Continuing the legacy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries program


By Lorcan Dempsey, Vice President, Membership and Research, Chief Strategist, OCLC; and,
Sharon Streams, Director, WebJunction

The first initiative launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries program was one to improve computer technology and internet connectivity in US public libraries. And it was a total game changer for thousands of small, rural communities across the United States.

That initiative then spurred the idea for an “online portal” that would connect isolated library staff to ongoing support and resources. From there, a 2002 foundation grant to OCLC led to the launch of WebJunction on May 12, 2003, at a celebration at the Library of Congress.

This past December 31 marked the official closure of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries program. Over the past 16 years, OCLC and its WebJunction team have stewarded program funding that has led to cutting-edge, national-scale projects, including:

  • Rural Libraries Sustainability, which trained rural library directors on technology planning and community needs assessment across 42 states
  • Spanish-Language Outreach, which improved understanding of, outreach to, and services for the Spanish-speaking communities served by public libraries in 36 states
  • From Awareness to Funding, a national study that found that increasing funding support for public libraries requires changing community perceptions
  • Geek the Library, a national campaign to raise the public’s awareness of and support for public libraries, librarians, and public library funding
  • The Coalition to Advance Learning in Archives, Libraries and Museums, which convened more than 20 member and service organizations to form a joint strategy for professional development and continuing education for those working in the knowledge profession.

We are proud to be able to sustain the foundation’s investment through the ongoing WebJunction program. And we’ll continue to lead by example, honoring the vision articulated by Global Libraries Director Deborah Jacobs:

“By working more closely together to build and sustain a global network of public library leaders and organizations, libraries can learn from one another, solve shared problems, and spark ideas and innovations that will help them meet immediate and pressing community needs and look together to the future. Progress comes only from collaboration within and across the library field.”

We cannot overstate the impact of the program’s 20-plus years of investment in public libraries across the world, and we join the chorus of those expressing profound gratitude for the foundation’s belief in and extensive support of the collective power of libraries.