Public libraries are often overlooked, but they can be just as essential as tech companies to making sure the Internet is accessible to all. India’s Nasscom Foundation, which wants to improve computer and other tech services at libraries throughout India, announced this week that it has received a $4.78 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support its mission.
Nasscom Foundation’s Indian Public Library Movement (IPLM) plans to reach a million library users by installing computers, training staff, and supporting classes and programs at 300 district-level libraries throughout India.
The Gates Foundation previously supported a pilot project that modernized seven public libraries in the Uttar Pradesh. The program was successful enough that the Nasscom Foundation plans to implement a program called Scale Up that will modernize nine additional libraries in the northern Indian state.
India has more than 402 million Internet users, but more than two-thirds of its population still lacks online access. In rural areas, only one in 10 people uses the Internet. The government’s Digital India initiative aims to connect all Indians to the Internet and private companies ranging from Indian telecoms to international tech giants like Facebook and Google are trying to figure out ways to get more people online for the first time.
Deborah Jacobs, the director of the Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries Program, tells TechCrunch that India is one of the main countries it is focusing on. Public libraries play an important role in bringing the Internet to underserved communities, she says.
“What we see in countries that we work in is if libraries change their mindset, the communities will begin to change theirs and see that libraries aren’t just dusty storage places for books, they are lively information and knowledge centers,” says Jacobs.