Helping libraries keep pace with the demands of the digital age

technology / Article

March 30, 2017 by John S. Bracken

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Photo by John Rogers on Flickr.

Headed to the 2017 American Library Association Conference in Chicago? Check out "Innovation in Libraries: Beyond the Talk" with John Bracken on Sunday, June 25 at 10:30 a.m. CT.

Over the last two years, Knight Foundation has funded 36 library innovation projects through two Knight News Challenges. As we closed our review of entries last spring in Miami, the library leaders in the room voiced a desire to learn more about what innovation means in a library context. It seemed like a good idea to us, too, so we took on the task. Today, we’re introducing some of the results of that work and our efforts to strengthen the capacity of public libraries to meet digital age demands.

First, we’re releasing a guide for developing a library innovation agenda. Authored by MACHINE, “Developing Clarity: Innovating in Library Systems” is based on interviews with more than two dozen library leaders and a meeting of 40 library leaders that we hosted in Miami last month. The report takes on questions we heard during last year’s News Challenge: What does it mean for a public library to innovate? What new practices need to be developed, and what old ones need to be discarded? What does an effective innovation practice look like?

Second, we’re announcing five grants for a total of $917,000. The projects range from an open source software project in a rural library, to a redesign process for a library in one of the nation’s fastest growing communities, to follow-on support for a prior News Challenge winner. The projects receiving investments are:

  • Charlotte Mecklenburg Library | $250,000 | Charlotte, North Carolina: For a design and visioning process for transforming the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library into a 21st century urban library.
  • The MIT Media Lab | $250,000 | Cambridge, Massachusetts: To build a library residency program in which librarians and Media Lab technologists can collaborate.
  • Peer 2 Peer University | $135,000: To make open online courses easier to access and complete by organizing in-person study groups in libraries. (The grant extends to 10 public libraries across the country a 2015 Knight News Challenge-funded pilot program in Chicago Public Library.)
  • Richland Library | $247,000 | Columbia, South Carolina: To build out a customer engagement tool and process to better measure attendance at library programs and thus produce better services.
  • Southwest Harbor Public Library | $35,000 Southwest Harbor, Maine: To support adaptation of Omeka, an open source digital collections software from George Mason University, to make it easier to find related information in local library collections.

At a time of rising distrust in institutions, echo chambers and inaccurate information, Americans still trust libraries, and are asking them to do more in our communities. But doing more is not enough. Technological advances change the ways we use information, and libraries need new resources, skills and practices to keep up. We hope that the projects and lessons we’re supporting and sharing today will advance that goal.

John Bracken is the vice president for technology innovation at Knight Foundation. Email him via [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @jsb.

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    Innovation, an essential pursuit for libraries in the digital age

    technology / Article