Posts Tagged ‘libraries’

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


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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.

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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.


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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Namibia is a unique country. It is the second least densely populated country in the world, with 2.3 million people living in a space twice the size of Germany. Namibia is a very young country, having gained independence from South Africa in 1990 after years of apartheid repression. Despite having the highest GINI Coefficient in the world (70.3), the Government of Namibia spends 7% of its GDP on education.

This landscape positions the 74 community libraries of the country as a crucial link in empowering development. Currently, as part of a partnership with the Finnish Library Association called Libraries for Development, all libraries in the country are provided with computers and IT training for library staff. Additionally, A Millennium Challenge Account – Namibia project is funding the construction of three regional study and resource centers to serve as regional library hubs. These centers will provide over 50 PCs for public access, over 10 000 titles in the print collection, and a mobile library unit. Upon completion of the three pilot centers, the Namibia Ministry of Education has committed to building centers in each of the additional 10 regions of the country.


IREX works as a key partner on the Millennium Challenge Account project. In September of 2012, IREX surveyed over 50% of the library staff in the country as part of an annual librarian summit. The goal of the survey was to determine the importance of IT services to Namibian library patrons, and to identify the key challenges facing library staff face in bringing technology to the population. 97% of respondents confirmed that their library had at least one computer for public access, indicating that basic IT infrastructure has reached to essentially every library in the country. 75% of respondents indicated that they are happy with the technology in their library, a fairly high satisfaction rate.


In self-assessing the IT skills of the average library patron, Namibian librarians indicate that around 85% have basic IT skills, but less than 3% reach the intermediate level. Additionally, 92% of librarians surveyed indicated that IT services such as typing, Internet, and computer classes were the most requested services at their library. The survey highlighted that the majority of Namibian library staff have regular access to a computer, and overwhelmingly are happy with it. The staff sees IT as crucial to improving the services their libraries can offer to the community.

Investment in libraries, both from foreign NGOs and by domestic spending, will see the number of library staff increase by over 50% over the next two years. The number of public access computers will increase by 600%. If this growth is coupled with a corresponding increase in library staff IT training, Namibia’s libraries will be well positioned to offer modern services.

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Modern libraries in Ukraine strive to provide services and workshops that address essential community needs, from increasing electoral literacy to promoting healthy lifestyles. Many of the most successful of these initiatives are those implemented in partnerships with NGOs. In October, Bibliomist held a forum in Kherson with librarians and NGO professionals to create a platform to share these experiences and best practices, and promote increasing and ongoing partnerships between libraries and NGOs.

Many libraries in Ukraine are unaware of the existing opportunities to collaborate with NGOs, and others lack the experience to develop new projects through out-of-sector partnerships. Similarly, NGOs acknowledge that they have not sufficiently reached out to libraries as an ally for promoting their causes and sharing information with the public.

More than 50 civil society representatives, including librarians, participated in the event. During the forum, libraries and NGO professionals came to understand how they can partner effectively to provide valuable services and information to the public. For example, the Mediation Group, an NGO committed to promoting peaceful interactions and reducing conflict sparked the interest of several libraries that hope to host workshops on conflict resolution techniques for children from orphanages and vulnerable groups. Several libraries were also inspired by the environmental promotion work of Kherson’s Yednannia Foundation and health promotion work of Mykolaiv’s Indigo Foundation, and have already initiated plans to host information and outreach activities in their communities.

Librarians from Mykolaiv, Kherson, Kirovograd, and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts were inspired by the NGO Ukrainian House and the book donation and exchange campaigns that it has held with other libraries, and hope to replicate the partnership in their communities. “In villages and towns, libraries are becoming the only cultural center; they need a lot of input from different organizations,” concluded H. Dolnyk, director of Ukrainian House.

Ms. Petrenko, from the NGO Youth Center for Regional Development has partnered with libraries to promote hum


an rights awareness, and she reflected on the valuable role that libraries play in supporting her Center’s work: “We are using libraries’ technical resources and facilities for educational trainings on human rights. We are now stocking the library with legal literature to hold regular trainings for youth.”  Petrenko added: “We are always open to new partnerships and we will be happy to support initiatives of librarians because they know what needs to be done in their community.

The forum proved that libraries and NGOs are eager to work together to launch common projects and initiatives. As these partnerships continue, the Bilbiomist program will continue to share success stories to inspire the development of similar partnerships in other regions of Ukraine.


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Library space design has been a challenge for many Ukrainian libraries. Often hosted in old buildings with uncomfortable furniture and no heat in winter, many libraries do not come across as cozy and welcoming spaces to their users. Frequently an open layout of shelves and tables is overlooked, which contributes to the “unwelcome” look of libraries filled with stacks of books instead of  space for users to socialize, hold meetings and serve as a “third space.” These issues are key factors affecting library visitation in Ukraine.

The librarians visited the new Philological Library at the Free University in Berlin.

Fortunately, many Ukrainian librarians recognize the importance of modern library space design, and Vinnytsia Regional Scientific Library is leading an initiative to address these challenges. The Designing for Harmony and Success project  (http://bit.ly/H5TO1G) is focused on the modernization of the library’s space through researching best international and Ukrainian practices, compiling the findings into a handbook, and offering training for Ukrainian librarians. To do this, the library has already forged partnerships with local designers, as well as the city public library in Berlin, Germany.

I had an opportunity to accompany a Learning Library project team headed by library director Natalya Morozova on a study trip to Germany on March 13-15, 2012. Taking advantage of the existing partnership with the Central City and Regional Library in Berlin (also known as ZLB, http://bit.ly/HfPmKu), the Ukrainian librarians traveled to Berlin to learn more about German libraries and their design, meet with leading library interior designers and architects to collect information and gain even more inspiration to implement innovative library space design methods back home and transform Ukrainian libraries into more vibrant, welcoming spaces for users.

Over three working days the group visited nine German libraries, including eight in the city of Berlin and one outside the city, in Eastern Germany, in a small town called Luckenwalde, where the library is located on the premises of a redesigned railway station: http://bit.ly/GGdjz7

Project team in Berlin Library

The Humboldt Box, part of the Humboldt Forum project, which brings together museums, Humboldt University, and the Central and Regional Library in Berlin.

One of the many highlights of the trip was visiting the public library in Adalbertstrasse in Berlin: http://bit.ly/GLq49W, which is located in a neighborhood populated by recent immigrants who often do not yet speak the language and need substantial support accessing information and overcoming a range of social challenges. The library has been recently renovated, and the architect who was responsible for this project, Ralf Fleckenstein, accompanied the group on the tour and shared design ideas, including materials, color scheme, furniture, and layout aimed at creating a welcoming space. The library served as an example of a multicultural center open for everyone, and showed us how it effectively responds to its users’ needs by providing a print collection in different languages, offering homework assistance, and holding a variety of community events. The team found this library especially interesting not only in terms of its design, but also in the services provided to the diverse local community.

The newly equipped public library in Adalbertstrasse in Berlin.

The Learning Library project team returned to Ukraine after brainstorming and identifying ways to adapt the experience to the Ukrainian context, and materials about German libraries will be included into their handbook  and training materials. One idea was to use mats on wide windowsills on the library’s top floor to attract more users with laptops to sit there and enjoy wi-fi access. Next, the team will look into changing the library floorplan to provide more space for social activities. The library will share its expertise with their colleagues at the Libraries and Community Development Fair, which will be held by Bibliomist and its partners on May 21-22, 2012 in Kyiv: http://bit.ly/GKz1wL More photos from the study trip are available on the Bibliomist Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/GLiz4e

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TechCamp Bucharest (see Agenda here), started today at the Central University Library of Bucharest, focusing on connecting technologies with the Roma and other socio-economically disadvantaged communities across Romania to address social inclusion and civic engagement issues. The two-day event was initiated by the US State Department and the Romanian Embassy in Washington, DC, and gathered more than 100 participants from civil society groups to interact with local and international technology specialists, librarians, tech trainers working in the Biblionet program, American Corners staff, and a number of private sector and foundation representatives within Romania. Participants will receive hands-on training in a variety of areas ranging from online organizing, mapping, and social media use to effective use of mobile applications. As a result of TechCamp Bucharest, these civil society groups will be poised to use connective technologies to grow their networks, communicate more efficiently and be able to keep pace with the changing world.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Teodor Baconschi recognized the importance of social networks that, throughout the past couple of years, were used to organize protests and helped marginalized groups express their views. “Two billion people have Internet access,” Mr. Baconschi emphasized, “but this is still too little for the 7 billion people living on earth. The digital divide creates a duty for the more developed countries to help the less favored. This is why the European Union has a digital agenda.” The minister saluted the idea of organizing a Tech Camp for marginalized groups, and added that some Roma communities in Romania are closed and isolated, with the digital divide adding to their separation and experiences with discrimination.

US Ambassador Mark Gitenstein mentioned the projects supported by the embassy, especially Restart Romania, which was financed by TechSoup. “You have the talent,” the ambassador encouraged participants, “you have the demographics and problems to be solved. You have computers in libraries, so the Roma community will have access to information and a space to meet. And do work together offline as well as online.”

“My personal challenge is to have only one Romania, a digital Romania,” Minister of Communications Valerian Vreme told the audience, explaining that there are communities where access is poor, although Romania ranks among the first in the world in terms of Internet speed. “But we are on the way to covering the last ‘blank spots’ on the internet map. The ministry has an e-learning program, for the least technologically trained, to help e-inclusion and we allocated 55% more funds for research and development next year.”

The day continued with participants working in small groups with tech trainers, discussing the use of social networks, library resources and various applications to help build communities. We will be back tomorrow with solutions to some of the issues identified today and follow-up activities. Apart from providing trainers and inviting librarians to talk about their experience in working with Roma communities, IREX is organizing a competition for three grants of up to $2,000 to be given to partnerships between libraries and NGOs working to develop communities.

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