Through the Global Libraries programs, public libraries are becoming a common space where citizens can come together, inform their lives, and contribute to community discourse.
The programs, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aim to improve people's lives by dramatically increasing public access to information--equipping public libraries with computers, training librarians, and strengthening the voice of the library sector.
Access to information is an essential component of development in today's globalized society. In Romania and Ukraine, more than 70% of the population lack access to the internet. While these countries have made rapid economic advances over the last two decades, libraries have been largely left behind and, as a result, millions are left without critical access to information. With the right kind of investment and attention, however, public libraries can be the link that connects people from all backgrounds with the information they need.
Ukrainian and Romanian libraries are proving that, given the right tools and investment, they can fill a vital role in their communities:
• In Salaj County, Romania, librarians hosted an election -information program in anticipation of the 2008 parliamentary elections. The program included community meetings at the Cehu Silvaniei and Bobota public libraries focusing on new voting procedures and online resources about candidates.
• In Ternopil, Ukraine, farmers improved their tomato crop with the help of internet at their library by investigating new strains of tomatoes better suited to local conditions.
As more and more libraries are connected to the Global Libraries network, IREX expects to see librarians offering unique services designed to meet local needs and connecting citizens to a world of information.