Technology is becoming increasingly important in all public services, but especially libraries. In an age where economic, educational, health, and social opportunities depend more and more on access to the Internet, lack of access means lack of opportunity.
Microsoft decided that the USAID Bibliomist project was a great opportunity to partner with USAID, the International Research and Exchanges Board, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Library Association to spur the evolution of Ukraine’s libraries into modern information resource and community centers. Microsoft donated $9 million in software to Ukraine’s public libraries as part of its global initiative to endow communities with accessible and useful technology. Today Bibliomist can proudly state that it has helped revive 10 percent of Ukraine’s libraries and firmly planted the seeds to rejuvenate many more. Only through such a broad-based partnership could such an endeavor be realized.
Libraries are sources not only of books but also information, so their importance is not waning. Libraries can use technology in a variety of ways. For instance, by supporting public access computers, we help ensure that those who do not have computers available to them at home, work, or school can still benefit from this critical technology. Using technology, libraries can also provide benefits to the community as a whole. For instance, libraries are well positioned to develop community assessments, which are studies that help a community identify its needs and then determine how to go about meeting them.
Today Ukraine’s public libraries are working diligently to close both the digital and the opportunity gap: from giving free classes on resume-building to providing free access to technology. They are striving to provide services and workshops that address essential community needs, from increasing electoral literacy to promoting healthy lifestyles. As libraries discover better ways to deliver information via new media platforms and improve operational efficiencies, they will have a greater impact on a broader population.
In supporting Ukraine’s libraries, our expectation is that Microsoft technologies will be a resource that both municipalities and local community groups will be able to use in their efforts to bridge the digital divide and make their communities stronger.
Although there is much still to do, we’re inspired by what we’ve seen while working with Ukrainians: people taking the lead in changing not only their lives but the lives of those around them, making a real impact in their local communities and in Ukraine in general.