As cities in the former Soviet Union continue the fast-track to modernity, surrounding rural areas are facing the consequences of historic neglect and underfunding — leaving people in smaller villages with limited access to government services. Georgia is mobilizing libraries as one of the country’s most valuable assets to include everyone in the 21st-century information society.
Modernizing Libraries to Expand Access to Services
Last year, four pilot libraries in the villages of Nukriani, Khidistavi, Khulo, and Zugdidi expanded their services to provide free public access to technology, training, and government services like business registration. Despite local demand, these services had previously been neglected in rural areas and were available only in large towns with developed infrastructure. Library patrons no longer need to travel long distances to larger towns to access more than 200 public and private sector services, including issuance of official documents and property registration. In 2016, this program will expand to 80 additional communities so even more people can access the services they need.
The Spaces and Faces of Digital Transformation
Revitalized, multi-functional community centers offer space to study, plan activities, watch films, or attend informational and educational events. Even when the Nukriani library is closed, people gather outside the building with their tablets and smartphones to access the library’s free wifi.
“I am glad that such an amazing place exists in my village and I am proud to be working here,” said Manana Usenashvili, a librarian from Nukriani. “Warm, comfortable rooms instead of cold damp walls; computers and internet available free of charge; new literature, instead of old, barely used books – this is the dream of every village.”
Manana is among the many professionals that complement Georgia’s new modern libraries. After completing a series of intensive trainings, more than 100 librarians can now train the public to use ICT, navigate Georgia’s new online government service portal, and even improve their business and communication skills. To date, these modern librarians have trained almost 500 library users.
Georgia’s Modern Libraries by the Numbers
Already, the four pilot program libraries have expanded access to new services for thousands of people in their communities. In Khidistavi and Nukriani, the number of monthly library visitors has increased by 20 times. More than 20,000 people visited these libraries within 6 months after building renovations were completed, and 700 people used the internet for the first time across all four pilot program libraries.
“Opening the modern library and Community Center completely changed the monotonous and tedious life of our village,” said Irma Dolidze, a teacher who frequently visits Khidistavi library. “There is always something going on in the library – activities, discussions, film screenings. Today our village is interesting and active.”
With expansion already underway, the program is investing in 80 additional communities to continue transforming libraries into engines of local development that offer access to services, technology, and digital literacy for all. This expansion builds on partnerships with Georgia’s Public Service Development Agency (PSDA), the Georgian Library Association (GLA), the Presidential Administration Fund, the Ministry of Justice, and Institute for Development of Freedom of Information.