Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Knight News Challenge and the real future of libraries

The Knight Foundation is an American non-profit that, according to their About the Foundation page "supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts."

In addition to the regular grant work that the Knight Foundation does, the foundation has a suite of "challenges" that it has on a regular basis: the Knight News Challenge, the Knight Arts Challenge, and the Knight Community Information Challenge.

This year's Knight News Challenge drew the interest of the library community because it had a libraries-related prompt: How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?

The Knight News Challenge received 680 submissions. Of those 680 submissions, 41 were chosen as semifinalists. These 41 semifinalists stand to receive anywhere between $1,000 and $1,000,000 to develop their ideas in exchange for (with some exceptions) making their outputs either open source or Creative Commons.

Take a look at these semifinalists; in their applications you'll see the real future of libraries. From creating 3-D books for blind children to creating a Media Mentor Academy to equip current and future librarians to serve as technology guides in their communities, to creating a lending library for skill sharing, each of these semifinalists represents what libraries will become if we ask the hard questions about which of our services are vital to the community.

To me, these 41 semifinalists represent the real future of libraries: user-centered, needs-driven organizations. Yes, we'll have to push off some of the tasks that have less value to our users. But the things we can take on, as we dream big and keep the needs of our community squarely in mind, have the capacity to transform. I'm thrilled to see not only which ideas are chosen as the winners, but also to see how those ideas that aren't funded play out on a potentially smaller scale.

I think it's also worth noting that the Knight News Challenge spins the Future of Libraries question in a positive light. We often see news items or think pieces about how librarianship is headed for certain doom or obsolescence. The Knight Foundation's library-oriented challenge points out something in its prompt: libraries are not only the collections they provide. They can also be a platforms for community engagement and safe havens in stressful times for a community.

Congratulations are owed not only to those chosen as semi-finalists, but also to all of the people who submitted ideas. It's your enthusiasm, forward thinking, and user-centeredness that will help librarianship grow into something amazing.

Stay positive,

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