Bill Gates assesses five-year library initiative

Contact: Leonard Kniffel


For Immediate Release

November 26, 2003

Bill Gates assesses five-year library initiative

In an exclusive interview in the December issue of
American Libraries, Microsoft Corporation Chairman Bill Gates assesses five years of library philanthropy and talks about why the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested nearly $180 million in library computerization.

When the project began in Alabama in 1998, Gates said the goal was that by 2003 “anyone who can get to a library can get to the Internet.” That goal has been achieved, he says in the interview, “to the 95 percent level. The participation was phenomenal, way beyond what we would have expected.”

He also says he was disappointed that the project did not draw more media attention to libraries, and that coverage that appeared often misrepresented the foundation’s motives for giving away 47,200 PCs and offering 62,000 training opportunities for librarians. Asked how he responds to skeptics who have characterized the project as a ploy to recruit customers for Microsoft, Gates says the criticism was expected. Marketing products was not the key motivation, he says. Some people may have ended up buying a computer after using what was in the library, but others might not because they could use it all for free.

“I don’t ever look a gift horse in the mouth,” says Selma (Ala.) Library Director Becky Nichols in a companion article that examines the impact of the Gates initiative. She and other beneficiaries of the foundation’s generosity — probably the greatest gift to public libraries since steel magnate Andrew Carnegie built 2,509 of them in the early part of the last century — report they are “too busy being grateful.”

Gates has plenty of praise for librarians, as well.
“Librarians are often working without much acknowledgement of the important role they play,” he says, lauding their commitment to their patrons. “It was the librarians who made it work.”

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