IN THE SAND:
the year of uncertainty
poking sticks in the sand
taking stock and taking action?
main theme to emerge from the Information Online and On Disc Conference held
in Sydney in January 1999 was sustaining information services in an age of
uncertainty, according to leading trend spotter, Neil McLean, University
Librarian, Macquarie University.
What were some of the perceptions and predictions then, has the sand
shifted over the last two years, and will the picture be any clearer at the
Information Online Conference in January 2001?
THE YEAR OF UNCERTAINTY
to McLean, the main issues driving the information industry were:
the Internet, the
greatest cottage industry in the word (Web metrics are important; more
discussion is needed on how to make the most of it)
knowledge management (is
it a legitimate concept or – using a phrase from one of the presenters -
(intellectual capital and pricing models are too fuzzy)
e-commerce (is there
anything of value in the call centre approach?)
digital libraries (a
promising area, but what are they anyway? Clunky infrastructure problems
need to be overcome.)
metadata (the jury is
still out; will it only work when it is automated?)
resource discovery (the
provision of integrated services is still a fuzzy area; relevance is a
challenge; there will be a return to subject approaches).
an extended off-the-cuff summary at the conclusion of the conference, McLean
urged participants to: take comfort in the uncertainty, find a new centre of
gravity, think long term, re-think paradigms, form new alliances, rethink
architectures, examine intermediary roles, and match people with new
opportunities and resources.
Reinforcing McLean’s thoughts on
intermediaries, Tony Barry, of Ningaui, the library, electronic publishing and
internet consulting company, predicted that libraries
will be by-passed or take on a more advisory role, major search engines will
go down the gurgler, there will be a rise in specialised indexes and some
things won’t go electronic.
Lyman, Professor of the School of Information Management and Systems,
University of California, Berkeley, focussed on the virtual organisation,
around the clock services and intellectual
property. Technology, he said,
does not produce productivity gains, but does drive changes in the way work is
organised. The trick will be to
create a sense of community in people with shared interests and values, who
are likely to be greater risk-takers and more honest, and who see each other
only from time to time. The
twenty four hour day will become a reality through increased follow-the-sun
work transfer. Intellectual
property is the critical issue, the three existing models (rented, gift,
copyright) will be replaced by a new model.
POKING STICKS IN THE SAND
In the two years since the
last conference, we sense the paradox of further convergence and ever
fragmenting approaches, roles and tools.
information services research
Peter Brophy in his Digital
Library Research Review, published by the British Library Research and
Innovation Centre in 1999, pointed to new information service models, projects
and large R&D investments, mainly in Europe and the USA.
Issues covered included content,
retrieval, authentication and authorisation, delivery, interoperability,
customers, accessibility, integration, economics and skill development.
underscored the importance of context and relationships in describing the
parallel activities of commercial players, governments, legacy systems and
cultures in areas such as broad
spectrum, standards, digital TV, push services, publisher-led electronic
publications, electronic commerce, IT infrastructure, the information society,
lifelong learning, globalisation and the transition from a traditional library
model (acquire-catalogue-hold-lend-withdraw) to a digital library paradigm
Issues identified as worthy
of further study included user and non-user needs, the role of the digital
library in teaching and learning, information overload, and interoperability
standards between services offered by memory institutions such as libraries,
archives and museums.
The Australian information
The direction of the
information industry in Australia is shaped by the work of the Department of
Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, the Cultural Ministers
Council, the National Office of the Information Economy (NOIE) and state-based
equivalents of the NSW Department of Information Technology & Management.
In the same month as the 1999
Information Online Conference, the Australian Government released A
Strategic Framework for the Information Economy, articulating its vision
for an innovative Australia as:
maximising opportunities for all Australians to benefit from the
delivering the education and skills Australians need to participate in
the information economy
advancing the growth of a world class infrastructure for the
increasing significantly the use of electronic commerce by Australian
developing a legal and regulatory framework to facilitate electronic
promoting the integrity and growth of Australian content and culture in
the information economy
developing Australian information industries
unlocking the potential of the health sector
influencing the emerging international rules and conventions for
implementing a world class model for delivery of all appropriate
government services online
developing a regional information economy
The role of librarians and
One thing that is apparent
from a quick glance at the NOIE management and advisory structure and planning
reports is the absence of libraries, librarians and their associations.
The information industry means hardware and software.
Libraries are tucked away in the cultural sector.
Library associations and
special interest groups, to some extent because of their largely voluntary
nature, have interesting social dynamics but weak business processes.
They tend to lack rigor and are hampered by cumbersome planning and
decision-making modus operandi. They
need better inventories of their assets and liabilities.
In challenging creaky old ways, intense sideway
glances at environmental contexts and other associations may pay dividends.
The Australian Library &
Information Association (ALIA) is in the middle of a restructure that aims to
facilitate a more integrated approach to the dual interests of institutions
To establish a new direction,
it will seek to clarify its role and relationships, differentiate
and balance a range of industry and member dynamics and interests
(institutions, individuals, locations, subjects, functions, competencies and
experiences) and create approaches to facilitate service, opportunity,
visibility and influence.
TAKING STOCK AND TAKING ACTION?
Information Online Conference and Exhibition in January 2001 will help us take
stock once again.
up the threads of 1999 under the theme Digital Dancing: New Partners, New
Steps, the conference will bring to Australia eminent international
colleagues like Mary Ellen Bates of Bates Information Services in the USA;
Clare Hart from Factiva; Stevan Harnard, Professor of Cognitive Science at
Southhampton University and Greg Notess, associate professor and reference
librarian at Montana State University-Bozeman.
Local speakers will deliver presentations on e-commerce, electronic
publishing, copyright, Dublin Core, CORC, XML, knowledge management,
partnerships, IT competencies, digital libraries, information literacy, search
engines, portals, vortals, subject gateways and information clumps, internet
filtering and other topics. The
Tips and Tricks sessions will offer practical advice on subjects such as
cascading style sheets and metadata. Neil
McLean will chair a panel which will wrap up the conference by exploring
partnerships for sustainable online services.
large trade exhibition and product review sessions will provide a convenient
forum to sample the wares of leading publishers, vendors and services such as
Factiva, 3M, Apple, Infosentials, National Library of Australia, Standards
Australia; State Library of NSW, Thomson Financial, Enterprise Information
Management Pty Ltd, Zenith Management Services and other important players in
1999, Peter Lyman reminded us that, so far, technology has not produced
productivity gains. Senator
Richard Alston, when reporting on progress in relation to the Australian
information economy strategy, emphasised that the Government’s vision for
the information economy is actually predicated on anticipated productivity
gains to boost national income and living standards.
To realise this vision and
avoid the risk articulated by Lyman, could it be that governments will need to
go deeper into underlying information management problems before articulating
technological and e-commerce solutions?
To gain a more prominent
position on the information industry map, could it be that libraries, a means
rather than an end, will need to seek identification with the information
industry rather than the cultural industry?
Could it be that library
associations and their members will need to reinvent themselves with greater
speed and use their conferences to greater effect?
How will the sand shift in
Article published on
the Wolanski Foundation website with kind permission of Online
Currents, covering the Australian and international online and optical