How the Knight News Challenge network can unlock the potential in your project

technology / Article

Above: The Library of Congress. Credit: (cc) U.S. Department of State on Flickr. 

Jason Griffey and Chris Barr at the Library Ideas Drop at SXSW in Austin.

Alison Macrina is the founder and director of the Library Freedom Project, a winner of the first Knight News Challenge on Libraries.

It’s been one year since Library Freedom Project won the Knight News Challenge on Libraries – and what an incredible 12 months it’s been.

When we originally won this challenge, we set a number of ambitious goals to bring privacy tools to local communities via libraries across the country. Almost immediately, we began exceeding those goals. After the attention surrounding our News Challenge win, the demand for our training sessions exploded, and we got to work visiting dozens of libraries, often bringing additional trainers from our institutional partners the American Civil Liberties Union and The Tor Project.

From there, it seemed like each month brought something unexpected and exciting. In May, our work landed on the cover of The Nation magazine, which kick-started the nonstop press attention we’ve received since. In June, we held Digital Rights in Libraries, the first conference for librarians to discuss threats to civil liberties in the online space. In August, we set up our Tor relay pilot project, which immediately spawned a digital rights debate after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security emailed police. Thanks to an international coalition of support, not only were we able to keep the project going, but we helped galvanize even more libraries to take practical steps to protect patron privacy. That led to attention from none other than Edward Snowden, who tweeted about how impressed he is with our work.

We closed the year by speaking at the 32nd Annual Chaos Communication Congress during the State of the Onion address, the big Tor Project talk at this much-lauded hacker conference. During the year, we also managed to visit more than 50 libraries and train over 2,500 librarians in 20 states and four countries, deployed the Library Digital Privacy Pledge to help libraries switch to secure https for their websites, and secured a second grant from the Rose Foundation to hire Nima Fatemi, a core Tor Project member, to be the Library Freedom Project’s technologist.

The support we received from the Knight News Challenge on Libraries is what made this incredible year possible. Before Knight support, our work was ad hoc, and we struggled to meet the growing demand, let alone create visionary goals for our future. Knight recognized not only the possibility in the Library Freedom Project, but the awesome potential inherent in all libraries.

That’s why we’re thrilled to see the Knight News Challenge on Libraries being offered a second time. One thing that’s amazing about the News Challenge is that it’s an avenue to turn even the most aspirational projects into something practical and real, and the open, transparent nature of the challenge gives your project idea community feedback in real time, which will help refine your ideas. If you’re considering applying for this year’s News Challenge on Libraries, we encourage you to dream big, and apply early. Read the comments and questions you get from community respondents, and incorporate it into your proposal. You can edit your submission as much as you want, even after the challenge closes, up until the refinement deadline. Read and respond to the other project submissions as well – after all, the News Challenge winners will help shape the future of libraries, and that is something we should all have opinions about.

Lastly, we encourage you to reach out to previous winners; Library Freedom Project would love to hear some of your ideas and offer you our experience and encouragement. Knight Foundation would not just be providing material support for your project, but integrating you into our larger community, and that means that past grantees like us are here to offer you advice and support.

The Knight News Challenge on Libraries is helping to iterate the future of innovative, community-focused 21st century libraries. We can’t wait to see what this new challenge produces.

Contact Alison Macrina via [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @flexlibris.

The Knight News Challenge on Libraries will award $3 million for the best ideas that respond to the question, How might libraries serve 21st century information needs? Visit to apply by March 21, view our challenge brief, timeline, FAQ page, and applications from the first News Challenge on Libraries. Keep an eye on Knight Blog for updates, tips for applying and promotional events. You can also reach us with questions on Twitter via @knightfdn, @heychrisbarr, or via e-mail [email protected].

Sign up for our newsletter

Submit your email. Receive updates and the @knightfdn newsletter.

Subscription Options

Last-minute tips for applying to the Knight News Challenge on Libraries

technology / Article