Public libraries exist at the intersection of two critical needs: sociability and learning. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, there are more than 320,000 libraries worldwide, with 73 per cent of them being located in developing and transitioning countries. The philanthropic foundation notes that in many communities, public libraries are the only place where any person, regardless of education or skill level, can have access to information and resources like computers and the Internet free of charge. It adds that library staff often provide training and support for first-time Internet users and for those seeking to enhance their skills, many of whom would be left behind otherwise. Globally, public libraries are an enabling community space which encourages users to make the most of access to information.
That information also provides the basis of learning. If knowledge is power, libraries are sites of empowerment which also assure citizens that knowledge is not the private preserve of the rich and the powerful.