Virtual Professions and Digital Libraries.

I'd like to thank the University of Canberra for the opportunity to give the first lecture in the Professional Perspectives series. The Lecture surveys the future of libraries and librarians, the development of the Internet and the concept of virtual universities. The aim is to try to predict what we might be by the end of the decade rather than what we are now.

What I'd like to do is plant some seeds of the IT future. If you think the pace of change is too rapid - think back to 1990 when AARNet was still largely an academic "toy". Academics and administrators at ANU even two years ago were reluctant (or rather their P.A's) to use e-mail which is now commonplace, even if the implications of advanced net-pages and searching mechanisms have not quite penetrated in terms of the societal and educational implications.

A recent study by UK firm Durlacher Multimedia (Durlacher 1996) has indicated:

  • The World Wide Web doubles in size every three months.
  • By 2002, more than 200m people will be connected to at least some parts of the Internet.
  • The first wave of profitable Internet-related businesses will be in access service provision, software applications provision, consultancy and related hardware provision. (Should libraries in this context and universities become Internet Service Providers?)
  • The largest service providers will survive because of their economies of scale. Smaller companies will either be taken over, or will move into value-added services such as advertising, electronic publishing, etc.
  • Cable companies may become big beneficiaries of the Internet, as they have the bandwidth to deliver information at speed. Cable modems will become the norm.

The following was written in 1945. (Bush, 1945):-

"There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousand of other workers - conclusions which he (notice the gender balance) cannot find time to grasp, much less to remembers, as they appear. Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.

Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose. If the aggregate time spent in writing scholarly works and in reading them could be evaluated, the ratio between these amounts of time might well be startling. Those who conscientiously attempt to keep abreast of current thought, even in restricted fields, by close and continuous reading might well shy away from an examination calculated to show how much of the previous month's efforts could be produced on call. Mendel's concept of the laws of genetics was lost to the world for a generation because his publication did not reach the few who were capable of grasping and extending it; and this sort of catastrophe is undoubtedly being repeated all about us, as truly significant attainments become lost in the mass of the inconsequential.

The difficulty seems to be, not so much that we publish unduly in view of the extent and variety of present-day interests, but rather that publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record. The summation of human experience is being expanded at a prodigious rate, and the means we use for threading through the consequent maze to the momentarily important item is the same as was used in the days of square-rigged ships".

This was Vannevar Bush in his famous article 'As We May Think' in Atlantic Monthly July 1945. Little has changed in the modes of intellectual dissemination ie. by print in the interim and the Internet is now the maze we need to navigate.

I am not a starry eyed Internet enthusiast but we cannot go on as we have in print provision. Every year fewer scholarly monographs are bought by Australia's universities which are now the principal national research repositories, given the reduced purchasing roles of the National Library and State Libraries, especially in the sciences and social sciences. Scientific periodical inflation eats away at the serials vote, fuelled by publisher inflation, so each year fewer print journals are bought in the sciences, but at greater cost. We need a revolution to deal with academic journals and in particular in the sciences. Monograph reductions cannot be overcome by the DNC (Distributed National Collection) or international library loan as postulated recently by the National Library.

Arnold (Peters, 1995) has reaffirmed the threat to traditional publishing in his eloquent essay, "The body in the virtual library". Arnold likens academic publishers to "Neanderthals clustered round a fire" and electronic "virtual" librarians, information providers and accessors to "Cro-Magnon humans sweeping down from the mountainside'. Would that it were so! Most academics want both more print resources and more electronic access but hard decisions in access have to be made in the future.

No change is more dramatic than the shift to direct user retrieval for text-based information formerly distributed in the form of physical objects by publishers. As production and distribution costs decline, transaction costs and the value of intellectual property may assume greater prominence. On the other hand, standards and software may work to substantially reduce transaction costs over the long run. With barriers to entry reduced by technology, information markets may become extremely competitive, reducing margins and possibly lowering the economic value of many forms of intellectual property. But recent developments by multinational conglomerates such as Reed Elsevier move in the opposite direction by their monopolistic pricing of print and Internet information provision.

The ASIS Conference in San Diego in May 1996 had the simple title 'The Digital Revolution'. The conference brochure stated "The concept of the Digital Revolution relies on two senses of the word "revolution:" - that of drastic change, but also that of motion allied with rotation. The first suggests the upheaval we are confronting; the second is a reminder that we have been here before: other massive social changes such as the Industrial Revolution had raised equally profound questions and challenged the way that we view the world."

The Digital Revolution, simply put, involves both subtle as well as radical changes in the way information is created. The distance between those included and those not included in this revolution will be crucial. David Bolter in his book Turing's Man has argued that one of the defining characteristics of Western Society is that it is constantly in a state of technological revolution eg. from printing presses, clocks, railways. What is happening with the Internet is we are anticipating the changes almost as or before they happen. The invention of the printing press, as Professor Elizabeth Eisenstein has shown, had profound effects but how many people in 1455 would have predicted its impact even if they had had a mechanism to announce it! The global discussions were clearly impossible to encompass in 1455 but today the Internet circumvents national boundaries.

In the academic arena the Net Revolution allows a greater specialisation eg. putting all the global specialists together from Islamic architecture to high energy physics. It also allows a serendipity of browsing far beyond the physical stacks of libraries which are controlled by largely nineteenth century classification systems and the physical construct of the book. One might come to the conclusion that "God is an Internet Programmer" and not a Cataloguer but on the Internet those who sit and arrange the information may hold the key!

Charles Babbage's nineteenth century invention of 'The Difference Engine' had the "progressive" aim of a more efficient use of labour and a concern to do away with repetitive tasks. Andrew Prescott (1995) in a fascinating article 'The Digital Library in Theory and Practice' - an Historian's View" in a recent British Library symposium has argued that the digital library to date has more in common with Babbage's difference engine than what is required in the future, ie the analytical engine. He outlines a number of humanistic areas where he believes digital research is superior to print research eg. in multi-media drama access, the high resolution digital images of seals and coins for historical and numismatic research etc. Marc Bloch's the "traditions of the past" then become in effect the images of the future?

In March I was invited, along with twenty other international guests, including the Director of the Russian State Library at St Petersburg, to the OCLC Research Library Directors meeting at Columbus Ohio. The keynote speech was given by George Gilder the American futurologist. He indicated that with LSI Logic's Internet-on-a-Chip processors, cablemodems, and Digital Broadcast Satellite technology, we will have by the end of the century unlimited bandwidth into our homes driven by user demand. The advent of low cost consumer Internet machines will move the users well beyond the telnet stage. He cited some interesting research statistics: in the USA in 1995, PCs outsold TVs, the number of e-mail messages surpassed snail mail, and RBOC data traffic (driven by an unbelievable increase in Internet usage) exceeded voice traffic for the first time. Gilder indicated that the future of libraries was bound up with IT and equated print libraries as being like cars in the jungle of the past ie. standing alone but now needing the networks (ie. roads) to make them all run as a global resource. He used the quip that libraries had reached "Lan's end".

Gilder identified the constituent parts of revolution as being sand, silicon, glass, fibre and air wireless. The millennium promises a billion transistors on a single sliver of silicon, 700 bits on a single thread of fibre and cellular infrastructure a 1,000 times cheaper than today. Taken together, he said these phenomenal advances would topple or centralise institutions with bandwidth increasing significantly between 1996 to 2000. One of the problems however was that software progress was only operating on 1/10th of the computer hardware progress in price and development. Gilder quoted two "laws" - "software expands to fill available memory" and "software gets slower as hardware gets faster" - the Parkinson laws of software.

Gilder indicated the original standards for desktop's were vertical. The new technologies were horizontal under the standards of the Internet. We are getting platform independent software. The CPU is now peripheral and the network essential. The problem of libraries in the future will be of networking and administration. He indicated that academic journals were open for revolution. Display resolution needs to improve and ultimately will and then the computer will then "blow away" the television set as televisions can't currently handle text. In relation to the cable industry which is looking to cable modems and broadband interaction, Gilder saw the need for a new kind of Internet service provider (ISP's). Maintenance and support were going to be crucial issues as well as upgrading of terminals. Huge new industries would grow up as Internet service providers and they could either be via librarians or they could be commercial firms.

The Internet, Gilder concluded, was an egalitarian force, once the Gates/Groves satellites were put up in 1998 84 satellites in low orbit will allow TCP-IP access with lower order system information available to many people. He believed that the networks would be a liberating force in the third world. At the present time Gilder indicated that if you wanted to get a glass of information water you get a reservoir of print. He said what we need to do is get a glass of water ie. to buy the bits of information that we require and have them customised to our own use.

The Internet provides varied information access but also, paradoxically, concentrates data in the most popular data indexes. Thus the present time on the networks, the varied search engines determine to some extent information access resulting often in uniformity in the organisation of knowledge. At the ACM Digital Libraries Conference in Washington in March 1996, it was stated that about 80% of searches on the popular search engines are single term searches, which really does imply a lack of sophisticated searching techniques and knowledge of searching apparatus, which is where librarians should be involved. The commercial search engines are less and less effective as the volume of data grows.

Will our physical basis for work change as we become virtual professions? Stephen Graham of the University of Newcastle Upon Tune in Telecommunications and the City: Electronic Places, Urban Spaces (Routledge, 1996) outlines the powerful impact of the Digital Stad (DDS) in Amsterdam, a set of virtual spaces which are intended to act as a powerful metaphor for the physical city. But nearly 60% of the people who access DDS are under 30, almost three quarters have a degree and are employed. The change will only occur when we move one step away from today's power brokers who are largely in the universities in their 50's or 60's.

If we look at the future, it is quite clear from telecommuting trends in America, which has the greatest penetration of PC's in the home environment and also Internet access, that a great deal of work can be done remotely. Professor Paul Davies has recently railed against megacities in The Australian. Telecommuting can overcome this in the longer term. At present provision is needed for electronic mail, accessibility to networks and databases, desk top teleconferencing, personal digital assistants (PDAs), screen sharing, workflow systems, idea generation, and distributed group decision making. In 1993, 8.4 million US employees telecommuted at least eight hours a week. By the year 2000, this number is expected to go over the 30 million mark. ("The virtual office gets real," Informationweek, Jan 22, 1996, 32-40).

To take the library area it is increasingly feasible, in a theoretical sense, for say cataloguers, whatever that term means in the future, to work from home accessing data bases for original cataloguing, archival indexing, to provide value added outsourcing etc. The physical artefact itself ie. the book will no longer be the item that is to be analysed, rather it will be the inherent data within the document. A metadata approach will prevail and will have its structural content analysed at the beginning of the process, rather than when the book is received in whatever repository it ultimately resides.

Paul Roebuck and others in the Times Higher Education Supplement of April 19 take space audits of universities one stop further. "By exploiting the developing technologies - the fibre optic networks, the laptop PC, cellular telephone, wireless and infra-red connectivity, smart cards and electronic mail, there is an inevitable drive to smaller, high-quality working environments. In organisations where management or staff spend a lot of time away from the desk or out of the office, "hot desks" have already become common practice. He sees more systematic use of campuses and here one can see pressure to use campus facilities more effectively on a full year basis.

In Science Fiction there are a number of recent extrapolations of the Internet. A number of authors like Gregory Benford, David Brin and others have featured at library and IT Conferences. The December 1995 issue of Library Administration and Management is devoted to prediction of the IT future which in the 1950's or 1960's might have been considered for Galaxy and Astounding SF magazines. This is simply to state the future is nearer than you think!

One of the best young authors in Australia at the present time is the somewhat reclusive Western Australian writer, Greg Egan. His recent novel Distress, which has won the 1996 Aurealis award, includes the present scenario for long distance telecommuting in Sydney in the year 2055:- "The demographic centre of greater Sydney had been west of Parramatta for at least half a century - and had probably reached Blacktown, by now - but the demise of the historical urban core had begun in earnest only in the 2030's, when office space, cinemas, theatres, physical galleries and public museums had all become obsolete at more or less the same time. Broadband optical fibres had been connected to most residential buildings since the teens but it had taken another two decades for the networks to mature. The tottering edifice of incompatible standards, inefficient hardware, and archaic operating systems thrown together by the fin-de-siècle dinosaurs of computing and communications had been razed to the grounds in the 2020's, and only then ... could the use of the networks for entertainment and telecommuting be transmuted from a form of psychological torture into a natural and convenient alternative to ninety per cent of physical travel".

To move back from the general to the particular. The virtual university environment will mean distance provides no impediment to the learning process. Students will increasingly access data from home, halls of residence or lab clusters. At the present time coursepacks seem to be dominating the undergraduate process of learning, much to the dismay of the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) and people who believe in the broader vision of learning in the university library or university environment. In the future, however, there is no doubt that the sequential form of learning as embodied in the text of a book will disappear. Bits or bytes of non-fiction books electronically will be the norm for study but encapsulated in multi-media modules of learning which will be increasingly self paced.

Chris Hutchinson (Hutchinson, 1996) in April 12 issue of The Times Higher Education Supplement addressed the issue of the virtual university in a centre piece article entitled "Snares in the Charmed Circle". The article highlights the change from the Oxbridge image of the gentleman's club to an organisation involved in "man power planning" (note incidentally the gender terms!). Thus "the emergence of the standard course textbook in the post-war years has further contributed to a redefinition of what a university education is all about, and what the function of the lecturer is. With the massive increase in students numbers, the concomitant decline of the tutorial system, and the standardisation of curricula, the business of lecturing is in large part bound to become, our best intentions and personal quirks notwithstanding, the redistribution of set texts." The pros and cons from an American perspective was outlined by John Seely Brown in the THES of April 19 (Brown, 1996), in which it is postulated that likelihood, scholars might attract a fee directly from the students they attract!

Maurice Kogan, Professor of Government at Brunel University, quoted in The Australian recently has recently indicated a "distinct change in teaching patterns from the well-vaunted British way of individual tutorials and small group work to very much mass forms of tutorials" (Armitage, 1996). The foreshadowed higher education cuts in Australia will surely increase this trend with, however, more and more course material being on the Net. Taking this to a speculative outcome if the best lecturer on a certain topic is in Sydney or Saskatchewan or Stockholm it will be relatively easy technically for students to hear/see and interact with him or her in the future and be accredited for their course.

One of the most costly and valuable resources on campus are the academic staff themselves. Can one do more with the less who become more highly paid because they are globally interactive assisted by tutorial assistants and campus hardware and software upgrades funded by the redeployment of resources? As the THES says "if the face to face lecture is to become little more than a filter for textbook learning then the dissemination of human knowledge through electronic copy may speak to a wider audience".

Will physical location of the university increasingly be an anachronism in current terms in face of the virtual university and thus the virtual profession. The student/learner will be the centre of the learning experience. Global accreditation for students and fee for payment issues are all postulated for debate in the THES article which perhaps over optimistically argues most resource issues become irrelevant in the virtual university which is a bit of a broad statement. I agree if you redistribute labour costs into infrastructure, co-ordinating mechanisms and appropriate copyright payments.

Hutchinson argues "but the most significant changes will be cultural. We will have to manage the conceptual and pedagogic implications of a shift from seeing telematics-based learning as a CBT add-on to traditional teaching to being the primary medium of study. We shall witness a transition from the classroom and lecture theatre as a locus of learning to CLRCs, with the traditional university becoming, from the student perspective, just one of many possible physical nodes to the virtual university. With the waning of the "Gutenberg prejudice" - its conception of learning as an essentially text-based intellectual activity that takes place in specifically designated locations (schools, colleges, universities) - we shall witness a shift from a predominantly print culture".

Deliberately provocative but we do need to think ahead - who in their right mind would take a degree from Tallahassee State College or dare one even say ANU or the University of Canberra if you can mix and match your degree from MIT, Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge? Will the University of Canberra become a local cooperative Learning Resource Centre for the ACT populace existing simply as a physical telecommunication focal point and a social meeting place. At least we need to begin discussing these issues.

The Liberal Democrats in Britain have recently published their manifesto The Key to Lifelong Learning which envisages a single-qualification framework which encompasses all academic and vocational learning from age 14 throughout life, along with a national credit accumulation and transfer scheme to allow students to undertake courses from more than one institution. Students could build up credits and mix and match courses in universities and further education colleges. This would create a flexible system of learning in which people cold come back to update old skills and learn new ones in a way that focuses on their achievements.

The images of two Canberra based free thinkers (in more ways than one) Roger Clarke and Tom Worthington need canvassing in the virtual profession/digital library environment. Clarke's presentation (Clarke, 1996) to the 1996 VALA Conference sees libraries at the portal of the 21st century, with libraries as community centres supporting tele-working and other forms of participation, not just information extraction and book-based entertainment. As adjuncts to these functions, opportunities exist for the provision of services such as data search, data analysis, report preparation, publishing, advice and support for "commuting".

Worthington's near future scenario in his paper "Australia the Networked Nation," (Washington, 1996) given in Townsville in February, notes "while big office building still exist (its expensive to knock them down), there are few big companies in them. With cheap communications there are few reasons to go to a big building a long way away to talk to someone. Most office work will be done at local CyberCafes. Some of these still serve coffee, but most will continue to provide the most advanced communications technology (outside a research lab) in a comfortable environment.

Professor Sherry Turkle of MIT's Media Laboratory has just published overseas Life on the Screen: Identify in the Age of the Internet (Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1996) It is part of Turkle's argument that computer culture - and the Internet, in particular - is making more concrete the way in which our lives have become fragmented. The "windows" on the computer screen perfectly reflect the various roles we are asked to play in life. Is this fragmentation unreal? Turkle argues no in that most people do it every day anyway. Similarly her research shows "that the time children spend in front of a screen is taken away from the time they spend watching television. Now if you ask me if it is better for a child to sit online, writing inter-active fiction with people all over the world or passively watching television...".

When questioned on virtual cyber cafes and real cafes: "I love going to cafes, but I don't kid myself. If you are trying to capture the good old days by going to a cafe called "Bonjour Croissant" in the middle of a mall, and get served by someone wearing a fake French beret, I mean that is not Paris". "If you offer me that experience versus going on line to a virtual community where a group of people have been talking about a set of common themes over the past six months, I know which feels more 'real' to me."

Information is capturing much of the mass commercial market, especially in the case of products aimed at children. Children are more versed in the Sony generation and Net access than many of the older academics. Dr Richard Heseltine, Librarian of Hull University UK, is one who has consistently argued that universities, must re-think the role of the library. Unfortunately, many American universities rate their libraries by counting the number of books they hold. The other services libraries perform, such as guiding students to information and training them in the use of information resources, are not valued appropriately. In these circumstances, as digital technology makes libraries particularly vulnerable to the idea that they could be "outsourced," we can expect to see universities urging their libraries to refocus and retool. Libraries can not value themselves either in terms of the books they own or the count of people who walk in the door, the only measures it has been easy to get in the past. Instead, they must take a larger role in the education process generally.

As Michael Lesk (1996) of Bellcore has said the most critical function universities can perform is to teach their students how to find information! "At the rate science grows, most of what an information worker will need over his or her career will simply not have been known at the time the worker received a PhD. A library is not a zoo, he says, with books in captivity and the curious looking in through the bars. Instead, a library has to be a way of finding information, and as the systems to do that become more complex, libraries have to expand their efforts of teaching people how to use these systems. And as so much of the information has not gone through traditional publishers, people need to know how to evaluate information, not just find it."

What seems to be emerging is that the cost of information, particularly of subject disciplines, might perhaps be born by the research areas and that market forces should prevail, for example funding from University student tuition fees ie. students pay a component to the Library specifically. Ann Okerson, Associate University Librarian of Yale, has indicated that the major research libraries could no longer stand the combined burden of increased print and electronic demands. She cited at the ACM Digital Library Conference in an after dinner speech the fact that state wide based consortia can obtain discounts which put them at an advantage eg. the Georgia and Ohio consortia over the large research libraries such as Yale which stand relatively alone.

She cited the following issues to be addressed by libraries but in no particular order.

  • Continued staff development was essential because of the significant technological skills required.
  • Knowledge of the user base was essential.
  • Library staff should be in constant touch with users so to frame needs in a constrained economic environment.
  • Significant amount of funds were invested in staff and in a market terms returns needed to be obtained.

She felt in the US context, leading network and digital experts were being lured away from libraries, particularly in the Yale context, to private industry and the Internet firms.

Okerson worried about the cost of equipment replacement, Yale has now put in place a three year plan for all equipment replacement which will be expensive as no funds previously allocated on this scale. In addition staff constantly wanted to have the latest versions of software which previously the library had never funded nor had the facilities and staff to implement and support. Each library section at Yale now has an expert user who is a first point of contact in terms of technical and basic assistance. Note 604 staff though FTE.

Printing is a great problem. Photocopying returns at Yale are now declining. What people want now is network printing and efficient access to printing. If printing is allowed to be free, as it is now, the costs can no longer be borne in the future in the Library. Therefore there has to be a cost return and suitable payment by students.

Information has a danger of destabilisation for librarians given rapid changes of format. A series of major decisions have to be made on electronic formats for example on mode and access, consequent use and training.

"New Jour" which she supervises has ten new journals a day coming up. It is roughly splitting between new individual efforts by academics and publishers making information in full text on line. Quite a considerable change from the beginning of New Jour.

Electronic licensing. We must get to work on the publishers to get the cost down. Most publishers seem to be adding on costs - at the moment one third has been added on as an average, although significantly less for some major publishers in terms of costs for electronic site licensing to full text.

The institutional library will no longer be at the centre of things, but the computer on the desktop of the end-user. This has often been described in terms of a Copernican revolution. The end-user not the library is now at the centre of the information universe, and the library is just one among many resources in orbit around that user.

Michael Lesk envisages by 2010, this point, 65 years after Vannevar Bush's paper, we can imagine that the basic job of conversion of required text to machine-readable form is done. It is not likely to be complete: there will be still many manuscripts in European libraries that have never been scanned, and there are likely to be many little used books that are never converted to computerized form. But these will not be the key items, but the obscure ones. We can imagine, for example, that central library buildings on campus have been reclaimed for other uses, as students access all the works they need from dormitory room computer or off campus. Fortunately a few scholars, as with those who now consult manuscript and archives collections, go off in similar vein to read the obscure books.

Librarians and IT and multimedia experts all need to come together in organisational structures to support teaching and research structure ie. to ensure the requirement for interoperability, greatest possible connectivity by schools and libraries to the national and local networks and sophisticated navigational tools, especially as information proliferates.

Richard Downing, Learning Support Manager, of Thames Valley University has said (Downing, 1996) "there now appears to be a centre ground emerging, which we might call 'learner support', and it is in this centre ground that the two sides of learning facilitation can combine: each bringing its own expertise and sharing that for the development of the 'other' side. Learning resource providers need to get their act together in assessment methods, curriculum development and find ways of achieving direct input to the curriculum and its assessment. Similarly, the lecturers need to develop an understanding of the ways in which learning and information resources can be used to develop learning skills as well as subject knowledge". There is a developing need here for collaboration and convergence.

The virtual professions have to be backed up by digital libraries. The Digital Library environment is one which melds the storage and retrieval power of computing, the communication capabilities of electronic networking, and the structures and practices of physical libraries and archives improved to ensure resource distribution in an equitable manner beyond the local site. The overall aim is to have a fully integrated environment for the end user which will deliver information to the desktop where an electronic or print form. The questions which have been addressed by the US Coalition for Networked Information to be addressed in commercial terms are:

  • What will be the economics of digital libraries?
  • What will be the principal pricing models for information in an advanced global Internet?
  • How will pricing models be affected by different technological factors and market environments?
  • What will be the relationships between classic production costs, transaction costs, and the economic value of intellectual property?
  • How will different pricing practices at lower layers affect the pricing of information?
  • What are likely long-term trends and scenarios for different pricing models? What will be the effect of bundling or unbundling of information services?
  • How will changing cost structures change the allocation of rights between authors and publishers and other intermediaries?
  • How will markets for complementary products and services affect the pricing and use of information?
  • What are the policy implications of different pricing models? How do these reflect policy values associated with different kinds of information?

How does this impact structure of libraries. Libraries will be an amalgam of print and electronic for some time to come but the emphasis is shifting, and will continue to shift, to an information provision which needs an effective co-operation of information specialists, network providers and trainers. Information for libraries becomes an ACTIVE mode rather than the largely PASSIVE mode, ie. currently we buy an item and then wait and hope in the large research libraries that it finds a user. The Web has turned the medium inside out, ie, the user and the process "pulls" information rather than the "push" of physical artefacts. The curatorial role of libraries will change to one of filtering and interpreting.

Professor George Steiner in March gave the keynote address (Steiner, 1996) at the London Book Fair. Steiner cited a newly-discovered papyrus from the fifth-century: a critical work predicting that Homer's Odyssey had no future because it was too long, too repetitive with all those rosy-fingered dawns! But he also bore within him a warning from his Engineering colleagues at Cambridge. They are, he said, very close to inventing a small-scale display unit - a screen that imitates a page, clearly printed. Their units could give you access to all 14 million items in the Library of Congress (providing of course LC had digitised them).

A new development quoted in the March 17 Boston Globe was from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which turns computer generated script into pages that look like conventional printed type. This is achieved by encapsulating something similar to black iron filings between two membranes and aligning them to form type using a magnetic field. This clever idea rather resembles a hi-tech Etch-a-Sketch, and starts to tackle the basic objection of having to read text from a VDU monitor. It is early days for this device, but if it works it may have a profound impact on the conventional printed book as we know it, as well as on booksellers. Harvard incidentally is pioneering MBA's globally on the Net.

A recent report, by the Institute for the Management of Information Systems (IDPM, 1996), points to rising salaries, spiralling staff turnover and severe skills shortages as key problems facing the IT industry in the UK. It identifies three main skill shortages - or "skills hotspots". The first is electronics marketing skills, especially for those with TCP/IP and EDI experience. The second is technical and marketing expertise in the telecommunications and cable comminations sector. The third main shortage is in conversion skills. The report analyses skills in demand by function, product and location, and makes predictions for the short and medium term. For example, it finds that the rapid growth in demand for network (PC/LAN and WAN) and client/server skills over the past year is slowing but will probably accelerate as the boom in conversions takes hold.

The report calls for a national IT skills agenda, bringing together the Government, users, suppliers professional bodies and academics "if you keep things in-house, you need to think about what your people want to do in your organisation - you have to think about their career development. If you outsource, you need to sharp end your IT monitoring and awareness capabilities to ensure suppliers have the skills claimed and/or adequate quality controls over subcontractors". The Report concludes that in the wake of the skill-demand boom there will be a slump before "the mass deployment of business and consumer multimedia that will drive the next IT skills cycle. That cycle will rely on the use of tools and techniques that have yet to emerge and demand a convergence of computing and communications skills and cultures, both technical and artistic".

Geoff Mulgan (Mulgan, 1996), Director of the Demos think tank, has recently analysed the impact that new technology will have on publishing. He believes "in a sense it is the generic skills that will dominate. We are moving towards a situation when there will be three Ss rather than three Rs, the key generic skills - simulation, surfing and selecting as opposed to reading, writing and arithmetic. It is those perhaps more than any of the apparently very specific vocational skills that will be needed. The vocational will always run the risk of obsolescence, of not being through routes to other skills". Italo Calvino in his last book, Memos for the Millennium. identified the four key qualities namely "swiftness, lightness, exactitude and multiplicity". It is adaptability and speed of reaction which will really count and make the difference between success and failure in a life long learning context.

What of the profession? A well known Net sociologist Professor Rob Kling University of California at Irvine has recently moved to head the Centre for Social Implementation of the Graduate Library and Information School at Indiana as Professor of Information Science and Systems. He sees a much wider role for the profession in the future. "It is not yet clear what shape this restructured field will take. But there are several schools, including Information Studies at Syracuse and the U of Toronto, GSLIS at The University of Illinios - Urbana Champaign, SILS at the University of Michigan, and SIMS at U C Berkeley that are making rapid efforts to explore new issues in information and communication systems.

At SLIS, he plans to continue pursuing research interests and to spearhead the establishment of a new SLIS-based research center, provisionally named the Center for Social Informatics. Part of the Center's charter is to serve as a focal point at IU for social studies of information and communication systems and to work with faculty in other schools and departments (Business, telecommunications, computer science, public administration, sociology, etc.).

At the OCLC Research Directors Conference in March in Columbus, Ohio Johns Hopkins Librarian Jim Neil said that most university research libraries are currently configured around the "one purchase no users syndrome" - we need to move to multiple purpose, multiple users syndrome. We need to talk about market segregation ie. a need to talk about cost recovery from specific parts of the University population for example articles in science and where do libraries want to be and should they be? Libraries were being buffeted to use by gales of creative destruction and they needed to be positioned in the access to information market. The markets in future will be increasingly fragmentary and decentralised.

Do librarians want to pull, push or be passive? If the latter I believe we are a dying profession. As Harris and Hannah (1996) have highlighted in a recent article "The Treason of Librarians" that the library professions sudden interest in the needs of users is long overdue and that it clearly has been provoked by the unique shift in core technology of communication.


Information is the protagonist in cyberspace - subject and verb. Data is wealth, power information in the topography of data as indicated by American writer William Gibson. William Gibson's novel Neuromancer (1984) provides many of the nomenclatures and images of the cyberspace despite having been typed on a manual typewriter. "The sky above the port was the colour of television, turned to a dead channel" are the now classic first words of Neuromancer. If one takes the banality and Americanisation of the entertainment industry as one level of intellectual greyness then the versatility and individuality of the Net provide a pyrotechnical display in contrast.

Jon Katz in an essay 'Tom Paine and the Internet' in a new collection of essays Cultural Babbage: Technology, Time and Invention (ed F. Spufford and Jenny Uglow (Faber, 1996) claims Paine as the spiritual father of today's digital revolution, in that "information wants to be free". But as we know information is not always free and information is not knowledge. How also do we seek effectively the meaty bits in the global soup of data? The Net can be heaven or hell - a zone dominated by monopolistic profit driven publishers such as Elsevier and intellectual entrapment, or will it allow the liberation of the individual in the pursuit of knowledge and the rise of the virtual professions and virtual university. Only time, economics, governments and technology will tell. I hope libraries and librarians can contribute to the emerging Australian electronic frontier, otherwise we and the clients we serve may become educational convicts of the international multimedia conglomerates who could dominate cyberspaces.


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Clarke, R. (1996). 'Virtual chewing gum on virtual library seats. Human behaviour in electronic communities'. <>

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Egan, G. (1996). Distress. Millennium: London

Gregorian, V. (1996). 'A place elsewhere: reading in the age of the computer'. Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. XLIX, 4, 56-7

Harris, M. and Hannah, S. (1996). '"The treason of the librarians": Core communication technologies and opportunity costs in the information era'. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, January, 3-8

Hutchinson, C. (1996). 'Snares in the charmed circle'. Times Higher Education Supplement. April 12, Multimedia Supplement, iv-v

IDPM. (1995). Riding the whirlwind: IDPM 1995 IT Skills Trends report.

Kogan, M. (1996). quoted in Armitage, C. 'Quantity sinks quality in UK'. The Australian. April 17, 36

Lesk, M. (1996). 'The seven ages of information retrieval'. <>

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Steiner, G. (1996). 'A boast against death'. The Bookseller. 29 March, 18-20

Worthington, T. (1996). 'Australia: the networked nation' <>

Updated:  20 March 2013/ Responsible Officer:  University Librarian/ Page Contact:  Library Systems & Web Coordinator