Romanian Libraries at the Forefront of E-Government
This year, 400 public libraries in Romania helped 17,000 farmers successfully receive farm subsidies of over $54,000 per library. The Sadova library in Suceava County was one of the first to partner in this e-government initiative, and now farmers are finding guidance at many local libraries. Agriculture is critical to the Romanian economy, accounting for nearly 30% of the labor force in 2009, significantly higher than many of its fellow European Union (EU) countries. Membership in the EU has opened up opportunities for funding through the Common Agricultural Policy, with agriculture subsidies offering farmers a chance to modernize their land and increase their profitability.
With this transition comes a new electronic system; in Sadova librarian Loredana Coca helps community members learn about and use the resources necessary to access funding available from the EU. Applicants currently go to the town hall to get the information they need to fill out their applications, including satellite images of their land, and then enter the data online using a secure account, completing the process by printing their application forms using the Biblionet computers and printers at the library. The new system is intended to improve the ability of farmers across Romania to benefit from this funding; the internet access and training available at the public libraries ensures that people from all backgrounds are able to take advantage of that possibility.
The librarian’s role in Sadova has been relatively simple: as grant applicants come to the library, she helps them to access their accounts with their user name and password, and can print the applications so that they can submit them as paper copies, or help them submit it online. “So far, the process has been fairly straightforward, but this might change as the program becomes completely electronic in February 2012,” Loredana explains. One of the more difficult components of this process will be learning about how to access satellite images of various plots of land using a tool like Google Maps. The library is well-prepared to help patrons use these new tools, and in the initial analysis of the program, Suceava ranks first among counties in number of subsides received.
IREX partnered with the Agency for Payments and Interventions in Agriculture to streamline the process of assisting farmers in attracting subsidies from European funds by bringing it online. While the average annual budget for the pilot public libraries is between $9,500 and $14,000 per year, in the first year, participant libraries assisted in bringing $20.3 to $27.1 million back to their communities. This is a solid example of the ways IREX and the Romanian government can collaborate in order to better enact various e-government initiatives.
The five year, $26.9 million Biblionet program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is being implemented by IREX and aims to help develop a modern public library system in Romania.