by Megan Volk, Bibliomist Senior Program Manager
Ask Ukrainians about the last time they’ve been to their local library and some may tell you about their days as a student bent over an open encyclopedia. But ask others and increasingly they will tell you how a visit to the library earned them money, saved them time, or just made their lives easier. Valentyna in Kirovograd may tell you how a librarian helped her find an error in her pension calculation, which she corrected to see an increase in her monthly payment. Viktor, a farmer from the village of Izmailivka, may tell you how he went online to use the Ukrainian Agricultural Portal to find a buyer willing to pay top dollar for his corn. Iryna from Sumy may tell you about how she used the state employment service’s website to find a job at her local post office.
The Ukrainian government is taking steps to make the lives of citizens easier by placing access to services and information online. Unfortunately these efforts are undermined; according to World Bank data from 2011 less than 6% of the population has a fixed Internet subscription. In late 2011, we conducted a survey that indicates that a large number of public libraries across the country are helping to bridge this divide by providing not only internet access, but assistance to patrons in utilizing e-governance services.
Based on completed questionnaires from 246 librarians working in libraries with computers and internet access across the country, 73% reported offering some kind of e-governance services. Of those offering such services, 97% help users access links to national and local level government and 48% report providing training to users on searching for government information online. Librarians report that patrons are most interested in information closely affecting their lives, with pensions topping the list: 97 percent of librarians responded that this was an issue of particular interest among their patrons.
Many libraries are not only helping patrons find the information they are looking for, but taking their efforts a step further and helping the government to develop and promote its new services to the public. 68% of those libraries offering e-governance services report cooperating with government officials in helping to disseminate information, and 17% report working with the government in the creation of online sites and tools. In some libraries the exchange of information is a two-way street, with 25% of those respondents reporting that they routinely provide government with feedback and suggestions from their patrons. Of these, 18% (45 respondents) said the government acted on at least one of their suggestions. 44% of respondents report that their work in e-governance has improved their relationship with local officials.
In addition to serving as access points to e-governance information and tools, libraries also continue to serve as a physical meeting place, connecting citizens to their government officials and elected representatives. 72% of all respondents report holding roundtables in the library attended by government representatives, and 32% report holding seminars on different government policies and procedures led by experts in the respective field.
We’re excited to have the opportunity to share this information with our partners and demonstrate how powerful this collaboration between libraries and government can be as both work to connect citizens with the information they need.