The Program was financed by $31 million grant made available to PAFF by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Microsoft donated to the libraries computer software worth an estimated $18 million. The implementation of the program in cooperation with the Gates Foundation ended in March 2015.
Until April 2015, the program was carried out in partnership of the Polish-American Freedom Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was part of “Global Libraries” – a broader project in which the Gates Foundation created partnerships in selected countries to provide citizens with free access to information and communication technologies via a public-library network.
In 2008, PAFF established the Information Society Development Foundation and in cooperation with it prepared the plan of assistance to Polish libraries by way of providing them with computer hardware and software as well as training opportunities for the librarians. PAFF also signed a cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage which launched a long-term program called “Library+” managed by the Book Institute. The aim of PAFF and the Ministry was to shape both undertakings to reinforce and complement each other.
In 2009 the recruitment process was carried out by competition. As many as 1,873 libraries qualified for the first edition. 1,454 libraries qualified for the second edition of the program in 2011. In 2013, recruitment to the third edition was carried out, whose organization was possible thanks to the effective management of funds granted by the Gates Foundation and PAFF’s additional financial contribution. All told, the program covers 3,808 libraries in 1,250 communes, which comprises almost 60 percent of all Polish libraries in villages and small towns.
Program participants received content-related support in the form of various training courses (such as library planning workshops, IT training and other training which helps profile further development of the libraries to meet the needs of their local communities) and technical assistance in the form of modern computer equipment (including computers, laptops, tablets, multifunctional devices, printers, projectors and digital cameras) together with software provided for free by Microsoft. Libraries also had an opportunity to apply for grants to finance activities included in the libraries’ development plans, which enhanced their offer for library users with computer and Internet courses, meetings with interesting people and organization of exhibitions. Also, they could receive grants for the organization of meetings for cooperating institutions aimed at integrating the local librarians’ environment and sharing experiences. As a result, at present the libraries serve as “third places” in their local communities that is meeting places open to all.
Within the program the Partnership for Library Development was supported. It brought together more than 100 representatives from the world of science, art, economy, the media, politics and the non-governmental sector. 16 Regional Partnerships with provincial authorities were established by the Information Society Development Foundation. Their task is to promote the modernization of public libraries in small localities. The partnerships for the development of libraries were also set up at the commune level. They are of an open character: in addition to local-governments other institutions important to social life at the local level may participate, such as schools, non-governmental organizations, business entities, mass media as well as local leaders.
Actions were taken to promote libraries, such as social campaigns organized within the program, e.g. an all-Poland promotional-informational campaign “Library. A Place of Reading. A Place of Activity” and an Internet competition “Let’s Meet in the Library” as well as an all-Poland public libraries’ convention held every year since 2010 with each single time participation of over 400 people, mainly librarians from small localities. The “LABiB” initiative is also being developed, which encompasses a network of a few dozen librarian-innovators, who, via a dedicated social networking site, create and popularize best practices in library’ activities.
Also engaged in activities benefiting libraries were third sector organizations, such as the Center for Citizenship Education Foundation, the KARTA Center Foundation, the Comenius Foundation for Child Development and the Association of Creative Initiatives “ę”.
Within the “Non-governmental Organizations for Libraries” offer, they prepared proposals for joint actions and initiatives broadening the libraries’ services. Other initiatives were also taken to enhance the entire library system by cooperating with the National Library, voivodship public libraries and the Association of Polish Librarians.
In 2012 the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Ministry of Administration and Digitization, the Information Society Development Foundation and Orange Polska concluded an agreement important to the Library Development Program – extending for the next three years their joint efforts for the digitization of Polish public libraries. The agreement was first signed in 2009. The Orange Polska declared then to provide all commune public libraries with free Internet access via cable technology, and in other localities – a wireless system with the highest-capacity links at a given location, plus exemption from subscription fees. Approx. 3,500 libraries benefited from the offer.
In 2012, the Information Society Development Foundation was presented with the “E-Inclusion Award for the Implementation of the Library Development Program 2012” in the competition organized by the European Commission. The competition awards initiatives aimed at promoting best practices in the use of new information and communication technologies as well as those counteracting digital exclusion.
After three years of the program’s implementation, the Unit for Social Innovation and Research “Shipyard” Foundation conducted quantitative and qualitative studies in communes covered by the program in order to discover how Poles benefit from library use. The research results were presented in the “What do Poles Need Libraries For?” report. The impact of the program on the libraries participating in it was also analyzed on the basis of the data provided by the Central Statistical Office and then described in the “What Has Changed in Libraries?” study published in July 2014. Among other things the results showed that more and more libraries are playing the role of a “third place” that is friendly and open to everybody. They are also the site where residents can access new technologies – 37% of the library computer users have used the Internet for the first time in a library.
The Library Development Program was financed by $31 million grant made available to PAFF by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Microsoft donated to the libraries (both participants and non-participants in the Library Development Program) computer software worth an estimated $18 million. The implementation of the program in cooperation with the Gates Foundation ended in March 2015.
Support for libraries is continued as part of the strategy aimed at building the Library Development Program’s sustainability. It serves to reinforce the changes in functioning of Polish public libraries, especially in rural areas and small towns, so that the libraries can contribute even more to local communities development. It also helps strengthen long-term effects such as popularization of modern information and communication technologies, facilitating access to information, knowledge, culture and education as well as stimulating civil activity. At present, activities under the program include training sessions and e-learning courses for librarians (including members of the LABiB network for library environment leaders) and their local partners; grants for improvement of technological capabilities of selected libraries; support for networking and cooperation aimed at local community development as well as establishing and development of innovation incubators based on the library infrastructure.
The Foundation has disbursed $4,761,708, including $884,477 for the current edition of the program.