Did you know that most countries have public libraries? In fact, there are more than 315,000 libraries worldwide. In many communities, public libraries are the only place that anyone can have access to information and the Internet free of charge, regardless of education or skill level. In the United States alone, about a third of those age 14 and older—roughly 77 million people—use a public library computer or wireless network to access the Internet each year.
Because of their mission to connect individuals to information, we believe public libraries play a vital role in individual and community development around the world. Families and individuals are going to libraries to access online information about health and nutrition. Library users learn new skills at the library which helps them find and qualify for new employment opportunities. For example:
- Libraries in Ukraine work with local farmers to provide skills and information necessary to increase crop yields.
- In India, Nepal and Bhutan, libraries hold classes to support maternal health and early childhood development and provide families with assistance with financial literacy, livelihood development, and savings.
- In Colombia, young mothers receive basic literacy classes in the library while their children use library computers to complete their homework. With literacy skills these young mothers are able to find employment and provide incomes for their families.
But public libraries need critical support to move forward into the digital age. The Gates Foundation's Global Libraries Initiative’s mission is to see effective, sustainable public access to useful information provided for people who would not otherwise have it, and to ensure this information is used in ways that improve people’s lives.
We work to contribute to the development of public libraries as dynamic, innovative institutions staffed by library staff and leaders equipped to create and manage high-impact libraries. Our goal with these efforts is to help public library leaders and staff understand and quickly integrate innovative ideas, tools, and services in response to the changing needs of their communities.
The Foundation's Global Libraries initiative is currently exploring ways to maximize its support of public libraries in ways that foster innovation and dramatically accelerate positive and lasting change in libraries throughout the U.S. and around the world.
We would like to hear your thoughts about how libraries can best serve their communities in a future where ebooks and ubiquitous digital content is the norm.
Please consider taking a few minutes and filling out our survey by March 1, 2013 to help us with our future planning! Thank you.