Technology Initiatives in Latvian Libraries Help Rural Business Thrive
In Latvia, a country of over 2 million, a small number of people have the luxury of having home computers with Internet access. A staggering 38.4 percent of the Latvian population relies on public libraries for access to the Internet and all of their computing needs.
Public access to these computers has produced a number of benefits. The Latvian government reports that libraries, particularly those in rural areas, have sparked economic growth and development in places that were formerly depopulating and stagnant. These libraries provide numerous opportunities and resources. Patrons can take advantage of a quiet working environment, proper technical equipment, Internet access, and free Wi-Fi. In addition, they can take advantage of video conferencing and other resources that support flexible work forms. They also have access to databases and e-services, along with the support of specially trained library staff. Best of all, like-minded patrons wishing to deepen their job skills or dive into a business venture have a meeting place to build on one another's skills and expertise.
The EU has taken notice of Latvia's inspiring use of technology. It is now using the Latvian model as a blueprint for its own Smart Work Centers (SWCs). Now implemented in 10 European countries, SWCs are to helping to drive business development in big and small cities alike. SWCs are essentially community centers with public access computing that provide job training, career advisement, and small business incubation. They provide free access to desktop computers, the Internet, and training classes in emerging technologies that focus on economic development.
In partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Global Libraries Program, TechSoup Global is proud to be an integral part of this initiative. TechSoup has helped facilitate both computer hardware and Microsoft software donations to these Smart Work Centers throughout Europe.