Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

News Challenge to explore role of libraries in the digital age

Aug. 25, 2014, 2:07 p.m., Posted by John Bracken


Photo illustration made with images from Flickr users Thomas Hawk and Sourabh Rath.

On Sept. 10, we’re opening the next News Challenge, on libraries. Our 12th News Challenge, it will build upon the 19 projects we funded with $3.47 million in June through the News Challenge that sought ideas to strengthen the Internet. That work, conversations such as the ones we recently had at the Aspen Institute this month and longstanding initiatives such as the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy have affirmed for us the centrality of libraries for building and maintaining an informed citizenry.

Related Link

"Share your inspiration for Knight News Challenge: Libraries" by John Bracken on Knight Blog

We’re hoping to hear ideas for leveraging the assets that libraries have built: physical spaces open to anyone; professional staff trained in how to seek, retrieve and share information; and a legacy of aiding new readers, new entrepreneurs and new Americans. In recent years we’ve seen libraries leverage the Internet and digital approaches for education, entrepreneurship, the arts and “making.” In a digital age we see libraries--public, university, archival, virtual--as key for improving Americans’ ability to know about and to be involved with what takes place around them.

We’re finalizing details of the challenge over the next two weeks. For now, a couple of points to highlight:

  • The News Challenge is about libraries, but you don’t have to be one to apply or to receive funding. Do you have an idea for making libraries better at informing and engaging Americans? Are you a school, business, journalist, designer, parent or artist who wants to work with a library to improve their ability to leverage its assets for your neighbors? If so, we want you to apply.
  • Our emphasis in on libraries in the U.S. While this challenge, as with previous ones, will be open to ideas from anyone anywhere, the goal is accelerating U.S. libraries. We’ve determined this focus because, as a U.S.-based organization, that’s what we know.
  • We’ll start the challenge on Sept. 2 with an inspiration phase. That will be an opportunity for you to share what excites you--or bothers you--about libraries, and to inspire us to come up with tools or approaches to advance that excitement or solve those problems.
  • We’ll open the challenge for entries on Sept. 10 and close it at 5 p.m. Eastern on Sept. 30.
  • In between, we’re planning to hit the road to talk about the challenge and ideas for libraries. Stay tuned here and @knightfdn for details on those events.  

Earlier this month The Wall Street Journal’s Geoffrey Fowler described libraries as “serving nobler purposes than just amassing vampire romances. They provide equal access to knowledge, from employment services to computer training.” At Knight Foundation we see libraries as essential for ensuring access to information for all Americans in the digital era. Next week, we’ll begin to ask you for your input on how we can do that.  

John Bracken is director of journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation.