Thursday, 8 March 2007

Building a New Zelaland digital Library

It has been a very busy ten days since the New Zealand Library summit which I mentioned below. My apologies for the delay in making a post on it. Believe me, it was quite a gig, and definitely created a few conversations, some of which will, I guarantee, continue.

Held in Wellington, the Summit brought together one hundred decision makers and thought leaders, representing libraries (35% of attendees), local government (35%), central government (10%), and business, community, education, media and civil society (20%).

They came to discuss public libraries, debate, and deliver ideas for the future.

The big draw card was to be David Lammy, the UK Government’s Minister for Culture, but his leave was cancelled by the UK parliamentary whips, leading to lots of speculation as to whether a reshuffle was on the cards. This didn't eventuate.

In the event he still delivered his message, courtesy of an MP3 podcast. It was a great speech - lots of accolades for the key role public libraries play in the UK - with a very strong endorsement of their purpose - recreation - learning for life - building communities - capturing local heritage, and combating social exclusion.

The latter phrase isn't something we hear much of in New Zealand. Instead we have closing gaps, or arguing for, or against, the existence of underclasses.

The Brits, being at heart thwarted train drivers or engineers, with the odd philosopher and novelist for ballast, prefer action verbs, and hearty problems which they give new names - like social exclusion.

Me I prefer good old fashioned phrases like deprivation, inequality, inequity, sink estates, and the poverty of ignorance and discrimination.

Then you can get up a proper head of outrage, and a determination to do something about it, as well as keeping really close to what already works - like well resourced public libraries offering handholds out of the dustbin of deprivation!

I also have no problem with new phrases like life long learning, or learning for life, and think the publication of Learning to Be was one of the few moments of interest in the early 70's - and, yep, I've seen Life on Mars.

Believe me the real thing was far more scary, at least it was in the likes of Pilton in Edinburgh. So no worries from me - if that's what you need to call it to get the attention of Westminster policy wonks , who, in turn, can unbundle Treasury coffers, then combating "social exclusion' and "building social capital", will do it for me any day.

The other keynote speaker was Chris Batt, head of MLA. I have talked of Chris before. He is always a welcome visitor from the UK, especially given his leadership around the UK Peoples Network.

I also totally rate this mans focus - his passion for libraries - museums - archives - and his determination that MLA , under his watch, holds onto "the knowledge bit" i.e. building, protecting and creating what he calls, 'knowledge frameworks'. - i.e. community owned institutions where ideas, imagination, memory, and information are given a space where people can reflect on, and so re/create/make their common purpose/future.

I also admire his grasp of the detail on how to create institutional change inside government. But you also get an impression that when he stops making a difference, he will just step outside and find other ways of pursuing his agenda.

people - communities - digital
Two elements of this bigger agenda I share with him: that people and communities are at the heart of knowledge institutions/frameworks; and that digital pathways, or the opportunity to build new digital institutions as a parallel path to new kinds of community and cultural good, is one of the key challenges to knowledge institutions/frameworks everywhere, including New Zealand.

In this analysis, it goes without saying, that, for me, public libraries, are a part of this.

However, it needs to be a public library framework with the institutional , cultural and professional clout to pick up and run with this challenge. In short, saying it doesn't do it!

To start doing it we need to make sure that the momentum of this summit really does make a difference.

Do we have a roadmap? Not yet - but to get to highroad some paths/recommendations did appear at the summit that need attention at both national and local government level.

-The need for high quality bandwidth in schools and libraries - i.e. join the
KAREN network as a matter of right.
- Support for the Aotearoa New Zealand People’s Network - i.e. get the current pilot up to a national offer
- The need to address equality in services delivered by urban and rural libraries
- The urgent need for common tools and services across local, regional and
national boundaries.
- The need for a national digital library which fits into a
bigger strategy to get New Zealand online.

More on this , of that you can be certain.


Unknown said...

You sum it all up quite well Paul. Although I despair that ‘quality’ high bandwidth will ever come. Last night my supposedly 3.5mbps Telecom connection was clocking in at 56kbps, just dial-up speed. Today at 1.30pm it’s ‘powering along’ at a magnificent 429kbps – and I pay more for this service than my son’s connection in the UK which guarantees 8mbps! Schools and libraries will need KAREN if they are going to provide the service that the Peoples’ Network promises. They certainly wont get the necessary bandwidth from the commercial sector anywhere near soon!

Donald said...

For me the biggest framework challenge that emerged was the need for the sector to decide how to work regionally / nationally, ie what aspects of Libraries business are 'non differentiating' (and can achieve economies of scale) and what are best left for local responsiveness and innovation.

It's ludicrous that NZ doesn't leverage its book purchases ona national or regional level; or has umpteen different library systems. What possible competitive advantage can a local council provide to me, the customer by giving me my book using system A rather than system B?

It will only be when the sector has realised efficiences like these - and shown the ability to work as a whole - that central govermnent will take it seriously in requests for national infrastructure support. And I would be very cautious about taking the 'national shilling' of Crown funding anyway.

Of course, underlying the shift to any People's Network is a reasonable speed infrastructure.

You may be interested in the following Ofcom Report on the last mile that again extols the need for more fibre in the ground as the only solution.

Maybe libraries can capture the hearts and minds of the country by fulfilling the one essential community role we need to have happen to encourage more infrastructure roll-out - that of Demand Aggregation.

Decent connections for a People's Network will never be available, unless it is also a learning, local health, museum, municipal, local banking and small business Network.

Connection to KAREN is the least of the sector's issues or costs once it has local connectivity!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Donald's comments about the need for the sector to work regionally and/or nationally on those aspects of library business which are non-differentiating. The how of this is one of the things we need to work out - the business and governance models which allow 73 separate local authorities to work in groups or as one! eLGAR has made a good start on this and there are other regional grouping working on combined library systems as I type - Greater Waikato for one. But more important than the processes and systems is the will to do this - and that is not just the will of libraries but also of their local authorities.

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