Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced on Monday, January 23, 2014 at the 2014 NEXT Library Conference that the Chicago Public Library (C.P.L.) was awarded a grant of $400,000 by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on Monday for the C.P.L.’s “Internet to Go” program. The C.P.L. is one of nineteen winners out of 700 Cities that applied to the Knight News Challenge.
According to the Mayor’s Office, “the challenge sought breakthrough ideas that strengthen the Internet for freedom of expression and innovation.” The C.P.L. is already the largest provider of free Internet access through its eighty locations in Chicago. “The Internet to Go program will now help to further bridge the digital divide by providing take home Internet access and digital training for people in digitally-underserved areas of the city.”
“From day one we have worked to increase internet connectivity and knowledge for our residents, because today’s digital skills are 21st century workforce skills,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “I thank the Knight Foundation for their support, because with this funding the Chicago Public Library will now be able provide free, easy-to-take home, high-speed Internet access that will serve as a game-changer for children and adults across Chicago, but especially in communities that have traditionally been underserved.”
The Mayor’s Office stated, “The $400,000 grant made through the Chicago Public Library Foundation will allow Library patrons to check out Wi-Fi hotspot devices for up to three weeks at a time, beginning first in six neighborhood branches where digital access is particularly low. The Library will also offer digital literacy and skills coaching as a part of the Internet to Go program. For those without computers, Library will experiment with a laptop lending program.”
The importance of Internet access and digital literacy skills in today’s economy is clear. A 2011 study revealed that in-home broadband use in many of Chicago's lowest-income neighborhoods barely hits the 50 percent mark and is significantly lower in the lowest-income areas of the city. Preliminary data from the City’s computer access centers indicate that Chicago residents who have received technology training from those centers in targeted neighborhoods are 13 percent more likely to obtain employment or increase their net income. The Internet to Go program will lower the barrier to accessing the benefits of engaging online.
The City and Chicago Public Library strive to make every community a ‘smart community’ in which everyone is able to fully participate in the digital economy, by increasing the number of digitally- connected and technologically-savvy students, residents and businesses yields increased job placement, business growth opportunities and educational skills for the 21st century.
“Chicago Public Library is breaking down the digital divides that keep people out of the Internet. That’s a great service. But there’s more: by creating access and digital literacy for everyone, they’re also allowing innovators from anywhere to contribute to our future. They’re enabling an ideal of democracy,” stated Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation President.
According to the C.P.L. and the Knight Foundation, “The Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged…The Knight News Challenge on strengthening the Internet is funding breakthrough ideas that strengthen the Internet for freedom of expression and innovation.”
In addition to the $400,000 grant for the C.P.L. for its Internet to Go program, John Brecken of the Knight Foundation announced The New York Public Library received a $500,000 grant for its Check Out the Internet program; Code2040 received a $400,000 grant; the Digital Public Library of America received a $400,000 grant for its Getting It Right on Rights program; the New American Foundation’s Measurement Lab received a $350,000 grant and its Ranking Digital Rights program received a $300,000 grant; the Electronic Frontier Foundation received a $250,000 grant for its Web site OnlineCensorship.org; the Journalism Development Network’s Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project received a $200,000 grant for its Who Are the Gatekeepers? program; and TextSecure (Open Whisper Systems) received a $416,000 grant to expand its secure messaging application. These are the winners of the Knight News Challenge.
John Palfrey, Chairman of the Board of the Knight Foundation, is also President of the Digital Public Library of America. According to the Knight Foundation, he “was not involved in the consideration of the proposal.”
In addition, the following individuals and organizations received $35,000 prototype grants: the Anti-censorship Alert System (Center for Rights) to launch tools to allow the public to see blocked Web sites; Breedrs for a mobile app for parents to understand apps, games, and other technology children buy and use; CertiDig for a seamless method to authenticate information and date sources; Checkdesk (Meedan) for a tool to help journalists verify online media (videos, photos, tweets, etc.) in a deadline situation; Inquisite for a tool to help groups collaborate on complex research projects; Poking the Bear for a series of “tools for measuring censorship and surveillance by mobile network operators;” Report-a-Troll for a platform for victims of online harassment to report it to volunteers who can respond; Safe Travels Online for tools to “help people avoid cyberattacks, malicious software, and surveillance;” Swarmrize for a tool to help journalists enlist help from readers to conduct research; and Threshold for a virtual currency to help open Internet projects find funding. The Ford Foundation and Mozilla Foundation helped the Knight Foundation to define the idea and review proposals. Further, the Ford Foundation contributed $250,000 toward the grants.
John Bracken is Director of Journalism and Media Innovation at the Knight Foundation. He oversees the Knight News Challenge and the Prototype Fund, as well as other things. Bracken sits on the Board of the Illinois Humanities Council.
Summarizing the history of the C.P.L. and recent accolades it has received, the Mayor’s Office stated, “Since 1873, the Chicago Public Library has encouraged lifelong learning by welcoming all people and offering equal access to information, entertainment and knowledge through innovative services and programs, as well as cutting-edge technology. Through its 80 locations, the Library provides free access to a rich collection of materials, both physical and digital, and presents the highest quality author discussions, exhibits and programs for children, teens and adults. CPL recently received the Social Innovator Award from Chicago Innovation Awards; won a National Medal for Library Services from the Institute for Museum and Library Services and was ranked number one in the U.S. and third in the world by an international study of major urban libraries conducted by the Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf in Germany.”