Home Contents
Chapter One: Access to knowledge, imagination and learning Chapter Two: Listening to the people Chapter Three: Skills for the new librarian Chapter Four: Network infrastructure Chapter Five: Investment and income Chapter Six: Copyright and licensing issues Chapter Seven: Performance and evaluation Chapter Eight: Implementation - creating the momentum Chapter Nine: A summary of recommendations and costs Appendices

1 Appendix
An international


This report has identified ways in which the UK Public Library Network will contribute to the transformation of the United Kingdom into an information society. This appendix provides a brief literature review of some of the reports in which governments around the world have given their views on the importance of the information society, and the role that libraries will play in bringing this about. The reports were typically very high-level visionary documents that suggested policy developments.

The reports used for this review were identified through a literature search of the Internet and print sources. Twenty-four documents from fourteen separate countries were used in its preparation. The survey was limited to documents published in English; countries that had produced suitable reports but had not made them available in English have not been included. Nearly all of the reports cited are available on the World Wide Web, and where possible Web addresses are provided in the references. The reports are cited by their country of origin in this review. The references are also ordered by the country of origin of the reports.

The literature review is in eight sections:
  1. What is the information society?

  2. Reasons for developing an information society

  3. Visions of the information society

  4. Barriers to the development of the information society

  5. Overcoming the barriers to the information society

  6. Some roles for the public library

  7. Brief summary

  8. References

What is the information society?

Of the reports surveyed, very few actually offered an exact definition of the information society. Generally there was a recognition that society is about to undergo a 'revolution where there will be an explosion in the amount and exchange of information' (Denmark). This revolution is taking place due to the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs)(EU 1, EU 2). These technologies are therefore 'generating a new industrial revolution already as significant and far-reaching as those of the past' (EU 2).

Only one of the reports specifically defined what it meant by the term 'information society:

The term 'information society' describes an economy and a society in which the acquisition, storage, processing, transmission, dissemination and utilisation of knowledge and information, including the ever- growing technical possibilities inherent in interactive communication, play a decisive role. (Germany 1).

Reasons for developing
an information society

None of the reports in any way argued that a government should act to prevent the development of an information society within its country. It was universally accepted that society is going to develop in this way on a global scale, and that action must be taken to prepare for the great changes ahead as soon as possible. There is a widespread fear that unless a country develops its own information society as soon as possible it will become actively disadvantaged in global economic terms (Finland). Other possible consequences could be that if a country does not take charge of its own developing information society it will have one imposed upon it from elsewhere in the world.

As a society we have choices to make. If we ignore the opportunities [of the information society] we run the risk of being left behind as other countries introduce new services and make themselves more competitive: we will become consumers of other countries' content and technologies rather than our own. (Australia)

This could have a very large negative impact on the culture of a country, as it may be swamped by that of the global society (Iceland, Australia). These fears are stated very clearly in a Canadian document:

If we fall behind our trading partners in building our Information Highway, its worldwide counterpart will come to Canada - later - and not the way Canadians want to see it. Failure to seize the opportunity of using Canada's Information Highway will also result in reduced competitiveness and the loss of high-growth knowledge industries and high-quality jobs. The social costs in terms of lost job opportunities will be enormous. Our national cultural dialogue will languish and our governments will be less able to keep up with the rapidly changing realities of the electronic age. (Canada 1)

Visions of the information society

The visions of the information society can be divided into two types. Firstly, many reports had visionary statements which detailed the aspirations of how the information society should impact upon a country. These aspirations were very high-level and very grand, and can perhaps be considered the equivalent of a mission statement. The second type of vision was much more pragmatic and looked at the potential impact on certain areas of life. These included the impact on the economy, the way that citizens can interact with their governments, and most importantly the way society will have to become based on lifelong learning.

Grand aspirations

The grand aspirations typically state that the country will:
  1. become a leader in the development of the information society (USA 1);

  2. develop an advanced society based on networking (Finland);

  3. build a stronger sense of community and sense of national identity (USA 1);

  4. become a lifelong learning society (EU 1);

  5. grow in economic terms (Canada 2);

  6. enable citizens to participate more actively in government (Ireland);

  7. give every citizen access to the networks upon which the information society will depend (Thailand).

Perhaps the grandest statement of this type can be found in the report from Singapore entitled IT 2000 - A Vision of an Intelligent Island:

IT 2000 aims to transform Singapore into an Intelligent Island, where the use of information technology is pervasive in every aspect of its society - at work, home and play. Singaporeans will be able to tap into a vast well of electronically stored information and services which they can use to their best ends - to improve their business, to make their work easier and to enhance their personal and social lives. Singapore, the Intelligent Island, will be a global centre for science and technology, a high value location for production and a critical node in global networks of commerce, communications and information. (Singapore 1)

A lifelong learning society

The majority of the reports envisage that the information society will need to be a lifelong learning society - where, irrespective of their physical location, individuals must continue to develop new skills and take part in education courses. This is stated very clearly in a Canadian document:

In the new global economy, where knowledge is the key resource, the quality of the nation's human resources is critical to ensuring competitiveness, For this reason lifelong learning is a key design element of the Information Superhighway. The Key to Prosperity in the knowledge economy is for workers to make intelligent use of information. Learning must span all our working lives. Technology will make that possible. (Canada 2)

Teaching and training will become more easily available over the networks, and consequently will be more accessible to more people. New methods of learning will be made possible, as personal interaction with a teacher may no longer be required (Germany 1).

Economic impact

The information society is seen as having a major impact on the way that businesses operate. The market in which business takes place will be opened up on a global scale (Iceland), and, in order to be able to compete, businesses will need to have access to the latest technology. There will be a move towards more 'knowledge-based' activities, and there will be job losses in some more 'traditional' areas of employment. However, many new jobs will be created in the knowledge industries, and there will be a constant need for retraining and reskilling of the workforce (Canada 1).

As more resources become available online, more people will be able to and will chose to work from home (Ireland). This will lead to the development of 'virtual' communities, as people will socialise over the networks. Membership of these communities will not be limited by the geographical location of their members.

Working from home also has implications for the traditional employee/employer dichotomy:

The emphasis will change from training to become an employee to acquiring skills which are marketable. Thus, increasingly, people will look for 'customers' instead of employers. Relevant skills will be largely based on the new technologies. (Ireland).


The information society will have a population that is able more effectively to interact with its governments. Public information will be more easily accessible, and citizens will be able more effectively to participate in decision-making (EU 1). Denmark in particular has a strong vision of the new ways in which the government will be accessible and responsible to its people. This vision includes the principle that all 'official publications with public promulgations will change to electronic form' (Denmark).

Home entertainment

Increasingly homes will be equipped with the new communications technologies, including access to the Internet. There will be a rise in home shopping through the convergence of television and communication technologies.

Barriers to the development
of the information society

The reports identified barriers that are preventing countries from developing into information societies. These barriers are:
  1. lack of public awareness about the information society and the information superhighway;

  2. lack of access to the information superhighway;

  3. lack of training to make the most of the new technologies;

  4. legal and technical difficulties which exist;

  5. lack of infrastructure on which the necessary networks will run.

Lack of public awareness/use

A barrier that is frequently identified in the reports is the lack of public awareness of the information society and the information superhighway, and of the potential impact they will have on many aspects of society. This lack of awareness means that businesses in particular are not developing networked services and will not be prepared for the move to the global economy.

That consumers are not yet active enough on the information superhighway is partly responsible for the low number of commercial services available. This is leading to a vicious circle whereby many consumers do not use the information superhighway as it carries no services in which they are interested, and companies are not providing networked services because there are not yet enough consumers to use them (Netherlands).

Lack of access

Only those who have access to a networked computer will be able fully to participate in the information society. This participation is therefore limited to those who either can afford a computer or can get access through their place of work or education. The lack of universal access is seen as an extremely important barrier to overcome. All the reports identify that without universal access the information society which develops will be undemocratic, as it will be split into 'information haves and have-nots' (EU 2). The commitment to ensuring universal access is stated very strongly in many documents. One example is 'equality of opportunity is a fundamental tenet of American democracy' (USA 3). 'Opportunity' in this quote refers to access to the information superhighway.

Those who do have access to computers are often finding that the cost of using the networked services is prohibitive. This is also acting as a barrier (Denmark).

Lack of skills

Another barrier identified is the inability of people to make use of the new technology. Large sections of society currently lack the necessary skills to make use of the possibilities that the information society will hold. Providing access needs to be matched with the provision of training (Australia).

The development towards an information society must not create new inequalities between those who master the technology and understand its potential and those who refuse or are unable to make use of it. (Norway)

Legal issues

There are a number of legal issues that also act as barriers to the development of a functioning information society. Copyright issues are particularly problematic, as electronic versions of documents not only can be copied an infinite number of times but may easily be modified for reuse, making it difficult to distinguish the original (Sweden). Other questions to be addressed are authenticity of information and labour legislation in respect of the increased number of home workers, for example.

Technical barriers

There are technical barriers which still need to be overcome, such as the development of universal standards which will make all applications able to interact seamlessly. Also, services and applications tend to be designed for use by people who already have considerable technical skills (Japan 1). These services and applications are therefore not easy to use by those who have fewer technical skills (Germany 1).

Investment required/infrastructure required

There are many countries which do not currently have the necessary infrastructure to support a full-scale information society. At present the necessary infrastructure may be found only in urban areas of high population. This is particularly the case in the more rural countries such as Ireland and Thailand (Ireland, Thailand).

Overcoming the barriers
to the information society

Across the reports, there is surprising similarity in suggested policies which would assist the move into an information society. These policies generally concentrate on overcoming the barriers that have been identified above.


The public and industry will be made more aware of the information society and its implications through the adoption of two main policies. Firstly, there will be a move in several countries to set up a national government-funded organisation that will have responsibility for raising awareness of the information society with the public and with commercial organisations (Ireland, Iceland). Secondly, government institutions at both national and local level must start to use information and communications technologies themselves, in order to be demonstrators and so lead the way for the rest of society (Thailand, EU 2).

Since the government is an important element of the economy and society, and public services provided by the government are essential for daily life, the dissemination of information systems in the public sector serves as a basis for the same process in the overall society. (Japan 2)


The development of physical access points is generally again touched upon in two ways. There is a move to ensure that access for all who require it in their homes is available at a reasonable cost (Canada 1, EU 3). There is also a call for strong legislation or suggestions that 'local access points are needed to allow everyone to plug into the networks of knowledge and information' (EU 1). Typically these access points will be provided for free (Denmark). The location of these access points will be in public buildings such as libraries, schools and government offices. (The issue of access points in public libraries will be discussed more fully below.) These local community access points are strongly identified as having a key role to play in preventing the development of a society divided between information haves and have-nots (USA 1).


A considerable amount of attention is given to the need for all citizens to have the opportunity to develop the skills that they will require to participate fully in the information society:

It is therefore of decisive importance that adults are also offered suitable facilities for acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills irrespective of whether this is given priority by employers. (Norway)

Ways to achieve this are suggested at either a local or a national level or both. At a national level, one example is the Irish move to develop a 'national learning initiative' (Ireland). Such national initiatives generally concentrate on ensuring that all education facilities incorporate the applicable ICT into their teaching. The local-level approach concentrates on the development of the 'lifelong learning society', in which those outside institutional education will have the opportunity to develop the necessary skills over the networks or through work or local education/training initiatives (Thailand).


Policy concerning infrastructure concentrates on the details of how it will be funded. Most countries have adopted an approach that combines a mixture of public guidance and commercial money. The very influential Bangemann Report states that infrastructure must now be developed solely by commercial organisations, without 'financial assistance, subsidies, dirigisme, or protectionism' (EU 2).

Technical and legal issues

To overcome the current legal problems there are recommendations that new laws be drawn up which will simplify the situation - in particular with consideration to copyright issues (Germany 1).

One suggestion for overcoming the technical barriers is the development of a government-funded research strategy to look at these issues. This will take place in tandem with a publicity campaign to convince industry of the importance of overcoming these barriers (Canada 1).

Some roles for the public library

A number of reports identify special roles for public libraries in their information societies. The most typical roles are:
  1. public access points to the networks;

  2. providing teaching and training;

  3. assisting in knowledge resource discovery;

  4. knowledge providers.

Libraries as access points

A large number of the reports strongly identify public libraries as being highly suitable locations for public access points to the information superhighway (Australia, Canada 1, Finland, Germany 1, Sweden, Thailand, USA 1, 3).

For the large number of Danes who do not have the possibility of using a computer at work there must be alternative opportunities to become familiar with this basic tool of the information society and have access to its information network. In this respect adult education and the public libraries shall be the principal instruments. (Denmark)

Every individual in this country should have the opportunity to participate on the Information Superhighway by the year 2000. The quickest, most efficient way to do this is to bring the Information Superhighway to the neighbourhood - to schools, libraries and community centres. (USA 3)

There is often no mention of how these access points will be funded. However, there are a few reports which do call for considerable investment in the public library system in order for it to fulfil the role of the information net.

The Expert Committee saw libraries as a crucial success factor of the information society, and it recommends that the whole library system must be rapidly be brought within the reach of the network services. Adequate equipment and telecommunication links as well as the existence of necessary expertise in both research and public libraries must be guaranteed. (Finland)

The Expert Group recommends, that, with the spread of broadband infrastructure, broadband links be provided to all schools' libraries and medical and community centres by the year 2001.The Group recommends that connections be funded on a dollar-for-dollar basis by the State/Territory and Commonwealth Governments. (Australia)

Another country that explicitly states its support for libraries is Singapore. As part of Library 2000, Singapore's public libraries will be redeveloped so they can support the island's information society more effectively. This will involve creating a

'network of libraries without walls' that enables access to information and resources from anywhere at any time. To do this, 500 libraries and information centre will be linked by a computer network which will connect them to overseas libraries and databases. (Singapore 2)

Librarians as teachers/trainers

Public libraries are identified as places where people can gain the skills that they need to play a part on the information superhighway. The first scenario of how this might happen is an extension of the access point role whereby the library acts as the means through which people get access to the training provided over the information superhighway (Denmark, Australia). The second scenario is librarians themselves providing the training which will be required (Canada 2).

Public access points will be vital training mechanisms, but formal training mechanisms may also be needed for some key community trainers such as librarians and teachers. (Australia)

Knowledge managers

Public libraries are identified as being important managers of the new information resources - or, in the terms of the Swedish report, 'information pilots of the future in the ocean of knowledge'. The Danes more explicitly spell out this role:

The libraries' role and working conditions shall be re-evaluated in the light of a development where electronic publications gradually take over the role of magazines and books. The libraries shall act as intermediaries and play a leading role in helping users to navigate through an increasing flood of information. (Denmark).

This role is also seen as vitally important in Singapore:

In the age of information overload, the job of the librarian in the next century will be to point us in the right direction, where to look and help concentrate the information that we need, and to do all this in an attractive, even entertaining, way. (Singapore 3)

It is interesting to note here that the emphasis in Singapore is not only to provide new services, but also to provide them in a 'customer-orientated' manner (Singapore 3).

Making content available

Another role foreseen for libraries (not just specifically public libraries) is that of information providers. There are recommendations in a number of reports that library content - i.e. libraries' books and other resources - be made available in electronic form.

Emphasis should be placed on making all book and magazine files in the country's libraries accessible to everyone in electronic form. (Iceland)

Although again not specifically mentioning public libraries, there are recommendations that the collections of cultural institutions be available in digital form. A Canadian report states that

collections have been built, preserved and made available at public expense. They document and allow us to appreciate the cultural diversity and wealth of expression which is Canada. Digitalisation of these collections offers a unique opportunity to make them available to Canadians across the country. (Canada 1)

Brief summary

  1. The reports that were used in this review uniformly revealed a sense of urgency in the need to prepare for the development of the information society.

  2. Visions of this society are surprising similar, irrespective of the country of origin. The information society will be one that needs to be based on lifelong learning.

  3. There are a number of barriers which need to be overcome - one of the most important being the lack of universal access to the information superhighway.

  4. Very similar policies are being developed globally in order to overcome these barriers. These policies will concentrate on raising awareness, putting training mechanisms in place, ensuring that universal access is possible, and developing the necessary infrastructure.

  5. Public libraries are being seen not only as a means to implement these policies, but also as a vitally important component of an effective information society:

In the 21st century, the basis of all wealth and achievement will be knowledge and culture. The cities which contribute most to human civilisation will be those which are best able to educate and organise their people, attract talent from all over the world, make use of available existing knowledge, originate new knowledge and apply them sensibly. Public libraries of a new kind will play a vital role in creating and sustaining such dynamic human communities. (Singapore 3)


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Home Contents
Chapter One: Access to knowledge, imagination and learning Chapter Two: Listening to the people Chapter Three: Skills for the new librarian Chapter Four: Network infrastructure Chapter Five: Investment and income Chapter Six: Copyright and licensing issues Chapter Seven: Performance and evaluation Chapter Eight: Implementation - creating the momentum Chapter Nine: A summary of recommendations and costs Appendices

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