IN THE ONLINE ENVIRONMENT, PART 1: CHALLENGES
originally published in Online
Currents May 2004 and reprinted with kind permission of the
publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd.
October 2003, following a year-long inquiry, the Australian Senate released
its report on the role of libraries in the online environment.
My review in the January/February issue of Online Currents
considered contexts for management of libraries in Australia, particularly
proposals for a national information policy.
This month, I take a look at the report’s other recommendations
concerning national leadership, connectivity, content, legal deposit, skills,
promotion and funding.
inquiry committee placed its hopes on future decisions by two bodies.
It urged the Cultural Ministers’ Council to reactivate a working
group to advise on library and information matters, including the development
of a national information policy. And
it suggested that the National Office of the Information Economy (NOIE) be
required to consult with the National Library of Australia on all matters
affecting the library community.
easier to call for leadership than to create it, particularly when industries
are in a state of flux. Sometimes
yearning for leadership is a reflection of the insecurities of those who seek
it. Further consideration of national leadership issues is
desirable after the release of the National Collections Advisory Forum’s
feasibility study. There may be
committee dealt with technology in terms of connectivity, rating it ‘as the
most significant practical issue’, but noted that ‘technological black
spots’ need to be addressed. In
view of the pressing need for improved broadband access in public libraries,
it urged the federal government to negotiate with telecommunications carriers
to establish a discount rate for broadband access to public libraries or
consider imposing a requirement on carriers under the Universal Service
Obligation Agreement. It also
urged that further funds be allocated for expanding broadband access in
connectivity covers wider territory than ICT rollout, the transformational
dynamics of technology are widely accepted.
OCLC’s 2003 Environmental Scan predicts that we are moving
into a period of technology change that may be as significant as the shift
from mainframe architectures to client/server architectures.
There will be a “profoundly new technology architecture landscape
within the next five years.” It
identifies the elements of an increasingly interconnected environment from
developments in the Semantic Web, grid computing and wireless technology,
which will offer new forms of collaboration and partnership.
In libraries, OCLC says, there will probably be a more plural systems
environment with less reliance on integrated library management systems.
It is desirable for librarians to be more involved in shaping these
Committee described local achievements in the management of content through
initiatives like Kinetica, AskNow, PANDORA, PictureAustralia, Australian
Subject Gateways Forum, state library networks and projects for special
It made several
recommendations for implementation by four bodies.
The National Library of Australia should be given additional funding to
facilitate wider access to Kinetica and to identify key databases for which
licences might be
desirable. NOIE was urged to
consult closely with the library community on the development of the register
of Australian Government publications, publicise public libraries as Internet
access points in its online register; and commission research on public
awareness of government information and the means of access to it.
The Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts
was urged to expand its heritage digitisation programs, particularly to major cultural institutions.
And the new Australian Research Information Infrastructure Committee (ARIIC)
was asked to consider making Australian postgraduate theses more accessible,
something that is already on its agenda.
inquiry defined public
information as information made freely available for
public use and information made available for a fee, a definition with a
acknowledged that significant issues need to be addressed, including the
development of guidelines for collaborative archiving and preservation of a
range of electronic resources, collaboration with publishers to promote best
practice, the development of streamlined user-friendly access methods, and the
handling of dynamic databases.
management of digital cultural assets and online information services in
Australia will no doubt feed off the broader vision and more urgent tone of
European and American studies and commentaries dealing with public and private
sources, scholarly information and cultural heritage material.
inquiry focused on public libraries, a deficiency acknowledged by the UK
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA, formerly Resource), which was
nudged into the Wider Information and Library Issues Project (WILIP)
after its Framework for the Future report was criticised for being
piecemeal in its approach.
Lynch warns of an emerging crisis in preserving digital cultural heritage
because of the shifting responsibilities over preservation and access.
But he also warns against forced, premature solutions.
GE Gorman provokes questions on the merits of
many digitisation programs in his article Can we afford it? Is it worth it?
How do we decide?, questions answered in more detail by Diane Zorich’s A
Survey of Digital Cultural Heritage Initiatives and Their Sustainability
calls for rationalisation and the adoption of better business practices.
runs its highlighter over the central issue: “The question is not what should be digitised and
preserved, it is how we together, as a community of libraries and allied
organisations, move our trusted circle closer to information consumers at the
level of their need.”
failure, those pulling the big levers will presumably take note of the
cynicism and concerns of colleagues recorded in the OCLC environmental scan.
no more substance behind ‘digital preservation’ than there was behind
‘print preservation’. We all
talk about how important it is and we don’t do either.
Besides, there’s no money for preservation of any type…Why preserve
something that is not durable in the first place?…Access licences have
effectively taken the discussion of preservation out of the realm of the
possible—we don’t own the content and we can’t archive it…We’re all
saving the same stuff—we need a national last copy and preservation
Beagrie, in his background paper for the US National Digital Information
Infrastructure and Preservation Program, anticipated these concerns in
concluding that digital preservation is poorly funded in relation to the scale
of the challenge. Institutions have received little or no additional core
funding to address digital preservation.
Funds have been made more widely available to provide digital access
than digital preservation. Preservation
must be dealt with early in a work's lifecycle, or valuable materials could be
widely held view that the problem can only be solved by national regimes is a
fixture of major plans. The
European Commission’s Digicult Report calls for the establishment of
intermediary organisations, the development of business models to create
revenue, reduce risk and explore niche markets, and the development of
capacity, networks and portals to facilitate widespread participation.
Library of Congress, now with US$100 million from the Congress under its belt
for its program, acknowledges the scale of the task.
Its initial work will focus on establishing
a national network of committed partners, with defined roles and
responsibilities, to address selection and collection development,
intellectual property, business models, standards, practice and preservation
architecture. The US
Congress is also considering a report “to transform learning and training
for the 21st Century” through a Digital Opportunity Investment Trust,
partially funded by a portion of the proceeds from the sale of electromagnetic
Australian library sector displayed clear-sightedness in pre-Internet days
when in 1994 the ACLIS Task Force on Preservation of Electronic Information
released its position paper. “If
we are to accept the preservation of Australian-related electronic records as
a responsibility of libraries, archives and museums, then we most recognise
that we shall be preserving an increasingly diminishing and increasingly less
significant proportion of our documentary heritage. If other organisations respond to the challenge, libraries
will become increasingly marginalised and irrelevant. If other organisations do not respond, then a progressively
larger proportion or Australia’s documentary heritage will be lost.”
difficulty of the task is underscored by results in regulated environments.
Preservation of Australian government information is controlled by new
legislation, standards and guidelines. Auditable
requirements are designed to address the ‘black holes’ in government
recordkeeping systems as a result of the increased use of PCs and other
factors such as multi-skilling, downsizing and outsourcing, and to give
emphasis to the use of holistic strategies for the management of business
critical information. The success
of this new regime, however, is patchy. In
the federal sphere, two recent Australian National Audit Office reports
concluded that most government organisations are not yet fully committed to
the new regime.
of digital material in less regulated environments is not yet at first base. Adrian Cunningham has for years been calling us to address a
possible crisis in non-government sectors through an Australian documentation
strategy. In October last year,
the Noel Butlin Archives organised a symposium to consider the decline of
business archives in Australia, uncertain recordkeeping and archival practices
in business organisations, and deficiencies in the transfer of material to
collecting institutions. Ross
Harvey and Anne Lloyd are compiling a list of Australia’s lost and missing
documentary heritage for the Memory of the World Project.
senate inquiry did not consider legal deposit and intellectual property rights
in sufficient detail to form a definitive view, but urged that the extension
of legal deposit to digital materials be taken on board in the current review
of the Copyright Amendment (Digital Agenda) Act 2000.
It seems unlikely that deliberations on the act will get bogged down on
important, if thorny questions about the efficiency and effectiveness of
managing the process.
online environment, the task of managing traditional material does not stop.
In noting the widespread
confusion and a lack of consensus on how to balance digital and non-digital
worlds, OCLC records
major concerns: “Librarians
are way too focused on published material - they should leave that to the
Amazons and concentrate on the hard stuff…Special collections need to be
liberated and desegregated …We need to provide what the market wants but we
haven’t established what that is…Simple indexing and ranking are good
enough for open Web resources— get over the cataloging issue!”
But it quotes Clifford Lynch in calling for
security blankets to be discarded: “We must be careful not to overly
emphasise the parts of this knowledge ecosystem that are familiar, that we are
comfortable with intellectually, socially and economically, to the exclusion
of the new, the unfamiliar, the disturbing, the confusing.”
Reich and Herkovic in What Is a Library Anymore, Anyway? say it is
better to be safe than sorry, when they point to Stanford University’s work
on LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe).
Duplication and redundancy is a virtue, they say.
Any system or environment that rests on a single point of access is
subject to failure.
examining the issue of access to online material, the inquiry noted the impact
of the online world on the provision of services in universities and it
acknowledged priorities for action in the Higher Education Information
Infrastructure Advisory Committee report, issues now being addressed by ARIIC.
It noted an initiative, as an example of possible government action in
the future, of the Australian Department of Health and Ageing in providing
free Internet access to an online medical database.
In forming its recommendations, it said that it had received divided
opinion about the merits of national site
licences and it looked towards a maturing marketplace to produce more widely
accepted options for managing fees, costs and services.
on subject gateways and portals centred on the Australian Subject Gateways
Forum’s activities and on work by the higher education sector, which
acknowledges the need for better management of subject gateways by university
and research agencies. There was
no mention, however, of portal projects emanating from NOIE.
Nor was their any consideration of the use of portals as devices for
stimulating wider collaboration between governments, businesses, universities
and libraries, revealing flaws in the way information is handled and creating
opportunities to transform services.
inquiry applauded the profession’s commitment to upgrading its own skills
and its efforts to develop skills in others.
It noted perceptions about the relevance of librarians in a changing
information industry workforce, concerns about an ageing profession, the
increased emphasis on ICT components in undergraduate and postgraduate
courses, the decline in those undertaking library courses, the need for better
ICT skills in librarians and the importance of continuing education and
it confined its recommendations to encouraging ongoing research on adaptive
technologies for the use of online equipment in public libraries by persons
It is an
area that the profession itself must address.
The Museums, Libraries and Arcbives Council, drawing on conclusions in Towards
a Strategy for Workforce Development, calls for a thorough overhaul of
professional educational needs in the UK and better co-ordination between the
various bodies involved in workforce development to confront a ‘cultural malaise’ and address shortfalls in leadership,
management, advocacy, technology and commercial skills. In
Australia, the Australian Library and Information Association, Australian
Society of Archivists and Records Management Association of Australia are
responding to the realities of the marketplace and changes in university
education by tinkering with membership classifications, certification and
training issues. Create
Australia’s new museum and library and information services training package
reflects the changing language of competency.
Amalgamation of the IT-led information disciplines continues to be
evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
literacy is an imperative that is rated highly by the profession, but is it an
overblown concept that attracts misdirected energy and expenditure?
the ‘digital divide’ drives the World Summit on the Information
Society’s agenda and similar programs.
a global need: wealthy nations are rapidly accruing the advantages of the
global IT revolution, but less that 7 % of the world’s population is online
and less than 20% has access to a telephone.
About 99.7 % of the population of the industrialised world can read and
write, but in poor countries national literacy rates are as low as 25%.
senate report accepts this societal need, even for a country with high
literacy. Libraries, it says,
have a significant role to play because they are one of the very few
organisations to which a majority of the population belongs.
“They have already made a highly valuable contribution,
unobtrusively, to an information-literate Australia but must be able to
maintain and improve their services, particularly with regard to training and
outreach activities, to continue their good work.”
ALIA, the Council of Australian University Librarians and the Council
of Australian State Libraries all have policies or standards promoting the
value of information literacy to members and a wider constituency.
overload is also touted as a cause for library action.
It has become difficult to differentiate between quality material and
dross, the argument goes. According
to one report, it has caused an 8 per cent drop in productivity.
Bawden, Holtham and Courtney, in examining
its multiple and complex causes and solutions, say that, although information
overload is an overused concept, it is a real and continuing issue. But,
enforced standardisation of information literacy as a well-meaning attempt to
overcome overload, they say, may do more harm than good.
Oppenheim also temper enthusiasm on the matter: although there is widespread
acceptance that the digital divide is a problem and universal access is
desirable, the efficacy of initiatives to address these issues is unproven.
GE Gorman encapsulates information literacy as a trendy replacement for
professional competence and user education.
Some authors suggest that work on intelligent search agents and
interfaces may be more deserving of effort.
And Krystyna Weinstein, no doubt influenced by the principles of
knowledge management, says that, as people become less able to absorb all
available information and knowledge, they should give themselves permission to
not know, then work with others who might know.
professional people and senior citizens work and relax without disadvantage in
the absence of a computer or an Internet connection.
The educational system is continuing to develop skills in locating
information and thinking critically.
The benefits of assisting the elderly or immobile to shop, bank and
chat online may be considerable. Librarians
need to continue to help people use their services.
In Australia, information literacy may be more of a commercial
opportunity than a social obligation.
inquiry observed that, although public libraries are used by a majority of the
Australian population, their ability to assist users to harness the potential
of online services has not been adequately
There should be much more promotion of what libraries have to offer,
“above and beyond their role as a supplier of recreational reading.”
It encouraged federal and state governments to include statements about
the availability of further information in public libraries when promoting
will be helpful, but will hardly address the complexities of marketing a
sector with diverse products and services.
Nor will it address the need for more effective advocacy to influence
decisions by governments, businesses and colleagues.
libraries rely almost entirely on government funding.
There is currently no recurrent federal funding to public libraries,
except for commitments to the National Library of Australia and grants through
programs like Networking the Nation. The
federal government also supports, indirectly, libraries in the education
sector, although the precise amount, according to the senate report, is a
mystery. Bequests and corporate donations play an insignificant role
in Australian library operations - few libraries have a high enough profile to
attract corporate sponsors.
raise less than 10% of their income from user charges.
as public libraries are concerned, local government is now carrying a
disproportionate share of funding, compared with a more equitable situation in
the 1970s, when state governments contributed up to 50% in some cases.
Where there is shared responsibility for public library funding between
state and local government, the committee recommended that the states increase
their share of public library funding to match local government levels of
expectations were discouraged. Funding,
the committee warned, is about “recasting an existing shrinking pie.”
published by OCLC stimulate thoughts on how the federal government might
attempt to recast the shrinking pie. Australia’s
spending on information and communication technologies as a percentage of GDP
ranks second behind Colombia and ahead of Singapore, the UK and Japan. It also
ranks very highly in terms of library spending as a percentage of GDP (third
after South Korea and the United Kingdom) and in terms of per capita library
spending (second behind the UK). But
it ranks 12th in terms of education
spending, behind Saudi Arabia, Norway, Malaysia, France, South Africa and a
string of other countries.
funds within libraries is a matter for librarians rather than governments. The
OCLC report shows striking similarities across countries. In broad terms,
about 53% of annual operating funds is spent on staff as the primary asset,
27% on traditional stock, 3% on electronic content and annual electronic
subscriptions, and 17% on other areas, mainly facilities and administration.
predicts that funding
for libraries, museums and other institutions reliant on the public purse may
continue to decline in the short term. Traditional
opportunities for economies of scale – such as copy cataloguing – have
dried up because of changes to content formats.
It calls for, among other strategies, flexible e-commerce models and
better handling of financial issues.
its WILIP report, says that, although libraries don’t have enough money to
meet current demands, a bidding culture is wastefully generating too many
overlapping pilot projects. Its
call for sustainable models is underscored in more detail by Diane Zorich in
her report on digital cultural heritage initiatives.
Several reports stress the need for libraries to make more visible the
value of services and the cost
of delivering that value.
limited scale of its research, the narrowness of its field of vision, and the
uncertainties of the online environment made it difficult for the committee to
draw far-reaching conclusions. But
at least the inquiry provided the library sector with another opportunity to
consolidate its thoughts and engage in conversation with influential
committee was uncertain about the report’s impact.
Referring to the example of past parliamentary reports, it
said “Governments of all persuasions have hastened slowly to respond to
calls for improved library services.”
The chances that government decision makers will adopt its
recommendations seem less certain in an election year.
in the online environment will depend, by and large, on further action by
in the Online Environment, Part 1: Contexts