If you’re in the library world you likely already know about the Knight News Challenge. This year’s theme is “How might libraries serve 21st century information needs?” This post is mostly a prompt to urge all libraries to check out the full list of submissions which the foundation publishes openly on the site, and a hearty commendation to the Foundation for sharing these. I think it’s a really useful gesture for a number of reasons:

  • there is no reason many of these innovative ideas can’t be adopted by individual libraries and systems apart from the foundations funding. Some of them are imminently achievable right now, and even those that aren’t can still inform strategic planning and other thinking about where library services can evolve to.
  • it is a really interesting exercise to examine one’s own sense of where libraries need to go and compare it with what the foundation’s panel thinks. By sharing the 640+ applications, and not just the shortlist or finalists, we’re offered the chance to come up with our own shortlist and see how it stacks up. I went through all of the applications and here are the one’s I personally found exciting:

Future-Proofing Civic Data

Exploring ways libraries can support preservation & long-term access to Open Civic Data from community portals like OpenDataPhilly.

Library Bookstore Platform: Keeping it Local.

To begin each library would be given an online, fully functioning, eCommerce enabled, revenue producing bookstore selling print and eBooks.

Libraries as distributed digital knowledge repositories

Create a browser addon so when people post to the web they can send a copy for storage and hosting by a network of local libraries.

Open the Knowledge Vault (Open Vault): Making Academic Research Accessible to the Public

Open Vault will provide open access to academic research by locating and delivering data preserved in institutional repositories.

Data Democracy and Climate Change Literacy: Hacking technical and scientific data with Art.

Using hackers and artists to bridge the gap between scientific research on climate change and how we live and understand our daily lives.

Expanding Home WiFi Access: the Final Foot of the Digital Divide

Libraries offer WiFi technicians who can visit wired-internet-only households to establish or improve a home WiFi network.

The Library Machine

A touch and gesture-based interface that allows users to navigate library collections using both visual and text based queries.

Library + Raspberry Pi = The Pibrary Project

The Pibrary Project transforms the Raspberry Pi into a teaching, learning, access and creation tool designed for libraries.

Pop-up Makerspace

Providing access to resources and education to community members in convenient and unexpected locations!

Virtual Mindfulness and Meditation Library

The Mindfulness Library will teach and promote healthy living through MBSR and mindful meditation by way of social media and technology.

Phone Booths in Libraries

To provide libraries with an open set of plans that will enable fabrication of secure spaces for focused cell phone conversations

Open Source Proxy Server

Create an open source alternative to EzProxy to ensure access to electronic materials for all libraries around the world!


LocalVocal uses the network of public libraries to scale local conversations on national topics—the DPLA for dialogue.

Improve access to knowledge and empower citizens: Amplify libraries and communities through Wikipedia

Library staff will learn to contribute to Wikipedia, engage their community members, and better leverage collections.

Libraries can improve MOOCs and bridge the skills gap

By facilitating MOOCs, libraries can provide good educational offerings to their communities and improve the MOOC completion rate.

TeleStory: Library Based Video Visitation for Children of Incarcerated Parents

Connect children and families with their incarcerated loved ones through free, easily accessible community-based video visitation services.

Open Textbook Platform

Create a search engine that supports faculty, students, and librarians in finding suitable open textbooks for all academic disciplines.

Expand Libraries as 24/7 Community WiFi Hubs

Expand the bandwidth of WiFi radius for libraries serving urban neighborhoods with back-up protection in event of crisis.

MUSICat: Open-Source Software for Libraries to Create Digital Collections of Local Music

We build software that empowers libraries to license local music and share it with their communities via streaming and downloads.

Unleashing the universal research library

Bringing research libraries’ expertise and content to the web to establish the web platform as the universal research library.

Library Content Development Platform

Create an open source platform that allows library communities and academics to develop and distribute print and electronic publications.

So how do my choices stack up? So far, I’m batting just over 10% – 5 of mine show up in the final shortlist of 47. So I’d say there’s clearly some divergence with what I’m finding interesting and what the foundation is looking for. Though that said, I do not know all of the criteria they are selecting on, nor do I myself know the extent to which any of these are “shovel ready,” so I’m not going to stress too much about my “success rate” in picking winners.

Also, what does it tell you about me and my own vision for future library services? Well, apart from a few outliers (Phone Booths in Libraries, TeleStory: Library Based Video Visitation for Children of Incarcerated Parents, Virtual Mindfulness and Meditation Library) the proposals that interest me are mostly about helping libraries embed more firmly into the fabric of internet, whether physically (as civic networker) or virtually as participatory culture facilitator and platform provider.


Finally, a last note – it was really interesting (and gratifying) to me to see the number of proposals (I stopped counting at 20!) that referenced Open Textbooks and open content, a clear indication to me that these are finally starting to inch out of the early adopter phase and into the early majority.

How about you – what were the Knight Foundation proposals you found most intriguing? Did any resonate enough for you to say “we should be doing this now in our library?” – SWL

UPDATE June 23, 2016 – So the winners have been announced! 3 of the 14 winners were on my list. It would be hard to criticize any of these choices, they all look like interesting projects. Here’s hoping they succeed and offer some paths to the future for others, and here’s hoping that the ones that didn’t win still find a way forward, and that the Knight Foundation continues to fund these kinds of innovative projects.