If you love books as much as I do, perhaps you too cherish the sensation of holding a new book in your hands for the first time. Or the way your nose twitches when dust lifts off the pages of an old paperback you just discovered on a bookstore shelf. Books are real treasures – they appeal to many different senses and can create memories that stay with us from childhood.
Today, more and more books take a very different form to when I was a kid. The Internet now provides us access to a vast electronic library where billions of books are available digitally rather than in the old-fashioned paper form. But there are many of us who still prefer the real thing. With this in mind, my colleagues and I at the World Bank office in Astana, Kazakhstan, held a book donation on the threshold of the New Year at the National Academic Library - one of the four depositary libraries  in different regions of Kazakhstan (Almaty, Astana, Ust-Kamenogorsk, and Pavlodar) back in 2005 as an effective channel for sharing of knowledge and information.
For the event, we brought a ton of World Bank publications from the country office, inviting people to walk in and take any books that appealed to them. It took just one hour to clear the shelves! As people selected multiple books from the shelves, I asked, “Are you really going to read all of those books?” Their responses surprised me pleasantly.
“I’m taking books not only for myself, but for my friends too,” said one person, “I have one friend who would love to get this one, for example. We were both involved in editing and translating of some parts of this publication!” And he showed me the Russian language version of the publication called “The Challenge of Establishing World Class Universities”. “I work at the Innovations and Development Center under the government holding that deal to train competitive technical professionals,” he said, “This is exactly what I need.” He then showed me another book about developing tests for national assessment of education achievement.
Those who came later and missed the opportunity to get books for their personal libraries were encouraged by Sebnem Akkaya, the Country Manager for Kazakhstan, to continue visiting our Information Development Center in the library. The center is maintained jointly with the UN in Kazakhstan and Asian Development Bank, and provides a lot of information on recent development trends.
Along with the book donation, we also organized a discussion club where World Bank staff invited people to discuss recent trends in economic development, technology commercialization, technical and vocational education, and youth issues. The audience included professionals, researchers, academics, students, and representatives from think tanks and civil society organizations.
My colleague Ilyas Sarsenov, a senior economist, presented the latest Biannual Report  that analyzes Kazakhstan's economic performance and integration into the global economy. He also presented a recent World Bank Country Economic Memorandum titled Beyond Oil: Kazakhstan's Path to Greater Prosperity through Diversifying , which looks at the diversification of the economy across different sectors. Several questions followed, including ones like “When will Kazakhstan join the World Trade Organization?” and “What needs to be done to increase competitiveness of the non-oil sector?”
Yeraly Beksultan, a private sector development specialist, spoke about the ongoing Technology Commercialization Project , which generated questions from the audience about the gap between science and business, managerial approaches in the science system, and the financing of innovation projects. Aliya Bizhanova, an education specialist, presented the Technical and Vocational Education Project , providing information about the implementation process in Kazakhstan’s education system, and explaining government plans to introduce per capita financing of education.
An appreciative audience asked us to continue organizing the discussion club, which my colleagues and the country manager are delighted to support.