The Wolanski Foundation Project


Paper no 31









List of papers








By Paul Bentley

Article originally published in Online Currents January/February 2004 and reprinted with kind permission of the publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd. 

The Australian Senate’s Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Reference Committee released its report on libraries in the online environment in October 2003

The report was the result of an inquiry which sought to clarify the role of libraries as providers of public information, taking into account current patterns of demand, responses by public, university and research libraries, possible strategies to enhance wider use and distribution of information resources, and the role of various levels of government, the corporate sector and libraries themselves. 

Under the chairmanship of Australian Democrats Senator, John Cherry, a committee of 38 senators received 155 submissions and conducted 15 public hearings with 67 witnesses. The vast majority of submissions were made by public libraries or people or bodies representing public libraries.


The committee formed the overriding impression that Australia is remarkably well served by its library services.  Despite the constraints imposed upon libraries, they are strongly committed to serving their users.  “Their propensity to band together and to share resources as an object lesson in what can be achieved by cooperation across jurisdictional boundaries.”

In responding to the challenges of the online environment, they “have taken many practical steps not only to survive but to prosper and to better service their communities into the future.” They have been early adopters of online information provision and have assisted the public to engage meaningfully in the online world through numerous digital projects and services.

The committee noted pleas that there were insufficient public access terminals in libraries across Australia to meet demand, but wondered whether the demand had peaked as a result of growth in home access to the Internet.  However, although no enterprise has the right to monopolise free or inexpensive Internet provision, they accepted the argument that, at present, to get the best out of Internet content, the assistance of professional information broker in a library is highly valuable

They were concerned that many outstanding services appeared not to be widely known, that libraries appeared to be taken for granted, rather than valued.  They were concerned that there had been an overall failure to maintain public library building stock, partly as the result of the overall decrease in state government funding for public libraries in recent years.  And, in noting the growing demand for digitised content at the desktop, often involving libraries and commercial partners, the question of what constitutes free and fee-based information is something, they said, that needs to be addressed.

In forming its recommendations, the inquiry relied almost entirely on wisdom percolating from the submissions.  It dipped into a few local sources, but, surprisingly, did not make an extensive study of overseas material.  A number of significant studies were being conducted at the same time.  New reports have appeared.  A review of the inquiry’s recommendations takes these into account.


A considerable number of witnesses advocated the need for a national information policy.

The committee noted the reluctance of Australian governments, past and present, to create such statements because of a belief that such policies would quickly become out of date and would not have the flexibility to meet changing requirements. The issues that would part of such a policy are already managed satisfactorily by the Cultural Ministers’ Council and the Online Council. Action on much of the detail is, in any case, the primary responsibility of the states or local government, not the Australian Government.

Nevertheless, they supported in principle the notion of a national information policy.  There was a growing realisation that genuine access to information transcends connectivity.  Even though there was a lack of uniformity about what exactly constitutes a national information policy, they thought the time had come for the Cultural Ministers’ Council to again turn its attention to libraries and to review the need for such a policy.

This is good news.  But just what is meant by national information policy?  Is the Cultural Ministers’ Council the right body to deal with it?  And just how do libraries fit into the picture?

The information society and economy

Australian governments have been circumspect about the notion of a knowledge society or economy.  They’ve preferred the concept information economy.   Although Barry Jones’s KM spaghetti diagram became a political football in the last federal election, the development of Australia as an information economy has gained widespread support, built around the pillars of knowledge management, technology, innovation and education.

Knowledge management is a complex, evolving and multidisciplinary field, embracing contradictory perspectives.  Studies and statistics regularly appear proclaiming the financial benefits, successes and failures of KM as a corporate strategy and national imperative.  More often than not, these deepen doubts as well as stimulate increased curiosity.  When it comes to KM what is it that’s actually being described and quantified?

Standards Australia, in 2003, released a non-compliant interim standard to clarify the scope and components of KM, but credentialed advocates say that the discipline is not yet mature enough for standardisation.  The desire to remove ambiguity is dangerous.  A recasting of KM is necessary for it to survive in the long term.

These uncertainties have not dissuaded governments from exploring or implementing KM  strategies.  In April 2003, the OECD released its first international survey of KM practices in  government agencies.  The Learning Government, with responses from 132 agencies in 20 OECD member countries (including Canada, England, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States, but not Australia), described differing awareness levels of KM and it use in the public and private sectors.  It concluded that, although government agencies have been slower to adopt KM than the private sector, a good majority of them rank it highly on their agendas.  Cultural change is occurring, but it is not clear whether the change is superficial or the result of deep organisational change.  A relatively stable environment and well designed policies are required to make it work.

The European Commission’s Study on Measurement of Intangible Assets and Associated Reporting Practices concentrates on the private sector, analyses the benefits, challenges, paradoxes, vulnerabilities and coordinates of intangible economies, and proposes an agenda in which “the priority for European policy (but also policy in other countries like the US or Australia in particular) should be not so much to define policies to increase individual intangible assets, but rather to provide rules and conventions for their measurement.”

In Australia, a handful of significant studies on KM as a national imperative have been joined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ discussion paper Measuring a Knowledge-based Economy and Society: an Australian Framework (2002).  This proposes a model based on indicators for innovation and entrepreneurship, human capital, information and communications technology, context, and economic and social impacts.  Libraries feature as an indicator in the ICT dimension, but it is limited to public libraries offering technology facilities.  The report has a long list of gaps covering such areas as knowledge networks and business clusters, business spin-offs from higher education institutions, innovation, adult literacy, knowledge-performance links and social impacts.

Just owning knowledge won’t lead to sustained competitive advantage.  Albert Einstein asserted that imagination is more important than knowledge.  In a subtle shift of emphasis, innovation has become one of the central planks of economic success.  Innovation, though, is one of those things that attracts widespread lip service.  Many organisations insert the word in their mission statements without establishing adequate mechanisms for creativity and research, nor satisfactory indicators to signal when their innovation activities have met with success.

And James Robertson, in Knowledge Management for Frontline Staff, makes a good point when he reminds us that, in many enterprises and situations, the key goal is consistency, not innovation. “While developing new approaches is undoubtedly important, for many organisations the challenge is to stay the same…there is a requirement to provide the same level of service today, next year and, most probably, in ten years time.”

Two reports, Foundations for American Innovation and Grand Challenges, highlight significant R&D spending in the United States on developing large-scale data resources and online collections in science, education, health and energy, digital library tools and technologies, preservation of digital records, knowledge discovery, representations of uncertainty in decision making, visualisation, and other areas relevant to libraries.  To what extent, though, are libraries and librarians involved in these projects?

In Australia, Gans and Stern, in Assessing Australia’s Innovation Capacity in the 21st Century (2003),claim that Australia is falling behind as an innovative nation.  There are few well-developed industry sectors that can be relied on for future prosperity. They urge the government to invest heavily in a common innovation infrastructure (innovation resources, national ‘knowledge’ stock and innovation policy) and encourage ‘a cluster-specific environment’ for innovators.  Picking winners should be avoided. Better higher education policy is essential. Businesses, venture capital, unions and governments need to be on the same page.

The Australian Research Council’s Strategic Action Plan 2003-05, targets triennial spending of about $1.2 billion on discovery, research infrastructure, inter-disciplinary research and research training programs.  But in its Submission to the National Research Infrastructure Taskforce (2003), it echoes Gans and Stern Australia’s current system for providing research infrastructure is far from satisfactory. Limited attention is paid to aligning investments in infrastructure with the needs of Australia’s best researchers. Funding streams are complex, irregular and unpredictable.  The objectives of funding programs overlap in some respects but still leave large gaps.  The current system lacks transparency, accountability, effectiveness and efficiency.  There is a pressing need for an integrated national strategy to provide infrastructure that keeps pace with rapidly advancing research developments.  How many of these deficiencies can also be applied to the library sector?

The approach for measuring innovation capacity by Gans and Stern is complemented by Measuring Innovation Performance, published by the Department of Industry Tourism and Resources in May 2003, to promote the need for better indicators.  It has a short history and comparison of innovation surveys worldwide, presents composite indicators, and lists questions to be answered in future surveys.

The importance of education as part of the information economy mix is widely accepted so I won’t dwell on it here – except to say that commentators are pointing to the need for better planning and strategies.  LIDP Education Australia’s Lindy Hyams said in a recent interview with Maxine McKew that going down the path of being a knowledge economy and a nation of high value-added industries “requires a bold national strategy, one that is bipartisan and long term, and we’re a long way from that now.”

Government approaches

The Library Association in the UK (now the Chartered Institute of Libraries and Information Professionals) commissioned Adrienne Muir and Charles Oppenheim in 2001 to undertake a study of national information plans around the world.

They concluded that there was “a wealth of information policy initiatives, generally all heading in the same direction, [but] despite this, many aspects of national information policies failed to impress them – specifically the failure of countries to adopt policies for understanding citizens’ needs and the assumption that simply providing the hardware and the content will automatically lead to information use.”

The need for national information policy frameworks, they said, has never been greater than it is today.  It commended the Okinawa Charter as a model for the development of a national plan for the UK.

The Okinawa Charter for the Global Information Society was developed by the Digital Opportunities Task (DOT) Force for the G8 meeting at Okinawa in 2000.  The role of the DOT Force has now been taken over by UN ICT Task Force, established in March 2001 as a focal point for UN policy coordination.  The Okinawa Charter appears to have morphed into a statement that were considered at the United Nation’s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) at Geneva in December 2003.

WSIS considered principles and action to achieve internationally-agreed development goals to help countries overcome the digital divide and promote the information society at national, regional and international levels.  It acknowledged the importance of partnerships between governments, the private sector and the media and of the need to connect libraries, cultural centres, museums, post offices and archives with ICTs - something that may have been influenced by IFLA’s contributory role in promoting the value of libraries.

The next WSIS will be held in Tunis in November 2005, when it will consider progress against the 2003 plan of action, a charter of digital solidarity, a framework for information society measurements and analysis, particularly in clarifying the magnitude of the digital divide, and the development of regional action.

Australia was represented at WSIS by John Rimmer of the National Office of the Information Economy (NOIE).  NOIE’s Strategic Framework for the Information Economy (1998) and updates such as Advancing Australia (2002) cover many of the issues in the WSIS Plan of Action. In Advancing Australia, libraries, archives and museums are represented in the section on e-content and culture, which supports the leadership role of the national cultural institutions and the importance of cultural e-business and online access to Australian culture.  The development of partnerships between the cultural sector and private sector is mentioned as a priority.  However, there is no coherent consideration of how all libraries, archives, museums and other forms of information repositories and services fit into the information landscape, except by tenuous implication in areas such as education and infrastructure.  Libraries are viewed as cultural entities rather than as information producers and distributors.

Although NOIE regards technology as an enabling mechanism rather than a panacea, it is fair to say that the focus has been on ICT take-up than on efficient and effective management of information resources.  NOIE’s Information Economy Index, measuring progress in the Information Economy by Australia and 11 other countries, has 23 indicators based on ICT usage and intensity.

Two NOIE reports that offer something to think about for the library sector are the Creative Industries Cluster Report (summarised briefly in Driving Australian e-Culture, OLC, October 2002) and a report on convergence.  The latter grapples with convergence occurring in previously separate industries and provides a preliminary decision-making framework for dealing with related policy issues.  Though it focuses on the telecommunications and media industries, its observations have wider significance.  Firming up government policy is not easy, it says, because of the difficulty to predict digital economy structural impacts on industries in transition.

The Online Council coordinates action on the information economy by national and state governments.  At its September 2003 meeting, the Council agreed that a renewed and heightened level of effort was necessary, involving collaborative action by governments, businesses and communities, based on priorities in Framework for the Information Economy.  A working party has been established to work on ICT investment, ICT strategy coordination between jurisdictions, ICT capability, innovation and R&D coordination to drive cluster development.

Libraries and the information society and economy

Libraries, like most parts of society, are still working out how to connect to evolving knowledge and information society agendas.

Jo Bryson, in her ALIA 2000 conference presentation Building and Knowledge and Information Society, pinpointed the broad components of the global information economy and society as infrastructure provision, lifelong learning, economic growth and service delivery.  In the knowledge-based economy and society, she said, libraries will have to integrate themselves into the multi-delivery channelled networked society.  The value proposition will be their ability to weave information and knowledge into flexible and adaptable structures.  They will need to develop new economic strategies, better understand user needs and demands, develop the skills of staff and users and develop new services.  The research priorities will lay in the field of integrated access to distributed and diverse resources, large repositories, preservation and access strategies.  Strong political and advocacy skills will be required to assist libraries and information services to meet the challenges and opportunities of the global information environment.

Muir and Oppenheim charted national information policy issues on three levels – broad society issues (such as the knowledge economy and competitiveness), areas to which the library sector must contribute (such as information quality, content delivery, interoperability, legal deposit, e-government and e-business), and areas of most pressing need, where the library and information profession should be seeking to achieve greatest change (such as skill and organisational capacity).

In 2002, CILIP followed up this report by commissioning CILIP in the Knowledge Economy.  This was kicked along by its concerns as a professional association that it was becoming increasingly marginalised in a shifting information marketplace.  The report’s recommendations, based on broad assumptions about the knowledge economy, projected a broad strategy based on a leadership role in national, organizational and individual competitiveness.  It states a position but doesn’t analyse prospects for success.

Resource, the Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries in the UK, published its Wider Information and Library Issues Project (WILIP) Report in November 2003.  With the aim of  mapping the wider library and information domain, it was initiated because of perceptions that Resource’s earlier People's Network Project and Framework for the Future report were concerned specifically with public libraries to the exclusion of other types of libraries.  Libraries and information centres, it concluded, were “failing to punch their weight.”  To achieve their full potential, they must develop a strategic framework linking information strategies in each economic sector.  They must be better advocates.  There must be a thorough overhaul of workforce issues.  They must make better use of existing resources.  And they must demonstrate their value, particularly the economic value.  In negotiating a major role in the knowledge society, it said, there will be no easy solutions.

Attempts by Australian government bodies and professional library groups to consider the role of libraries in relation to the information economy appear to have been more tentative, more fragmented and a step behind their British counterparts, but they are moving in the same direction. 

The submission by the Council of Australian State Libraries to the Department of Education, Science and Training’s Evaluation of Knowledge and Innovation Reforms in September last year is indicative of action that is required on a higher plane and on a more concerted front.  This drew attention to the fact that innovative research outcomes are not derived solely from the support and funding provided within the higher education and research facilities sector. Tertiary students are the largest client group served by the State, Territory and National libraries (nearly 50% of all clients).  CASL member libraries play a pivotal role in developing collaborative networks to support  research systems.  The submission urged further dialogue between the two sectors and better recognition of the contributions made by its member libraries to strengthen knowledge and innovation reforms.


National information policy?

The Australian economy has seventeen industries representing natural resources, the built environment, services and government groupings.  Although the information economy is said to be the main pulse, the information industry is not formally recognised as one of the seventeen. The difficulty of quantifying the proportion of growth attributable to ICT products is highlighted in Advancing Australia.  John Houghton points out in Economics of Scholarly Information that information content, among other things, is an ‘experience good’ - until it has been acquired and consumed it is difficult to know its value: “the decision to buy is not made on the basis of content directly, but on the basis of other cues.”

Australia already has a national information policy in the form of A Strategic Framework for the Information Economy.  Although its impetus feeds on ICT take-up, it’s continuing evolution, influenced by global thinking, is likely to accommodate more holistic views on macro information management and on changing roles in the production, distribution and preservation of information.  One day the number of books read might be as strong an indicator of an intelligent and creative information economy as PC and Internet connections.

Cultural Ministers’ Council?

The CMC is concerned with policy and spending in relation to major government funded libraries, archives and museums as well as public cultural enterprises in regional Australia.  The report from the National Collections Advisory Forum on the feasibility of a permanent coordinating body, due in February, may provide some of the answers on how this might be done in the future.  The National Office of the Information Economy, however, is the appropriate agency for developing wider issues in further iterations of its existing national information policy.


Libraries must find a voice and help themselves – partly by doing what the Senate committee pinpointed as one of their strengths: banding together and sharing resources across jurisdictional boundaries.  Although they have limited bargaining power on a number of fronts, there are no prizes in  being a sector of victims. 

Challenges and approaches will be explored in a review of the other Senate inquiry recommendations in part 2 of this article in a future issue of Online Currents.


ACT-KM elist. < >

Australia. Department of Education, Science and Training. Systemic Infrastructure Initiative. Information Infrastructure Advisory Committee. Research Information Infrastructure Framework for Australian Higher Education, November 2002.

Australia. Department of Industry Tourism and Resources. Measuring Innovation Performance: currents status and future directions. [Canberra]: Innovation Analysis, Industry Policy Division, 2003.

Australia. Senate. Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Reference Committee. Libraries in the online environment. (2003). <>

Australian Bureau of Statistics. Discussion paper: Measuring a Knowledge-based Economy and Society: an Australian Framework 1357.0. (2002). <>

Australian Research Council. Strategic Action Plan 2003-2005. <>

Australian Research Council. Submission to the National Research Infrastructure Taskforce, September 2003 <>

Australian Studies in Knowledge Management / edited by Helen Hasan and Meliha Handzic. Wollongong: University of Wollongong Press, 2003

Bentley, Paul. Submission to the Senate Inquiry on the Role of Libraries in the Online Environment on behalf of the Wolanski Foundation, August 2002. Supplementary paper, May 2003. <>

Bryson, Jo. Building a Knowledge-based Economy and Society. ALIA 2000 conference. <>

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. CILIP in the knowledge Economy: a leadership strategy. The report of the Competitiveness and Knowledge Based Economy Executive Advisory Group.>

Considine, Mark. The Comparative performance of Australia as a Knowledge Nation: report to the Chifley Research Centre by Mark Considine, Simon Marginson and Peter Sheehan, with the assistance of Margarita Kumnick. June 2001.

Council of Australian State Libraries. Submission to the Department of Education and Training’s Evaluation of Knowledge and Innovation Reforms, September 2003. <http;//>

Dimis, Rita. Creativity – the economy’s new currency. Arts Hub Australia 24 December 2003 <>

European Commission. Enterprise Directorate General. Study on the measurement of intangible assets and associated reporting mechanisms. The Commission, April 2003. <>

Gans, Joshua and Stern, Scott. Assessing Australia’s Innovation Capacity in the 21st Century, June 2003. <>.  See also summary An Experimental Way to Organise Innovation by David James in Management Today October 2003.

Gettler, Leon and James, David. Meta Knowledge. Management Today October 2002:14-19

Handzic, Meliha and Hasan, Helen. The Search for an Integrated Knowledge Management Framework in Australian Studies in Knowledge Management.

Hasan, Helen. What is KM: fiction, fad or fulfilling the ICT promise? Abstract of talk given to ACT-KM Forum, National Library of Australia, 5 August 2003. <   >

Horne, Donald.. Now there’s a thought. Sydney Morning Herald Spectrum 18-19 May 2002: 4-5.

Houghton, JW. Economics of scholarly communication: a discussion paper prepared for The Coalition of Innovation in Scholarly Communication. Melbourne: Centre for Strategic Economic Studies: 2001.

Houghton, JW. A primer on the knowledge economy prepared by John Houghton and Peter Sheehan. Melbourne, Centre fo Strategic Economic Studies, Victoria University..

IFLA. The Role and Position of Libraries [IFLA and the World Summit on the Information Society] February 2003. < 

McKew, Maxine. Lyndy Hyam lunch with Maxine McKew. The Bulletin 18 November 2003: 40-42

Muir, Adrienne and Oppenheim, Charles. Report on developments word-wide on national information policy, March 2002. <>.

National Office of the Information Economy. Advancing Australia: the information economy progress report 2002; Convergence; Creative Industries Cluster Report ; Information Economy Index; Online Council minutes;  Strategic Framework for the Information Economy, 1998. <>

OECD. Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate.  Public Management Committee. The Learning Government: an introduction and Draft Results of the Survey of Knowledge Management Practices in Ministries / Departments / Agencies of Central Government, April 2003  <>

Okinawa Charter on the Global Information Society. <

Resource. Framework for the Future: Action Plan 2003–06. London: Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries London September 2003 <>

Resource. Wider Information and Library Issues Project report. Consultation Exercise by Stuart Ede, proSed. London: Resource, 2003. <>

Rimmer, John. Australian Country Statement submitted by John Rimmer, CEO NOIE, Head of Australian Delegation to the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva, Switzerland, 10-12 December 2003 and Australian Country Statement – Short Speech, delivered 11 December 2003. <>

Robertson. James. Knowledge management for font-line staff. KM Column August 2003 <>.

Sbarcea, Kim. The promise and hope of knowledge management: has it been fulfilled?  Draft paper supplied by author following presentation at Australian Institute of Management, Sydney 2001. .

Standards Australia. Knowledge management. Interim Australian standard AS 5037 (Int) – 2003. Sydney: Standards Australia, 2003.

United Nations Information and Communication Technologies Task Force <>

United States. National Coordination Office for Information Technology Research and Development. Interagency Working Group on Information Technology Research and Development. Grand challenges: science, engineering and societal advances requiring networking and information technology research and development. November 2003. <>

United States. President. Office of Science and Technology Policy. Advanced Foundations for American Innovation. Supplement to President’s FY 2004 Budget. October 2003. <>

World Summit on the Information Society.

Zyngier, Suzanne M, Burstein, Frida and Rodriguez, Maria-Luisa. Knowledge Management Strategies in Australia: Analysis of Uptake and Understanding in Australian Studies in Knowledge Management.


 About usWhat's newSite map | Searching  | Managing  | Learning  |  Library |  Research 

  Contact us | Home  

© 2004 The Wolanski Foundation Project 

 Email web manager.  URL:

Page last updated: 8 March 2004