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 had been carried out by Polish-American Freedom Foundation in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was part of Global Libraries – a broader project – the Gates Foundation created partnerships in selected countries to provide citizens with free access to information and communication technologies via a network of public libraries.
In 2008, PAFF established the Information Society Development Foundation and in cooperation with it prepared a detailed plan of supporting Polish libraries, among other things by way of providing them with computer hardware and software, as well as offering training opportunities for librarians. PAFF also signed a cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage which launched a long-term program called Library+ implemented by the Book Institute. The objectives of both initiatives were similar – the Foundation and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage were shaping their activities in such a way that they could reinforce and complement each other.
The implementation of the program started in 2009. The recruitment process was carried out in a competition run in three rounds. As many as 1,873 libraries qualified for the first round. In the second round of the program, implemented in 2011, another group of 1,454 libraries participated. In 2013, recruitment to the third round was carried out. The program covered a total of 3,808 libraries in over 1,250 communes and municipalities, that is almost 60 percent of all Polish libraries in rural areas and small towns.
The program participants received content-related support in form of various training courses (such as library activities planning workshops, IT training and specialist training in further development of libraries profiling so that they could meet the needs of their local communities) and technical assistance in form of modern computer equipment (including computers, laptops, tablets, multifunctional devices, printers, projectors and digital cameras) as well as software contributed for free by Microsoft. Libraries had also an opportunity to apply for grants for financing activities included in the libraries’ development plans, which allowed them to extend their offer with e.g. computer and Internet courses, meetings with interesting people, or exhibitions. Additionally they could receive grants for organizing meetings of cooperating institutions to integrate local librarians’ environment and share experience.
The program got support from the National Partnership for Library Development composed of more than hundred representatives of the world of science, art, economy, the media, politics and the non-governmental sector. Additionally, Information Society Development Foundation signed with authorities of all 16 provinces in Poland regional agreements on promotion of the idea of public libraries modernization in villages and small towns. The partnerships for library development were also set up at the rural commune and municipality 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, businesses, mass media, and local leaders.
Libraries were also promoted in social campaigns such as “Library. A Place of Reading. A Place of Activity” campaign, or “Let’s Meet in the Library” Internet competition, as well as an annual all-Poland public convention of libraries held since 2010, each time participated by over 400 people coming mainly from villages and small towns. Developed is also the LABiB initiative covering a network of a few dozen librarian-innovators who use a social portal to popularize good practices in activities held at libraries.
Also, non-profit 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” took up initiatives supporting libraries. They prepared the offer of cooperation that extended the scope of services provided by libraries. Library Development Program included also projects aimed at strengthening the entire library system, e.g. through cooperation with the National Library, voivodship public libraries and the Association of Polish Librarians.
In 2009 the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Ministry of Administration and Digitization, Information Society Development Foundation and Orange Polska concluded an agreement on connecting libraries to the Internet, under which Orange Polska committed to provide all Polish public libraries with free Internet access via wire or wireless system and exempt them from subscription fees. In 2012 the agreement was extended for another three-year period. Approximately 3,500 libraries benefited from the offer.
In 2012, Information Society Development Foundation was presented by the European Commission with the E-Inclusion Award 2012 for implementation of Library Development Program in a competition promoting good practices in use of modern IT and communication technologies and 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 and municipalities covered by the program in order to examine benefits Poles had from library use. The study results were presented in the “What Do Poles Need Libraries For?” report. The impact of the program was also analyzed on the basis of data provided by the Central Statistical Office. The results showed that more and more libraries are playing the role of “a third place” – friendly and open to everybody. And that libraries are also the place where everybody can access new technologies.
Today, support for libraries in villages and small towns is continued as part of the strategy aimed at strengthening sustainability of the effects of Library Development Program’s main stage. The objective is to reinforce changes in functioning of public libraries so that they can contribute even more to development of local communities, and further popularize modern information and communication technologies that facilitate access of village or small town residents to information, knowledge, culture and education, while taking into account the need of critical thinking while using digital media, and stimulate civil activity. The program enhances the position of libraries as institutions offering opportunities of social counselling in various forms and engaging residents in solving problems important for their communities. To strengthen institutional potential of libraries, the program continues developing the librarians’ competence and building their prestige.
At present, activities under the program include training sessions and e-learning courses for librarians 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 developing innovation incubators based on the library infrastructure.
The Foundation has disbursed $5.582.042, including $820.337 for the current edition of the program.