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By Paul Bentley

Email to ALIA2002 e-list forum 17 May 2002 and subsequently printed in the Australian Library Journal August 2002

Today could be the last day to float something, so I'd like give emphasis to one agenda item and put two more questions on the big electronic white board before the time runs out and in anticipation of answers in due course. 


Neil McLean, in his consolidation, Information Futures Professional Issues, suggests that the main focus of the conference will be "identifying strategic options for consideration by ALIA in the development of a national information agenda".

It is widely accepted in the information management and technology textbooks and government guidelines that technology is an enabler, a means to an end. Just like libraries. Yet the words of a 1996 JISC report, Guidelines for Developing an Information Strategy, continue to find expression in information project wash-ups: 

"most IS/IT strategies suffer from...the following shortcomings: they tend to be technology driven, in the understandable rush to exploit new developments and end with wish-lists for new technology...[and] they have a tendency to seek ways of using technology to improve current processes rather than to make a fundamental reassessment of the way teaching, learning and (less so) research is undertaken."       

No need to dwell on the burst dotcom bubble.

At the same time, information technology and technologists are often misrepresented in corridor talk and library literature as machines and techies rather than as information handling problem solvers comprising a mixture of information inventors, strategists, designers, analysts and technicians. Sometimes we even claim that they have taken over our turf - turf we never really owned. 


An informative summary of government approaches to information strategy in the UK, US, Canada and New Zealand was presented at Peak Bodies Forum at the National Library in February. There was some conjecture on whether information strategies really worked.  Indeed, the above JISC report suggests that information strategy 'is more a state of mind'.  No specific actions were decided in relation to the library sector's involvement in the development of such a strategy.

Information strategy in Australia has been shaped in recent years by DCITA and NOIE plans like Networking the Nation and Backing Australia's Ability. We can probably even go as far back as the pre-Web CD ROM-oriented Creative Nation. The latest iteration, Framework for the Future, will be completed by the end of 2002.

The PR material suggests that we may be given the opportunity to repeat the JISC concerns in 2003.  The terms of reference send warning signals that the project is an inward-looking exercise about the ICT sector - more about boosting capability and seizing opportunities than addressing macro information management issues. Information industry definition seems to be a root problem. But maybe the language of the terms of reference belies the interests, capacity for broadness of thought and capabilities of those on the Steering Committee.

The Steering Committee has representatives from Australian companies and global corporations, Australian research bodies like the CSIRO and DSTO, associations like the Australian Information Industry Association and the university sector, but no-one from the library and kindred industry sectors.     


Should we be at the big table?

Neil McLean, in the October 2001 issue of Incite, referring I think to another planning forum, said: "The fact remains that very few librarians are involved in this current round of initiatives and this should be a cause for some disquiet within our ranks." 

Why aren't we?

Such a question calls for us to turn the Perry Como song around and accentuate the negatives rather than the undeniable positives. Are we too radical? Too disinterested? Uninterested? Seen as a bit player? Our language is too vague? Is it because we are wall flowers or something like that? Perhaps our niche is the tactics table rather than the strategy table? Dot, dot, dot.

One of the Framework for the Future Steering Committee members, Dr Terry Cutler, in his conference talk, Making Australia a Knowledge Economy, will be "identifying the issues and the information requirements that need to be addressed to ensure that Australia becomes a more innovative and effective society, and what part library and information professionals can play." So maybe the answers will emerge from this talk. 

If they don't, worth asking in the Q&A session? 


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