which we think makes for a much stronger panel of grant judges!” The group wants to recognize its generous financial sponsors, many of whom wish to remain anonymous. Several past LJ Movers and Shakers are part of the Innovation in Libraries chapter, including founders Finnell (2012) and Tijerina (2010), trustees Kate Byrne (2016), currently Repository Platforms Product Manager for research information management system Symplectic, London; Miguel Figueroa (2005), head of the American Library Association’s Center for the Future of Libraries; and sponsor Brett Bonfield (2012), director of Princeton Public Library, NJ.