Libraries have long benefited from major donors that infuse dollars as well as strategic perspective at key junctures. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has stepped into that role with signature energy, most clearly illustrated by the Knight News Challenges, including two focused on libraries. By their very nature these call on libraries to speed new ideas to address big needs, and the robust response from the library arena has surfaced and celebrated a range of creativity.
On March 30 the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (KF) announced the award of nearly $1 million to support five innovative library projects. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (CML), NC; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA; Peer 2 Peer University, Chicago; Richland Library, Columbia, SC; and Southwest Harbor Public Library, ME, each received between $35,000 and $250,000 to help realize a range of creative concepts addressing the digital information needs of their communities. Simultaneously, KF released a report, “Developing Clarity: Innovating in Library Systems,” examining opportunities and challenges within the lifecycle of library innovation.
In a June 25 session at the ALA Annual conference in Orlando, John Bracken, VP of media innovation for the Knight Foundation, said that the foundation has been focused on three key questions when working with libraries: What can be done to foster cross-discipline collaboration, possibly learning from projects in other civic sectors such as Code for America, 18F, or the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews collaboration; how can community be put “even more robustly” at the center of the foundation’s work; and how can the foundation help libraries tell their stories to wider audiences? “To succeed, particularly in a time of reduced public investment, it is vital to tell our stories in ways that people can understand the breadth of our work, and on platforms” where the public is present and listening, Bracken said.
Before December 2014, when she stepped into the new role of San José Public Library’s (SJPL) technology and innovation project manager (now innovations manager), Erin Berman launched SJPL’s first Maker faire, which introduced 200 people to after-school STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] programs. She believes Making can empower her community and help close the digital divide. Statewide, 25 percent of Californians in 2014 lacked broadband Internet access at home, according to a Field Poll. “When someone walks into one of our libraries and says they want to learn something, we don’t just hand them a book; we hand them the tool and teach them how to use it,” Berman says.
Anne Neville knows the value of open data. Neville, director of the California Research Bureau at the California State Library, has spent the last six years directing the State Broadband Initiative at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in Washington, DC. She’s passionate about digital equity, and supporting the critical work public libraries do to make information accessible to communities.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (KF) kicked off the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Boston on the morning of January 10 with a session announcing its second News Challenge on Libraries. The challenge, which launches February 24, will address the question “How might libraries serve 21st century information needs?” Winners will receive a share of $3 million in funding toward their projects. In addition, a select number of projects will be considered for the Knight Prototype Fund.
A big part of improving library user experience is designing libraries based on user preferences and behavior. There’s no way to optimize touchpoints or create meaningful services if you don’t know anything about who you’re trying to serve, right? Many libraries collect and analyze user opinions, but fewer dive deeper into examining actual user behavior.
There was much excitement when the James L. Knight Foundation opened a News Challenge for Libraries last September—for good reason. Libraries were getting a highly visible shout-out from this national foundation, and library enthusiasts were being asked to share ideas in a setting that encouraged collaboration to deepen the impact of library work. The process surfaced mission-focused ingenuity across the library landscape, highlighted the smarts in our field, and should serve as motivation for leadership to find new ways to enable latent capacity in our libraries to serve our communities better.
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.