Powerful ideas push the boundaries of what libraries can be

technology / Article

Knight News Challenge: Libraries offers applicants a chance to share in $2.5 million by focusing on the question “How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?” Below, Stephanie Pereira, of Kickstarter, writes about the evolving world of libraries—and how many innovators are turning to Kickstarter to fund their ideas. Photo: City Library by Theen Moy on Flickr.

The Knight News Challenge on Libraries, and my work at Kickstarter, remind me that libraries remain essential elements of our communities. As a not-so-athletic kid growing up in suburban New Jersey my local library was in a way the center of my existence, and that is a still true for many people today. How can we make the most of this? It’s an issue that resonates with me because of my childhood memories.


"Make the most of your submission for Knight News Challenge: Libraries" by Chris Barr and John Bracken (09/23/14)

"Lesa Mitchell, Network for Scale: A new opportunity for libraries" on Knight blog (9/19/14)

"Lessons in sharing, from the public library" by Nate Hill on Knight blog (9/18/14)

"Bianca St. Louis, CODE2040: 'I envision libraries as a creative space and entrepreneurial hub'" on Knight blog (9/18/14)

"Why Libraries?" by Sheila Murphy on Knight blog (9/17/14)

"Libraries cultivate connections, community and more in the digital age" by Anthony Marx on Knight blog (9/15/14)

"Can research libraries adapt to live up to their potential?" by Bernard Reilly on Knight blog (9/12/14) "Finding the sweet spot for libraries in the digital age" by Jill Bourne on Knight Blog (9/11/14) 

"Knight News Challenge: Libraries opens for entries" by John Bracken on Knight Blog (9/10/14)

"Why Libraries [Still] Matter" by Jonathan Zittrain on Medium (9/10/14)

"News Challenge to explore role of libraries in the digital age" by John Bracken on Knight Blog (8/25/14)

"Knight News Challenge on Libraries offers $2.5 million for innovative ideas " - Press Release (8/10/14)

When I was in elementary school, my visits to the library were pretty much a mom-driven affair. My mom would take my brother and me along to pick up books she had requested through the interlibrary loan system, to return and borrow new paintings to hang above her bed (yes, my local library had an art lending program), to browse the audio racks for new books-on-tape to listen to in our car, or music to enjoy at home. She would also take us to community programs that ranged from info sessions on Lyme disease to seminars on local hiking options to, of course, family reading nights. As a single parent my mom relied on our library not only as a safe and free space to let my brother and I roam for a while, but to meet like-minded parents and get involved in our local community.

As I grew older I developed my mom’s bookish habits and would look forward to our weekly trips to the library. Once there, I would spend as long as I could—sometimes entire summer days—browsing the stacks and discovering new books, doing research for school (this was pre-Internet, you guys!), and reading pretty much anything our thoughtful librarians had put out for us to discover. 

I am a little embarrassed—and a little proud—to say that as a teen I was grounded kind of often. During those times, the library was the only place my mom allowed me to go. There were no stipulations, however, about who I could invite to hangout out with me. Sometimes my brother or a friend or two would meet me there. In a way we would treat the library the way teens today treat the Internet: Together we would explore and look for things that captured our teen fancy… We would read and quietly laugh at things. We would explore the huge atlases and play with the photocopy machine. We would use the stacks for treasure hunts and hiding out. I know this all sounds terribly nerdy, but I can assure you I was only a little nerdy and it was awesome!

These days I live in Brooklyn where I read books exclusively on my e-reader (regrettably, only sometimes borrowed from my library’s limited selection). I have my own apartment to hide out in and local cafes and free talks and the Internet and all of New York to enrich my life. Yet, I still find libraries incredibly powerful and incredibly rich in possibilities. As a space to harness the world’s knowledge, as a space to ask the world’s questions, as a space to gather and laugh and learn and meet new friends. To make things using technology and special resources. To house things the Internet can’t or won’t, to bring us gifts we didn’t even know we needed. This is what libraries are for. 

I am definitely not alone here; over the past three years that I have worked at Kickstarter, it’s become clear that people from all over use libraries as sites of inspiration as well as creation. Here are some of my favorites (culled from Kickstarter’s #Library tag). They are mostly not projects by libraries or for libraries, but they certainly could have been. Many of the projects are open source libraries, digital libraries and resources that I imagine a savvy librarian could put to good use. Taken together, I hope they inspire you as you dream up the library of the future.

Out-of-print sci-fi booksSingularity & Co. on Kickstarter.

Rap Lyrics: The Hip-Hop Word Count on Kickstarter.

Opportunities to learn more about News Challenge: Libraries

Amy Garmer, director of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries; Corinne Hill, director of the Chattanooga Public Library; Kenneth G. Furton, provost of Florida International University; and John Szabo, city librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library, will lead a Knight-sponsored discussion on the future of libraries on Monday, Sept. 29, from 12:15 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the InterContinental Miami.  Watch the live stream at knightfoundation.org/live/.

Also if you are in San Jose, Calif., or New York we will be hosting community events to discuss the challenge. The San Jose event will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 24 ,at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.; register here to attend. The New York event will be held on Friday, Sept. 26, at the New York Public Library from 1 to 2 p.m.; register here to attend.

To submit an entry for the Knight News Challenge or provide feedback on other submissions, visit newschallenge.org. You can join us for virtual office hours on Sept. 29 from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. ET. Participants can access the meeting online (https://bluejeans.com/731675489/browser using ID 731675489), or participate via phone at 1-888-240-2560. Knight News Challenge: Libraries closes on Sept. 30 at 5 p.m. ET. Winners will be announced in January.

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