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USAID Administrator, IREX and Partners Point to Libraries to Change Lives

Worldwide there are 13 times more public libraries than hospitals and 70% of the world’s libraries are located in developing and transitioning countries.

These little known statistics are why IREX is leading a global effort called Beyond Access – Libraries Powering Development. In partnership with nine organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Beyond Access draws attention to the role public libraries can play in delivering information and advancing development. 

Earlier this month IREX and Beyond Access partners hosted Local Alternatives for Global Development: Rediscovering Libraries. It was the first major gathering of library innovators along with government officials and technology and development experts. USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah, Ricardo Lagos, 33rd President of Chile, and Susan Glasser, Editor-in-Chief of Foreign Policy opened the conference with a candid discussion about access to information, technology, and local institutions.

“The more we have the conduit of information connection between people and sources of information, and amongst people…the more we have the opportunity to push development objectives forward,” Shah said.

The untraditional, PowerPoint-free conference engaged the over 300 attendees in thought-provoking coffee lounge discussions on topics such as gender in ICT, agricultural information and youth engagement. Participants asked questions of each other and brought new ideas to the table.

Libraries from 19 countries around the world presented new development projects at the innovation fair and contest. Five were selected to receive $10,000 in grants to complete their projects. Conference attendees selected the Jhuwani Community Library in Nepal maternal health project for the people’s choice award. Other winners included Bhutan, Kenya, Serbia and Uganda.

To reach an even wider audience, the conference included live Tweeting and questions from Twitter followers around the world. Beyond Access also launched a new infographic that visually makes the case for the 230,000 libraries in developing and transitioning countries to become hubs for social and economic change.

“Because they are already in place, trusted by the communities they serve and are locally staffed, these existing institutions are an ideal development partner,” says Ari Katz, IREX Deputy Director for Technology and Civil Society.

Beyond the conference, Beyond Access will continue working on innovative library projects around the world and engaging the development community on the powerful potential of libraries.