National Information Policy/ National IT Strategies a Survey

Hellen Niegaard
Member of the Standing Committee
(Bangkok 1999)

Introduction:

The information society generates and consumes enormous amounts of information and at the same time information technological progress has made it easier to process, store and communicate information and knowledge in new ways. Alone the ever-accelerating Internet generates innumerable quantities of information supported by a decrease in telecommunication costs as well as in hardware prices. However the large amounts of information available also creates a number of different problems, because it is difficult to assess exactly what information is available and how specific groups of citizens may get at it. What does it take to meet that development? For libraries as well as for their originators and "sponsors".

The development calls for new actions from all types of libraries including the public libraries and the way they store and make available their collections. However also for actions of more fundamental character from the authorities financing libraries and the way these authorities take advantage of libraries' services and include them in national planning, when dealing with the needs of the information society and aiming at furthering access to information for all citizens.

In the light of this situation development of a national information policy and IT-strategies are needed more than ever everywhere. As the revised edition of UNESCO's Manifesto emphasises "The public library is the responsibility of local and national authorities. It must be supported by specific legislation and financed by national and local governments. It has to be an essential component of any long-term strategy for culture, information provision, literacy and education".

A couple of years ago IFLA's Section of Public Libraries therefore decided to find out whether IFLA's member states actually have established or are developing national information policies and - or national information technology strategies. And if positive, whether they include libraries.

IFLA's Standing Committee for Public Libraries appointed mid 1995 a special ad-hoc group, to work with the NIP/NITS issue. Members: Francoise Danset, France, Peter Klinec, Slovakia, Philip Gill, UK and Hellen Niegaard, Denmark. When FD and PK left the committee in 1997, Nic Diament, France and Ilona Glashoff, Germany joined the working group.

Concept and Relevance of a National Information Policy According to UNESCO:

National Information Policies, including considerations of informatics and telematics, are the key to coping with the challenges of the Information Society.
There has to be a complete re-examination of traditional information policies in the virtual, interactive, highly volatile reality of cyberspace, particularly in the framework of legal and ethical issues. Many developing countries are now struggling to "catch-up" with the industrialised.

Countries in the terms of information policies and particularly information and communication technologies. Early, careful and organised attention to planning, designing, implementing and maintaining information policies is essential to enable Member States to effectively manage national information and informatics resources.
http://www.unesco.org/webworld/public_domain/development.html

Survey Process

In 1996/97 a survey was carried out. A questionnaire consisting of 24 questions was sent out to all national library associations or national libraries - in two rounds. Though the responses more or less represented all parts of the world and included both developed and developing countries it was decided last year in Cleveland at the Spring Meeting to make an extra effort to have more answers and thereby make the survey more representative. Therefore questionnaires have been sent out once more last summer.

Survey - Main Results and Indications

Formal conclusions so far are; Questionnaires were sent to all of IFLA's member states listed in IFLA Directory 1996-1997, almost 135 countries. 55 did reply. Of the 55 countries, 34 have either NIP, NITS or both. Of the other 21 countries, 10 are either discussing the issue or claiming that NIP/NITS are in preparation. Which means that only 11 countries are stating, that NIP/NITS is not an issue or at least is not discussed at the moment of reply.

In fact one or two more countries did reply as they said they did receive the questionnaire and would come back without doing so till now. Which means that 80 nations did not reply. The reasons for not answering may be different from country to country. Maybe the questionnaire was wrongly targeted and did not reach the relevant national institution or maybe it was too difficult. Or maybe some of the countries just decided not to answer as they had neither National information policies or National IT Strategies at that time and therefore did not report, though the questionnaire included a possibility to do so.

As to the issue, the conclusions are; Developing National Information Policies or National IT Strategies is definitely an issue. IT is forcing the agenda everywhere. In the majority of the countries having NIP/NITS, these appear to comprise a range of activities of various relevant institutions including libraries and new ways of co-operation between them as well as development aspects of IT as such. A few countries state that their policies and/or strategies only comprise library matters. Where policies and strategies are developed - it seems less difficult to develop and establish such policies and strategies than to follow up sufficiently.

Of the 55 countries (representing Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe South America) to reply 61,8 % responses are positive. 14,5% have NIP, 18,1 % have NITS and 29,2% have both either in form of different sets of "policies" but more often as a combination.
Of the last 38,2 % of the countries saying they have not NIP/NITS, 18,2 % state to be discussing the issue or that NIP or NITS are in preparation. Only 20% claim that the issue is not debated. Looking at the positive group alone, approximately 82,3% speaks about libraries in general. And of those 52,9 % specifically mention public libraries and several of them include other types of libraries as well, while 17,7% do not include libraries at all. In fact most of the positive answers include libraries and library services as an important instrument when planning the way a nation should meet and act in regard to the demands of the information society.

A very clear and both for libraries and for authorities or governments interesting response, a result that to a degree has settled with the impression that libraries and library services often are forgotten when governments and authorities deal with issues of fundamental importance to the development of their societies.

The Role of Libraries

In almost all the countries NIP and/or NITS was adopted recently (1993-1997), though a few were developed before and some are about to be adopted in 1999. Implementation and evaluation (following-up) of NIP/NTIS are almost everywhere the responsibility of National (or federal) government alone, however in a couple of countries also of local authorities. Most countries have appointed a particular body or committee to be responsible for co-ordination. Where libraries play the central role of the NIP/NITS, often the national library or a similar institution is responsible.

The role of the libraries includes of course all traditional library tasks - comprising both traditional collections and IT-services but this is not all. In short several countries see the future role of libraries as public access points to knowledge and information, "gateways to information", as a bridge between information strong and information weak citizens, as information centre toward a national IT development and as partners in processes of standardisation etc. Target groups are generally "the public in general, educational and scientific institutions, as well as national business".

NIP/NITS is put into practice in a number of ways - varying from legislation and other state initiatives to national programmes and projects. A part from a few exceptions funding derives everywhere from public budgets; state and/or local level, mostly state. To the question "What progress have been made due to NIP/NITS?" allocating of funds is together with co-ordination the most common replies. When asked about the importance of libraries being a part of NIP/NITS, answers are very positive in general, though some do underline that one thing is adopting NIP/NITS another is to make the intentions come through.

Conclusion

The survey conducted by the Public Library Section clearly indicates that National Information Policies and /or National IT Strategies are definitely an issue of interest to the library sector. All over the world IT is forcing the agenda leaving no nation untouched. The explosive development in information and communication technology has forced and will force governments all over the world to debate on the information society, it's possibilities, problems and structures. In order to contribute both to the nations and to individual's future development.

The situation calls for innovative thinking to find ways and means of preventing social isolation, first of all through improved educational efforts however also through establishment of open national information networks which will enable more people to take advantage of the benefits of the information society. Neither in human nor societal terms can any country afford not to deal with these matters and must sooner or later develop and support new communication structures, it is therefore highly relevant for them to set up and adopt national information policies and/or IT-strategies, and not least to see that such tools include all appropriate means such as the services of the libraries. As demonstrated in the survey libraries can and should play an active role in the current development.

The international society: United Nations and UNESCO as well as international organisations such as IFLA must not neglect this development but should take actively part in the debate, pointing out possibilities and dangers to be considered. In particular since these technologies are global and of global influence.

Recommendations to PB in 1999

Survey results do indicate that National Information Policies and/or National IT Strategies is an important tool for nations dealing with the information society and that library development should be closely connected to such plans and strategies. In order to encourage development of NIP/NITS in it's member states and since libraries are not always incorporated IFLA should consider new steps of action to further access to the information, knowledge and culture via library collections and services.

One first step of action should be a formal invitation to UNESCO to revise and extend UNESCO's guidelines on national information policies: Handbook on the Formulation, Approval, Implementation and Operation of a National Policy on Information (First edition, revised edition from1997) as its recent version mostly focus on cyberspace and does not cope with current development within the fields of libraries as regards information technology, their IT tools and sources nor the traditional library structures, which indeed do offer appropriate possibilities according to the survey results. Nor do the handbook include the general public as a target group very clearly. It mostly focus on information in regard to scientific or industrial use, though the latest edition itself is quoting UNESCO's Henrikas Yushkiavitshus (Assistant Director General responsible for the Sector for Communication, Information and Informatics). He is reminding the member states of UNESCO of the right to information access.

In fact UNESCO has recently contracted with FID about a study on theways in which national informatics policies and strategies have been and should be established and updated. This project should be enlarged or another launched by invitation from IFLA to UNESCO. The survey results have illuminated the potentials of the libraries in order to implement National Information Policies and/or National IT-Strategies and libraries should therefore be more adequately implemented.

On behalf of the Standing Committee for Public Libraries the NIP/NITS working group therefore has invited IFLA, that is Professional Board to consider the report at its meeting in Hague earlier this year and PB will discuss the matter at its meeting at the 1999 conference in Bangkok. The formal address to CB is made by Ilona Glashoff on behalf on Division 3.

Survey Report

The survey report can be found after the IFLA 1999 conference in Bangkok at the website of the Public Library Section:
http://ifla.org/VII/s8/spl.htm#3
Questions regarding the survey, kindly address Hellen Niegaard:
Hellen.Niegaard@btj.dk

National Information Policy/National IT Strategies

About135 countries, listed in IFLA Directory 1996-1997, under National Institutions or Institutional members were contacted in a couple of rounds.

Yes: (Either National Information Policies or National IT Strategies, or both)

No Countries Nat Inf. Pol. IT Strategies Both
1. Australia     x
2. Austria x    
3. Canada   x  
4. Cape Verde x 1)    
5. China     x
6. Colombia   x  
7. Denmark   x  
8. England   x partly/possibly  
9. Finland     x
10. France     x
11. Germany     x
12. Iceland     x
13. Ireland   x 2)  
14. Italy   x  
15. Japan x    
16. Jordan     x
17. Kazakhstan     x
18. Liechtenstein x    
19. Lithuania     x (?)
20. Malaysia     x
21. Morocco   x  
22. Namibia x 3)    
23. Netherlands     x
24. Nigeria   x  
25. Norway x    
26. Papua New Guinea x 4)    
27. Portugala   x  
28. Slovakia     x
29. Sweden     x
30. Thailand     x
31. Tunisia     x
32. USA   x 5)  
33. Uzbekistan     x
34. Zambia x    
  1. NIP to be established in 1999/2000
  2. NITS, in general adopted in 1997, NIP/libr in 1999
  3. Draft only, autumn 1998
  4. Draft only, ultimo 1998
  5. No National/federal strategies but various others incl. Libr.

No:

No Countries Under
Discussion
or in Preparation
1. Albania x
2. Angola -
3. Bahamas -
4. Burundi -
5. Chile x
6. Czech Republic -
7. Estonia x
8. Georgia x
9. Greenland x
10. Haiti x
11. Israel x
12. Lesotho -
13. Macao -
14. New Zealand x
15. Rarotonga, Cook Islands -
16. Slovenia -
17. Spain (minus nat. level) -
18. South Africa -
19. Switzerland x
20. Union of Myanmar -
21. Zimbabwe x

Please contact Hellen Niegaard, if changes have occurred since the
working group had the questionnaires back. Find mail address above.

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Letzte Aktualisierung: 5 Oktober 2012