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Rising to the newest (Knight) challenge

DC Public Library in Washington, D.C. Photo by Maxine Schnitzer Photography.
DC Public Library in Washington, D.C. Photo by Maxine Schnitzer Photography.

It has been said that “libraries are the cornerstone of our democracy” so the newest Knight News Challenge on Elections should be right up our alley. From candidate forums to community conversations, about half of all public libraries report to the Digital Inclusion Survey that they host community engagement events. What is your library doing that you might want to expand or what new innovative idea would you like to seed? Knight is inviting all kinds of ideas: “We see democratic engagement as more than just the act of voting. It should be embedded in every part of civic life…”

So—what’s your best idea for: How might we better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections?

There are several ways you can participate and learn more:

  1. Check out and comment on the growing number of applications. Which of these could best help address issues you see and hear in your community and your library? On a quick scan, I could definitely see a library or libraries as partners for the Knowledge Swap Market, or a similar project, for instance. Also—how might an application be made stronger and more useful? You don’t have to be an applicant to contribute to the conversation, and comments are accepted through April 13.
  2. BUT—you should definitely consider applying! With more than $3 million available, a wide-open invitation to interpret the question as you see fit, encouragement to partner with others, and the opportunity to get feedback from others to improve your application, there’s a lot to be gained in participating.
  3. Learn more about the whole process at “virtual office hours” open Tuesday, March 3, from 1-2 p.m. Eastern Time and on Tuesday, March 17, from 1-2 p.m. ET. Information about these virtual office hours and in-person events in cities across the county can be accessed here. I attended the event in D.C., and it was a great opportunity to meet people and make connections for possible collaboration.

The challenge is a collaboration between the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a leading funder of news and media innovation, and three other foundations: the Democracy Fund, the Rita Allen Foundation and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation. Winners will receive a share of more than $3 million, which includes up to $250,000 from the Democracy Fund.

This news challenge and the recent NetGain challenge are great opportunities to gain visibility and support for library projects working to address community needs and challenges in innovative ways. These invitations to engage with other community and national stakeholders also resonate with the emerging national policy agenda for libraries and the Aspen Institute report (pdf) on re-envisioning public libraries.

I hope you’ll consider joining the conversation. If so, please leave a note here in comments, so others can look for your proposal.

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Larra Clark

Larra Clark is the deputy director of both the Public Library Association and Washington Office’s public policy team. Larra received her bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Arizona and has a M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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