Straight Answers from William H. Gates Sr

American Libraries, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Straight Answers from William H. Gates Sr


As the father of the wealthiest man in the world, William H. Gates Sr. gets a lot of questions about his son, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. An attorney and former Washington state Bar Association president, he has learned to redirect the attention to his own work as cochair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In four major program areas--the Pacific Northwest and global health, education, and library services--the foundation gave away $1.1 billion in 2003. Presented at the IFLA conference in Buenos Aires (see p. 24), this year's $1-million Access to Learning Award went to Aarhus Public Libraries in Denmark and Evergreen Rural Library Service in China.

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Why libraries in Denmark and China? The Chinese folks are working with public high schools in the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Shaanxi, and Jiangsu, where they are developing computerized library collections and computer labs in their communities so people can learn about and obtain access to the Internet. It's really quite an ambitious undertaking. In the case of the Danish operation, they distinguished themselves because of their very generous and effective outreach to immigrant communities in that country, which the award jury thought was impressive and merited recognition.

What else is new at the foundation with relation to libraries? We continue to be interested in library service internationally. We're not able to go at that in the massive, all-out way we did in our own country, but we have significant programs in Chile (AL, Jan. 2003, p. 52-54), Argentina, and Mexico. It's a persistent undertaking, and we have people who work here solely on that objective.

After the five-year U.S. library project ended, why did the foundation recommit to a sustainability effort? We felt that when it was done we'd be done, but it turned out that you can't walk away from something like that--partly because the very early technology that we provided is really inadequate today, and we have to help people upgrade their technology.

Is keeping the public library's doors open essential to our American commitment to equality? …

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