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Modernisation of Bulgarian libraries through a gates foundation IT gran

Date: 30.03.2008

Culture Minister Stefan Danailov and Henry Jackelen, UNDP resident representative for Bulgaria, started off a revitalisation of Bulgarian libraries with the signing of an agreement on March 26 at the Ministry of Culture’s building in Sofia. The result, which will be seen in 2009, is to be free internet access at public libraries across the country.

The agreement comes as part of a US$606 000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the aim to realise a nationwide partnership project called Bulgarian Libraries – Access Points to Information and Communication for All.

Starting in April 2008 through March 2009, the Culture Ministry, the United Nations Development Project, the State Agency for Information Technology and Communications, the Union of Librarians and Information Service Officers, and the National Association of Municipalities will undertake a planning process to “design a strategy for long-term sustainability of the grant investment”, a statement from the Culture Ministry read. After this 12-month period of analysis and needs assessment of Bulgarian public libraries, nearly 1200 such institutions will be upgraded to offer modern information services and free internet access to the local communities.

Such will “allow people to live better”, Jackelen said at the ceremony, calling IT a “fundamental and important” investment for Bulgaria. UNDP has been working with the Ministry of Culture since 1997 in sustaining and improving the country’s chitalishta, or community centres that often house a city’s or town’s library.

According to a survey from 2006, Bulgaria was at the bottom of the ranking of the 27 European Union member states in home internet access, with only eight per cent of households signing on. Of course, in terms of Bulgaria and the internet, 2006 was a long time ago.

In addition to improved internet access and technological capabilities, the Gates Foundation grant will also allow the hiring of additional staff members at chitalishta, Danailov said.

After the analysis and assessment period, there is the opportunity for continued funding from the Gates Foundation in partnership with the Bulgarian Government. Well developed in the 1970s due to its centrally planned communist economy, the country’s 2814 public libraries have not really progressed since.

The project will help “realise Bulgaria’s potential as a member of the European Union”, Jackelen said.

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