Review: Building Community Information Networks
My first reaction when asked to review this book was "What is a community information network?" Fortunately the authors of the book foresaw such a response and were thoughtful enough to include the following definition in the opening chapter:
"a [network of computers] which provide: community information; and a means for the community to communicate".
Obvious when you think about it. Furthermore, the opening chapter gives a brief overview of what characterises a community network from any other (that they have a local focus and promote free access to all) and sets out the impetus behind their creation. Many of the issues raised in this first chapter are explored and illustrated later in the book.
However, dispite the introductory chapter, do not be decieved. This book is not designed to introduce Community Information Networks, and neither does it claim to be, for in the next two chapters the reader is launched into the gory details of a Community Information Network project proposal and how one may procede.
These chapters come early in the book, suggesting that it is aimed squarely at those familiar with the concept of Community Information Networks and are preparing to embark on road to creating one. If this is the case then I suspect these two chapters will be a guiding light - indeed I would suspect that including swathes of Chapter Two into a project proposal is a sure fire way to receiving a cheque.
Having introduced the concepts and then suggesting some ways of developing these into something tangible, the book moves on to explore some of the other work in the area. Helen Leech introduces the work of the CIRCE project that is "...looking at issues to do with using Internet or other new technologies to network community information"; Graham Bagshaw reviews some of the technologies available; and in what is perhaps the longest and most discursive chapter in the book, Kevin Harris examines the sociological aspects of an informed community.
Much of the later part of the book is devoted to examples of Community Information Networks in practice, giving several examples including "the New Library: the people's network", a national initiative to network public libraries; the "Barcelona Community Network", a vast metropolitan network; and the "Cambridge Online City", perhaps the most interesting because it represents a real, close to home example of a Community Information Network that is built on and embodies the principles discussed in the rest of the book.
The book concludes with an extensive bibliography and a not so extensive glossary.
I came at this book a newcomer to the world of Community Information Networks but having read this book feel both that community networking is not only important, but essential. The Internet and other technologies provide vast scope for global communication, and this book provides a guide to tapping this improve our everyday lives. My only complaint would be the lack of a summary from the author to bring it all to a close.
Resource Discovery Network Systems Developer
University of Bath