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Every year, during tax season, hundreds of Ukrainians visit their public libraries to find assistance in completing and submitting their tax forms online. Councilmen around Ukraine have recognized that is necessary to simplify the existing tax filing process to increase revenue and improved compliance. In April 2013, the Mala Vyska Raion Library and the State Tax Administration of Kirovohrad partnered on the innovative initiative “Filing Tax Reports without Borders.”

More than 20 tax administration officials, local businessmen, and librarians participated in a meeting to discuss the best approach to rollout a tax awareness campaign and promote the new e-filing services at the library. Other neighboring villages had the opportunity to participate via Skype and provide their feedback into the strategy.

Tetyana Malashenko, director of the local library, introduced the participants to the different type of information support that they library can provide to the businessmen. The Tax Administration Service provided demonstrations of the new e-filing software that they installed at the library and provided an introduction to additional e-services available at the library. Additionally, the initiative had the support of council officials, who saw it as an effective tool to improve the quality of taxpayer services in the region.

“Now all 400 local entrepreneurs who have e‑signature can go paperless and file taxes online. Today, e-signature is a must for developing businesses. Any business person can obtain one from the tax administration easily and absolutely for free”, said a representative of the Tax Administration Services. “We hope to extend this service to all patrons in the regions and help them submit their taxes online,” mentioned Tetyana Malashenko. 

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Community members attend to the information session at the library

Financial literacy is becoming increasingly important not only for local business, but for average individuals and families that are deciding how to spend their income and manage their finances. However, lack of financial literacy is a latent social problem in Romania. The financial literacy score of the Romanian population is relatively low in comparison with other European countries. According to a study by the World Bank, the average financial literacy index (FLI) of Romanian citizens is 31 (on a scale between 0 and 100), which indicates a low level of financial literacy in the general population.

Furthermore, almost 65% of population struggle to manage day-to-day needs and commitments with an average household income per capita lower than 150 euro, and 61% live paycheck to paycheck. To improve this situation, it is necessary to provide the population with the necessary tools to increase their financial capacity to meet end meets.  To this end, Biblionet partnered with VISA Europe in 2012 to deliver financial literacy workshops through the MoneyIQ initiative at selected libraries in Romania.

The implementation of the project has been successful and has seen 111 librarians from 9 counties trained as trainers as of April 2013. Overall, since the start of the program 2,313 citizens have been trained in financial management through the MoneyIQ initiative. In the upcoming year, 10,000 citizens from all backgrounds, ages, and professions are expected to be trained through the initiative at local libraries.

The Mures County Library was one of the first libraries implementing the pilot project. During the first stages of the project, seven librarians were trained in financial literacy. After the training, librarians returned to their communities and partnered with banks and high schools to deliver the trainings. The training was not only targeted adult patrons, but also teenagers from local private and public schools.

Given the success of the first wave of trainings, 10 local librarians were selected to participate in the trainings. Some of these local librarians recognized the need to provide the financial training to citizens from rural areas that do not have access to library services and decided to offer these trainings to communities in the peripheries of Mures.

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Librarian shows patron some online resources on financial literacy

Money IQ:The MoneyIQ project is run by Visa Europe and the member banks from Romania, being implemented by Junior Achievement, with support from the Ministry of Education, Research, Youth and Sports, the United Nations Development Program and the National Authority for Consumers’ Protection.

I’m in Namibia to visit staff and partners for our Library Development Program, and over the past couple of days we traveled to the northern part of the country to visit the sites of the new Regional Resource and Study Centres (RSRCs). The work that the Namibia Library and Archives Service and the Millennium Challenge Account – Namibia put into these buildings is evident and impressive. Careful thought went into the building design – loads of natural light, incorporating existing vegetation into the design and landscaping, using thatching to provide shade. I’ve posted a few pictures of the buildings below, and look forward to sharing photos of the RSRCs bustling with people once they’re open.

circulation desk

Circulation desk, Ohangwena RSRC | photo credit Meaghan O’Connor

Children's section, Ohangwena RSRC

Children’s area, Ohangwena RSRC | photo credit Meaghan O’Connor

Painting windowsills, Oshana RSRC | photo credit Meaghan O’Connor

The Cross-European Survey to Measure Users’ Perceptions of the Benefits of ICT in Public Libraries report presents data and analysis from 17 EU countries on the benefits of free access to ICTs in public libraries. The report also examines key similarities and differences in public perception of ICTs in public libraries across different EU member states.

Public Library in Tigveni, Argeş County, Romania

Public Library in Tigveni, Argeş County, Romania

The study examines how access to ICT through public libraries directly contributes to the objectives of the Europe 2020 growth strategy for smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth, such as  improving access to information for employment, innovation, education opportunities, and social inclusion. EU member states are expected to show actionable steps towards meeting these objectives. This study shows how public libraries within the EU play a key role in meeting specific EU 2020 policy objectives.

From the report:

Public libraries across the European Union (EU) have long played an important role in communities by providing free access to information, guidance from trained librarians, and public meeting space. As meaningful participation in society increasingly requires access to digital information and resources, many public libraries in the EU have expanded their offerings to include access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) like computers and the Internet.

Romania was selected as one of the 17 countries in the study and produced a number of notable results. Biblionet staff in Romania played a key role in collecting and presenting the data for this report. In many areas, Romania produced promising results in public perception of ICT in public libraries, including:

  • Up to 70% of public libraries in Romania offer public access to computers and the internet

  • Over 75% of Romanian citizens (both users and non-users of public libraries) felt that libraries were either very effective, effective, or fairly effective at meeting the needs of their local community. The EU average is 64%

  • 64% of Romanian citizens felt that public libraries merit additional financial support

  • Nearly 40% of public access computing (PAC) users in Romanian public libraries had used library computers in the last 12 months to support some employment-related activity

  • 43% of PAC users in Romania had used library computers for civic engagement activities in the last 3 months, higher than the EU-wide average (24%)

For more findings on public libraries and ICT in Romania, check out the final country report. Complete datasets and country reports for the other participating countries are available online as well.

In January 2011, Biblionet and the Romania’s Payment and Intervention Agency in Agriculture (APIA) started a partnership to facilitate access to agricultural subsidies through public libraries in the country. Biblionet affiliated libraries are equipped with modern computers that allow farmers to use the internet to access the forms.

How the program works?

Interested librarians consulted with the APIA and local mayors before implementing the service in the library. The support of local governments was essential for the success of the initiative because libraries needed to meet specific infrastructure requirements.

Mayors and the librarians agreed that providing this service to farmers would translate into cost-savings in terms of money and time since farmers wouldn’t need to travel to the capital to submit their paperwork. Librarian Markos Maria Imola explains: “Coming to the library they save time and money, everything is faster, more operative, people come when they can, if there are many people waiting, then they go to solve other issues and return afterwards.”

Each library tailored their program according to the needs of the local farmers. For example, in some cases, librarians had minimal interaction with the farmers that was limited to the promotion of the new services and scheduling the visits with APIA experts. In other cases, librarians were involved in every step of the process such as providing assistance for parcel digitization and classification of crops.

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Librarian assisting farmer with the online application

Goals and Benefits

The collaboration between APIA and Biblionet achieved a diverse set of goals by working with partners from the local community and the government. Among these were:

  • Facilitating the process of completing APIA applications
  • Providing the local public administration with the opportunity to help the farmers
  • Positioning the library as a strong community ally

In 2011, more than 58,500 farmers benefited from the program. Through the partnership with APIA, 1,041 librarians and 151 City Hall employees from 30 Romanian counties received training from APIA specialists in 2012. It is estimated that 83 million euros in funding were accessed by farmers with the help of librarians. Due to the successful pilot project, Biblionet decided to upgrade the “subsidies assistance program” into a standard service in all Biblionet-affiliated libraries in 2012. This extension of the program reached an additional 41,500 farmers and granted access to 63 million euros in subsidies.

The new service also had unexpected impacts at the library. For example, Librarian Gabriela Ticoiu of Halchiu from the Brasov County Library explains: “The APIA initiative also attracted new patrons to the library. Thanks to the communication efforts for APIA, other people came to the library and discovered other services such as computer training and free Internet access.”

Finding credible partner organizations is essential in developing new services at libraries. In the community of Filipeștii de Târg, in Pradova, librarian Roxana Chiazim is working with the “Legio Lex Populi” Association (LLPA) to update the electronic equipment at the library.

LLPA and the library are also collaborating in other community service projects. LLPA has been actively involved in trying to improve the living conditions of the local community. LLPA and the local library have work together in well waters testing and in the nationwide campaign “Let’s Do it Romania!” for public service.

LLPA and the library has now applied for funding through the TechCamp Bucharest. The event, held in December of 2011, aimed at increasing the digital library of NGOs in Romania that are working on improving the lives of marginalized populations in the region. Their project, “Our Library: An Education Workshop”, is dedicated  to update the local library IT structure though the creation and new services for the community.

Funding through the TechCamp opportunity will be used to install three computers in the library and to provide basic computer skills training to 30 local children and the resident librarian. LLPA volunteers will also provide regular trainings at the library for visiting patrons.

“Having computers for the first time at our facilities will help bring an added value to the library. It will stop being a place where you only come to borrow books and start being what it really is: a place where you can find information either in books or online,” said Roxana Chiazim.

Mrs. Stanciu from LLPA also has high expectations from the project. “This project is only the beginning. We want an active, live library, that’s present in the community, connected to the online world, a host for educational events, and initiator for impactful actions and able to generate new opportunities for our community,” she stated.

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Representatives of the LLPA and the library present new project

TechCamp is a program under Secretary Clinton’s Civil Society (CS) 2.0 initiative – an effort to galvanize the technology community to assist civil society organizations (CSOs) across the globe by providing capabilities, resources and assistance to harness the latest information and communications technology (ICT) advances to build their digital capacity. 

IT programming is one of the most rapidly growing professions in Ukraine and in the world. Recognizing this reality, a patron of the Hersta Central Raion Library has offered free IT lessons to schoolchildren. The initiative, led by retired IT teacher Illya Avasyloae, seeks to create an IT school at the library where children can learn PHP, HTML, and CSS program coding.

The initiative started in September 2012, when Avasyloae volunteered to start offering free basic software lessons at the library on the weekends. Since then, the classes have become one of the most popular services of the Hersta Library.

Illya recognized the potential of the library as a place to host the IT school. After discussions with Olena Myhai, the library director, he received her full support for the project. “This project gave us an opportunity to convene school kids for fun and learning during their out-of-school time,” said Olena.

The courses are offered free of charge to the community and there are no prerequisites or required readings. The course it is aimed to attract children that are interested in learning PHP programming and provide them with a solid foundation in the PHP language through theory and practice.

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“We wanted to and get the children to the library to show them that computers are not just toys, but that they can create with them. Since the computers already have all the necessary software, the only thing that you really need is someone that tells them how to use them,” said Avasyloae.

Avasyloae and Myhai have great plans for the IT school. Along with the students, they plan to create a web portal for the town of Hertsa to feature content on local history, notable residents, and art. “My plan is to reach out to local authorities to gather support for the initiative. We can provide them the website for free if they support the IT school in other ways,” he mentioned.

IT skills are becoming increasing important in the era of digitalization and technology. Initiatives such as the Hertsa IT School are one of the many ways in which libraries are helping citizens develop valuable skills for the future.

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