Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

A Call to Arms: What in the World Is Happening to Information?

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

A Call to Arms: What in the World Is Happening to Information?

Article excerpt

This paper is a call to arms. We are fighting a battle, and that battle is about the provision of and access to, information. Some barriers are obvious, including culture, socioeconomic standing, cost of information and education. One of the greatest dangers to society is the concentration of ownership of companies which control information and the media in which it is presented, coupled with the commercialisation of information. This gives rise to opportunity for commercial exploitation, and for bias as to what information is stored and disseminated. Librarians have a social responsibility to voice their concern to the politicians of the world, and also to influence the development of information policies within nations. Edited version of the winning essay for the 2004 Jean Arnot Memorial Fellowship

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We live in a world of inequities. There have always been those who are better off, and those who are worse off. Since printing was developed by Gutenberg in the mid 15th century, the way to acquire knowledge has been largely through books-the medium which contained the information was printed. Anyone who could read, could read that information, as long as they knew where to find it, and as long as they had access to it.

But humans are given to invention. Their methods of communication and storage of information were not destined to be limited to the face to face spoken word and the printed word. The first radio signal was sent in 1901, and the first television transmission in 1927. Computers had their origins in the 1940s. Originally, they took up entire rooms, and were the marvel of a generation. * Over time, advances redefined what computers could do, and how much information they could contain. What was seemingly unthinkable in the 1940s now sits on the desktop of millions of employees, and in many homes throughout the world. A device which had its beginnings in 1958 in the United States Defense Force as a response to the technological challenges presented by Sputnik, (l) now features in the lives of people worldwide.

Although the early cost of computers was astronomical, severely limiting and defining who used them, dramatic advancements in technology coupled with reductions in price have occurred. Internet usage increases at a rapid rate. All of this sounds wonderful: in terms of science and the dissemination of information to the masses, it is. Or is it? Is it only some sectors of the masses which have access to that information and who have the awareness of need and skills to retrieve it? Are not those sectors significantly advantaged over others?

The underlying problem with access to information for the latter part of the 20th century was that it was increasingly electronic. In the beginning of the 21st century that is still the case, and this will only continue. The way in which information is produced, disseminated and retrieved has become increasingly electronic. Information in printed format still abounds--books, journals, newspapers--but anyone looking to do even basic research into any topic will need computer retrieval skills. The average person needs the equipment to access the information and also needs the know how. This is where it becomes apparent that not everyone has the equipment to obtain access and not everyone knows how to access and use information effectively.

The great divide

This is the gap between the information rich and the information poor. One group has access and the ability to access, and one does not. The literature on this abounds, and the phrases have been bandied about by politicians ad nauseum. Who are the information rich, and who are the information poor? Although one may think immediately of Indian beggars as being information poor (and they are third world countries have their own classification in this group), there are sectors of western society which are information poor. There are two groups of information poor: those in poor countries, and the poor within developed countries. …

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