Confronted with the challenge of setting the scene for your conference with this address I went, of course, straight to the web. A simple Google search on "the role of libraries" returned over 800,000 items. It was almost as bad, but much more fun, when I went searching for some relevant pictures to enliven this dull presentation. (I think one of the worst crimes that my technology sector has done is to introduce the Powerpoint presentation, where you reduce intellectual discourse to a series of dot points, so I have made it a rule for myself that I am never again going to use dot points on a slide, but I will allow myself the occasional picture). The online Picture Australia portal is a great initiative and a splendid example of creative collaboration across libraries and museums. It contained lots of picture of libraries and librarians.
My online searches reminded me of the value of browsing. Connecting the disconnected. The challenge with browsing is that one does not know what one does not know. So I get frustrated with search engines, Amazon (and digital catalogues) which are useful for topic silos but not for that splendid serendipity I recall from my student days of just wandering down library aisles or that art of dinner party conversation where one person's point will trigger a new line of discourse.
This reflection on my Internet search reminds us that the technology of information management is still very, very primitive. And both our digital catalogues and our public policy models remain silo-like. We do not have a coherent "whole of government" cultural policy nor an information policy.
Another frustration that surfaced when I was going through this Internet search in preparation for today was one that is being increasingly highlighted by a number of commentators: the emergence of a new digital divide. This is the divide between the "Before-Internet" and the "After-Internet" eras. An internet search will reveal a huge amount of recent information, but it will write off millennia of intellectual discourse and intellectual capital, most of which has not been digitised. This is why the digitalisation of our pre-digital knowledge base as a civilisation is, in my view, of immense importance and something to which we ought to be giving much more attention.
But back to my Google search. The other thing that struck me during this search was that there was a lot of really interesting public policy work going on in the United States and Europe in the area of information management and the role of libraries. There is a whole tradition of independent policy research that we do not see replicated here in Australia, which is, I think, a great pity. It means that there is a wider discourse out there but we in Australia are seldom truly part of it. Our public policy debates are the poorer as a result.
Reviewing the spoils from my Google search I detected symptoms of an identity crisis amongst librarians. There appears to be a sense of insecurity and uncertainty about the roles of librarians and the place of libraries in the emerging information society. One of my favourite examples of a healthy approach to dealing with this sort of identity crisis comes from Sir Earnest Cassell, banker to King Edward VII:
"When I was young, people called me a gambler. As the scale of my operations increased I became known as a speculator. Now I am called a banker. But I have been doing the same thing all the time"
I can identify with the good banker. When I started out in the telecommunications industry everyone said it was a solid but rather uninteresting business. Then I started being told I was in the business of computing and information technology, and everyone said it was an exciting new wave of high technology. Now, when I say I am in the business of the Internet and new electronic interfaces, people label me as being part of a new wave of dubious stock speculators. But I have been doing the same thing all the time. What has changed is the world: world-wide change fuelled by the impact of competition, convergence, globalisation, and, now, investors and stock markets. But my core business has not changed. I suspect it is the same with librarians. What keeps changing is the world around us.
A key conclusion from my Internet searches was that I was in a silo world. As I downloaded papers and documents I felt in a very different world to that in which I normally live. The world of discussion about libraries struck me as silo-like, specialised: a self-contained world of private discussions of librarians with librarians.
So a major theme of my paper this morning is how we establish a broader context for thinking about an information agenda and for the role of libraries in powering our future in a knowledge economy. How do we make sense of the social and economic environment within which we are trying to plot a course?
What is this "Knowledge Economy" we keep talking about? It is clearly not a predestined societal destination nor an outcome to be produced by some formula. To put the matter into perspective, try to imagine Gladstone or Bismarck sitting down with colleagues to plan the course of the industrial revolution! I prefer to talk about the knowledge economy, or information economy, or whatever label we care to use, as a dynamic process of responses to the shock of the new.
In thinking about the emerging global information economy, or knowledge economy, I argue we are currently at a break point, a point of discontinuity in many of the structures and frameworks which shape our economy and the community. The best way I can find to explain the knowledge economy is as a world wide web of forces shaping the 21st century landscape. Our actual futures will be shaped by our responses to these forces.
My working checklist consists of the following ten key forces (initially eight - but every "real" digital list seems to have ten points to be credible, so I've now added two for this occasion):
It is not so much each individual trend that matters; it is their interconnection and the linkages that make the difference - the social ecosystem, to adopt a biological metaphor. It is important for us to grasp the nature of these interdependencies and their impact in changing the frameworks within which we live and work - in other words, to understand the context of innovation and of social change. In describing these forces for change I want to explore, very tentatively, their implications for the world of information and of libraries.
There have been many waves of globalisation throughout history. What is different today is the scope and the intensity of what is happening. We are seeing new levels of global interdependency being embedded through new trades, particularly in skills and knowledge, the trades in services and people and ideas, and now through the emergence of global electronic commerce.
Creative and copyright industries are the United States' biggest exports. In Australia, a recent study by the Allen Consulting Group1 has shown that, in 1999/2000, creative industries contributed $19.2 billion in industry gross product, or 3.3% of gross national product, increasing at an average annual growth rate of 5.7%. 3.8% of the workforce are directly employed in the creative copyright industries. Unfortunately we continue to be a net importer of content and copyright. Australia's trade deficit in the creative industries and intellectual property is growing. The creative industries are becoming, therefore, an increasingly controversial issue in world trade negotiations.
The second key global trend is the progressive impact from the collapse of the Second World order. When I grew up we divided the world into two: the pink bits representing the footprint of the British Empire, and the rest. After the Second World War it became a three way split between a First World of industrialised market economies, the socialist Second World, and a contested and undeveloped Third World.
The pivotal development in our recent history is China's entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Now Russia is lobbying to join the WTO. This represents a massive shift towards the integration and internationalisation of the global economy, to an extent that we have never seen before in history.
The political commentator Francis Fukuyama heralded this era as "the end of ideology". He was wrong. Two factors prove his obituary premature.
First, Fukuyama's pronouncement was quickly displaced by Huntingdon's thesis about the new clash of civilisations; the West against Islam and Confucianism. After September 11 this has been restated as the defence of "civilisation" against a terrorist "axis of evil".
Secondly, I personally concluded he was wrong when I began exploring the possible meanings of global electronic commerce, and the promise of "borderless" markets. It is true that electronic commerce transforms and reshapes markets radically. It is patently not true that markets are borderless. The truth is that the nature of borders changes. The Internet and electronic commerce has, and will, put increasing pressure on traditional constructs of geographically defined borders or regional territories. But no markets are without borders. The trick in the 21st Century is to discern the new boundary markers of trade and commerce, and of intellectual exchange. I argue that these new markers will increasingly be around religion, language, and customs. In other words, around the cultural demarcation of markets. This has been evident in the global demographics of broadcasting and screen-based production; it has been insufficiently examined in other areas of information services and in cultural policy generally.
A third key global force is the radical discontinuities introduced by digital technology and the emergence of the digital economy.
Information and communications technology continues to develop and will become even more pervasive in its impact. There is much more to come, particularly in the area of biotechnology, which will profoundly affect the ways we organise economic activity and our communal life.
In my world of digital technology, everything is reducible to software code. Information is software code. This is the key point to keep in mind when thinking about what digital technology means.
Industrial and firm restructuring looms large in the worldwide web of forces reshaping the 21st Century. The underlying point here is that the nature of the firm or the law (lore?) of inter-personal exchanges as a way of organising market activity has always revolved around the nature and the quantum of transaction costs, the economics of exchanges. Transactions, of course, are fundamentally affected by communications networking and information processing power, which is at the heart of the digital revolution. This affects libraries and markets for information, as it affects everything else.
The flipside of micro-economic restructuring is labour market restructuring. In the early 1990s Robert Reich, who went on to become the Labor Secretary under President Clinton, described the restructuring of labour markets within an information economy. He drew attention to the growing divergence between the location-specific employment of routine production workers and personal service workers on the one hand, and on the other, the new elite knowledge workers who are globally mobile and footloose. Richard Florida has now expanded Reich's work and talks about knowledge workers as "a new creative class".
The industrial revolution was very much about the specialisation of function. The information revolution is very much about the function of special people, knowledge workers - or in Robert Reich's richer term: symbolic analysts. People who can connect their left and right brains. As Richard Rosecrance has argued in the United States, if services and human capital are the focus of future economies (rather than manufacturing and land values), then creativity and innovation are core assets, and education is the essential founding investment in that future.
I note that a recent decision of the full bench of the Industrial Relations Commission in NSW concluded that librarians and information professionals had been undervalued relative to comparable professional knowledge workers .
Over the past decade a quiet revolution has been going on in the area of corporate governance and the nature of the corporation. The cultural shifts associated with the democratisation of stockmarkets, the new primacy of intangible assets, and the emergence of stock options and employee participation in the ownership of firms all starts to change the fundamentals about careers, employment and the nature of labour in organised economic activity. In the wake of the Enron collapse, we are seeing a crisis in twentieth century assumptions about the nature of corporate governance. Hopefully this will trigger a lot of rethinking about the organisation of economic activity and the organisation of capital.
This trend relates to the progressive internationalisation of the key frameworks for the governance of economic activity. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the OECD spearhead a proliferation of international, inter-government or supra-government global organisations, all defining key parameters to business functions and, by extension, to our civic polity.
This trend has led to increasingly complex power-sharing arrangements at the international level between governments, businesses and non-government organisations. And raises the question as to what levers of influence national governments can exercise. The degrees of freedom are contracting and national governments are likely to focus increasingly on the competitiveness of factor inputs - in economic jargon the supply of resources into productive activity - and areas of market failure within a global environment. Hence the debate over "cultural exclusions" to trade agreements.
This trend matters for information policy, because issues of copyright, intellectual property protection and enforcement, and protocols on moral rights and heritage values will increasingly be determined by international agencies and conventions. The WTO and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) increasingly will shape the environment for knowledge workers around the world. The issue is whether issues of culture and public access to information will be taken seriously in such forums, or be relegated to being second-order issues. The issue is whether notions of public good and of a public commons of a creative expression and opus can prevail over the economic imperatives for the privatisation of cultural value and the commodification of creativity. The debate over intellectual property protection and copyright goes to the heart of this matter.
In the twentieth century the global competition between countries was about access to natural resources - rocks and wool and wheat and all that sort of thing - and for flows of capital. In a knowledge economy, in an information society, the competition is very much about people - how can we attract and retain skilled people - and functions like research and development.
I will return later in this paper to issues of new value drivers in more detail, especially with respect to the debates now raging around the economics of intellectual capital.
Notions about an individual's affiliation to the state and of the meaning of citizenship have both mutated and evolved over the centuries. Once citizenship was firmly tied to property, to place. With the industrial revolution and urbanisation, democratic rights shifted to people. This posed few problems when people and place were conterminous, and they were when tribal diasporas were restricted to stateless minority groups like Jews and gypsies. In the early stages of the industrial revolution, most population shifts occurred within countries, mostly associated with urbanisation. In later stages, cross-border migration increased. Two features characterised 20th Century population movements; outside of forced relocations, migration implied permanent resettlement in a new place, and it often occurred formally or informally with group movements.
What is different today with globally mobile knowledge workers is that global migrations are temporary and not rooted to particular locations. They are also based around individual career and lifestyle choices, not around traditional communities. Governments themselves create special rules to facilitate the entry of desired skilled workers. Small nations like Australia find they have a growing pool of expatriates as a global diaspora, a network of international connections and influence.
Traditionally expatriates, like Rupert Murdoch, confronted binary choices: be an Australian citizen or be an American citizen. In the 21st Century I predict that multiple citizenships will become the norm for elite knowledge workers, and that there will be significant changes to electoral practice to reflect increased mobility. All of this mirrors the phenomenon of virtual communities, online enabled special interests groups. So when we talk about libraries and the community, what communities are we talking about?
And finally, we are looking at a revival of culture and belief. We have come, it now seems, to the end of that era where the economic paradigm was the only paradigm in public discourse and public policy, as it has been for the last twenty years or so. This is not to say that economics is not important but I think for the first time in a long while we are beginning to see the gradual re-emergence of social, ethical and other paradigms and priorities in public discourse.
So far I have briefly surveyed the environment, the ecosystem, shaping the challenges we will confront in the decades ahead. Against this backdrop I want now to highlight some of the key issues I think we need to address. There are three key points I want to put on the agenda, and probe in a little depth in this address:
Information is a public good, a pre-requisite for a robust civic polity; but how does this proposition sit alongside notions of copyright and intellectual property rights. I believe we should think very hard about the very way in which we have turned the metaphor of property in ideas into a rigid legal regime. Who owns and controls our information assets? Who owns your next big idea?
We have gone through a lot of stresses including that most memorable scare we called the Year 2000 issue. I think a lot of us have almost started breathing sighs of relief that the information technology revolution has come and gone and now we can relax.
We need to remind ourselves that we are only at the beginning. When we look at information technology, and particularly its information management capabilities, it is amazingly primitive and we have not yet seen the really big impacts; there is more disruptive change on the way. The distinctive thing about much of the impact of digital technology is that it is a truly disruptive process of change, not just an evolutionary increment to what we do. It actually displaces old ways of doing things. The risk for all of us is that organisations and institutions can easily find themselves marginalised or bypassed in this process. We should never forget we are only at the beginning of the information revolution.
So what are some of the next big things on the horizon? I believe the whole area of speech recognition, pervasive speech recognition and real break-throughs in the development of intuitive man-machine interfaces is going to be the really big thing over the next twenty years and it will embed information processing power in every aspect of our life. The displacement of the keyboard will have huge impacts. The development of roaming and personal system integration, of cross-platform data base integration, will be another big thing. Another will be the role of ubiquitous global positioning systems and tracking devices linked to intelligent agents permeating every aspect of our life. What happens as information technology meets biotechnology is going to be one of the huge developments over the next two decades. We will also see the continued development of underlying information infrastructure with things like photonics and grid computing powering information infrastructures with capabilities that go way beyond what we currently think is leading edge. So we are only at the beginning of the wave of change.
What are some of the value drivers in this new environment? It is very easy after the whole dot com bubble and its bursting to say: well, they got it all wrong; let us now revert to the comfort of the old world and ignore the reality that what creates value in the emerging information economy is different. Let me summarise some of these key drivers in the economics of the new economy which affect all of us.
The first factor that affects us is the extent to which our business strategies have addressed globalisation and the soundness of our internationalisation strategy. This does not mean all of us here have to go global, but it suggests we have to think hard about what we do locally within a global context, because that is going to define increasingly how we think about our core business.
The second key factor involves the combinations of the physical, locationally based, activity with the new virtual, on-line activity and how we determine the best mix of off-line and on-line activity; reality always will be a hybrid model. A lot of the material I have been looking at from library discussions explores the difference between a digital collection and a virtual library, and I think this discussion is all about how we define the best type of hybrid model.
The third aspect of new business models is the growing importance of the nature of relationships and partnerships, as the boundaries around organisations change. The questions of with whom you work, with whom you partner, with whom are your strategic relationships, become increasingly important. Nowhere are these questions more important for libraries than in terms of your relationships with schools, with other cultural institutions, with local community centres, with public broadcasting and with other information providers. The ways in which you define these relationships becomes core to your value proposition as an institution.
The fourth value-driver, and this is a really obvious one, relates to the growing importance of people assets. But what do we really mean by this? What's really happening? First, the key people assets now are networked people: people who are networked and connected into relevant communities of power and influence within their particular area of operation, including internationally. Secondly, creative people, for these will drive innovation. And thirdly, the increasing importance of all people within an organisation: all staff are in fact community marketers and constitute networks of influence. This implies a real change in the value that we place on people.
The most contested value driver in the knowledge economy is the new real estate of intellectual property.
The arguments over information as an asset are quite bizarre. On one hand we have a group of people - comprising media proprietors, publishers or software developers - who say stronger intellectual property protection is essential to promote more innovation. We will only get innovation if there is an incentive for people to produce. Another group - comprising some creators and a lot of users - are saying no, no; we will only get more innovation if we have less protection. So both sides are saying we want more innovation and we have diametrically opposed arguments.
In the business of setting the rules about information ownership and control only two forces count in this geo-political game. Firstly the United States, which is now the biggest net exporter of copyright industries. It is really determining the terms of the debate about copyright law and anti-piracy measures. Secondly, the European Union has taken the lead in matters about the consumer protection of data privacy. These are the only two forces globally setting the agenda. Let me put the debate over copyright in perspective.
Current Anglo-Celtic intellectual property law began, of course, in the United Kingdom with the licensing of printing presses which gave monopoly rights to printers - a bit like the rights given to the East India Company. It was only later that the idea of protecting an author's rights emerged, and this domain of copyright developed essentially within the United States. I think we often forget that copyright was actually built into the US Constitution where it gave exclusive rights for a limited time in order "to promote progress". The first US copyright law provided for a copyright term of fourteen years. It was not automatic; you had to register, you had to opt into the system. In the first decade of the operation of that law from 1790 to 1799 there were 13,000 titles published in the United States, and only 556 of those were copyrighted by people actually registering. In other words 95 per cent of the information content went immediately into the public domain.
Today the picture has flipped totally. There is a really interesting contrast here with patent law, which retains that original model: a very short life for a patent; it is not automatic, you have to register. But in copyright we have gone the other way. Today you have automatic protection. Terms are getting longer and longer. In the US the term is now the life of the author plus seventy years or, as some wags have said, really for as long as Mickey Mouse needs copyright protection.
Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law at Stanford University, has emerged as a learned advocate of informed public debate about the emerging issues within intellectual property law. Lessig points out that:
...something fundamental has changed: the role that [software] code plays in the protection of intellectual property has changed. Code can, and increasingly will, displace law as the primary defence of intellectual property in cyberspace. Private fences, not public law...
We are not entering a time when copyright is more threatened than it is in real space. We are instead entering a time when copyright is more effectively protected than at any time since Gutenberg... In such an age - in a time when the protections are being perfected - the real question for law is not, how can law aid that protection? but rather, is the protection too great? ...The problem will centre not on copy-right but on copy-duty—the duty of owners of protected property to make that property accessible.
What Lessig highlights is the way that digital information architectures, the structures of the technology, themselves begin to establish a framework of access and of rights independently of any legislative framework or public policy. A topical example is the way film companies have worked to ensure that usage rules and controls are "hardwired" into the software of DVD disks and equipment.
This is the antithesis of initial philosophy of the Internet, described by Lessig in the following terms:
The digital world is closer to the world of ideas than to the world of things. We, in cyberspace, that is, have built a world that is close to the world of ideas that nature (in Jefferson's words) created: stuff in cyberspace can "freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition", because we have (at least initially) built cyberspace such that content is "like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement, or exclusive appropriation".
Lawrence Lessig cites the amazingly lucid Judge Alez Kozinski of the Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States on the division between public good and private rights in the matter of intellectual property.
Overprotecting intellectual property is as harmful as underprotecting it. Creativity is impossible without a rich public domain .
Another law professor, Peter Jaszi, describes three ways in which the traditional balancing of these competing interests is being undermined in the digital era: through the "pseudo-copyright" of data protection systems; through the "paracopyright" of technology locks to data content; and through the "metacopyright" of contractual rights surrender .
The issue is how to get the balance right. I think the only way forward is to start from an attempt to formulate and flesh out a set of basic principles with which to assess approaches to "regulating" the trade in ideas and content. Firstly, I think we need to make sure that there is a truly three-way conversation between the parties with the natural interest in this issue, which are the creators of content, the owners of content, and the users of content. Both creators and users have been marginalised in this debate. Secondly, the contest is about rights to equitable returns, and at the moment those returns are not equitably shared. There is no transparent set of rules about the equitable distribution of returns. Thirdly, there is this real problem at the moment with contract waivers where there is asymmetric market power between publishers and distributors of information and the creators, wherein if a journalist says to a newspaper proprietor "Well I don't agree with that contract" the proprietor says, "Well, find a job somewhere else." This waiving of rights includes waiving of rights and copyright to "media yet to be devised" and "in all dimensions of the universe now known or otherwise". That is draconian. The only way that we are going to get out of this dilemma is to go back to articulating some basic principles. Principles about the rights of creators, about public rights, the general public interest and the nature of information as a public good, and this is really where I see a crucial role for the library sector as being one of the few groups who can articulate an argument about the role of information as a public good.
In Australia matters of intellectual property law have been monopolised by a little club of copyright lawyers and the terms of the debate are so arcane that no normal sensible person would want to get involved. But it needs to be opened up and it is being opened up. Developments like Napster and Open Source Software are providing alternative models for thinking about content ownership, control and distribution. We are seeing some really interesting new public interest groups emerging, again mainly in the United States. A group called Public Knowledge has emerged as a key advocate of information as a public good, and I would recommend their website, www.publicknowledge.org for your attention .
But a more interesting development that parallels the debate going on in the Information Technology world about open source software is the development of a new organisation called Creative Commons which is chaired by one of the key legal advocates for rethinking copyright, Laurence Lessig. The organisation aims to set up a framework wherein people can positively place their content into the public domain, extending the notion of the general public licence access right. Libraries, I want to suggest, actively need to step into this debate about the information commons.
In concluding, what points do I really want to highlight?
Firstly, that we are still at a very primitive stage of information technology and the real action is yet to come. So if you think you have devised the perfect digital strategy for a library you will have got it wrong.
We need to think about the new economic and industrial drivers in the information economy and the fact that all of these revolve around networking, strategic relationships, people and information-based transactions. We need to think about what this means for the definition of the business system of libraries and their wider role.
We need to put right up there on the public policy agenda issues of cultural capital and community-building and how this becomes a central issue and challenge in the knowledge economy. There is a crucial role for libraries in putting this on the agenda, I cannot see any group in the community other than yourselves who can drive this agenda.
And I want to stress the challenge of how we think about the inter-generational challenge of reinvestment in the future. At the core of this issue is the recreation of a public domain for information, an information commons.
My starting point in this paper was to examine what my checklist of global forces shaping the 21st Century might imply for libraries and the vocation of knowledge workers. I close this examination by concluding that the status and vitality of libraries and information services may well be the determining factor in whether this century of the global information economy is remembered for good or bad. In addressing the question I posed I have been surprised at how central libraries become in our responses to these challenges of the 21st Century. If we want to be anywhere in the global Information Economy, we must turn ourselves into an innovative country and an informed society, a culturally rich society. That is why institutions like libraries are an essential element in a national innovation strategy. And libraries are an essential component of any information and communications technology industry development plan.
Terry Cutler 2002