Knight Foundation Invests in Innovation

“Libraries are more essential to American democracy than ever before.”

It’s an exciting time for Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, as we are at the heart of a major redevelopment of Charlotte’s uptown cultural district. This is an opportunity to reimagine not only a building, but more importantly to reimagine how our Library can deliver on its mission of improving lives and building a stronger community for a new generation. Thanks to an investment of $250,000 from the Knight Foundation, we can seize this moment to push the boundaries of innovation.

This investment is one of five grants the Knight Foundation is awarding to projects that focus on libraries as essential to addressing information challenges and creating new opportunities for communities to engage with ideas and with each other. “At a time of rising distrust of institutions, echo chambers and concerns about the accuracy of information, libraries are more essential to American democracy than ever before,” said John Bracken, Knight Foundation vice president for technology innovation. “But in an increasingly digital world, they need the resources, skills, people and practices to embrace new innovations and take on an ever-important role in informing the communities that they serve. The projects and research we’re supporting today aim to advance this goal.”

The funds will be used to support a design and visioning process meant to transform Charlotte Mecklenburg Library into a leading example of a 21st century urban library. The process will address the development of new partnerships, service delivery tools and staffing procedures to better meet the current and emerging information and education needs of our community. A first step was a series of facilitated visioning sessions held this week with Library users and community thought leaders challenged to “think differently” about Library services. Library CEO Lee Keesler explains, “We learned from ImaginOn the value of a durable, inspiring thematic vision to guide the design and ongoing activities of a place and space. Generous funding from the Knight Foundation will enable us to articulate a similar vision for our new Main Library.  We’re grateful for Knight’s continued investment in our industry and organization.”

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library has enjoyed a long relationship with the Knight Foundation, funders of Library initiatives including technology upgrades in many locations, the documentation of regional African American history using resources of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, and the creation of Idea Box, a makerspace for all ages at Main Library. We are proud to play a significant role in the Knight Foundation’s current exploration of innovation in the context of libraries in the digital age. Library CEO Lee Keesler and other staff were invited to attend conferences and share their perspectives on what it means for a public library to innovate effectively, and in early January our Library Foundation hosted John Bracken for two days of workshops and conversations, designed to help him better understand our Library, our community, and our existing and potential partnerships. This week the Knight Foundation, with design and innovation firm MACHINE, released a report, “Developing Clarity: Innovating in Library Systems,” as an outcome of this research.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Since 1971, Knight Foundation has made nearly 200 grants totaling more than $12 million to library projects across the country. The importance of libraries was a key finding of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. More recently, the foundation supported the launch of the Digital Public Library of America; and announced further support to help it expand in June 2015. The foundation has also funded 36 projects via two Knight News Challenges on Libraries; winners for the first one were announced in January 2015 and winners for the second were announced in June 2016. The Knight News Challenge on Strengthening the Internet also included the New York Public Library, Chicago Public Library and the Digital Public Library of America as winners.

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. They invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Their goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which they believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit

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