The 7th International BOBCATSSS Symposium on Library and Information Science was held in the modern Istropolis Congress Center in a somewhat damp and foggy Bratislava in Slovakia, 25-27 January.
Although the gloom outside was lifted by the enthusiasm of the many young delegates, this years conference was a disappointment. In particular, the somewhat muddled 3-pronged themes of Learning Society, Learning Organisation and Lifelong Learning were not often addressed directly. The opening remarks stressed the importance of learning throughout life. Great emphasis was placed upon the role of information professionals in providing information, and teaching learning, awareness, selection, navigational and retrieval skills in addition to encouraging active learning. These strands of thought, however, tended to be absent from the following papers.
The conference is unique in both being organised by library school students as part of their studies and in its emphasis upon encouraging and supporting papers from students as well as lecturers and practitioners. But, whereas some of the clearer and more refreshing overviews were given by LIS students last year, this year they seemed to follow a more pedestrian approach of simply detailing literature reviews, describing courses and existing teaching initiatives rather than a more adventurous star-gazing from the stance of a future practitioner. This pattern was followed by other speakers and there was little discussion about on-going research or announcements of new findings. Indeed, papers tended, overall, to be descriptive of existing practices or situations with well rehearsed accounts of the information needs of the organisations/citizens of tomorrow. There was no attempt to suggest ways of meeting those needs.
As might be expected from a conference organised by library and information students with learning as a theme, there was a heavy emphasis on the training of future information professionals and on Continuing Professional Development for existing practitioners in papers presented by LIS students and lecturers. More papers discussing different ways of helping or educating users to navigate todays information maze, presented by practitioners from public and specialist libraries, would have offered a more balanced approach. Indeed, whereas it is true that lifelong learning, the acquisition of new skills and a flexible and inquisitive mind is essential for those working in the field of library and information science, there was a disturbing near-silence about users. Very few speakers even mentioned, in passing, the place/needs/demands of users with regard to lifelong learning in the learning organisation.
According to the programme, conference themes should have centred around the issues of new media for schools, lifelong learning via libraries, learning and knowledge management, library education, self-directed learning, strategies for a learning society, learning organisations, and qualifications for the learning society. There was, therefore, ample opportunity to discuss the impact both of future sources of information and of information systems. Despite this, very few papers ever even mentioned system users or recipients of the help/advice which the well-educated librarian of the future would be qualified to offer. One would have expected the needs of users to be high on the curricula of library schools and, therefore, to be reflected in a conference organised by students which included several papers presented by existing students. Any discussions about library school curricula, the training of future information professionals and the design of digital infrastructures must, surely, be meaningless without any consideration of the users needs or the impact of these programmes/systems upon users? It is possible that system development has been so fast and concentration upon technology so great that librarians have lost sight of this most important fact - that all developments exist in order that they might be harnessed to provide information for the end-user and that their primary task is to help end users to satisfy their needs. One would have expected all this to underlie all system development and LIS student training. One would also have expected that emphasis would always be on the content and access to that content rather than on the media itself. If this conference is typical of current student thinking, then we will not be an IT-using society, but an IT-driven society. In a customer-care ethos, everything else is a means to the end of serving the information needs of the end-user.
There were descriptions of existing services in a number of very different countries scattered among papers, but little about the impact that these services were having upon individual users, organisations or, indeed, how widespread their use was. One often wondered how extensive a coverage some of the more advanced systems being described actually were. One speaker from an Eastern European country did stress her frustration on returning home bubbling over with enthusiasm about all she had learnt about web services whilst in America as well as all the knowledge she had gained and the information that she could pass on - only to meet with indifference and a lack of support.
The opening addresses emphasised that there is now a greater exchange of information than ever before. They also made fascinating references to the idea of a new-found greater equality of access to information and more equality in the information exchange process - between the transmitters of information and the receivers of information. Unfortunately, these thoughts were not taken up by later speakers.
One of the aims of the symposium is to provide a platform for a dialogue between librarians, teachers, information managers, and students from Western and Eastern Europe. The symposium did achieve this objective with more than 50 papers and workshops and over 200 participants from over 20 countries in Europe and beyond. Speakers came both from those countries with well-developed electronic networks and those which are still devising policies on digitisation to support educational and cultural initiatives.
Whereas, last year, a large number of the papers presented by speakers from East European countries frequently mentioned the new millennium and quoted their governments or their organisations use of the year 2000 as a spur to new developments, this was strangely missing from this years papers. One was left wondering whether initiatives were so well advanced that speakers thoughts were turning towards new directions or whether the momentum had been lost and these projects would struggle to meet their year 2000 deadlines - or had even been abandoned.
The theme of fast changing technology and the phenomenal proliferation of information of varying degrees of quality, however, was carried forward into this years symposium. It was stressed that information had been revolutionised many times in the present millennium, albeit, generally, at a slow pace. The greatest development, Gutenbergs invention of the printing press, had served to organise and standardise the exchange and spread of information. Advances in the next millennium were more likely to increase the spread of information at ever faster rates, but in a far more disorganised non-standard way through electronic sources and, especially, the internet.
It was, however, perhaps an appreciation of this, that led to one very interesting thought being voiced. It was suggested that, in the next millennium, the information professional will have a more stable career path than others. In the face of rapid advances in technology and communications and a volatile global working environment, information will become ever more important. While information specialists will need to change their methods of working and their information sets frequently, they will not need to change careers like others. The need for information managers and information intermediaries will grow and become more and more important in the learning organisations of the future.
The theme which emerged most strongly from many of the papers throughout the symposium was the importance of information management and the role of the information manager now and, especially, in the future within every sphere of life throughout the world. Information will become more and more important in the future and information will need managing in every area of society. Without management, information cannot be accessed, retrieved or used. Without carefully selected and organised information, individuals, companies, and countries will not be able to turn information into knowledge to equip them to live and work effectively in tomorrows global society. It was stressed that management skills were essential for the information professional and that these skills figured large in many library schools curricula today. One speaker even suggested that more emphasis is placed on the assimilation of management skills in library schools than on many syllabi for business students. Information management was important in every discipline and this was highlighted by the large number of students at the symposium who all saw themselves as future information managers, but who came from a wide variety of backgrounds and were studying in departments with an impressive range of titles. It was stressed over and over again that the future picture of information systems was one of merging, converging and cohesion. There was an important need for local information systems, but these should all be components of an interdependent whole. Different information systems must be inter-joined for efficiency and effectiveness. This calls for ever greater management skills. Yet, when questioned, most librarians do not cite management as one of their most important skills.
This years conference was organised by the students of the Fachhochschule Darmstadt and the Hochschule fuer Bibliotheks- und Informationswesen Stuttgart. Next years conference will be held in Krakow, Poland on 24-26 January and will be organised by the students of the Royal School of Library and Information Science, Denmark on the them of "Intellectual Property v The Right of Knowledge?".
- 1998 BOBCATSSS symposium
- 1999 BOBCATSSS symposium
- 2000 BOBCATSSS symposium
Christine Dugdale manages the ResIDe Electronic Library at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Funded as an eLib short loan project, the ResIDe Electronic Library sought to explore such issues surrounding the implementation of an electronic reserve as copyright and collection management systems. ResIDe has expanded to include a current awareness database and a past examination paper database and is now a permanent part of the University's Library Services.