Posted by: U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John F. Tefft
I was thrilled to be invited to participate in the opening ceremony of the first ever Library Innovations and eGovernance Fair at Ukrainian House on April 11, 2011. It was a wonderful opportunity to highlight for the 800 librarians in attendance our robust commitment to libraries and free access to the internet in Ukraine. Below is an excerpt from the speech I delivered on Monday. You can watch the full speech here and browse photographs here of the 40+ library booths that showcased their activities at the fair.
I would like to thank the organizers of the event, Bibliomist, represented by Deborah Jacobs of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and my good friend Ambassador Bob Pearson, IREX President, as well as Deputy Minister of Culture Victoria Liznicha, and Representative Volodomir Yavorisky, Head of the Rada Committee of Spirituality and Culture.
While we may come from different backgrounds and organizations, I can say with confidence that we all share a love for the written word, and for libraries and librarians. My President shares this sentiment. In 2005 – then still a senator from Illinois – President Obama said of librarians, “Guardians of truth and knowledge, librarians must be thanked for their role as champions of privacy, literacy, independent thinking, and, most of all, reading.” More recently, in his State of the Union address, President Obama mentioned his ambition to make wireless internet available to 98 percent of Americans within the next five years. He believes – and I couldn’t agree more – that this universal internet access will help businesses to grow faster, students to learn more, and is even is an important public safety infrastructure.
Since 2001, the U.S. government has invested more than 1.5 million dollars in improving Ukrainian citizens’ access to information by opening 147 free Internet centers in Ukrainian public libraries through our Library Electronic Access (LEAP) program. With LEAP, libraries receive grants of up to $10,000 for computer equipment, software, and two years of free Internet access. LEAP centers also offer training to help library patrons learn how to use computers and electronic resources. Recognizing a lack of special needs resources, the U.S. Embassy opened the first public internet access sites for the visually impaired in Ukraine in 2005; see a video from Storozhynets special needs center here and the video from Voznesensk Public Library, in Mykolayiv oblast here, where a blind girl uses LEAP center to participate in the National Talent Show. The LEAP programs were a precursor to the ambitious Bibliomist program, funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and introduced in Ukraine by our friends at IREX in cooperation with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Ukrainian Library Association (ULA) and the Ministry of Culture.
All of us today know that the model of yesterday’s library will not be the model of tomorrow’s. Technology is opening new doors every day. For the holidays this year my daughter purchased an e-reader for me. Well, I am an old school lover of books…but I am using my e-reader – and am convinced these devices will be another boon for the book. Today, at the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Section’s information booth there are several e-readers, to demonstrate how the U.S. libraries are taking advantage of these new devices to offer new services to their clients.
How the book will evolve – and how libraries, as knowledge curators, will evolve with them – is a question that makes this moment exciting. Without a doubt, public institutions devoted to shared and opened access to information will be even more crucial in the future than they were in the past. Public libraries play a crucial role in ensuring that there are no “haves” and “have-nots” in a today’s global knowledge society. Thank you all for being here and I wish you fruitful and productive day learning about new innovations in library and eGovernance.
For more information on the successful fair, click here. For several inspiring videos showcasing our LEAP center in Rohatyn Public Library in the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast entitled “Dreams Come True” watch here, here, here or here.