This paper presents the most important changes in the library system of Latvia in the late 1980s, when, as a result of a nonviolent struggle, Latvia regained full independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. Particular attention is paid to contributions by private foundations in the United States—the George Soros, Andrew W. Mellon, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations—to fulfill the main goal of library work: namely, helping to create a democratic society in which everyone has the opportunity to express their views and be able to freely access information. During the Soviet period, libraries were mainly agents of the dominant power; they were often forced to ignore the needs of Latvian society or even to work against them. The activities of libraries were strictly regulated and controlled. Latvian independence has allowed the libraries to end political censorship and strict control, and to independently determine their future directions and work methods. Political changes occurred so rapidly that the immediate normalization of professional work after fifty years of occupation was not possible. However, US private foundations supported strategically important areas of library work: automation and access to the internet, the creation of the State Unified Library Information System (SULIS), and the professional development of library staff. The US foundations, through requirements for the cofinancing of large-scale projects, also motivated state and municipalities in Latvia to increase their investment in libraries. The interest expressed in libraries by these foundations emphasized that Latvian libraries were vital. Consequently, targeted investments shortly after independence ensured the timely inclusion of the basic elements of the national library system—the National Library of Latvia and public, school, and academic libraries—in the modern information environment, thus allowing them to fulfill the main task of all libraries: the provision of public access to information.


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pp. 233-251
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