Libraries for Development

Libraries for Development


To succeed in today’s world, people must obtain information quickly. Yet navigating the internet’s vastness and complexity is no easy task. It requires safe spaces where citizens can access the information they need. For more than a decade, IREX and our partners have invested in revitalizing libraries around the world so libraries can not only deliver information but also stimulate grassroots development.

Our global library work has reached 5,600 libraries that received 83 million visits and provided innovative services to more than 1.8 million people. Our work strengthens libraries as they transform into inclusive community resource hubs. We help libraries and librarians become powerful platforms for change in areas such as antitrafficking awareness, early grade reading, voter education, and media literacy.

Libraries as Essential Community Resources

There are an estimated 350,000 libraries around the world. More than 230,000 of these—65% of the world’s total—are located in developing and transitioning countries.  

The 21st-century library is no longer just about books or a place for kids. In many parts of the world, libraries and librarians have a history as trusted, community-based sources for addressing people’s information needs. Public and community libraries can be sustainable local institutions that can stimulate grassroots development.

When properly supported, libraries can offer free civic resources, public services, and physical and digital spaces to consume and create knowledge. Libraries are a safe space for internet access, and librarians can play a critical role as trusted intermediaries. This is particularly important for people with limited digital skills and underserved communities such as minorities or women, in certain contexts. In this way, libraries can be essential equalizing institutions. By supporting and strengthening libraries, we are ensuring inclusive access to information for citizens.

Libraries can also be powerful partners for delivering a wide range of services that enable communities to achieve their development goals. Over the past 13 years, we’ve successfully partnered with libraries to raise antitrafficking awareness, provide early grade literacy opportunities, organize hackathons, promote civic participation, and conduct media literacy and digital literacy training, to name a few examples.

Children at a library

Our Global Library Work

Since 2006, we’ve partnered with libraries and local organizations in 13 countries to transform libraries into modern community information hubs. We’ve empowered more than 11,000 librarians around the world (98% of which are women) with 21st-century skills to help them serve the needs of their communities.

Technology and community literacy

  • Bangladesh: We equipped librarians with the skills to support early literacy efforts in their communities and manage new technology. Twenty libraries hosted over 1,700 community reading events and children increased their daily reading from 14 to 30 minutes.
  • Ethiopia: We supported libraries in launching a literacy app hackathon, enabling local developers to create reading apps that are relevant and designed to promote community engagement. Our partner libraries reached 25,000 children and adults through 46 community events.
  • Mali: We trained youth volunteer librarians to operate village libraries, lead literacy activities, and gather local stories to be transformed into digital books.

Improving local governance

  • Georgia: We equipped over 160 Georgian libraries with new technology and provided internet access for rural communities. Staff trained 50,000 people in digital skills and on how to access services online. Approximately 5,100 participants accessed the internet for the first time.
  • Uruguay: Through technology training, equipment donations, and the development of new library services, we strengthened libraries to become centers for digital inclusion in their communities. The project hinged on partnerships across diverse sectors, including with the Uruguayan government.
  • Peru: We trained librarians in basic technology skills and innovative library services, such as e-government. We helped Peruvians—particularly those living in poverty—overcome the digital access gap by transforming 70 of the country’s libraries into information hubs where people can access information and services.

Digital literacy and opportunities for underserved communities

  • Myanmar: We trained librarians to support their communities, especially women and girls, in understanding and using technology. Approximately 11,500 people accessed the internet for the first time in libraries we supported. We also leveraged libraries as public spaces to raise awareness around safe migration to prevent harmful trafficking practices.
  • Namibia: We partnered with the Ministry of Education to develop a strategic plan to overhaul the library and information services sector in the country. Our team led professional development programming for over 100 library staff in three new regional libraries to provide information technology and public services to rural Namibians.
  • Nigeria: We equipped 70 libraries with the training and tools needed to support the digital, employability, and entrepreneurship skills of women and youth in their communities.
  • Philippines: We helped libraries align their work with national priorities by pursuing opportunities in workforce development, early grade reading, and access to digital services.

System changes

  • Moldova: We supported the modernization of more than 1,000 public libraries that serve 763,000 people per year, helping citizens access relevant information and public training, in areas such as financial literacy, robotics, and health. The program further transformed 29 libraries into accredited e-service training sites that resulted in 15,000 people using their library resources to access government information and services online. Partner libraries also supported more than 180,000 people in finding jobs.
  • Romania: We equipped over 80% of Romania’s libraries with technology tools and internet connectivity, reaching over 600,000 first-time Internet users. Over 5.3 million Romanians visited libraries we supported in just one year.
  • Ukraine: The country’s library network is now better positioned to serve their communities through a countrywide system of access to public internet and local services. We trained more than 430 government officials, 2,000 citizens, and 1,800 librarians on e-governance tools that promoted access to essential public services. The program leveraged $15.8 million in cofunding from local government sources.
Map of libraries that IREX assisted in Moldova
Our programs support large networks of libraries across countries. For example, we supported 80% of Moldova’s libraries—or 1,070 libraries—across the country.