Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Changing Information Access Economics: New Roles for Libraries and Librarians

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Changing Information Access Economics: New Roles for Libraries and Librarians

Article excerpt

Fundamental changes in the economic structure of library and information services over the last several decades are forcing a reexamination of the values and policies that serve as the basis for our practices and services. Complex questions about equitable information access, barriers to free access to public information, and direct charges to library users for value-added services have sparked sharp debate in the library community for decades. However, recent advances in multimedia and network information technologies are shifting the nature and terms of the debate from "fee" or "free" services to broader global policy concerns. Attention is focusing on defining the "public good" in public service institutions. Changes in the way information is created, shared, controlled, transmitted, valued, protected, distributed, and exchanged are also changing public- and private-sector roles and organizational relationships. These changes have the potential for creating new service opportunities for libraries, librarians, and information service providers. National policy leadership is required to ensure continued balance between the social interests of the community and economic progress in the information age.

Introduction

It is always a pleasure to receive an invitation from Vinod to participate in these Library Directors' Conferences. It also provokes a feeling of excitement, mixed with anxiety. Over the last several years, I have discovered Vinod's gift for selecting a controversial and challenging conference theme, one that invites reflection, demands growth, and encourages learning. He also has the uncanny ability to select a topic that questions the basic, subconscious assumptions that we hold about libraries, technological change, and where this industry is headed in a future where the horizon is continually changing.

In the fall of 1991, just as I was concluding an exhausting and exciting year at the National Commission helping to plan the White House Conference on Library and Information Services, Vinod called me with an invitation to address the first VTLS Directors' Conference. The subject of my talk was the role of the federal government in relation to libraries and information services.

In a way, the first VTLS Library Directors' Conference allowed me an excellent chance to reflect on the recommendations resulting from the White House Conference concerning networking technologies and the use of these recommendations as the basis for redefining the federal role for libraries. This thinking has, over the past two years, provided the foundation for much of what has become the commission's program focus on the developing National Information Infrastructure.

At last year's second Library Directors' Conference, Vinod asked me to read and to comment on Congressman Rick Boucher's talk, titled "Legislative Review on NREN and Perspectives on Home Access." Reviewing Rep. Boucher's paper brought attention to the influence that the commercial telecommunications and cable television industries have in determining the future of libraries and the availability of information services. National Information Infrastructure policies are as important to libraries as they are to the privatesector firms involved with developing and deploying the communications networks, computers, databases, and consumer electronics that constitute the digital network infrastructure. Congressman Boucher's paper provides motivation to pay close attention to the flood of recent developments in the entertainment, telecommunications, information systems, and cable television industries. The implications of these activities go beyond simple mergers and acquisitions.

Confluence of Commercial Interests

According to a recent article in the New York Times, there have been a record number of corporate mergers over the past several months. The Securities Data Company reports that the total value of corporate mergers in the third quarter of 1993 was $86. …

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