How the Knight News Challenge on Libraries boosts ideas of all sizes

technology / Article

Photo: Seattle Public Library by Jan Tik via Wikimedia Commons.

Jason Griffey is founder and director of Measure the Future, a winner of the first Knight News Challenge on Libraries.

Today: Want to learn more about the Knight News Challenge on Libraries?

Knight’s John Bracken hosted a reddit Ask Me Anything chat on Feb. 29. Learn more here. You can also join us for virtual office hours TODAY, Wednesday, March 16, to ask questions and talk with members of our team about the challenge. Apply at

knc lib

It is no exaggeration to say that being one of the grantees from the 2014 Knight News Challenge changed my life, both personally and as an information professional. When I got the call that Measure the Future was one of the chosen projects, I had just left a tenured librarian position at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga because I was desperate to create the things that I could see filled needs in the profession. The News Challenge win allowed me to do that, and moreover, gave me skills to pursue that goal.

I have always had more ideas than I had resources to fulfill them, especially as a librarian. Libraries are notoriously underfunded, and technology in libraries is often focused solely on the patron side of the world. Using technology to make the libraries themselves better often falls to the wayside in the wake of public projects and everyday difficulties. Just keeping the place running is often all an overburdened library staff can manage. Finding resources to help offset that burden and to allow librarians to find new solutions to problems facing them is the real value of the News Challenge. Knight Foundation also provides training and resources for their grantees, from project planning to concept creation and evaluation.

The News Challenge is one of the very, very few grant opportunities that is open to individuals. There are a myriad of grants that institutions can seek, from the national to the local. But as an individual creator, my options are few and far between, and Knight recognizes that sometimes individuals have ideas that are worth funding and seeing to completion. Of the eight large awards given in the 2014 challenge, two went to what were effectively individual creators, one to me and one to Alison Macrina for the Library Freedom Project. For a foundation with the resources and influence of Knight to choose to back the two of us, and to also back projects from large libraries like Chicago Public, New York Public, and Boston Public, says so much about their values.

How can you pitch your own idea and become part of the solution for how libraries can serve 21st century information needs? These are my own suggestions, not taken from Knight at all, but this is what I would love to see more of in libraries. First off, I love individual or small team creators because they have flexibility and agility that large organizations simply aren’t able to have. If you have an idea, and you think it’s a good one, find some partners and pitch it. Second, ask yourself if your project has universal appeal: Would it solve a problem for all (or nearly all) libraries? Does it work for libraries of different sizes? Rural and urban? The more universal the idea, the better off you will be. Third, how is your idea and project new? Is it a new process entirely, a new service that has never existed in libraries? Is it a new way of doing something libraries have always done? Think hard about how you explain what it is, and try your best to carefully consider the way the project could be described.

The barrier to entry is very low in the initial stages for the News Challenge. Take a couple afternoons, sketch out your Big Idea and submit it. There are many chances after the fact to revise, take criticism, talk with other applicants, and generally make your pitch better and better. But throw your hat in the ring. It could change your life.

Follow Jason Griffey on Twitter via @griffey.

The Knight News Challenge on Libraries will award $3 million for the best U.S. ideas that respond to the question, How might libraries serve 21st century information needs? Visit to apply by March 21, view our challenge brief, timeline, FAQ page, and applications from the first News Challenge on Libraries. Keep an eye on Knight Blog for updates, tips for applying and promotional events. You can also reach us with questions on Twitter via @knightfdn, @heychrisbarr, or via e-mail [email protected]

Sign up for our newsletter

Submit your email. Receive updates and the @knightfdn newsletter.

Subscription Options

Knight gathers journalists, technologists and filmmakers at SXSW to explore trends and opportunities in virtual reality

technology / Article