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Public Libraries Magazine Column March/April 2015

It’s a Small World After All

As a polyglot I have always thought of myself as someone who was fairly globally aware. I received an undergraduate degree in Spanish and German, and my original career goal was to work in international business. I enjoy personal travel to explore new lands and cultures. I am the person who, when expecting to meet someone in or from another country, is rushing to learn a few key phrases in the person’s native tongue and social graces to attempt or avoid. I have also thought of myself as curious and eager to learn from colleagues about new ideas on service delivery, building design, planning, programming, and more. Yet I recently found out how limited my professional knowledge was of a whole public library universe that exists beyond the confines of the United States.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Photo

The Gates Foundation and Global Libraries

Over the next three to five years, the Gates Foundation will be ending their support of Global Libraries. The Gates Library Foundation began in 1997, and has invested approximately $1 billion in its mission to provide internet access in libraries worldwide. The original goal of the foundation was to supply computers and information to public libraries in the United States. The foundation believes they have been successful in this mission and that the vast majority of U.S. libraries are now information hubs with vital internet connections and necessary computers. The transition will evolve slowly over the next three to five years. What the ending of this massive amount of grant funding means ($12 million in grants to U.S. public libraries in 2011) remains to be seen regardless of the foundation’s optimism.