Information Policy as Cultural Policy: A Conference for a New Europe

Article excerpt

Delegates from 40 nations assess the impact of recent political changes on libraries and cultural institutions.

Last October, a first-ever panEuropean conference was held to discuss the momentous economic and political changes affecting Europe, both east and west, and their impact on culture. The European Community (EC), which comprises 12 Western European countries, was to become an economic superpower in January 1993, when it officially removed all technical and economic barriers existing between member states and became a single European market. The borderless free zone is now economically bigger than the proposed North American Free Trade Zone Agreement that will link the economies of the United States, Canada, and Mexico (AL, Mar. 1992, p. 212-215).

Eastern Europe, meanwhile, has traveled a rocky road on its way to establishing democratic societies and capitalist-oriented economies. The familiar economic structures have collapsed, as have the traditional value systems, propelling many former communist countries into a period of uncertainty and instability.

As the conference pointed out, these changes are having a significant impact on European libraries and cultural institutions. "The cultural, economic, and social rise of the new Europe offers opportunities, challenges, and risks for the library and information science professions," said Karl Stroetmann of the International Federation of Information and Documentation (IFID), who introduced the conference theme "The widening gap between information-rich Western Europe and information-poor Eastern Europe threatens the economic support of cultural institutions and could significantly lower cultural standards."

The conference, titled "Information Policy as Cultural Policy: An International Conference for a New Europe," was held October 17-23 in Koningswinter, near Bonn, Germany. Organized by the Foreign Relations Office of the German Library Associations in close cooperation with the IFID, the United States Information Agency, and the British Council, it was attended by 80 delegates--politicians, librarians, academics, scientists, journalists, information science specialists, and government officials--from 20 European countries, as well as the U.S. and Japan.

In addition to formal presentations by speakers, there were several working sessions in which delegates divided up to discuss such topics as "The Social Framework of Information Behavior," "Freedom of Information without Information Resources," and the impact of "Cultural Influence on Information Behavior." Delegates then met in plenary sessions to present and debate their results with the entire group.

In his keynote address, "Global Information Integration and Cultural Diversity: Prospects for a Changing Europe," Mark Fisher presented an intriguing vision of free access to information, a right to which every European citizen should be entitled. Fisher, a member of the British Parliament and the opposition Labor Party's shadow minister for the arts and media, outlined his proposed new bill, "The Right to Know," which he offered as a model for similar legislative action in other European countries.

A cultural gap

In subsequent sessions, it soon became apparent that a wide gap existed between cultural institutions in Western and Eastern Europe Such speakers as Evgeny Kumin, the head of libraries in the Russian Ministry of Culture; Ekaterma Genieva, head of the M.I. Rudomino State Library for Foreign Literature in Moscow; and Anna Serafimowa, the deputy secretary for culture in Bulgaria, described the lack of cultural and financial resources that have put Russian and Eastern European libraries in crisis.

Genieva revealed that the shortage of hard currency is the most pressing problem facing Russian libraries, while Kuzmin pointed out that if the Russian state can no longer provide medical services to its citizens, it can't be expected to offer adequate support for library services. …

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