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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 123-137-E
Division Number: III.
Professional Group: Public Libraries
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 137.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   Yes

Libraries and National Information Policies and/or National IT Strategies - A Survey

Hellen Niegaard,
BTJ Denmark Ltd
Copenhagen, Denmark


December the 10th 1948 almost 50 years ago United Nations adopted one of it's most visionary documents of impact to all human beings in countries all over the world: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1). Celebrating the declaration this year has proved its continuing importance and relevance - and the ever-existing demand to live up to its intentions. In the fields of libraries article 19 of the document states " Everyone has the right of freedom of opinion and expressions: this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers". In her paper (2) at the Contributed Paper Sessions of last year's IFLA conference in Copenhagen Marian Koren, NBLC in the Hague illuminated how the concept of right to information has developed from being at first primarily understood as a mass media issue and journalist's rights to freely move around the world in order to seek and gather information to a more broad concept, which stresses freedom of information as freedom of expression towards today's third sense of understanding, putting the weight on the receivers of information. Underlining that it is considered most important that individuals have access to information. In this view, people have a right to know, a right to uncensored news and information. A perspective that has gained influence scientifically according to Ms Koren and that is being used now world wide including within institutions of United Nations. A concept also reflecting the intentions of the most important international document of Public Libraries: UNESCO's Public Library Manifesto (3). The manifesto was first published in 1949 and lately revised in 1994. The document states the role of public libraries as local gateways to information, to knowledge and culture and it underlines that the services of the libraries are provided on a basis of equality of access for all human beings. It also stresses that collections and services of the libraries have to include all types of appropriate media and modern information technologies as well as traditional materials, and it underlines that they should not be subject to any form of ideological, political or religious censorship, nor commercial pressures. A concept which taking the development of the information society into consideration put libraries in a central position when working for fulfilment of article 19.

Furthering access to information through public libraries

The information society generates and consumes enormous amounts of information and at the same time information technological progress has made it easier to process, store and communicate information and knowledge in new ways. Alone the ever-accelerating Internet generates innumerable quantities of information supported by a still ongoing decrease in telecommunication costs as well as in hardware prices. However the large amounts of information available also creates a number of different problems, because it is difficult to assess exactly what information is available and how specific groups of citizens may get at it. What does it take to meet that development? For libraries as well as for their originators and "sponsors". The development calls for new actions from all types of libraries including the public libraries and the way they store and make available their collections. However also for new actions of more fundamental character from the authorities financing libraries and the way these authorities take advantage of libraries' services and include them in national planning, when dealing with the needs of the information society and aiming at furthering access to information for all citizens. In the light of this situation creation of a national information policies and IT-strategies are needed more than ever everywhere. As the revised edition of UNESCO's manifesto emphasises "The public library is the responsibility of local and national authorities. It must be supported by specific legislation and financed by national and local governments. It has to be an essential component of any long-term strategy for culture, information provision, literacy and education". A couple of years ago IFLA's Section of Pulic Libraries therefore decided to find out whether IFLA's member states actually have established or are developing national information policies and - or national information technology strategies. And if positive, whether they include libraries.

National Information Policy/IT strategies - a survey

In 1996/97 a survey was carried out. A questionnaire consisting of 25 questions was sent out to all national library associations or national libraries - in two rounds. Of IFLA's then one hundred and almost forty member states, only about 30% did answer so far. However survey results indicate a rather clear trend. This trend is introduced below and will be followed by an introduction to two countries' different ways of tackling needs of the information society in regard to promoting access to information through libraries. The Section will later this year inform Professional Board of the survey results in a report. It will be two sided and intends on one hand to reflect how member states aim at providing access to information via tools such as national information policies and national IT-strategies and will on the other hand also put forward suggestions for any relevant IFLA actions in the field.

Though the responses more or less represent all parts of the world and include both developed and developing countries the Section decided at its Spring Meeting earlier this year in Cleveland to make an extra effort in order to have more answers and thereby make the survey more representative. Therefore questionnaires have been sent out once more this summer to countries, that did not respond before. Furthermore countries that did answer, but stated they had not yet or were about to have any form of NIP/NITS will be contacted again ahead of the report. In case responses from this last round differ fundamentally from the results introduced here, an article will be published in IFLA Journal or at the Internet together with the final report to Professional Board, which the Section will do for PB's December meeting this year. It will thus not be appropriate to go into details of all responses at this moment however in stead concentrate on the main lines of the survey, as it has given a rather clear picture of the importance of the issue.

Survey - results and indications

Formal conclusions so far are; about 100 nations did not reply. Maybe because the questionnaire was too difficult. Or maybe because it was wrongly targeted - or maybe because some of the countries did not have any National information policies or National IT Strategies at that time and therefore did not report; though the questionnaire included possibilities to do so.

As to the issue, the conclusions are; it is definitely an issue. IT is forcing the agenda everywhere. Where policies and strategies are developed - it seems less difficult to develop and establish such policies and strategies than to follow up sufficiently. In the majority of the countries having NIP/NITS, these appear to comprise a range of activities of various relevant institutions including new ways of co-operation between them as well as development aspects of IT as such. But a few countries state that their policies and/or strategies only comprise library matters.

To the question whether they have or have not either National information policies (NIP) or National IT-strategies (NITS) 11 % says no, while 89% represent four different groups, dealing with either NIP or NITS or both. Thus 24% claim to be under way to develop NIP/NITS or is discussing the issue and the need for such policies and strategies. Before giving the report to PB this group will be contacted once more as probably some of the countries might now have established NIP or NITS.

Of the 65% positive answers 32,5% are in fact countries having both a formal (sort of) National Information Policy and National IT strategies; the group includes countries from Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe. In all these countries libraries and their services are mentioned in general, while 19% of them specifically talk about public libraries and several of them include other types of libraries as well.

Another 32,5% report to have either NIP (11%) or some sort of NITS (21,5%), and of these countries only 8% do not refer to libraries at all. In fact some 57% of the positive answers include libraries and library services as an important instrument when planning the way a nation should meet and act in regard to the demands of the information society. A very clear and both for libraries and for authorities or governments interesting response, a result that has settled with the widely spread impression that libraries and library services often are forgotten when governments and authorities deal with issues of fundamental importance to the development of their societies. It is thus a response that calls for new actions from IFLA in order to further access to the information, knowledge and culture via library collections and services all over the world. One step of action should be a formal invitation to UNESCO, UN's organisation for education, science, culture and information and media, to revise UNESCO's guidelines on National Information Policy: Scope, Formulation and Implemention (4). Being developed thirteen years ago, the guidelines do not cope with current developments within the fields of communication and information technology nor the latest IT tools, their possibilities and problematic aspects. A revision is very much needed and might perhaps be done as a common project between UNESCO and IFLA in the near future and should in that case be based on a formal contract.

The role of libraries

In almost all the countries NIP and/or NITS was adopted recently (1993-1997. Implementation and evaluation (following-up) of NIP/NTIS are almost everywhere the responsibility of National (or federal) government alone, however in a couple of countries also of local authorities. Most countries have appointed a particular body or committee to be responsible for co-ordination. Where libraries play the central role of the NIP/NITS, often the national library or a similar institution is responsible. The role of the libraries includes of course all traditional library tasks - comprising both traditional collections and IT-services but this is not all.

In different words several countries see the future role of libraries as public access points to knowledge and information, "gateways to information", as a bridge between information strong and information weak citizens, as information centre toward a national IT development and as partners in processes of standardisation etc. Target groups are generally "the public in general, educational and scientific institutions, as well as national business". NIP/NITS is put into practice in a number of ways - varying from legislation and other state initiatives to national programmes and projects. A part from a few exceptions funding derives everywhere from public budgets; state and/or local level, mostly state. To the question "What progress have been made due to NIP/NITS?" allocating of funds is together with co-ordination the most common replies. When asked about the importance of libraries being a part of NIP/NITS, answers are very positive in general, though some do underline that one thing is adopting NIP/NITS another is to make the intentions come through. In the following the situation of two of the answering countries will be briefly introduced: Finland's and Malaysia's; both are among the countries to having a combination of NIP and NITS.

A couple a examples

The unpredictable rapid development of information technology has created an information society where all kind of information is available to principally everyone. In this situation a number of countries have established or further developed national information policies and IT-strategies, among those are Finland and Malaysia.

In Finland (5 mio inhabitants), a government position paper (5) in 1995 outlined an information society strategy stipulating that each administrative branch prepare detailed action plans to implement a strategy with the aim of providing every citizen the opportunity to acquire the new skills (of the information society) needed and to obtain access to information. The Ministry of Education focuses it's activities on education, research and culture, providing institutions concerned with modern information networks, and guaranteeing schools at all levels the opportunity to use these networks and the services offered by them. Libraries were also included in this development, since they are considered crucial in providing these services to everybody. The paper was followed by a national strategy (6) covering the period until 1999. The goal of these strategies is to guarantee all citizens equal opportunities in the new information environment. These strategies show how levels of education and research can be raised with the help of information technology. They simultaneously suggest how national competitiveness can be improved and employment opportunities increased, how people's access to and use of information can be promoted and how basic skills in using modern technology can be learned by everybody. They also encourage citizens to faze new challenges arising in an ever-changing society. The key elements here are high-quality education, training, research and culture, with opportunities for lifelong learning available to everyone. By international standards, the information society in Finland has already achieved a high level of developments in terms of social, communication and information technology measures. The technical infrastructure as a whole in Finland is also rather sophisticated, and in certain fields Finland must (autumn 1997) be considered among the world's most interesting countries in regard to such development. Some central goals have already been mentioned another is to build education and research networks into an open global network. The ultimate goal, the Finnish Information Highway, is a consortium of local, regional and national networks as a part of an open global information network. When it comes to libraries (archives and museums) a number of initiatives have been taken. Professionals in the information services have for instance been given extensive in-house training since it became obvious that the new information technology is going to change the nature of their work fundamentally. University libraries, which are public, form the backbone of scientific libraries and a centrally purchased library system has been integrated and constitutes the basis of research libraries services in the country. Access to information is one of the fundamental rights of all citizens, and the Finnish Public library system (municipal libraries) forms the basis of initiatives in order to fulfil this right. An overall aim is to prevent citizens from becoming alienated in the information society by offering them adequate services and access to Internet etc at the public library. In 1998 extra funds to be used specifically in public libraries are 10 mio FIM, while the total 1998 funds for the information strategy is around 265 mio FIM.

Through the National Information Technology Council the Malaysian (19 mio inhabitants) government has introduced a number of IT policies and projects in order to transform Malaysia into a digital nation. In the governments Vision 2020 (7) a long term development is scheduled. In 2020, the overall goals are that "All Malaysians will have access to information and learning through a national infostructure for personal, organisational and national advancement" and that "Information and knowledge applications will provide the basis to further enhance quality of life". The major thrust is of Vision 2020 is to develop an information-rich society, which nurtures science and technology culture and changes the education system with emphasis on IT teaching and learning. The library IT development is stated in the "National Policy on Library and Information Services" (8) and designs a three-tier library development plan for library services based on three levels: national, state and rural level. At the moment in Malaysia there are approximately 8.500 libraries of different type and size8 . They are the National Library, 13 university libraries, 300 special libraries, 14 state libraries, 189 municipalities, district, rural and mobile libraries and about 8000 school libraries. The State libraries are responsible for the development of the state wide library network that extends to districts, towns and villages, and initiatives in the IT area are numerous. One is the development of nation-wide public libraries will bring information services to local communities in the cities, to the villages and to remote areas. The JARINGARD ILMU (knowledge network) is linking state libraries with the Internet. Internet access is soon supposed to be widely available in the public libraries at local and village levels. Thus introducing information technologies to rural communities is expected to mainstream development and thereby making a quantum leap into a new technological era in Malaysia. A development connected to the recent decision of the Malaysian Government to set up 500 Desa Wawasan (Visionary Villages) to promote the use of IT also in the villages. Libraries will be an integrated part of these villages.

To conclude - IT is definitely forcing the agenda world wide in general, but in particular in the library sector. All nations need to deal with the information society. The explosive development in formation technology has forced and will force governments all over the world as well as many international organisations to start public debate on the information society, its possibilities and problems and the way it is structured in each country in order to contribute both to nations and to individuals positive development. It calls for innovative thinking to find ways and means of preventing social isolation among the information weak in all countries, first of all through improved educational efforts however also through establishment of open national information networks which will enable more people to take advantage of the benefits of the information society. Neither in human nor societal terms can any country afford not to deal with these matters and must sooner or later develop and support new communication structures, it is therefore highly relevant for them to set up and adopt national information policies and/or IT-strategies, and not least to see that such tools include all appropriate means such as the services of the libraries.

IFLA's Standing Committee for Public Libraries appointed mid 1995 a special ad-hoc group, to work with the NIP/NITS issue. Members: Francoise Danset, France, Peter Klinec, Slovakia, Philip Gill, UK and Hellen Niegaard, Denmark. When FD and PK left the committee in 1997, Nic Diament, France and Ilona Glashoff, Germany joined the working group.


  1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. United Nations adopted 10 December 1948.

  2. The right to information as a condition for human development. A paper by Maren Koren, NBLC the Hague, at the 1997 IFLA conference in Copenhagen (IFLA '97 Booklet 0) based on a Ph.D. study from 1996.

  3. UNESCO Public Library Manifesto, 1994.
    Original text and a number of translations can be found at www.

  4. Guidelines on national Information Policy: Scope, Formulation and Implementation. Paris, 1985 General Information Programme and UNISIST (PGI-85/WS/14)

  5. National Strategy on Education, Training and Research. The Ministry of Education, Finland 1995.

  6. Towards a Culture-Oriented Information Society. The Ministry of Education, Finland 1996.
    See also: www.minedu.fi/eopm/strategi/2.html

  7. National IT Agenda, p.1-16. The National Information Technology Council of Malaysia.

  8. Developing national information and knowledge infrastructure by Shahar Banun Jaafar, Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia. Regional Conference on Public Libraries: Planning future needs, Nov. 1997.