Knight News Challenge Winners Aim to Reinvent the Local Library

    by Desiree Everts
    January 30, 2015
    Photo by Flickr user Abhi Sharma and used here under the Creative Commons license.

    It may be time to stop thinking about your local library as a musty repository of books with a stereotypical librarian whispering, “Shhhh!” More and more libraries are becoming bustling centers for community engagement — bringing locals not just books, but also “maker spaces,” computer access, digital movies, games and more.

    As libraries look to stay relevant in the digital age, the Knight Foundation wants to be a driving force behind that transformation. To that end, it today announced the winners of its latest News Challenge, which was focused on libraries.

    “There is a growing demand for libraries to evolve their role and become more dynamic, living platforms, responsive to community needs.” -John Bracken

    “There is a growing demand for libraries to evolve their role and become more dynamic, living platforms, responsive to community needs,” John Bracken, director of journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation, said in a statement. “The winners are working to reinvent the ways in which people experience the library, and providing citizens with the tools and information they require to contribute and strengthen our democracy.”


    Twenty-two projects — all focused on how to shape the future of libraries in the digital age — will receive a portion of Knight’s $3 million total prize. Eight winning projects will receive between $130,000 and $600,000, and 14 “prototype” projects will receive $35,000 to help turn their early-stage ideas into actual demos.

    Here’s more about the winners:

    News challenge winners

    Philipp Schmidt

    Philipp Schmidt


    Activating the Public Library (Chicago)
    ● Award: $152,000
    ● Organization: Peer 2 Peer University
    ● Project leads: Philipp Schmidt and Carl Ruppin
    ● Twitter: @chipublib, @p2pu

    Online courses can offer people free access to useful content and knowledge, as well as education opportunities. However, the lack of peer-support and face-to-face learning options are often a barrier to successful participation, especially for newcomers. To address this issue and increase access to information and education, Peer 2 Peer University, with Chicago Public Library, will organize in-person study groups for patrons to support their free online learning experience. The project will assist participants through the library’s familiar resources and leverage Peer 2 Peer University’s experience in building online communities; it will also include reinforcement and feedback from fellow learners. Study groups will be held in local branch libraries.

    Anne Karle-Zenith

    Anne Karle-Zenith

    Culture in Transit (New York)
    ● Award: $330,000
    ● Organization: Metropolitan New York Library Council
    ● Project lead: Anne Karle-Zenith
    ● Twitter: @DigitizeNYC

    Many communities are excluded from the nation’s digital cultural memory because they lack the equipment and technical support to contribute their history to local and national archives. To bridge that gap, two New York public library systems and a citywide libraries and archives membership organization will create a mobile kit, with scanners and cameras, that libraries will take to city branches, so that residents are able to record their historical items. Each item will not only be housed in local digital archives but in the Digital Public Library of America and other large-scale initiatives such as Internet Archive, providing worldwide access to local treasures. While these events provide educational and community-building opportunities, they also democratize the process of history-making — allowing people to contribute to and help define their local history. The partners include the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO), the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Library, which designed the project together after meeting online via the newschallenge.org platform.

    Alexis Rossi

    Alexis Rossi

    The Internet Archive (San Francisco)
    ● Award: $600,000
    ● Organization: Internet Archive
    ● Project lead: Alexis Rossi and Brewster Kahle
    ● Twitter: @internetarchive, @alexisrossi, @brewster_kahle

    The Internet Archive is one of the world’s largest public digital libraries, with an extensive collection of human culture: 2 million books, 430 billion Web pages, 3 million hours of television and more. However, the archive’s users upload only a small percentage of these materials and to preserve the world’s knowledge the public should be encouraged to contribute. The archive is embarking on a project to make the archive.org site more community-driven by improving the tools that allow people to upload, describe and organize items. With these new tools, the Internet Archive hopes to democratize knowledge by giving global communities the ability to save, manage and share their cultural treasures for free. What Wikimedia did for encyclopedia articles, the Internet Archive hopes to do for collections of media: give people the tools to build library collections together and make them accessible to everyone.

    Alison Macrina

    Alison Macrina

    The Library Freedom Project (Boston)
    ● Award: $244,700
    ● Organization: Independent
    ● Project lead: Alison Macrina
    ● Twitter: @flexlibris

    Private companies and the government increasingly control a large part of online communications, and as a result, society is facing a new set of challenges around privacy, surveillance, censorship and free speech. As stewards of information and providers of Internet access, librarians are in a prime position to educate patrons about their digital rights. The Library Freedom Project aims to make real the promise of intellectual freedom in libraries by bringing together a coalition of librarians, technology experts and lawyers to scale a series of privacy workshops for librarians. The workshops will provide librarians and their patrons with tools and information to better understand technology, privacy and law related to use of the Internet.

    Rebecca MacDonald

    Rebecca MacDonald

    Library for All: Digital Library for the Developing World (New York)
    ● Award: $265,000
    ● Organization: Library for All: Digital Library for the Developing World
    ● Project leads: Rebecca MacDonald, Tanyella Evans and Isabel Sheinman
    ● Twitter: @libraryforall

    Many developing countries continue to struggle with limited access to information and educational resources, leading to challenges with literacy, civic participation, knowledge building and progress. To address this issue, Library for All will expand its Digital Library, uniquely designed to work in low-bandwidth environments, making educational content available for libraries and schools across the developing world. The platform will leverage mobile technology and be accessible on all devices, including low-cost tablets and $30 feature phones. Content will be culturally relevant and available in local languages.

    Jason Griffey

    Jason Griffey

    Measure the Future (Sewanee, Tenn.)
    ● Award: $130,000
    ● Organization: Evenly Distributed
    ● Project lead: Jason Griffey
    ● Twitter: @measure_future, @griffey

    While libraries in recent years have created maker spaces to provide access to open technology, this project will help libraries use open hardware devices to improve their own services. Librarian Jason Griffey, a former Knight Foundation Prototype Fund grantee, will train librarians to use open source hardware to better understand the library building itself, one of a branch’s most important assets. The hardware will measure a variety of factors in each room, so that libraries can make better, data-driven decisions on how to use their public spaces.

    Jascha Franklin-Hodge

    Jascha Franklin-Hodge

    Open Data to Open Knowledge (Boston)
    ● Award: $475,000
    ● Organization: City of Boston
    ● Project lead: Jascha Franklin-Hodge
    ● Twitter: @DoITBoston

    Boston, like many cities, has published a collection of “open data” that includes everything from building permits to a list of urban farms. The data tells a story about government and city life. Public interest in the data is clear — with more than 14,000 views so far of neighborhood pothole data alone. But as with many forms of knowledge, making something available isn’t the same as making it useful. Through this project the city of Boston will work with local libraries to create a digital data catalog that will make it easier for residents, researchers and public employees to navigate. Once developed, the city and libraries will work together to introduce people to the resource, through, for example, introductory classes or data challenges where people are encouraged to analyze and visualize the data.

    Matthew Knutzen

    Matthew Knutzen

    Space/Time Directory (New York)
    ● Award: $380,000
    ● Organization: New York Public Library
    ● Project lead: Matthew Knutzen, David Riordan, Ben Vershbow
    ● Twitter: @NYPLMaps @nypl_labs

    What if we could search a city’s past as easily as we search its present? What if we could explore forgotten neighborhoods, look up long-ago vanished buildings and streets, and discover the history around us? Libraries hold the records of evolving urban landscapes, but historic data that charts these changes is not easily accessible. To increase access and public exploration of this data, the New York Public Library will create a free, historical mapping service: the NYC Space/Time Directory. Using data from the library’s map collections and other sources, the directory will be a searchable, digital atlas and database of historical places, allowing scholars, students, journalists and enthusiasts to explore the city across time periods. It will be open source and community-built, engaging local museums, historical societies, universities, citizen cartographers and the New York tech community to help gather data, and to contribute code and expertise.

    prototype winners

    BklynShare by Brooklyn Public Library (New York; project lead: Michael Fieni; Twitter: @bklynlibrary): Enabling people to learn new skills through a service that connects knowledge seekers with experts in their own neighborhood

    Book a Nook by Harvard University metaLAB (Boston; project lead: Jeffrey Schnapp; Twitter: @metalabharvard, @berkmancenter, @jaytiesse): Activating library public spaces for diverse community uses by testing a software toolkit that streamlines the exploration and reservation of physical library spaces.

    The Community Resource Lab by District of Columbia Public Library (Washington, D.C.; project lead: Meaghan O’Connor; Twitter: @dcpl): Advancing the library as the primary anchor of an open information system that connects residents to essential health, human and social services.

    Co-working at the Library by Miami Dade Public Library (Miami; project lead: Liz Pearson; Twitter: @MDPLS): Providing freelancers, entrepreneurs and innovators a collaborative space for co-working in Miami-Dade libraries.

    Indie Games Licensing by Concordia University’s TAG Research Center (Montreal, project lead: Olivier Charbonneau; Twitter: @culturelibre): Prototyping models for the licensing and circulation of independent video games at libraries.

    GITenberg by Project GITenberg (Montclair, N.J., and Somerville, Mass.; project leads: Eric Hellman and Seth Woodworth; Twitter: @GITenberg): Exploring collaborative cataloging for Project Gutenberg public-domain ebooks using the Web-based repository hosting service GitHub.

    Journalism Digital News Archive by University of Missouri Libraries and the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (Columbia, Mo.; project lead: Edward McCain; Twitter: @e_mccain): Ensuring access to digital news content through development of a model for archiving and preserving digital content that can be used across the country.

    Maker Tool Circulating Kits by Make it @ Your Library (Chicago; project leads: Katy Hite, Amy Killebrew, Elizabeth Ludemann, Allison Parker, Vicki Rakowski; Twitter: @MakeItLib): Sharing the tools and technology of the maker movement by prototyping an equipment lending system – a process for sharing maker kits between libraries – that builds on existing interlibrary loan frameworks.

    Making the Invisible Visible by Bibliocommons (Boston; project lead: Iain Lowe Twitter: @bibliocommons, @ilowelife): Prototyping an app to give patrons a deeper library experience based on the user’s location, interests and actions in the library.

    Privacy Literacy by San Jose Public Library (San Jose, Calif.; project leads: Erin Berman and Jon Worona; Twitter: @SanJoseLibrary): Developing online tools which will help individuals understand privacy in the digital age and make more informed decisions about their online activity.

    Regional Business Information Bureau by Kent State University Library (Kent, Ohio; project lead: Karen MacDonald; Twitter: @KentState_LIB): Experimenting with models for a Business Information Bootcamp, connecting local entrepreneurs and small businesses to information and services that will support their growth and contributions to the local economy.

    This Place Matters by Marshall University (Huntington, W.Va.; project lead: Monica Brooks; Twitter: @MUPlaceMatters): Exploring the potential of a location-aware mobile application to share African American history and link to library resources.

    White Space 101 (San Francisco; project lead: Don Means; Twitter: @donmeans): Creating learning materials for libraries to explore and implement TV White Space networks to support remote library Internet hotspots that will give people wider broadband access, especially in crisis situations.

    Your Next Skill by Seattle Public Library (Seattle; project lead: Jennifer Yeung; Twitter: @splbuzz): Helping people acquire new skills or expand their knowledge by creating a librarian-led, referral service that connects users with materials, classes and instructors that will help them meet their goals.

    Desiree Everts is the associate editor for Idea Lab and PBS MediaShift. She’s dabbled in digital media for the past decade including stints at CNET News and Wired magazine.

    Tagged: funding knight foundation libraries news challenge prototype fund

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