Libraries and their branches in rural areas and small towns (up to 20,000 inhabitants) participate in this undertaking. The principal goal of the Library Development Program is to assist them in transforming themselves into modern, multi-function information, cultural and education centers stimulating civic involvement. Thanks to the assistance received by nearly 3327 libraries in more than one thousand various communes, tens of thousands of rural residents and small townsfolk will gain an opportunity to improve their quality of life. The Polish-American Freedom Foundation is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s partner in this undertaking. The manager of the Program in Poland is the Information Society Development Foundation, established by the PAFF in 2008.
After the three years of the Program’s implementation, the Information Society Development Foundation commissioned the Unit for Social Innovation and Research “Shipyard” Foundation to carry out a quantitative and qualitative study in the communes covered by the Program. The aim of the study was to find out what kind of how library users can benefit from visiting libraries. The study findings show that libraries are an important place of access to new technologies: almost 250,000 people (37% of the library computer users) have accessed the Internet for the first time at the library. The libraries participating in the Library Development Program are visited by 30% of village and small town residents (2.5 million people). For young people, the library is first of all a place to meet and spend their free time, while adults usually go there to look for information on the Internet, use the Internet banking or apply for a job. Seniors, in turn, come to libraries to learn how to use the computer.
The libraries that participate in the Library Development Program carry out more and more activities that go beyond readership promotion. They have also become more active in contacts with other institutions operating in their communes. The spectrum of benefits drawn from using the libraries is also very wide – from intellectual capital development, through social integration and everyday life enrichment, to active citizenship.
The findings of the study have been presented in the What do Poles need libraries for?’ Report, available at: http://frsi.org.pl/po-co-polakom-biblioteki/