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Partners of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries initiative will meet in Vilnius, Lithuania from April 7 – 11 to share their experiences, exchange ideas and explore solutions as they plan for and implement programs to provide more people with opportunities that Internet access can provide.

Lithuania’s contribution under this initiative is the implementation of the project “Libraries for Innovation,” a program designed to provide people in Lithuania with free access to the Internet and computer training through all public libraries in the country. “Libraries for Innovation” was launched in December, 2007 with a funding commitment of LTL 24 million from the Lithuanian government, a LTL 35,7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and LTL 16,4 million in funding from Microsoft, a partner of the Global Libraries initiative.

It is expected that within the next three years, through the “Libraries for Innovation” project, most Lithuanian public libraries will launch free of charge public Internet services and help people to learn and to promote the use of information technology opportunities. The total value of the project approximates to LTL 76 m.

The Libraries for Innovation project team will be joined at the meeting by representatives from Global Libraries planning and project implementation teams in Botswana, Bulgaria Chile, Latvia, Mexico, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine. Global Libraries, a special initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program, has partnered with an organization in each of these countries in order to open a world of information and knowledge to many more people through providing free computer and Internet access in public libraries.

“Computers and Internet access in public libraries are essential means of achieving a more rapid social and economic development in each country by providing people with new opportunities for social integration, professional development and simply facilitating their everyday lives”, says Jessica Dorr, Global Libraries program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The grantee meeting is an important forum for exchanging experience with regard to similar projects in different countries, reviewing the upcoming works and intended potential risks and finding the ways to prevent them. Thanks to the project “BiblioRedes” implemented in Chile, for example, 378 libraries now offer computer and Internet access, 346,537 library visitors received computer literacy training and 5,005 Web sites with locally-relevant Web content have been developed. “BiblioRedes” received the prestigious Stockholm Challenge Award for the initiation and coordination of the development of local content Web sites.

“BiblioRedes has had a tremendously positive impact in our country and its communities. As a result of the program, thousands of people in Chile have improved their quality of life, found work, or benefited from the many opportunities that Internet access provides. Of course, implementing a libraries program is a great challenge for each country; however, the rewards are even greater. We are pleased to be in Lithuania to share our experiences, lessons learned, and success with the Libraries for Innovation project leader and other Global Libraries partners,” says Pilar Pacheco, Training Department Coordinator of the “BiblioRedes” project.

The meeting participants will visit several public libraries on April 9. More specifically, trips will be arranged to the libraries of ZapyÅ¡kis (Kaunas District) and Elektrėnai that have been actively involved in the work with the members of different age groups and social layers. Each library will be able to showcase their programs as successful examples of the impact of public access Internet facilities on the community.

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The key objective of the project “Libraries for Innovation” is to achieve, through strengthening and using the capacities of public libraries, a considerably better use of the capacities of information technologies among the Lithuanian population, especially the rural population and social risk groups, for obtaining information and communication. It is expected that within the next three years most of the Lithuanian public libraries will have launched free of charge public Internet services and the digital competence of the librarians will improve substantially, which will make the libraries a powerful medium helping the people and communities to master and use the information technology capacities. 1217 public libraries, branches and subdivisions are participating in the project.

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people — especially those with the fewest resources — have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO Patty Stonesifer and co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

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