ERIC Identifier: ED327220
Publication Date: 1990-12-00
Author: Schamber, Linda
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources Syracuse
Library and Information Services for Productivity.
Productivity, literacy, and democracy are the three themes chosen for
the 1991 White House Conference on Library and Information Services. This
digest focuses on productivity, which can be defined as ways in which library
and information services can assist agencies, industries, and individuals
in producing goods and services effectively and profitably. It will present
a brief overview of just two fundamental issues, access and control, that
affect productivity; and two major strategies, cooperation and education,
for improving productivity.
NEED FOR CHANGE
Clearly the United States faces serious obstacles to productivity as
a result of rapid social, economic, and technological changes over the
past decade. Information has come to be seen as a vital component of strategies
to solve these problems. The challenges range from improving the ability
of the United States to compete in a shifting global market to overcoming
illiteracy in order to enable Americans to cope with social and technological
change. These challenges affect productivity at all levels, and they involve
complex relationships among public-sector and private-sector agencies and
As the world economy moves toward a greater reliance on information
and information technology, it becomes increasingly important for library
and information professionals to participate in the development of policies
that maximize productivity and minimize unemployment.
ACCESS TO INFORMATION
A major issue involves the responsibility of government and industry
to provide access to scientific and technical information that can aid
innovation and development. Government agencies in particular, by actively
disseminating federal and state information and by mediating the exchange
of private-sector information, can play a vital role in fostering competitiveness.
Public and private libraries and information centers at all levels can
contribute by expanding their databases and services to offer current economic
and employment information.
The task of expanding information services for productivity is, of course,
formidable. As always, the extent of user demand must be weighed against
the costs of expanded services in terms of time and money. In addition,
scientific, technical, and economic information varies greatly in its availability:
there is no uniform standard or centralization for its collection, distribution,
and dissemination, nor is the public often even aware of its availability.
Finally, the information itself tends to be quickly outdated and complex
in language and format. The American Library Association (1990a), Hernon
(1989), and Ryland (1990) describe these and other challenges related to
CONTROL OF INFORMATION
While government and industry can boost productivity by providing access
to information, they must also be concerned with limiting that access.
Federal policymakers in particular must balance national interests against
global interests in trying to prevent other nations from using scientific
and technical information developed by the United States. In their view,
the release of certain strategic data would compromise U.S. competitiveness
and threaten national security.
Yet the need for control is in direct conflict with the view that the
flow of federal information should be unrestricted to ensure that U.S.
industry can compete. The private sector, in its rush to develop and market
new technologies, places an increasing demand on the federal government
for technical information. Further, some groups feel not only that the
government must allow its constituents their constitutional right to access,
but also that it has a responsibility to provide them with consumer information,
products, and services. If the government relies instead on the market
to determine whether a product or service should be offered, many citizens
will be unable to obtain the information elsewhere. Yet still another conflict
arises when the government is able to compete unfairly with the private
sector by undercutting prices on products and services--including information
products and services--that they both provide.
The issue of control also extends to the protection of privacy and intellectual
property rights. Now, with the widespread availability of technologies
such as computer networks, satellite transmissions, photocopiers, and audio
recorders, it is relatively easy to invade privacy and to copy technical
innovations and creative works. Heated debates revolve around moral, ethical,
and legal questions about limiting access to information of a personal
or creative nature when this information could also improve competition
and profit among many industries.
Thus information providers at all levels in both the public and private
sectors must determine what information is controlled, who controls it,
and how to control it. Their policies must distinguish between protected
(private, classified, proprietary) information and released (public, unclassified,
nonproprietary) information, and they must cope with a controversial gray
area between the two. The policies must establish safety nets that allow
levels of access by the general public and special groups to different
kinds of information. The federal government, for instance, has established
a minimum level of citizen access with the Freedom of Information Act and
its various information service agencies, and protective controls with
the Privacy Act and copyright laws. The American Library Association (1990a),
Bearman (1984), Hernon (1989), and Hill (1989) provide further discussions
of information policymaking.
COOPERATION AMONG INFORMATION PRODUCERS AND USERS
One strategy for improving productivity has been to encourage information
transfer and intellectual collaboration among government, industry and
academic institutions. In recent years, the federal government has made
more federal information resources available to industry and has lowered
antitrust barriers to the exchange of information among industries. The
traditional industry model of self-sufficiency, where each firm conducts
its own research in its own labs, is gradually being replaced by a model
of strategic alliances among industries that alleviates some of this costly
duplication of effort (Hill, 1989).
Ideally, say some experts, there should be a national policy that encourages
the pooling of information from all institutions, government and nongovernment,
so citizens can have access regardless of the source (Hernon, 1989). In
library and information science, this concept has been referred to as a
VIRTUAL LIBRARY: a utopian concept wherein all the world's knowledge is
available to anyone sitting at a desktop workstation. A recent example
of progress toward this ideal was the introduction in Congress of the High
Performance Computing Act of 1990, which would establish the National Research
and Education Network to link resources of government, industry, business,
and universities. Inspired by this legislation, three organizations--the
Association for Research Libraries, CAUSE, and EDUCOM--joined in March,
1990 to form the Coalition for Networked Information designed to enrich
scholarship and enhance intellectual productivity (Ryland, 1990).
There is a long tradition of sharing information resources among libraries
and educational institutions, but cooperation among these institutions
and government and industry has been slower to develop. At local and regional
levels, more cooperative projects are needed in order to strengthen competitiveness
among existing firms and attract new firms to regions. Local libraries,
for example, can work directly with local businesses by providing access
to data such as corporate profiles and stock quotations, and services such
as business database searches, workshops on business data resources, and
job banks. Suggestions and case studies are offered by the American Library
Association (1990a, 1990b), Fiscella (1987), McClure, Boissy, Bishop, and
Rengal (1987), McGinn (1987), and Molholt (1988).
EDUCATION IN INFORMATION SKILLS
A second strategy for improving productivity responds to the sharply
increased need for improved education as the U.S. economy becomes more
dependent on information and information technologies. A growing proportion
of Americans are illiterate, and those who are literate--even college graduates--may
still lack the skills necessary to access and use information. Beyond basic
reading skills and subject knowledge, it is information skills that can
boost individual productivity: that can better equip employees to adapt
to new information sources and formats and better enable them to apply
information in making decisions.
The task of imparting these skills falls to library and information
professionals who, working with teachers, can help build information skills
into subject-area curricula for students of all ages. They can also help
improve the productivity of education in their own field by training more
library media specialists and information resource managers, and by conducting
relevant interdisciplinary research. They need to use information technologies
to teach information technologies, and redefine jobs and responsibilities.
In short, they must follow the lead of industry in adapting to the changing
market. The American Library Association (1990a, 1990b), Bearman (1984),
Brown (1986), and Kelly (1990) all describe approaches to information skills
The three themes of the 1991 White House Conference on Library and Information
Services are clearly intertwined. All three themes point to fundamental
questions about the roles, values, costs, and impacts of information. According
to the American Library Association (1990b):
"Now knowledge--not minerals or agricultural products or manufactured
goods--is the country's most precious commodity, and people who are information
literate--who know how to acquire knowledge and use it--are America's most
American Library Association. (1990a). Issues and Challenges for America's
Libraries. Chicago: American Library Association. (booklet).
American Library Association. (1990b). Libraries for Productivity, Literacy
and Democracy. Chicago: American Library Association. (pamphlet).
Bearman, Toni Carbo. (1984, November). Learning To Learn: The Role of
Libraries and Information in Improving the Quality of Life. Paper presented
as the Second Annual Lazerow Memorial Lecture, Bloomington, IN. ED 295
Brown, James A., Jr. (1986, August). 2010: An Information Odyssey. ED
Fiscella, Joan B., & Ringel, Joan D. (1987, January). "Academic
libraries and regional economic development." In Libraries and the Search
for Excellence: Proceedings of the Arden House Symposium, New York, NY,
March 1987. ED 284 587.
Hernon, Peter. (1989). "The role of U.S. libraries and information centers
in fostering competitiveness." Government Information Quarterly, 6(1),
47-58. EJ 393 946.
Hill, Christopher T. (1989). "Federal technical information and U.S.
competitiveness: Needs, opportunities, and issues." Government Information
Quarterly, 6(1), 31-38. EJ 393 943.
Kelly, Henry. (1990, August). "Technology and the transformation of
American education." T.H.E.: Technological Horizons in Education, 18(1),
McClure, Charles R., Boissy, Robert, Bishop, Ann, & Rengal, Roberto.
(1987, June). Linking Central New York Business, Libraries, and Syracuse
University for Economic Development: Feasibility of a Center for STI Transfer.
Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University, School of Information Studies. (ED 285
McGinn, Howard. (1987, November). "Information networking and economic
development." Wilson Library Bulletin, 62(3), 28-32. EJ 362 641.
Molholt, Pat (1988, June). Library Networking: The Interface of Ideas
and Actions. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
ED 306 956.
Ryland, Jane N. (1990, August). "A step toward the virtual library."
EDUTECH, 6(5), 6-7.