Roles of Libraries in the Society

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Mirja Ryynänen, member of the Finnish Parliament 7 th Catalan Congress on Documentation, 5 th November 1999

The role of libraries in modern society
The information society development demands to re-define the position and objectives of all the institutions which work with information, knowledge, and culture. Of these, media and education have been discussed in the European Union actively. Libraries have been a marginal theme. The situation is changing. Libraries have been identified as one of the key elements for open access to information, which is crucial to democratic information society development. In October 1998 the European Parliament adopted an own-initiative report "The Role of Libraries in Modern Societies", the first library policy paper in the EU. It defines the need for the most important pan-European actions on library field. First, the general development of the information society is pushing to re-evaluation of all the institutions which work with information, data, and knowledge - indirectly also with culture. In this connection the roles of education and media have been discussed already quite largely also in the European Union. But libraries - as well as other memory institutions like archives and museums - have not been considered. Still, there is a clear need in the information society to maintain an institution which is concentrating in collecting and organizing information and offering general access to it. Until now, this work has been underestimated, but I argue the situation will change! Libraries are especially important now when the whole idea of education is stressing more and more independent learning and acting. All citizens must be able to find and use information. It is the key raw material - but it is a zero resource, if there are no access points to it and if documents are in chaotic order. Here we can see libraries enter the stage: The unique function of libraries is to acquire, organize, offer for use and preserve publicly available material irrespective of the form in which it is packaged (print, cassette, CD-ROM, network form) in such a way that, when it is needed, it can be found and put to use. No other institution carries out this long-term, systematic work.1* Culture must be nominated especially: it has an important and unique role in mobilizing resources of human beings. It has been described: To some extent, culture makes its influence felt more indirectly than knowledge, but it is impossible to imagine how people's creative powers could be fully activated without the impact of culture, which extends into the depths of the mind.2* The challenge to modern societies is that the basic resource, knowledge, is developing from information in very individual, capricious and unpredictable process. It cannot be commanded.

1* This is a direct quotation from the own-initiative report "The Role of Libraries in the Moden Society" 2


Still, societies can support this development, e.g. by offering acces to cultural and knowledge treasures. This can even be translated into economic language: to get out the best from the human resources in Europe, this resource must be feeded up with rich and various cultural and information contents! I would like to stress especially the idea of organising information by libraries. It is often shadowed by the second important side of library work: offering access. But in the life-long learning and new technology context just all forms of organising documents are getting more to the focus. This is clear to anybody who has tried to find something from not-so-often-used Internet websites.

New lines in the EU - and in the United States In accordance with these phenomenons, there are new political lines in the European Union: The Maastricht Treaty in 1992 launched the cultural aspects. This was only after a long discussion, which made it clear that we have to remember to separate the national view and the European view. The Amsterdam Treaty in 1997...
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