The program was addressed to public libraries and their branches in rural communes, rural-and-municipal communes, and towns of up to 20,000 residents. Its main purpose was to support the transformation of libraries into modern, multi-functional centers that provide access to information, culture and education, and at the same time stimulate civic activity. Nearly 4,000 libraries received support. This helped improve the quality of life of small-town and village populations. An important part of the program was to increase the competencies of librarians and strengthen the prestige of their profession.
As many as 3,808 public libraries from 1,256 communes (nearly 60% of the target group) were involved in the program.
Between 2008 and 2015 the program was carried within the partnership of the Polish-American Freedom Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was part of a broader initiative of the Gates Foundation, “Global Libraries”, covering about a dozen countries. The Information Society Development Foundation, established by PAFF in 2008, performed the role of manager from the outset of the Library Development Program. The Gates Foundation entrusted PAFF with a $31 million grant for the program.
3,808 public libraries from 1,256 communes (nearly 60% of the target group) were involved in the program, recruited in three rounds between 2009 and 2015. Participants received support in the form of counseling and training (10,000 librarians), technological support through modern hardware (nearly 10,000 devices: PCs, laptops, tablets, multifunctional devices, printers, multimedia projectors, and digital cameras). Additionally, libraries received software worth $18 million provided free of charge by Microsoft – including libraries that did not participate in the program. Libraries could also apply for grants to finance the activities they listed in their library development plans that enabled them to expand their offers, for instance, with computer skills courses, Internet courses, meetings with interesting people, or exhibitions. They could also receive funds to organize meetings between cooperating libraries to integrate the community of librarians and share experiences.
The program was supported by the National Partnership for Library Development, consisting of almost a hundred representatives of science, arts, economy, media, politics, and the non-governmental sector. Additionally, regional agreements were signed with the authorities of all 16 provinces in Poland to promote the public library modernization in villages and small towns. Local partnerships were also created for the purpose of developing libraries in more than 300 communes.
The Library Development Program helped launch many initiatives to support the entire library system. In 2008 PAFF signed a cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, which initiated the multiannual “Library+” program carried out by the Polish Book Institute. The objectives of both initiatives were similar – the Foundation and the Ministry were shaping their activities in such a way that these could reinforce and complement each other. In 2009, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Ministry of Administration and Digitalization, the Information Society Development Foundation, and Orange Polska signed an agreement regarding the digitalization of public libraries, in which Orange Polska provided all libraries in the country with free Internet access until 2015. There were also joint actions carried out with the National Library, provincial public libraries, and the Association of Polish Librarians. Initiatives for the benefit of libraries wishing to extend their offers to local communities resulted in engaging other non-governmental organizations including the Center for Citizenship Education, the KARTA Center Foundation, the Comenius Foundation
for Children Development, and the Association of Creative Initiatives “ę”.
In 2012 the Information Society Development Foundation received the E-Inclusion Award for the Library Development Program from the European Commission in a competition that promotes best practices in using modern information and communication technologies and preventing digital exclusion.
Since 2016 libraries in rural areas and small towns have been further supported as part of the strategy to perpetuate the effects of the main phase of the Library Development Program. The purpose is the consolidation of changes in the functioning of libraries to increase their influence on local community development, to further propagate modern technologies to the largest possible extent providing the population with access to information, knowledge, culture, and education, including the ability to use digital media in a critical manner, and to stimulate pro-social activity. The program enhances the position of libraries as institutions offering social counseling in various forms and engaging residents in solving problems important for their communities. To strengthen the institutional potential of libraries, the program continues developing librarian competencies and building their prestige.
Actions taken as part of the program currently include training and e-learning courses for library employees and their local partners, grants for technological expansion of selected libraries, support in their networking and cooperation for the benefit of local community, as well as creation and development of innovation incubators based on library infrastructure. The LABiB initiative has been developed as well, which is a network of librarian-innovators using the LABIB.pl social portal to popularize best practices in activities held at libraries. Program actions also respond to the pandemic-related needs of libraries. Among others, libraries drafted optimal development plans adjusted to the new conditions. In those plans, they involved on-site, on-line, and hybrid operation models.
January 2021 saw the launch of the fourth program round financed from PAFF funds. Apart from continuing to work with the entire network of 3,800 libraries, this round channelled special support to an additional 247 facilities (libraries and their branches) based in the 79 communes recruited via an open call. Participating facilities are public libraries operating in rural communes, rural and municipal communes, and towns with populations of up to 50,000 residents. The program offers 20 months of training and advisory, equipment, as well as exchanging experiences and building relations within the existing network.
The Foundation has disbursed $6,355,650 in grants, including $727,620 for the current edition of the program.