The information society as a continuous identity project

Manuel Castells, professor in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, has written a fundamental analysis of the global information society in his book The Information Age. A few years ago Pekka Himanen, PhD wrote a book called The Hacker Ethics and the Spirit of the Information Age, translated into around a dozen languages. In The Finnish Model of the Information Society, published in the report series of SITRA in Finland in 2001, these two authors, Castells and Himanen, compare and analyse three kinds of information society – Singapore, Silicon Valley and Finland.

The comparison includes factors like technology – infrastructure, production and knowledge, economy – competitiveness, productivity, innovation and GNP, welfare – education, well-being and health, and openness – politics, the civic society and globalisation. According to this report, what is particular to the Finnish model is an aspiration to combine a dynamic technological and economic thinking with the use of new technology in order to promote social equality and general prosperity.

Contrary to the p revailing global trend, where the developing information society excludes a great many people, Finnish strategies for building the information society really equate with the goals for a welfare society. The national strategy is focused on welfare and equality, as well as on technological development and competitiveness.

The Finnish Library Policy Programme for 2001-2004 is based on the thoroughly revised Library Act of 1998, and on the Finnish Government Programme, in which libraries are referred to as the crucial pillar in the provision of educational and cultural services. The Programme is also built on the high lending and visiting figures, the co-operative abilities and the technological prowess of Finnish libraries. That citizens shall have access to knowledge and culture, regardless of their financial circumstances or where they live, is seen as a valuable basic right.

More than 70% of Finnish libraries belong to some regional library network. Collaboration with scientific and polytechnic libraries is on the increase, and often this takes the form of joint virtual libraries. In the Library Policy Programme the national library net is seen as a whole, whereas, in reality, different kinds of libraries are split up within the state administration.

As part of its cultural strategy, the Ministry of Education is now preparing a national library strategy extending to 2010. Vital goals include: a smooth state library administration with a functional national library net, development of hybrid libraries, ensuring geographical and social equality with respect to accessibility of library and information services and access to information.

Information and knowledge have a market value, of course, and interest is growing – not only in the private sector – in making economic use of information produced with public funds. The European Commission’s Green Paper on the use of public sector information in the information society (KOM 1998/585) brings up the issue from the market’s point of view – information can be classified according to its market value.Within the GATT negotiations something called “liberalisation of libraries” has been raised.

It’s high time to start pondering what kind of information is so essential to an open society, civic rights, democratic values and promoting general welfare, that it should be freely available to all, regardless of whether it is so-called “born digital” or whether it is, for instance, parts of our cultural heritage that have been digitised.

There are no free lunches; someone always has to pay. We need to look at the information society’s great ‘smorgasbord’, and consider which dishes should be available free, which with subsidised luncheon vouchers, and which at full cost.

In this year’s first issue of SPLQ Jens Thorhauge, Director of the Danish National Library Authority, wants to promote a dialogue on current issues. Among other things he asks if “the exploding use of the Internet should lead to a kind of public service thinking”, as we have in state-produced television and radio. Certainly we should also discuss accessibility and supply of information in relation to certain fundamental and shared values – in relation to promoting social equality and welfare. Which values are shared and indispensable in a Nordic – or European – context? What kind of information is related to these values?

Translated by Britt & Philip Gaut

Barbro Wigell-Ryynänen Previous Nyhavn 31E • DK 1051 Copenhagen K • Denmark • splq AT Home

Jens Thorhauge Thorhauge Consulting, independent advisor