4 Innovative Libraries Transforming Lives Around the World

Flickr / Gates Foundation
Flickr / Gates Foundation / Flickr / Gates Foundation

Only about a third of the world's population has access to the internet. Here in the United States, libraries have become a major source of Internet access for people who otherwise can't afford computers or net access -- and the same goes for libraries around the world. Giving people access to the Internet in a public setting doesn't mean handing them a free pass to infinite animated GIFs; it means jobs, health information, and education.

If you love libraries in the U.S., you'll be blown away at how they transform lives in all countries. Today, let's look at four innovative projects bringing the power of learning to communities around the world.

1. Arid Lands Information Network, Eastern Africa

Patrons of an ALIN library access the Internet. Photo courtesy of Gates Foundation.

The Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) includes fifteen Knowledge Centers throughout Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. The Knowledge Centers, also called Maarifa Centers, help people with day-to-day problems like increasing crop yields, dealing with pests, and accessing health information. It's simple, really -- you get a building (sometimes a shipping container), stock it with books, computers, and an internet connection, and then staff it. The rest is community empowerment. Here's a video explaining how the centers work:

Here's another perspective on the Maarifa Center in Isinya, Kenya. Locals explain how they use the center, and the effect that free access to learning has on their lives. This is amazing, and by the way, the center has a blog. (Links to the other centers' blogs are on this page.)

2. Veria Central Public Library, Greece

A patron of the Veria library enjoys her time in a "magic box." Photo courtesy of Gates Foundation.

We all know Greece has had a tough time lately. One library in Greece stands out as a fantastic public service: it provides bookmobiles equipped with computers, plus computers and cultural activities at its central library. The library serves a small town -- Veria's population is just 55,000, 46% of whom are registered members of the library. Despite serving such a small community, the library is endowed with a beautiful design, complete with a children's area pictured above. And their bookmobiles look pretty sweet too!

In this TEDx talk, Dimitris Protopsaltou explains the story of the Veria Central Public Library. Indeed, the Veria library was the first in Greece to have a website -- and Protopsaltou built that website, which helped shape his career down the line. Note that English starts about 30 seconds into this one, and continues throughout.

3. Rural Education and Development (READ), Nepal

Patrons at a READ Nepal library use a computer. Photo courtesy of Gates Foundation.

READ Nepal works to develop remote villages through education. The program funds dozens of community libraries, providing books, internet access, and adult literacy classes. That last one is particularly important -- many Nepalese women have been deprived of an education, so they were illiterate until READ Nepal offered free classes.

In this documentary from UNESCO, we learn how literacy changes the lives of women in Nepal. It's truly touching, and demonstrates the power of education to help people in ways large and small.

For more stories like these, check out READ Nepal's Stories of Empowerment site, or their videos. (Don't miss the 20 Years of READ Nepal documentary.)

4. Community Technology Centers, Dominican Republic

Kids at a CTC play chess. Photo courtesy of Gates Foundation.

In the Dominican Republic, Community Technology Centers (CTCs) offer free access to computers, books, and education. But in addition to education, they're community centers -- they've even been host to local weddings!

The CTCs started in 1998 as five refurbished shipping containers scattered around the country. Since then the program has expanded to 93 CTCs -- most in permanent buildings, and always with a distinctive orange and green color scheme.

In a country where only about a third of the residents have access to the internet (and 40% of residents live in poverty), the CTCs are a lifeline. Here's a short documentary explaining how the CTCs work: