The central dogma of gene expression is that DNA is transcribed into messenger RNAs, which in turn serve as the template for protein synthesis. The discovery of extensive transcription of large RNA transcripts that do not code for proteins, termed long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs), provides an important new perspective on the centrality of RNA in gene regulation. Here, we discuss genome-scale strategies to discover and characterize lncRNAs. An emerging theme from multiple model systems is that lncRNAs form extensive networks of ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complexes with numerous chromatin regulators and then target these enzymatic activities to appropriate locations in the genome. Consistent with this notion, lncRNAs can function as modular scaffolds to specify higher-order organization in RNP complexes and in chromatin states. The importance of these modes of regulation is underscored by the newly recognized roles of long RNAs for proper gene control across all kingdoms of life.