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Information Scotland

The Journal of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

ISSN 1743-5471

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April 2008 Volume 6(2)

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

President's perspective

At a point full of potential

Two interesting events cause Alan Hasson to see the increasing importance of our skills.

I had two interesting events to go to since I last wrote this column.

On the first Friday in April I went to the launch evening of ‘500 Years of Printing in Scotland’ at the Playfair Library in Edinburgh. The event was exactly, barring calendar reforms, on the 500th anniversary of the printing of John Lydgate’s The Complaint of the Black Knight on 4 April 1508. The evening concentrated, as you would expect, on the technicalities of printing, but in addition it was interesting to see the mix of people to whom the printed word was core to their world: besides craft and commercial printers there were newspaper people, academics and librarians, publishers and many more.
In preparation for the evening I’d had a look at the excellent supporting website for the continuing celebrations, which are spread throughout our wee country, discovering events on my own doorstep that I hadn’t known about. There was something compelling in that juxtaposition of continuity and step change. Here was a celebration of the printed word, the birth of easier access to information, with all that that would mean in turmoil and progress (cf How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman), where the easiest access to pertinent information was via an electronic medium, our generation’s

My Google search for Black Knight was spot on. I immediately had the usual slew of x hundred citations. Discounting the various people from Schenectady, Perth et al whom it seemed were willing to get me to level seven and some insistent adverts for exotic products, I plumped for Wikipedia. Wrong. The prominent lead took me to an article on a Bugs Bunny cartoon. As part of the pull of the net is going down these byways, I read it. It was factually incorrect. I knew it was inaccurate.

As I wasn’t carrying out serious research on Bugs, all this was amusing, but again there’s an interesting tension here. Access to untrammelled information is something to be strived for, be it in the public’s oversight of government or in getting to level seven. But there is the continuing need to ensure that the freedom of access to information is balanced by the accuracy of that information or at the very least knowledge that the source is possibly suspect or biased or out of date. For members of CILIPS, such guidance, be it directly or by user training, is one of the core skills, and of course, the deployment of these skills should never allow us to be arrogant enough to take on the role of censors. The assistance our professional skills and knowledge can provide to the professional or casual researcher is one which sets a continuing series of challenges in the electronic media. Recent developments in some of our publicly-funded organisations suggest that that role itself and the utility of the printed word may be one which is subject to fairly radical review.

My second event was a multi-focused seminar on the introduction of digital terrestrial broadcasting and the uses of next generation broadband. The technical developments on the first, with low-cost local broadcasting available almost universally and with the TV becoming an affordable access point for the net, have the potential to introduce yet another phase shift. The work carried out in Dundee on local broadcasting had implications on local democracy and community empowerment that places our profession, positioned as many of us are in the heart of communities and with knowledge management skills, at a point full of potential. Even given the old rubric that what this country needs is more free speech worth listening to, the idea of an inclusive, locally-based, two-way, communication medium is compelling.

The broadband issue was, of course, more immediate and potentially even more relevant for us professionally. The Western Isles ‘Connected Communities’ programme, with its information hubs, people co-operating in legal work coming from London and providing it efficiently and at a cost saving, thus helping to maintain viable rural communities, was again one where the potential is obvious, given the past essays in imagination and risk such as the People’s Network.

All of the above simply points out the fact that we are in a time of increasing professional change and that the speed of that change is accelerating. Some of the directions of change are clear: increasing access to e-provided information, and a more unregulated information milieu. Some are less clear, there in potential only: local voices heard more widely than before, distributed working, the primacy of the electronic over the printed as an information source, and an increasing need to re-skill and refocus.

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Information Scotland Vol. 6(2) April 2008

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Last updated: 16-Jul-2008