"Tresais teva dels" - Public Libraries for Progress

In November 2006 the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation awarded $ 16.2 million grant to the Latvian Ministry of Culture to expand no-cost access to computers and the internet in Latvia’s public libraries and provide the necessary training and technical support to librarians. This grant is a part of foundation’s Global Libraries Initiative, which aims to support libraries in countries all over the world. At the moment besides Latvia, the Global Libraries Initiative has grants for libraries in Chile, Mexico and Lithuania. Latvia was the first country in Europe to receive this grant.

In Latvia the Gates foundation’s grant for Public Library Development Project “Tresais teva dels” is matched by the funds from the Latvian government and Latvian municipalities. The government funds are used for various project activities and local municipality funds are helping to improve the condition of library facilities and security for computers. In addition to this funding from the Gates foundation and the Latvian government, Microsoft has donated USD $ 7,9 million in software to the libraries. The total funding for the project from all sources is expected to reach $ 48 million at the completion of the project.

In Latvia, where almost all of 874 public libraries (except 17 small rural libraries) were already connected to the internet during the State Unified Library Information Network or the “Net of Light” project, “Tresais teva dels” provided resources to connect all Latvian public libraries to the Internet with broadband connections, build a Wi-Fi network for library users for wireless access, provide approximately three new computers per library to meet an anticipated high demand, offer basic computer training to library patrons, provide training to all 1,792 public library librarians in Latvia and inform the public about new resources available in libraries. The active phase of project “Tresais teva dels” is scheduled to conclude this May.

Access to Computers and the Internet in Libraries in Latvia

The Republic of Latvia has made significant investments in public libraries to ensure that all citizens have access to technology prior this project. The State Unified Library Information Network , a state-financed project started in 2001, has increased the number of computers in libraries, connected more than 80 percent of public libraries to the internet with at least a dial-up connection, trained two-thirds of library staff, and encouraged municipalities to invest in library infrastructure. Starting January 1, 2007, amendments to the Library Law prescribe that the government will reimburse all expenses to local municipalities that are connected with providing free access to the internet in libraries.  

Libraries in rural Latvia continued to face challenges in the quality of connectivity. Few people living in rural areas used the internet at home or work, and libraries in those communities remain the least connected. There was also a need to provide increased training for librarians so they can help citizens benefit from the technology.

This investment in public libraries is closely connected with the new National Library of Latvia project. The goal of the project is to create an information infrastructure throughout the country with the National Library building in Riga as its central hub. Latvia has made significant investments in public libraries over the past years to ensure that all citizens have access to technology. However, there still was a need to improve connectivity in libraries serving rural communities and to increase training for librarians so they can help citizens benefit from the technology.

Public Library Development Project’s Activities and Goals

The Public Library Development Project “Tresais teva dels” has purchased around 4000 new computers to be installed in 874 library buildings throughout Latvia this spring. On average, it will be 3 new computers per library but they will be distributed based on the number of visitors to each library and population of the area.  17 libraries have been connected to the Internet for the first time, in 853 libraries the internet connection has been upgraded but in 874 wireless accesses to the Internet has been installed, which allows visitors with personal laptop computers use the internet at the library free of charge. After our communication campaign, only weeks after installation of wireless internet option in public libraries we can feel the interest from the public and also governmental and non-governmental organizations that are interested to use this resource.

During the project, 1792 librarians are undergoing information technology, innovative work methods and customer service skills training. Also many library patrons throughout Latvia will be trained in computer and internet use skills as a part of this project. Besides computer skills, librarians will also receive other training, for instance, customer service skills, marketing and public relations skills and others.  Librarians are among the first to learn to use electronic signature in Latvia – in many cases they can train their local municipality leaders to use it. All training is taking place near the workplace of librarians – 10 regional training centers have been established all over Latvia to serve this purpose. It is expected that these training centers will continue to operate as lifelong learning centers for librarians and local communities also after the completion of the project, thus granting sustainability of this project activity.

Project also aims to attract new library visitors that could benefit from the new technologies. The Gates foundation’s work is guided by the belief that every life, no matter where it is lived, has equal value. “Tresais teva dels” focuses on inclusion of various socially disadvantaged groups into the beneficiaries of this project. One of the project activities is devoted entirely to the visually impaired people. The project provides special computer equipment not only to the Library for the Blind in Riga and its 7 branches throughout Latvia but also has delivered a similar set of equipment that will include a computer, a monitor and a printer for visually impaired to all major regional libraries so that people who need this equipment could use it as close as possible to their place of residence.

The assessment of impact is also a part of the project thus helping us to measure the results of the investment. The evaluation of activities and their impact on the society will be measured several times before, throughout and after the project. Such extensive studies of libraries will be performed for the first time in Latvia. There will be a total of 7 studies done during the project and after its completion. The first survey data helps us in crafting messages for our communication campaigns.

An important component to the project is its sustainability after the grant and therefore one of the important project components is advocacy and public relations. The goal of the communication of this project will be not only inform the public about the new technology and opportunities available in public libraries throughout Latvia but also change the whole image of libraries – from a place where book collections are kept – to a new, modern center of information and creativity. It is expected that project campaigns will bring more support for libraries in long term.

You might have wondered who is “Tresais teva dels”, mentioned in the name of the project throughout this article. It is the creative solution that we have developed together with our communication partner TBWA\Latvija for communicating the project idea to the target groups. “Tresais teva dels” is a character out of Latvian folklore and represents the “third father’s son” who is generally considered the least lucky of all three at the beginning of the tale but at the end it turns out that he is the most noble, knowledgeable and successful of all. He usually wins the battle, marries the princess and brings the light to people. We believe it is very fair to compare him to libraries – they might seem quiet and underappreciated sometimes but in reality they are true resources for development at all levels – individual, regional and national. This simple story is familiar to all our target groups – starting from children and ending with seniors – therefore we are telling the story about our project and also about the new role of public library through this simple but powerful creative idea.

By Kaspars Ruklis, Advocacy and Public Relations Manager for Public Library Development Project “Tresais teva dels” in Latvia.

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