The Signatories to the Agreement included Bogdan Zdrojewski, Minister of Culture and National Heritage; Michał Boni, Minister of Administration and Digitalization; Maciej Witucki, President of Orange Polska; Jerzy Koźmiński, Chairman of the Board of the Information Society Development Foundation and President of the Polish-American Freedom Foundation as well as Rafał Kramza, President of the Board of the Information Society Development Foundation.
The Agreement is a continuation of the public libraries’ digitalization program of 2009. Under that Program, Orange Polska (then called the TP Group) declared to provide all commune public libraries in Poland with free access to the Internet. So far more than 3,500 libraries have benefitted from this offer providing their users with free access to the digital world. The Orange Foundation supports libraries in their efforts to promote the use of the Internet as a modern educational tool by granting funds for this purpose and materials about the security on the Internet.
Research carried out in libraries participating in the Library Development Program (implemented by the Information Society Development Foundation) shows that 37% of people have used the Internet for the first time at a library and for one third of them the library is the only venue where they can use the Internet. Access to the Internet helps in studying, allows to communicate with other people and run errands. It can also help to find a job – 10 per cent of library users have browsed job offers, created their CVs and contacted employers via the Internet.
The libraries digitalization program is one of the model examples of successful public and private sectors’ cooperation. Also other Signatories to the Agreement carry out activities aimed at the development and modernization of libraries.
In 2011, the Minister of Culture and National Heritage launched a long-term program of libraries construction, renovation and modernization and allocated the budget of PLN 150 million for that purpose. The Program is a continuation of the small grants program carried out by the Ministry in the years 2009 and 2010 aimed at renovation and equipping more than 460 libraries in small towns and rural areas. Additionally, the Ministry financed the training course in managerial skills carried out by the Book Institute for employees of libraries in rural areas as well as has made available the MAK+ electronic library system providing readers with information about books and other collections all over Poland (more than 1.8 million book descriptions available online).
The Information Society Development Foundation has been implementing the all-Poland Library Development Program since 2009. The Program is intended to facilitate access to computers, the Internet and training opportunities for libraries from small towns and rural areas. Currently more than 3,300 libraries participate in the Program, which is a joint undertaking of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Polish-American Freedom Foundation. The libraries participating in the Program have been provided with computer equipment for the use of their town residents (including in total more than 6000 computers, laptops, multifunctional devices, printers and multimedia projectors). The librarians have taken part in a few series of training courses. The libraries are also awarded grants for the implementation of their own ideas, projects benefiting their own communities carried out in cooperation with other organizations. They are also advised on how to effectively cooperate with the council, schools as well as local associations.
Bogdan Zdrojewski, Minister of Culture and National Heritage: ‘The Agreement on Polish public libraries’ digitalization that was signed three years ago results from forming a really exceptional coalition. It was for the first time that not only the government, not only the self-government or NGO but also a large and market major business partner got involved in supporting the libraries. Now we can see the results of each parties’ efforts. They include dozens of renovated, modernized and connected to the Internet libraries that help discover the world and get closer to it thanks to access to books, culture and the global network. If we think that libraries make the biggest network of cultural institutions in Poland covering each, even the smallest, administrative district, we can say that the cooperation between Orange Polska and the Ministry as well as other Signatories to the Agreement has been one of the most important initiatives aimed at broadening access of small towns and rural areas to knowledge and culture in recent years.’
Michał Boni, Minister of Administration and Digitalization: ‘This is a valuable and important initiative for the development of information society. It will allow to effectively counteract digital exclusion in Poland and enhance the role of libraries in local communities, transforming them into modern cultural and civic life centers. Wide access to the Internet, development of e-services and broadband infrastructure are very important elements to increasing the effectiveness, innovativeness and competitiveness of the Polish economy and even to the development of individual regions of Poland. The key factor of the civilization change closely connected to the new technologies’ potential is the digital momentum, caused by possessing suitable conditions and suitable competences. I hope that the Agreement that has been signed today will even better serve obtaining goals on our road to the development of digital society.’
Maciej Witucki, President of Orange Polska: ‘It’s a great satisfaction and honor that with Orange Polska’s contribution Polish libraries cease to be only ‘book temples’ and transform into places where people can meet, learn and work using modern technologies. This is a huge step towards equalizing development and cultural opportunities of various social groups and various regions of our country. Thanks to that we are closer to information society standards. We support and will continue supporting such initiatives. The example can be the network of Orange Internet rooms in small towns and rural areas that has been launched recently’.
Jerzy Koźmiński, Chairman of the Board of the Information Society Development Foundation, President of the Polish-American Freedom Foundation: ‘The Agreement on the digitalization of public libraries is the only such initiative of the public and private character in the countries where the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports public libraries. We are glad that the Agreement is continued and serves as a model in our international relations. There is no doubt that thanks to the Agreement we are able to more effectively implement the Library Development Program aimed at transforming libraries into modern, multifunctional centers of information, education, culture and civic activity. We are also convinced that the efforts and commitment of all the Signatories will allow to continue attaining our common goals so successfully’.
Rafał Kramza, President of the Board of the Information Society Development Foundation: ‘The Library Development Program wouldn’t bring about such results were it not for the Partners’ support. One of the key events was offering all public libraries free access to the Internet by Orange Polska. This unique initiative allows users of thousands of libraries in small towns to fully use the IT equipment and software delivered to them under the Library Development Program.’