Press Room




Richard Akeroyd - 2002 Access to Learning Award Presentation

Good morning.

Thank you all for joining us today. Thank you, Deanna, for your kind words and introduction. And thank you to Martyn Wade, our host and the director of this magnificent library. We are honored to be here at the Mitchell Library — one of the largest reference libraries in Europe, with a distinguished history of serving the people of Scotland.
I'd also like to thank the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and their Public Libraries Section for allowing us to present the Access to Learning Award during their annual conference. IFLA truly has taken the lead in promoting high standards for the delivery of library services worldwide, and representing the interests of libraries. Happy 75th birthday!

At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we are dedicated to improving people's lives by sharing advances in health and learning with the global community. Equity and access are the guiding principles behind all of the foundation's work, from opening doors to the benefits of technology through libraries, to improving health among the world's poor, to increasing educational opportunities for America's disadvantaged students.

The foundation invests in four primary areas: global health, education, libraries, and the Pacific Northwest region of the United States.

In the global health arena, we are focused on reducing inequities by accelerating the development, deployment and sustainability of health interventions that will save lives and dramatically reduce the disease burden in developing countries.  Stopping the transmission of HIV is the foundation's top priority. In addition, we are working to extend access to life-saving vaccines, essential nutrients, and other health resources the developed world takes for granted.

In the education field, we are striving to dramatically improve high school and college graduation rates for all students, especially those who have historically been underserved. The foundation partners with schools around the country to encourage personalized learning environments where all students can achieve, and provides scholarships for talented low-income students to attend college.

And in our own backyard, the Pacific Northwest, we support local organizations that are improving the lives of our region's most vulnerable members, particularly children and families.

But today we are here to talk about libraries, of course. 

Bill's love of libraries inspired him and his wife, Melinda, to help public libraries move beyond their traditional realm of service. In fact, that's how Bill and Melinda's large-scale philanthropy began — supporting, at first, libraries in the poorest communities of the U.S. They wanted to ensure that regardless of where someone lived in the U.S. or how much they earned, they would have access to the unbelievable benefits of the information age. 

To date, the foundation has provided more than 8,500 U.S. library buildings with 38,300 computers, and trained 48,000 library staff. Our trainers have logged thousands of miles, installing computers and teaching library staffers how to use them. These efforts also have reached more than 1,400 libraries throughout Canada. Recently we initiated programs to help the more than 350 public libraries in Chile and 1,200 libraries in Mexico.
Libraries take all shapes and forms. They can be architectural treasures with rich collections, like that which surrounds us here today, or they can be renovated mobile-home units, which we often find in low-income, rural communities. Whatever their form, all of these libraries share a devotion to learning and to giving patrons access to the world's vast resources of knowledge.

Libraries offer an ideal venue for tools of learning. Access to digital information empowers people to improve their lives and their communities. Internet connectivity brings online education, conversations with other cultures, and timely information about health issues, agriculture and social services.

With the annual Access to Learning Award, we recognize and reward libraries or organizations that are particularly innovative in connecting people to digital information. By shining a light on exceptional efforts, we hope to encourage policymakers and private donors around the globe to support free and open access to information. We also see this award as a catalyst for additional support from governments and others. 

Before I introduce you to this year's award recipient, I would like to recognize briefly last year's recipients: Argentina's Biblioteca del Congreso and Guatemala's Probigua. Biblioteca del Congreso has leveraged its award to help pay for expanded hours of service in their multimedia room, additional computers, and computer training for the public, as well as a mobile library that provides access to technology to people living in some of the poorest areas of Buenos Aires. With its award, Probigua opened five computer centers in Guatemala and placed computers in 14 libraries, where thousands of children, teachers, and adults now receive training and have unprecedented access to information.

The very first recipient of the Access to Learning Award was the Helsinki City Library of Finland. The Helsinki City Library has applied a portion of its award to develop what's called an Information Gas Station.  This portable computer unit can be transported to different parts of the city, serving as a library branch at festivals, parks and senior centers.  Customers ask the Gas Station questions and then receive the answers on the spot, by phone, by fax or even via text messages on cellular phones.  We applaud each recipient's innovation and commitment to using technology to improve library services for all. 

The foundation does not work alone in gathering examples of innovation. As Deanna Marcum described, the Council on Library and Information Resources joined us this year to administer the 2002 Access to Learning Award. With their help, more international libraries were aware of this opportunity. And we learned about a number of incredible efforts taking place in public libraries around the globe. We thank the Council for their hard work and shared commitment.

An international advisory committee of librarians and information-technology experts chose this year's award recipient. They considered applicants' efforts to make technology freely available to the public, to train people in using technology, to educate staff members about technology, and to reach out to underserved communities. If you saw the slides before the presentation, you got a sneak preview of our award recipient's inspirational work.

I am pleased to announce the 2002 award recipient is BibloRed, an impressive network of libraries serving the people of Bogotá, Colombia.  BibloRed offers access to digital information and training at no cost to patrons in low-income areas. In a city where two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line, BibloRed has made a remarkable accomplishment to bring digital information to the people of Bogotá.

In just four years, BibloRed has built three major libraries and upgraded 16 local libraries that now attract an average of 10,000 daily visitors in Bogotá. The libraries are strategically located to serve at least 70 percent of the school-age population and 40 percent of the adult population. Their service reach includes approximately 3.4 million potential users. These libraries offer programs and training opportunities that each day touch the lives of senior citizens, teachers, children and adults.  Just briefly, I would like to share a few stories of how BibloRed's libraries are making a positive impact.

In a section of the city without parks, without malls, and very few options for a child to pass the time, BibloRed's Tintal Public Library now serves as a beacon of hope. Luis Cárdenas, a 12-year-old boy who once was not enrolled in school, describes the Tintal Public Library as "a large white building" that "appeared without warning" in the area where he lives.

After BibloRed's Tintal library opened, Luis became a regular visitor almost immediately. He got involved in reading-incentive programs and technology workshops. As Luis' time spent at the library grew, the librarians took note of his curiosity and eagerness to learn, and approached the Bureau of the Secretary of Education to help Luis register for school. So next year, Luis will be attending school. He says the library has given him the "opportunity to learn, to know the world, to become someone, to dream, to travel in time and space — without spending money."

Alexander Umbarila, age 19, is currently unemployed. He travels by bus to the El Tunal library to look for employment via the Internet. Alexander says that Internet access in the library has helped him learn more about the world. He hopes to continue his education at a university and become a civil engineer.

Otilia Fonero viuda de Yanez is 77. She walks 45 minutes from her home in Bogotá to visit the Virgilio Barco library. A retired government worker, she is now learning to use the computer so she can better relate to her 23 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren. She believes that by knowing how to use technology, people can improve their lives. 

As evidenced by these stories, BibloRed is providing access to information where it once was nonexistent. We hope this extraordinary project in Colombia serves as a model for other countries.

Today, in recognition of these efforts and the outstanding commitment of BibloRed to provide no-cost public access to computers, I am pleased to present BibloRed with the third annual Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Access to Learning Award, which comes with a $1 million grant. Margarita Peña, the Secretary of Education for the city of Bogotá, and Catalina Ramirez-Valleho, the managing director of BibloRed, are here with us today. Margarita and Catalina, would you please join me so we can all congratulate you and BibloRed?

Catalina Ramirez-Vallejo is the Managing Director of BibloRed, The Public Library Network System of Bogotá.  Margarita Peña is currently the Secretary of Education of the city of Bogotá. Previously, she was the Vice Minister of Education of Colombia and has held various positions in the education sector of the country. Margarita was instrumental in the formation of BibloRed, and I'd like to ask her to say a few words about their impressive efforts to increase the public access to information. Margarita?

[Comments from Margarita Peña]

Congratulations and thank you.   I want to extend a special thank you to Ross Shimmon, IFLA Secretary General, and Christine Deschamps, IFLA President, for taking time from their busy schedules to join us this morning. 

I also want to note that later this year, CLIR will publish a case study of BibloRed that will provide additional detail of their work.  It will be available on the foundation's and CLIR's web sites by the end of this year.

We're going to spend a few moments with our award recipient and photographer, but we invite you to stay to enjoy the coffee and food, and congratulate BibloRed on their inspiring work.

Thank you all for joining us this morning.

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