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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

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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.

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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.”

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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. 

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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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From August 27th through the 30th, young librarians from ten countries are convening in Latvia to inspire each other, solve common issues, and develop skillsets related to advocacy, communications, and service/project design.

Yesterday, two consultants and library development experts from the United States, Helene Blowers and Nancy Davenport, led sessions on the “Modern Library.”  They explored what that concept means, how it is currently being exemplified in countries around the world, and how it can be adapted, implemented, and promoted throughout Eastern Europe and beyond.

Both speakers inspired the group to imagine new roles, tools and relationships for their institutions. Though they held separate sessions, several overlapping key themes emerged from both presentations in regards to the role of the modern library:

  • Modern library services should promote knowledge creation rather than knowledge consumption*. Unlike the library services of the past that focused on distributing books and research materials and a one-sided provision of information and resources, the modern library creates a space where patrons engage with information—process it, reflect on it, have conversations about it, and develop new ideas, conversations, and opportunities as a result of it.
  • Though libraries do play a valuable role in bringing the world to the community, they should focus even more on bringing the community to itself*. Modern libraries are community centers—they should reflect the needs, personality, and nuance of the community(ies) they service, and serve as a glue to bring disparate members of the community together.
  • Best practices in Monitoring and Evaluation tell us to focus on impact rather than outcomes.* Similarly, the modern library should not assess its value based on the quantity of services provided or number of people that walk through their door—but rather based on the true, long-term, substantive impact on the lives and livelihoods of community members.

Notably, none of the examples above explicitly mention new technologies. In her presentation, Helene Blowers noted that the most impactful changes in modern libraries are more philosophical than technical. Computers and internet access are incredibly important, but their real impact is felt in conjunction with targeted services that promote creativity, opportunity, and community-building. This potential can only be realized through the work of librarians.

The next few days will continue to challenge the librarian participants to envision their own modern library, and design for themselves a plan of execution to make that vision a reality. These 40+ men and women from Romania, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Poland, Moldova, Botswana, Columbia, and Vietnam represent the next generation of librarians in their respective countries—they are passionate, they are knowledgeable, and they are poised to re-define librarianship.

A group of young librarians discuss ideas for new services in their libraries. Photo courtesy of Krzysztof Litynski.

*These key bolded terms are courtesy of Helene Blowers.

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The 2012 Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) conference took place February 11-15 in Bellevue, Washington. While not a development focused venue per-se, CSCW does represent several foundational elements applicable to the field. Over the course of the conference, one was able to learn of ICT4D (broadly defined) taking place in Kenya, Egypt (I think social media and the Arab Spring was the unwritten sub-theme of the conference), Uganda, and Haiti just to name a few. Many international development goals, especially those surrounding technology, are measured by their ability to connect people around the world. In a sense, it is the deconstruction of barriers to global communication and connectivity that most ICT4D projects strive for.

A useful context for examining an ICT4D project is to study the interface where an individual has their hands on a technology tool being utilized. At CSCW2102, the tools which seemed to be garnering the most study were Twitter and Skype. While I think the accessibility of Twitter’s API has a lot to do with this, the Skype case studies were particularly thought provoking when examined in the context of ICT4D projects like Global Libraries. As showcased previously, library patrons in Romania and Ukraine are utilizing the Skype capabilities to connect with dispersed family members around Europe. A similar case study was explored in Susan P. Wyche, Rebecca E. Grinter’s paper: “This is How We Do it in My Country”: A Study of Computer–Mediated Family Communication Among Kenyan Migrants in the United States. Through ethnographic research on the dynamics of distance communication, photo sharing, and cost concerns, a dominant theme arose. Skype is a game changer.

Digging deeper, where do low-cost VoIP tools such as Skype fit into the ICT4D space? Drawing from Telegeography, it can be seen that Skype is having a dramatic effect on VoIP traffic.

Copyrighted: Courtesy of Telegeography

Telegeography also reports that in 2009, 12% of all international voice traffic was on Skype. In the graph above, we can see that this growth rate remains steady near 15% annually.  27% of all the world’s voice traffic was via VoIP. However, the populations of developing countries remain some of the least connected in terms of global traffic.

Illustration: Copyrighted Map Courtesy of Telegeography

It is not difficult to see where that the growth potential for services such as Skype in the global south is enormous. Community institutions, such as libraries, have an obvious role to fill in providing a venue for populations to make use of Skype in connecting with dispersed family members or the larger diaspora populations. The impact on an individual’s life that is measured so vividly in Wyche and Grinter’s ethnographic approach are the fuel for this type of ICT4D. The development impact is not the raw usage of Skype itself, but rather Skype’s ability to lower access barriers and afford enormously efficient communication between individuals. It is less about the rise of a new technology platform, but more importantly how this tool recontextualizes the most familiar form of communication: hearing another person’s voice.

Food for thought: how can this fuel ICT4D design? At an interface level, further consideration of the development context can improve Skype’s functionality. Mobile banking has redefined finance in many developing countries, yet the ability to transfer credit  is glaringly lacking in Skype.

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