The Wolanski Foundation Project


Paper no 29









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Submission by Paul Bentley on behalf of the Wolanski Foundation 16 August 2002



The Senate has invited submissions to an inquiry on the role of libraries as providers of public information in the online environment, with particular regard to:

a)         the current community patterns of demand for public information services through libraries, including the provision of such information online.

b)         the response by libraries (public, university, research) to the changing information needs of Australians, including through the provision of online resources

c)         possible strategies which would enhance the wider use and distribution of information resources held by libraries, including the establishment of library networks, improved online access in libraries, online libraries, and greater public knowledge and skill in using library resources

d)         the use of libraries to deliver information and services over the Internet to more effectively meet community demands for public information in the online environment.

e)         the roles of various levels of government, the corporate sector and libraries themselves in ensuring the most effective use of libraries as a primary public information resource in the online environment.

This submission is made by Paul Bentley on behalf of the Wolanski Foundation, an organisation that facilitates management of performing arts information (see details appendix 2).  As a user of information, the author relies predominantly on the internet, the media, professional associations and book shops, as well as a range of library services for business and pleasure, including the local public library, a university library (to which he pays a membership fee for borrowing privileges) and a special library run by a business association.  On the internet, he frequently accesses government sites, web-enabled catalogues of libraries, online databases and e-list information generated by a diverse range of businesses and interest groups.  

This submission does not pretend to be other than a loosely-paved path.  Some aspects are based on superficial research and are tentatively offered in the interest of contributing ideas, experiences and opinions for later refinement.


The question of the future of libraries is no longer simply a question about the future of libraries.

Government information policy and action is primarily driven by the needs of Australian society and its economy.  National success is equated with moving from an old economy, based on mining, agriculture and manufacturing, to a new economy based on innovation and productive knowledge workers. 

The explosive growth of the PC and the internet has had a dramatic impact on the status of information and the way governments, educational institutions, businesses and individuals manage it.  The so-called Australian knowledge industry, currently valued at $171 billion, is expected to grow to $301 billion by 2010 (15% of GDP).

Knowledge management has drawn attention to the value of intangible assets and to the value of tacit as well as explicit information.  But its status in Australia is uncertain, possibly because it was introduced at a time when widespread  employment churn diminished corporate trust, one of its essential ingredients.

Although an innovation system is touted as the linchpin of the new economy, it has become lazily equated in common parlance with doing things differently tomorrow.  There is a belief that management of information technology has tended to focus on means over ends.  Productivity gains from technology are debateable.  But the value of technology is undeniable.

Technology has created converging approaches for managing information and roles in organisations. New recordkeeping guidelines and standards give emphasis to holistic strategies for managing business critical information and are indicative of auditable requirements for handling paper and electronic records in government organisations. But the success of this regime is patchy. And, in non-government organisations, the impact of the digital world on recordkeeping is uncertain, but may be disastrous in a cultural heritage context. The next generation may be left with black holes. 


Demand through libraries and responses by libraries

The needs, expectations and habits of users are changing in response to increased  information availability and acquisition choices.     

National, state and local government libraries and archives, as the main recipients of government funding, have been responsive to the ICT-led information revolution. Government funded museums have increased value as information repositories as well as places for aesthetic and historical objects.  Libraries and information services run by Government departments, cultural institutions and similar information services have a potentially greater role in facilitating public access to information and the preservation of national and corporate resources. 

Education is an essential element of the knowledge economy. In the digital age, scholars have enhanced their value as creators of information by developing related information structures, systems and strategies. But management of Australian higher education information is lagging behind overseas initiative. The school system is the key to a future information-savvy nation.

In business environments, information is predominantly managed by users, records managers and IT professionals rather than librarians. But libraries in this sphere offer great potential within a national information network.


Strategies for wider use of resources held by libraries, use of libraries to deliver services over the internet and the role of governments, corporate sector and libraries.


In an uncertain society, which is increasingly reliant on information for its wealth,  territorial interests, vague management and piecemeal approaches militate against efficient and effective management of information resources by the governments, organisations and individuals. While the commonly used slogan ‘content, connectivity and competencies’ is an acceptable catch-cry and key themes for managing information and technology, a more holistic approach is needed to develop and sustain Australia as a competitive force and culturally rich nation.


Australia needs a national information management plan rather than plans based on the interests of the dominant sector, the ICT industry.  

High grade research and better metrics are required to create a better understanding of trends, problems and opportunities.    

The rapid development of major industry portals may be the best way to unite scholarly, publishing, ICT, library, archive, museum interests around the common purposes of facilitating access to information and efficient and effective management of associated sources, services and systems.

The concerted development of ICT infrastructure is central to a future information strategy, but on the basis of more rigorous understanding of information gaps, inefficiencies, requirements and opportunities.  

Running libraries, archives and museums will involve more of the same, but with increased technological sophistication and a business sense as information producers and distributors and as fundamental places in the democratic landscape. This means managing and developing digital and non digital resources according to established priorities and capability and creating more efficient information access and distribution systems.  


The role of government is to align information infrastructure and strategies with national objectives, encourage efficient & effective use of information for productivity & pleasure, and encourage business-oriented collaboration between, government, library, archive, museum, media, publishing and ICT sectors, associations and private interests.

The role of libraries is to facilitate access to free, fee-based and value-added information available over the internet, in libraries and other sources and to private information which, in the medium term may be required for legal purposes and, in long term, may be important to Australia’s cultural heritage.

The role of private industry and the third sector is to make up for the shortfall and help bridge the gaps. The responsibility of professional associations is to develop the capacity of and opportunities for members and to promote their value to the nation, industries and enterprises.

The new industry truss is the network – clusters, communities of practice, centres of excellence and consortia.  Developing new collaborative mechanisms in an online environment will require big thinking, a business orientation, international linkages and incentives to stimulate synergies and negate territorial forces and piecemeal approaches.

The full submission and a supplementary paper submitted in May 2003 are available as submissions 117 and 177a on the committee pages of the Australian Parliament House website at


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