Libraries Dust Off Quiet Image With Innovations | Stav Ziv |

These aren’t your grandmother’s libraries. Well, they are, but they’re tackling projects that would have been inconceivable two or three decades ago.

On Friday, the Knight Foundation announced the winners of its latest Knight News Challenge, which asked: “How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?”

The foundation’s fundamental goal is to ask, “How can we make sure Americans have access to the news and information so they can be active participants in our democracy,” says John Bracken, vice president for media innovation. “Libraries are really key in improving Americans’ ability to know what’s going on around them.”

Over the past several years, Knight has posed a dozen such questions as calls for proposals, focusing on open government, health data or other areas. “One of the ways we use this contest is to better understand trends,” explains Bracken. The previous round in 2014 had asked, “How can we strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation?” When three of those winners were libraries, it helped inform the next challenge.

The foundation announced eight winners Friday at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. They’ll receive grant amounts of between $130,000 and $600,000 each. Another set of 14 winners will get smaller grants from Knight’s Prototype Fund to test earlier-stage ideas.

“It looks more like a design firm than what the stereotypical approach in libraries is,” Bracken said on Thursday, peering at a room where the winners were participating in a design thinking workshop.


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