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Nation's Libraries to Explore New Boundaries of Digital Innovation

The Knight Foundation has awarded $3 million to 22 libraries for projects and tools that will improve access to information, preserve history and leverage open government data.

Libraries around the nation are expanding their repertoire. A total of $3 million was awarded to 22 innovative library projects by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on Jan. 30. The libraries will develop new projects and tools that improve access to information, preserve history, open government data, and help bring libraries into the digital age.

“There is a growing demand for libraries to evolve their role and become more dynamic, living platforms, responsive to community needs,” said John S. Bracken, Knight Foundation vice president for media innovation. “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.”

Of the 22 winning projects, eight main winners will receive between $130,000 and $600,000. An additional 14 early-stage pilots will each receive $35,000 through the Knight Prototype Fund.

In addition to funding, the Knight Foundation will connect winners with advisers and experts to help project managers succeed. The eight main project winners are:

  • Activating the Public Library by the Peer 2 Peer University (Chicago) [$152,000]
  • Culture in Transit by the Metropolitan New York Library Council (New York) [$330,000]
  • The Internet Archive (San Francisco) [$600,000]
  • The Library Freedom Project (Boston) [$244,700]
  • Library for All: Digital Library for the Developing World (New York) [$265,000]
  • Measure the Future (Sewanee, Tenn.) [$130,000]
  • Open Data to Open Knowledge by the City of Boston (Boston) [$475,000]
  • Space/Time Directory by the New York Public Library (New York) [$380,000]
Each project has a different goal, but all projects share a common vision of using new technology to uncover the wealth of information in the nation’s libraries. These projects demonstrate how cities are just beginning to see what technology can unlock, said Jascha Franklin-Hodge, chief information officer of Boston.

“Our project is about connecting the city’s open data program with our libraries,” Franklin-Hodge said. “We have a massive volume of data that we release to the public through this website, but it’s not very well organized and it’s not very useful. … Instead what we want to do is bring the skills of librarians, cataloging, curating, relating data sets to bear on this incredible information resource and turn it into something that can be truly useful as knowledge for our residents, for businesses, for government employees and researchers.”

[click_to_tweet]"There is a growing demand for libraries to evolve their role and become more dynamic, living platforms."[/click_to_tweet]

Boston is also home to project winner, The Library Freedom Project, led by Alison Macrina. The project will unite librarians, technology experts and lawyers who can educate librarians on emerging issues of privacy, surveillance, censorship and free speech. Through a series of workshops, librarians will be able to learn about new technologies, associated challenges and help the advancement of digital rights.

The New York Public Library will launch a project called the Space/Time Directory, which will seek to unlock historical data found in libraries to create a free mapping service that will make the city’s history come alive. A searchable atlas and database will allow scholars, journalists, and historians to digitally explore city relics, old buildings and streets, and make available otherwise arcane knowledge of New York City.

In Sewanee, Tenn., librarian Jason Griffey will train librarians to use open source hardware to better understand library buildings themselves as part of a project called Measure the Future. The devices can measure factors that affect how patrons use the library and that data will be used to drive decisions on improving those public spaces.

Bracken noted that the foundation was particularly impressed with the level of passion and enthusiasm for libraries that people from all walks of life demonstrated. 

“There’s a sense of optimism that we take away from libraries' ability to adapt and drive into the digital future in such a way that makes them central to the way in which communities get information,” Bracken said. “The thing that we’re really excited about is the emerging leadership within libraries to really think creatively about new information technologies and the concurrent behaviors that you’re seeing our communities and thinking about how libraries can really tap into that and continue to grow and thrive.”

A full list of winners along with descriptions of each project can be found on the Knight Foundation blog.


Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.