Fees for Library Services (Abelsnes)
Kristine Abelsnes quotes the Unesco Public Library Manifesto: "The public library shall in principle be free of charge." The public library must be supported by specific legislation and financed by national and local governments. Libraries are an essential component of any long-term strategy for culture, information provision, literacy and education. Library service is a common good, and free access to information is the backbone of a free and democratic society. Publicly funded libraries are most of all political instruments; they are not businesses.
However, there is a conflict between ideals and economic realities. The dilemma is that library fees can exclude some users, but not charging fees may exclude some special services that in turn may create revenue for basic services. We strive for equal access but even small fees discriminate between users, decreasing library use especially among children and young people. We see a trend in rich countries to protect so-called basic services and charge for supplemental services. However there is no consensus as to what services are basic and what services are special. What is expensive today may be cheap tomorrow, and what seems extra today may be considered basic in the near future. Furthermore once a library charges for one thing, it is easier to decide to charge for something else. Some argue that fee based services generate revenue to subsidize basic services. However experience has often proven the reverse. When supplemental services do not fully recover costs, they result in the poor subsidizing the rich.
Information is not free, but libraries can make it freely available to the community. Information is more than a commodity; wide access to information can empower citizens and therefore be a method of wealth distribution. Commercial information providers have a social responsibility to their communities and public libraries. If we abandon free-of-charge public libraries, we can expect political support for our libraries to erode and even fade away. This could lead to libraries being eventually integrated into the market. This would effectively end any hope of equality of access and cede information access entirely to the commercial sector.
Recommendations. IFLA should take a strong position against fees for basic services broadly construed. IFLA should be an advocate for public libraries in their negotiations with commercial information providers, and promote a price structure based on ability to pay.
Human Resource Development (Ocholla)
Dennis Ocholla discusses library and information education in Africa and the Third World generally. He compares LIS education to the political realm, quoting Ali Mazrui"s insight that Africa has borrowed the wrong things from the West: the profit motive without entrepreneurial spirit and the acquisitive appetites of capitalism without creative risk-taking. Similarly, LIS departments are thrilled with modern information systems but apathetic to their development and maintenance. Instead of lavishly spending money on Western goods and services, it is necessary to address the plight of the information poor.
LIS departments are generally found in universities, and university graduates often dread working with the poor, the illiterate, and in rural areas. These graduates are alienated from the majority of the population who see universities as ivory towers. We must provide students with the knowledge that inculcates a service culture. Libraries can help empower the information poor in tackling their challenges and responsibilities. Graduates must understand their role in transforming the information poor into information consumers, especially because the information poor are often fragile users who are easily discouraged by elitist information providers. Such a reorientation begins with the selection of dedicated LIS students. Once enrolled, fieldwork is an excellent device for sensitizing students to work ethics and providing a sense of belonging and responsibility. Academic performance is necessary but not sufficient for advising students on various specializations. Such decisions must also take service attitude into consideration. Continuing education and informal education is a life-long process. LIS departments can reach out to their alumni and provide workshops and seminars. Keeping up these contacts can provide feedback for continuous revitalization and improvement of LIS programs. Library and information schools can be catalysts in promoting information access and use by disadvantaged communities through their products, programs and activities.
Recommendation. IFLA should encourage library and information science schools to adopt a socially responsible orientation, including the promotion of a strong service ethic towards all population groups.
The Electronic Information Gap (Kagan)
The Dakar Declaration on the Internet and the African Media (1997) called for creating a culture of online communications and ensuring African content on the Internet. Kagan cites the Declaration as just one example that people and institutions everywhere want electronic access to information and are working towards their goals. As opposed to every country"s elites, most of the world"s people must contend with all the barriers associated with poverty. Regarding electronic access, Zulu noted the following barriers: lack of adequate electricity; lack of good computer environments (dust, humidity, and heat); poorly developed telecommunications infrastructures; few qualified people to maintain equipment; large illiterate or semi-literate populations, lack of foreign exchange, language barriers, lack of national information policies, and lack of ability to upgrade obsolete equipment. Let us be mildly optimistic that solar energy, microwave and satellite technologies may prove useful in addressing these enormous problems.
Herbert Schiller has described the phenomenal growth of corporate power in the rich countries including the deregulation of economic activities, privatization of functions once public, and commercialization of activities once social. To receive assistance, poor countries must contend with the World Bank"s structural adjustment programs that mandate privatization, currency devaluation, removal of trade restrictions, cuts in subsidies, and severe reduction of services such as health and education. And such aid comes with Eurocentric cultural strings attached. Corporate media has the power to choose what ideas to present and regulate what people think and believe.
As opposed to a "public good," transnational corporations view electronic information as a commodity. Microsoft dominates personal computing and tries to control Internet content and commerce through the arrangement of selected icons on its desktop. Many have praised the Internet"s diversity and profound democratic effect, but commercialization runs in a counter direction. There are also questions of language and local content. English is the dominant Internet language, and although most countries now have at least minimum presence of the web, the great majority of content is still provided from Europe and North America. Furthermore, minorities within rich countries are also marginalized. For example, a recent study of United States students found that 73% of white students had their own computers as opposed to 32% of black students. Libraries have a social responsibility to try to equalize access to electronic information. We will need to become much more politically active within our professional associations and our societies to promote universal access to information.
Recommendations. IFLA should promote the development of local content electronic resources. IFLA should promote policies and develop programs that equalize access to the Internet.
North-South Library Cooperation (Abdullahi)
Ismail Abdullahi begins from the premise that national development necessitates the cooperation of all sectors of a national economy and the integration of economic, social and cultural advances. Development therefore requires increased access to information. The countries of the North have recognized this and use information extensively. The rapid growth of information technology is further increasing the already large gap between the information rich and poor. There is a lack of sufficient cooperation and resource sharing between North and South and a lack of development infrastructure in the South. The goals should be to remove all barriers of library resource sharing and provide equal access by any individual from any geographical location to the sum total of the world"s knowledge.
We have recently seen a high degree of interest and activity in library development and cooperation in developing countries. But Salman has recognized the following problems: lack of essential infrastructures for national information systems, shortages of skilled people, underutilized information services, unsatisfactory access to locally produced information, access to a very limited quantity of foreign and international information literature, and lack of application of new technologies. Furthermore, government monopolies have often stifled the flow of information due to unwise telecommunications policies and lack of resources. Policymakers in Africa and elsewhere often do not perceive the importance of information for national development. Librarians must work to change these attitudes to information and technology transfer.
Recommendations. IFLA should promote greater resource sharing between the North and South, including Southern links to the information superhighway. IFLA should research the education and training needs of Southern countries in order to plan the development of appropriate information infrastructures. IFLA should urge appropriate government agencies to develop policies conducive to the development of information infrastructures.
The Profession, Library Associations, and IFLA Structure
The first open meeting of the Social Responsibilities Discussion Group was held on August 16, 1998 in Amsterdam. There were a number of comments addressing IFLA"s structure and the need to mainstream the issues of social responsibility. One speaker asserted that IFLA"s Regional Sections are marginalized within Division 8, and noted that there was a proposal coming for changing the structure. It was noted that the Regional Section on Latin America and the Caribbean was holding a panel on the information gap in Amsterdam. This speaker noted that there is probably more support than we know about within IFLA. Another participant noted that such issues are pervasive in librarianship, and that many of us are librarians precisely to address such concerns. Another speaker lamented that information gap issues are hardly talked about in one of the rich country associations, the American Library Association. There was consensus that the Discussion Group should try to mainstream social responsibility issues within IFLA.
Recommendations. IFLA should reevaluate its structure in order to better address information gap issues. IFLA should compile a report on how various library associations are addressing these issues.