IN THE ONLINE ENVIRONMENT, PART 1: CONTEXTS
originally published in Online
Currents January/February 2004 and reprinted with kind permission of the
publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd.
Australian Senate’s Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts
Reference Committee released its report on libraries in the online environment in October
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
NATIONAL INFORMATION POLICY
considerable number of witnesses advocated the need for a national information
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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
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
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
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.”
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
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.
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.
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,
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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