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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

Libraries, New technologies and Human resources: the challenge to the 21st century

Maria da Conceição Calmon Arruda


This paper focuses on the necessity for Latin American and Caribbean countries to overcome their lack of technology and human resources, and adapt their information services to the reality and the needs of their population as a major challenge to be faced in the twenty-first century.



The link between information and computer technology has resulted in changes that until a few years ago were restricted to science fiction. Countries whose economic model is tied to industrialisation are facing the emergence of a new era, that of the ‘virtual’.

Many Latin American and Caribbean countries have not yet succeeded in establishing a national bibliography and the Internet is now bringing them the era of virtual access. To the extent that collective national catalogues and inter-library loans are concepts which have not been fully developed, resource sharing and co-operation between libraries is infrequent, which means that many countries have not yet entered the era of ‘real access’ to their collections. Believing that linking into information networks can solve these problems may well be mistaken given that consulting foreign databases (in Europe and North America) does not guarantee physical access to the documents or to adequate registers and indexes of the knowledge literature of the region .

Lack of infrastructure; weak manpower; cost of telecommunication, document delivery and cost of information itself are also barriers to implement these networks in the region. This paper intends to give a brief view of this environment and how the information professional can contribute to rationalising the dissemination of information.


If the discovery of the printing press was revolutionary in that it established a new distribution channel of written memory by providing greater divulgation of concepts and ideas, the ‘virtual era’ goes beyond this because, in addition to transcending the concept of distribution, it destroys paradigms and norms with respect to copyright and access to documents (26,27). The digitisation of written memory redefines the concept of information access in so far as the uniqueness of a written work is destroyed, losing its unique, portable character to gain life, sound and colour through the computer. According to Barden [1995] library and information professionals should review their goals, focusing not only on retrieving information but also repackaging it, given that the growth of the World Wide Web provides publishers with an opportunity to reassess how information is stored and distributed.

Physical access to documents is no longer so important: on-line services, databases on CD-ROM, the Internet, all make access possible to diverse sources of information. The information professional is now working with new tools and ideas to access and transfer information. If the system allows downloading, if the research results can be printed, how much does access cost, if it is to a public source... Reading is no longer the only form of access now that the user has the option to format: brochures, CD-ROMs, videos, audio-books, etc (40).

If until a few years ago library automation was the great dream development of libraries and information centres, today their goal is to integrate their services and their users’ access with the new informational reality (30).

According to Rashid [1996], if the quality of a library was measured by the size of its collection, now what is imprint is its to transmit documents and/or information: the concept of the electronic library [1] allowing its users direct access is a reality. Catenazzi and Sommaruga [1996] point out that the use of electronic technology will evolve gradually from a limited application in libraries to an extensive and intensive use of electronic libraries and agent libraries[2] (5).


         LIBRARY      ARTIFACT      OWNER       USERS          ACCESS         SPACE

Before   Private      Physical     Private  Prescribed Set  Homo-geneous   Centralised/
1850			                                                   Private/Real

After    Public       Physical     Public   Hetero-geneous  Hetero-geneous Centralised/
1870                                                                       Public /Real

Now	Personal      Digital    Individual   Individual       Personal    Distributed Public/
        and Group                and Group     or Group                     Private Virtual

Source: LEGGETT et al [1996] adapted from Miksa [1996] 


The globalisation of the economy and means of production, advanced technology and the organisation of countries into economic blocs are factors which mark the end of this century. The European Union, the Mercosul, the CARICON, the fall of the Berlin wall are symbols of this new world order.

Technological advance provoked an earthquake in the area of information, breaking barriers and transporting the future to here and now. Who did not live the Gulf War through the images of CNN? It is the globalisation of information through information networks, cable TVs, on-line databases, etc. The Global Village is a reality, changing people’s daily routines, habits and customs. It is no longer necessary to go to Washington to consult the catalogue of the Library of Congress to conduct bibliographical research: its electronic address is the Open Sesame for researchers and scholars.

“Experts feel that these highways will be the driving force behind economic prosperity into the twenty-first century ” (Cartier [1996])

It is a matter of fact that the majority of Latin American and Caribbean countries lack the human resources, technology and infostructure which allow them to take full advantage of this evolution (4). The ratio of telephone lines to inhabitants is far from ideal, the cost of being connected is high, not to mention the shortage of qualified professionals.


COUNTRY                        Sweden     Trinidad     Argentina     Venezuela     Brazil
                                         and Tobago

WorldRanking			  1   	     43	           45	        55           64
Phone Lines to      		682	    142	          123	        91           71
1.000 Inhabitants

Source: Adapted from World Development Report 1995, Table 32. Infrastructure.

Latin America, which always battled against low levels of education and literacy, is now confronting at the turn of the century the challenge of creating a structure that will permit the integration of this excluded mass of people in an attempt to avoid the division between economic growth and employment , as workers without a minimum level of education will not obtain a place in the labour market (4,9,37). In Brazil the average level of education is below that required to prepare professionals able to handle the new technologies.

According to Deluiz [1996] ‘without the guarantee of nine to ten years of education we run the risk of producing workers easily dismissable because of the rapid obsolescence of knowledge, acquired immediately and without sufficient depth’, a population crippled before they even enter the labour market (9,37).


   Country	Average Years

   Brazil	    5.2

   Costa Rica	    6.8

   Guatemala	    3.2

Note: Data are for all persons fifteen years and over 
Source: World Development Report 1995,  Table 6.1

Peter Drucker [1992] says we are living through a period of transformation in a knowledge society where knowledge is the primary resource for individuals and the economy. Land, labour and capital will not disappear but are becoming of secondary importance. This society will need knowledge workers who should be able to handle high technology equipment and be ready to seize and manage the changes which are occurring in society, committed to the implementation and success of these changes (9,10).

“...there are requirements of competence over the long term that can only be built on an ample base of general education” (Deluiz [1996])

For Cartier [1996] the transference of resources to high technology implies a reduction in investment in education, health, environment, etc, thus aggravating social problems. Many Latin American countries have adopted the neoliberal economic model in an attempt to achieve through cuts in benefits a life style that only a part of the population succeeds in enjoying (37).

Privatisation of state telecommunication companies [5] and sale of portable telephone concessions were some of the strategies adopted to renew Latin America’s telecommunication systems. According to World Development Report -1994 Venezuela’s telephone company expanded its network by 35 percent in the first two years after its privatisation; Chile by 25 percent a year, Argentina’s by 13 percent a year, and Mexico’s by 12 percent a year (42). In Brazil it is estimated that with privatisation the number of telephone subscribers will rise from the current 16,5 million to 40 million by the year 2003 (38).

In the city of São Paulo, principal economic centre of Brazil, poorer members of the population resort to a clandestine telephone system [6] because of the high cost and long delay of installation of official telephone lines (38).


                   TELEPHONE SERVICE (US$)             SUBSCRIPTION (US$)

Brazil			     1,387.71	                    74.63*
Costa Rica		       187.50	 	            18.75
Trinidad and Tobago	        11.82		            30.41
Venezuela		        42.16*		            38.53*

Note: *1993

Source: Adapted from International Telecommunication Union 
        Statistical Yearbook, 1987-1994. 


The countries in the region are in different stages of development in the information area. While in some countries libraries and documentation centres are placing their collections on the Internet, in others establishing a national bibliography has not yet been achieved. However, it is possible to access a foreign database specialising in agriculture, but will the data recovered be adequate to the climate of the region? And, if they are, will it be possible to access the document physically? The cost of information access is still high in relation to the socio-economic level of the region (1,31,35).

Armando S. Sandoval [1986] apud Rodriguez [1994] ‘stated that researchers in Mexico send out to some 2000 foreign publications over 3000 manuscripts a year. Most of this research (40% of the publications appearing abroad) are in the health science field’. The most probable reason for this South-North flow of information is that the authors want their work published in indexed journals in order to achieve wider dissemination. It is as if exporters of material goods became exporters of knowledge (34, 35). The inventory and indexation of literature produced in the region is necessary for the subsequent valuing of our databases and document sources.

According to some authors Latin America and the Caribbean have not yet become aware of the added value of information and how much this is essential for development and breaking away from the history of dependence on the North (1,34,35).

“...even when experts from the Third World Countries need information on their own countries the chances are that they will find it easier by consulting the databases available in the developed countries about the Third World” (Rodriguez [1993])

While countries like Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela have already published their respective national bibliographies, others like the Dominican Republic and Haiti have not yet established a bibliography (35).

“the producers of machine-readable bibliographical databases are usually the same learned societies and research oriented institutions which have taken the responsibility of organizing the material once available in the printed format” (Rodriguez [1993])

Today the Web offers its users fifty million pages and, according to Hermans [1996] apud Catenazzi and Sommaruga[1996], the number of hosts connected to the Internet grew from 4,8 million in January 1995 to 9,4 million in January 1996. Some information professionals of the English speaking region of the Caribbean think that the region is about to experience the full impact of being part of a super highway of information although many countries lack the necessary prerequisites (31). In Granada, the Cayman Islands, Antigua, Dominica and St Kitts, Cable and Wireless (a multinational telecommunications company) is the principal provider of access to the Internet because of the lack of competition [7] (31). In Costa Rica ‘some public librarians refuse to check out material for home use, because they are afraid that it won’t be returned’ (39). Clippinger apud Rodriguez [1994] ‘in his studies of Algeria and El Salvador, found that information technology only brought great power within governmental circles and a further weakening of means of diffusion of information to the general public’. According to Ferguson [1995] Barbados External Telecommunications Service (BET) introduced a commercial service, Caribbean Online Information Service, which provide linkages to local, regional and international databases, it is expected that with the implementation of this service there will be an improvement in the co-operation between libraries in the region as well as better services provided by them. Reid [1996] relates that Barbados External Telecommunications Service (BET) has made Internet access available to all primary and secondary schools. ‘In Trinidad and Tobago, Interserv Ltd., has created home pages for three leading secondary schools in the capital’(31). In Argentina it is only since June 1995 that the Internet services electronic mail, Telnet, WWW and Gopher have been available in real time to companies and individuals. Before then these services were only available to specific sectors (19). In Brazil access to the Internet was made viable with the creation of the National Research Network (RNP), a government project which established a network of computers to support research and education, responsible for the linkup between states/regions and the co-ordination of international connections (18). The co-operative system managed by BIREME (Centro Latinoamericano y del Caribe de Información en Ciencias de la Salud) is perhaps the only one which has achieved the best results in the region concerning integration, co-operation and services and has its headquarters in Brazil. According to Figueiredo, since 1974 BIREME has allowed co-operating centres to conduct online research , and in 1989 made available the database LILACS [8] (Latin American Literature in Health Sciences) on CD-ROM (13, 34) .

The Colombian Network for Science, Education and Technology (CETCOL) has as its objectives providing the country with an infrastructure common to the Sistema Nacional de Información Científica y Tecnológica, al Sistema Nacional de Información de Educación Superior and other national systems, establishing a Colombian data transmission network within the rules and protocols of the Internet, international connection, national connection and encouraging the development of institutional and regional networks (3).

With the establishment of the National Program of Public Libraries in 1983 the number of public libraries in Mexico has grown from 351 to more than 4000 by 1992. ‘Probably the first country in Latin America to have access to online databases’ (Lau apud Seal [1996]) until 1994, Mexico did not have a national backbone computer network, the establishment of which would solve problems of information access, given that the majority of research libraries are in Mexico City. According to Seal ‘while a national bibliographical network would be highly desirable for Mexico, co-operation might best be done at first on a regional basis, and indeed there have been several such successful endeavors in cities, states, and regions’. As many countries in the region, Mexico lacks an information policy which will ensure that the resources available will be geared to main projects (17,25,34,35,36).

CDS/ISIS, software for the automation of libraries, developed and distributed free by UNESCO, is the most used in the region. As a result the vast majority of databases are in ISIS (1,35).



CULTURAL 	Preponderance of unskilled workers
SOCIAL		High illiteracy rate
DEMOGRAHPHIC	Failure to recognise information as a resource
		Language barriers
		Over-expectation of technology
		Low priority of research
		Local publishing industry weak

INFORMATION	Telephone, postal and electric services inadequate
INFRASTRUCTURE	Restrictive importation regulations
		Telecommunication networks inaccessible
		Absence of information standards
		Poor bibliographical control
		Insufficient hard-copy collections
		Information flow inadequate and weak manpower
		Shortage of trained manpower
		Low prestige of information professionals
		Inadequate continuous education
		Dearth of specialists

GEOGRAPHIC 	High Cost of Networking with continental systems
AND 		Large rural areas lack necessary infrastructure
INTELECTUAL 	Communication, transportation and information flow inadequate
ISOLATION	Lack of strong professional organisation

Source: Rodriguez [1994]

The establishment of a tele-informational structure and the skilling of human resources are not the only components which will make possible interaction with Latin America and the Caribbean. There is a linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversity that should be taken into consideration when designing the architecture of an information system of the region in order to avoid making a general rule of what Alma Jordan [1977] apud Ferguson [1995] ‘alludes as the natural tendency for Caribbean territories to be outward – looking to the ‘colonial motherland’ rather than to their Caribbean neighbours’ (35).

The Network of Networks project, financed by the CIID (Centro Internacional de Investigaciones para el Desarrollo - Canada) , has the objective of co-ordinating a combined effort with the Latin American information networks to promote regional integration and a new operational reality. Taking part in this project are ALIDE (Asociación Latinoamericana de Instituciones Financieras del Desarrollo); BIREME (Centro Latinoamericano y del Caribe de Información en Ciencias de la Salud - Brazil); IBASE (Instituto Brasileiro de Análises Sociais e Econômicas - Brazil) ; REDUC (Red Lationoamericana de Información y Documentation Económica y Social) ; CLADES (Centro Latinoamericano de Documentación Económica y Social); PRODAR (Programa IV Agroindustria/IICA – Costa Rica) ; CLACSO (Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales –Argentina) ; CLDA (Centro Latinoamericano de Administración para el Desarrollo – Venezuela) ; DOCPAL/CELAD Información sobre Población (OIM-CIMAL/IPALCA – Chile) ; (IACI/Programa PIINFA Bienestar Infantil – Uruguay); ISAPLAC/IICA (Información sobre Producción Animal – Costa Rica); PESICRE/SELA (Proyecto Estado de Situación de la Cooperación Regional – Venezuela); PLACIEX (Proyecto Latinoamericano y del Caribe de Información Comercial y de Apoyo al Comercio Exterior – Peru); UPEB (Red de Países Exportadores de Banana – Panama); REPIDISCA (Centro Panamericano de Ingeniería Sanitaria y Ciencias del Ambiente – Peru); RINAP (Red de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana –Peru) (7) .


Information v technology v underdevelopment. The technology exists - it is marvellous - but the countries do not have the necessary infrastructure or human resources. Some countries have language problems: some ethnic groups cannot communicate in the official language of the country. Thus information professionals should be prepared to develop tools which allow the filtering of relevant information, appropriate to the strategy of each country. For Cartier [1996] the Internet, information highway and the Web are not simply technological weapons but rather ones which have the potential to become innovations or destabilising elements depending on the way in which they are used.

“...the Internet has the potential to become a cultural and economic Trojan horse in many countries” (Cartier [1996])

The arrival in the Latin American market of the Web TV will cause a great impact on the dissemination of information owing to its low cost and its potential as a network tool. If the use of the Network Computer is approved, it will have a big impact on library budgets in that they will not have to invest in programs and systems of automation to have their collections on-line and can access other remote sources of information. The concept of Library networks can be implemented at a low cost in hardware and the training of human resources.

We are living in an era of mass customisation of information which allows the user access different sources of information in various formats, so information professionals should be able to identify and select adequate resources to facilitate the transfer of information for their users, since the main point is not the amount of information but rather the mechanisms that will match supply to demand (16). According to Quinn [1992] an emergent technology is often sold as a solution, although the technological response of yesterday might not be the best solution for tomorrow.

“A technical decision requires adequate knowledge to understand the whole scenario (a holistic perspective)” (Quinn [1992])

In this context information science is the area of knowledge that produces the methods and effective techniques for the flux of information to move from the point of generation to the point of use (16). For Herbert Meyer [1987] apud Quinn [1992]:

  1. Information supports the global environment.

  2. Change is the only permanent thing that we can count on.

  3. Information glut or overload exists as never before.

To face this environment, the information professional must make a continuous investment in education, since the future will require workers capable of dealing with and operating high technology equipment, ready to take on and manage changes which occur in society, committed to the implementation and success of these changes (8,10). The information professional should be equipped to act as facilitator of processes in order to establish a channel between the lack of technological resources and access to vital information which will make possible the integration between his users and emergent technologies.

To Kane [1997] ‘libraries of today “can” remain viable information centers in the twenty-first century. Changing library operations to provide access to information is an essential step in securing the success of the library of the future’.

With the recycling of information professionals in view, INFOBILA (Información y Bibliotecología Latinoamericana) was created, a project of Centro Universitario de Investigaciones Bibliotecológicas de la Universidad Autónoma de Mexico through agreed regional co-operation with seven countries [9] which aims at developing a single, integrated database to record Latin American production in librarianship (32) .


Technological evolution has produced a paradoxical situation in Latin America and the Caribbean. While one part of the population uses and celebrates the new technologies and the economic market that exploits them, the other part is excluded from this process because it does not have the necessary capacity or education to interact with this environment. They are excluded form the socio-economic process. It is important to develop or discover tools that allow the integration of this population. It is necessary to devote efforts to the recording and indexing of the regional literature, making it available at first hand in its place of origin and not through a foreign database.

If information is knowledge, it is necessary that information professionals should be prepared to develop tools that will relate the available information to the reality and strategy of each country. This will allow the use of information/knowledge as a tool to train and empower existing human resources and reduce the number of those excluded from the system.


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  1. ... the electronic library (1980s), that can be considered as a new means for delivering information where documents are available on line and remotely accessible through a network’ (CATENAZZI AND SOMMARUGA )

  2. Electronic libraries are moving towards intelligent agent libraries...While in electronic libraries computers technology is used to manage and provide access to both documents and services, in agent libraries it is also adopted to intelligently accomplish complex tasks’ (CATENAZZI AND SOMMARUGA )

  3. Information is fast becoming the center of gravity of the socio-economic systems in all countries; increasingly, it is becoming a strategic resource, a resource carried by information highways (Internet, Intranet, Web, etc.) ...The field of health and social services is preparing to move from an era of infrastructures to that of infostructures’ (CARTIER)

  4. Main line is a telephone line connecting the subscriber’s terminal equipment to the public switched network and which has a dedicated port in the telephone exchange equipment. This term is synonymous with the term “main station” which is commonly used in telecommunication documents’(International Telecommunication Union)

  5. The transition from state-owned monopoly to multiple operators requires new attention to regulation. Preventing the dominant operators from abusing its market power...requires proper accounting and disclosure requirements, performance targets, and incentive-based price controls.’ (World Development Report, 1994)

  6. Families rent a phone line on black market. After that they buy a Central telephonic, cables and a printer, then the Central telephonic is connected to the rent line. Each Central is connected to ten houses, as company extension lines. Only in São Paulo city are 25 thousand clandestine central telephonic (TELECOMUNICAÇÕES).

  7. There is a total of five (5) Internet service providers operating in Trinidad and Tobago, three (3) in Barbados and Jamaica and a total of approximately twenty (20) for the Region’ (REID).

  8. 62 institutions involved in some phase of medical sciences in 16 countries ... have cooperated to produce this database organized in 1982. It is up-dated quarterly. It contained approximately 27,000 records in 1991’ (RODRIGUEZ [35])

  9. Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Peru and Mexico