Why Libraries?

technology / Article

September 17, 2014 by Sheila Murphy


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, Sheila Murphy, a consultant working with the challenge and the former senior program and communications manager with the Urban Libraries Council, examines the current and future role of libraries.

The Knight News Challenge on Libraries is a unique opportunity launched at a fortuitous moment.  The initiative is framed around an intentionally broad – and potent – question.  “How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?”

A skeptic—and there are skeptics—might ask, “Why libraries?”  Where to start?

Libraries offer people and communities a level playing field.  They provide knowledge, information, resources, tools and learning opportunities for people at all ages and stages of their lives. Libraries are not just safe havens for children and youth when they’re not in school; they are powerful learning environments where youth connect with peers, discover their passions and their abilities to achieve.   Leveraging the possibilities of technology, libraries today are building learning labs and maker spaces where people curate and create.   

For millions of people, libraries are the gateway to the digital universe – places to build digital literacy skills and harness technology they may be unable to access elsewhere. In recent years, libraries have provided critical job-seeking services to people representing every strata of the workforce who’ve been displaced by the recession and tectonic shifts in the global economy. Libraries today are incubators for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. Libraries embrace our nation’s newcomers with English language and literacy instruction, access to resources and community connections as well as help on the pathway to citizenship.   


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

"Can research libraries adapt to live up to their potential?" by Bernard Reilly (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)

Libraries are a vital forum for people to come together, be informed and debate the issues that will define our future: intellectual freedom, privacy, income inequality, access to high-quality education, partisan division and political rancor, to name just a few.  When crisis strikes – whether fire, flood or human-made tragedy – libraries are a clearinghouse for news, information and communication, nerve centers for essential services and places where people gather to reflect and make meaning.

The Knight News Challenge on Libraries isn’t about the present; it is about the future. It invites leaders, innovators and idealists from all corners to propose new ways of thinking and doing in service of building more knowledgeable communities and a just society. It invites questions such as:

·       In a networked world, what new learning pathways will libraries blaze for learners of all ages?

·       How will libraries expand their historic role – physically and virtually – as the “third place” to expand learning opportunities?

·       How will libraries incorporate principles of human-centered design to engage people more actively in learning?

·       How can libraries integrate metrics and storytelling to demonstrate more powerfully their value as learning institutions?

·       How will libraries be leaders and collaborators in achieving community priorities that require a knowledgeable citizenry?

·       By what new means will libraries realize their animating purpose, access and equity for all?

Recently, the Urban Libraries Council created the word cloud image portrayed above by synthesizing a sampling of its member libraries’ mission statements. The size of the words is determined by the frequency of mentions throughout all the mission statements. Why libraries?


The Knight News Challenge on Libraries is a unique opportunity and this is a fortuitous moment: Think smart and dream large.

To submit an entry or provide feedback on other submissions, visit newschallenge.org. You can join us for virtual office hours from 1 to 2 p.m. ET Sept. 23. 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 at 5 p.m. ET on Sept. 30. Winners will be announced in January.

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