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Information Science as a tool for socio-economic development: Libraries taking the lead in transforming society in Zimbabwe.
Information Science as a tool for socio-economic development: Libraries taking the lead in transforming society in Zimbabwe
This treatise explores the significant evolution of information science and its relationship with related fields like library and information science. It explores the role of information science in socio economic development. The paper highlights the role of information science in the information society with to libraries. The paper further looks at how modern technology is transforming library and information science in the twenty –first century. The paper looks at the the use of ICT’s for resource sharing and collaboration. It also explores the use of social media networks as tools for communication. The treatise also looks at information ethics and how they impact the information age. It also highlights the challenges of the digital divide with regards to access to information .The paper also explores the changing nomenclature of librarianship due to ICT’s .It also highlights the challenges of integrating culture and technology in the development of libraries and access to information.
Key words: Information Science; development; libraries; social media; ICT‘s; access to information; information ethics.
In the Information/knowledge Age, access to Information has become significant for socio-economic development and libraries and related institutions are playing a great role in the fulfillment of such noble goals that contribute towards human development. There is a co- relationship between Information Science and libraries because both are concerned with storage and retrieval of information. Borko (1968:3-5) defines Information Science as an interdisciplinary science that systematically investigates the properties and behaviors of information, the forces that govern the flow and use of information and the labor-intensive and mechanical techniques of processing information for optimal storage, retrieval and dissemination. The discipline comprises of a pure science constituent that explores into the subject without regard to application; and an applied science component that develops services and products, for example, informatics, library and information science, records and information science and so on.
Beniger (1986) states that Information Science is a scientific discipline centered on the generation, processing and dissemination of information as well as the design of information systems that help to achieve the ideals of an information society. The Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science (2011) defines Information Science as the systematic study and analysis of the sources, development, collection, organization, dissemination, evaluation, use, and management of information, all its forms, including the channels (formal and informal) and technology applied in its communication. Information science should be viewed as an integral part of a large community of other sciences, including computer, library and information and communication sciences all of which fall under the discipline of “knowledge sciences”. Gofman (1970) notes that Information Science must aim towards the establishing a united approach to the problems relating to information and human communication “…establishing a unified scientific approach to the study of the various phenomenon involving the notion of information….the study of the properties of communication processes which may then be translated into the design of the appropriate information system for a given physical situation”
Information Science is concerned with the processes, procedures and techniques involved in contemporary Information Storage and retrieval. These discipline focus on the advancement of human meaning and understanding through technology. Furthermore contemporary Information Sciences take into cognizance the socio-economic and technological impact of ICT’s in the production, organisation, retrieval and dissemination of information. In the current ICT driven dispensation the use of modern technology has become critical as the most effective and efficient way of sharing knowledge irrespective of time and space or distance. The use of ICT’s in libraries has helped to free librarians /information professionals from the boredom of doing repetitive tasks like charging, discharging, stamping and recalling, thus enabling them to concentrate on more intelligent tasks like planning, organizing and controlling information systems. As the world advances towards the global information/knowledge driven economies information science has become fundamental to the development agenda.
Development and access to information
Ssesanga (2009) describes development as a multifaceted subject whose meaning is determined by the context in which it is used. The author defines development as the positive transformation of people’s ways of living, attitudes and behaviors as a result of their exposure or access to relevant, adequate and timely information services courtesy of the information (digital) age. Development is an issue that is on the agenda of all nations and it is by nature an enviable goal for all people and nations as the world advances towards the knowledge economy. Malekabadizadeh; Shokraneh and Hosseini (2003) argue that even though the concept is associated with economic progress, there is need to consider other factors, for example, life skills, security, science and technology, politics and economics and access to information among other factors. The authors further state that information science plays a significant role in development and this implies that libraries and related institutions as well as information systems are critical in promoting creativity, innovation and dealing with peoples needs and expectations.
Sharif al Nasabi (1996) describes development as the sum total of all actioning that drive society towards an organized system of individual and collective living conditions relating to desirable values. The pragmatic nature of “ actioning” is anchored on provision and equitable access to information. Abidi (1991) states that in order to ensure effective development there is need to combine the “inseparable trinity” comprising of a combination of knowledge/information, communication and development. Development can only be realized through the provision of relevant information /knowledge at the right time and in the right package. Libraries, resources centers, registries, archives, museums and related institutions play a noteworthy role in providing access to relevant information/ knowledge vital for stimulating and sustaining development. The common denominator of the definitions of development is element of positive transformation, growth or advancement and access to information/knowledge.
Transformation of the human society
Kawatra (2000) notes that human society is undergoing transformation due to rapid development and diffusion of Information and Communication Technology (ICT’s) that now permeate all aspects of our lives. This phenomenal transformation is characterized by large-scale computerization, grandiose development of electronic information coupled by global access to information through telecommunication infrastructure. In the information age information/knowledge has emerged as a critical resource for all activities in education, research and development, industry and commerce and socio-cultural activities among others.
Zimbabwe is no exception as it promulgated its National Information and Communication Technology Policy Framework in 2005.This policy is a major milestone in the drive towards an information society as it acknowledges the greater potential that ICT’s play in the realization of the goals of the United Nations MDG goals and the United Nations WSIS Plan of Action. The policy takes cognizance of the impact of the digital and information divide as it affects rural communities and special groups who include women, youths and people living with disabilities who require technologically driven assistive and adaptive technologies to enable them to access information/knowledge. The policy aims to narrow the digital divide through enhancing public awareness and education on ICT’s, improving penetration in all economic sectors, increasing access by all communities, increasing basic and supportive communication infrastructure, developing pertinent local content in vernacular and establishing a business culture open to new ICT based economic dispensation with reference to e-commerce not withstanding all inclusive aspects of the e-revolution with regards to e-inclusion.
Zimbabwe has a number of Internet service providers (ISP’s) like ZARNET, Yo-Africa, ZOL, Africa Online, Icon Internet, Zambezi Net, MWEBB, iWAY Africa ZimWeb, Telco, Global Internet, Earth Internet, Utande, and Taurai Zimbabwe among others. These Internet service providers are championing for the full use of ICT’s and are geared to fulfill their mandate of providing Internet connectivity and other ICT solutions in the academic sector according to Mack (2010). ISP are providing broadband facilities on a variety of platforms namely WI-Max, Leased lines, VSAT, VDSL, Optic fibre, UHF (radio) ADSL, and WI-FI and so on. Broadband refers to high speed Internet access that is always on and faster than traditional dial up access. ISP’s are critical to enabling successful use of the Internet and the WWW. They ensure that all customers’ personal and business needs are met through the provision of access, tools, training and technical support.
The Internet is viewed as a classic example of the convergence of computers and telecommunication technology. Its optimum capacity is only realized through broadband Internet facilitating the use of multiple ICT applications and services. This technology provides high-speed data transmission, convinient access to highest quality Internet services like streamlining media, VoIP, computer gaming and interactive services and less delays in transmitting content. Another service provider ECONET Wireless also provides broadband services and it has managed to lay out thousand of kilometers of fibre optics thus wiring the country and also installing high capacity base stations.
Information society has transformed various facets of our life such as business, education and communication just to mention but a few The concept of the information society developed during the second half of the twentieth century when the computer technology became the catalyst for the United States of America’s transition into an information driven society according to Toffler (1980) and Martin (1995). Daniel Bell (1990) noted how the contours of the post industrial society were moving towards an information/knowledge driven society “ a shift from goods producing to service industry and ….the codification of theoretical knowledge, with knowledge and information serving as the strategic and transforming resources of society, just as capital and labour have been in earlier industrial society…”
The information society implies ascendancy in the role of information in primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy. Kumar (1999) notes that the significant role of libraries cannot be underestimated because being part of the superstructure; they maintain their position as respectable constituencies of the emerging service sector. Libraries in Zimbabwe play a critical role in providing access to the much-needed information. These libraries range from the school, public, academic and national libraries. The development of these libraries can be traced to the colonial era in the 1890’s when the settler communities established libraries in the major towns to cater for their recreational, educational and informational needs. At independence more libraries were developed, for example, local government authorities in the major cities developed public libraries coupled with new state and private universities and colleges.
Information Explosion in the context of Information Age
Information explosion can be described as a social challenge that started in the sciences and then began to spread to other disciplines. It has been noted that the pace at which the modern society changes and adjusts to such change is the most incredible feature of our present society. Change is a challenge for all institutions and the capability to adjust to change distinguishes progressive from non-progressive organisations. It has been observed that the pace at which social, economic, technological and cultural innovations are taking place is quite significant that it has become a problem for institutions like libraries to keep abreast of such developments.
Alvin Toffler (1970) predicted that that, the increase of velocity of change and its psychological effects would lead to a set of stern physical and cerebral disturbances, which he called the "future shock" syndrome. Reuters (1996) and Shenk (1997) highlighted ,anxiety, poor decision-making, difficulties in memorizing and remembering, individual and institutional amnesia and reduced attention span as effects of information overload.
Interdiscilinary Leit-motif for Information Science
In the second half of the twentieth century Calvin Moores (1950) coined the term Information Retrieval to refer to the complete field of the problems of recovering information from recorded knowledge/information that may be required at a particular time for a particular purpose. It is indeed a solution provided by information science to the impending catastrophe of the information explosion. Kochen (1972) noted that Information Retrieval assumed a broader context encompassing the life cycle and interactions between, people as information processors, documents as carriers of information and topics as representations.
The main challenges for Information retrieval as part of information science include efficacy, human communication, knowledge, information needs, information use, records, individual context, social context, institutional context. These problems were and are still too complex to the extent that they require an interdisciplinary approach that is encapsulated in information science. The interdisciplinary leit-motif justifies the proximity of librarianship, computer science, cognitive science and communication in the development of information science. Saracevic (1992) defines information science as an evolving field committed to scientific examination and professional application of knowledge and skills addressing the challenges of effective communication with regards to “… knowledge and knowledge records among humans in the context of social, institutional and /or individual users of and needs for information. In addressing these problems, we take advantages of the modern information technology…” The author further notes that “…base of information science is centered on human communication, designing, managing and using ICT’s…”
Information Science and librarianship
Kawatra (2000) states that the twenty first century should be viewed as the“Information/Knowledge Age” and Zimbabwe is ready to take off. The author further states that the information revolution has already started triggering deep and far reaching changes just as the development of the first metal, the printing machine, the steam engine, television or the first computer. Tapscot (2000) is of the view that in the information / knowledge economy, more and more of a company’s added value will be created by brain rather than brute force. Libraries have morphed from traditional to automated and from electronic through digital to virtual or world or universal libraries. This transition can be discerned from the vibrant wide array of nomenclature for Information professionals, for example, Digital librarian, Information navigator, Learning resources Librarian, Inforbroker, information and Communication Librarian, Infopreneur, Informediary and so on.
In Zimbabwe libraries are adjusting to the metamorphosis from traditional to technology driven libraries through embracing ICT’s in all aspects of library work, for example, cataloguing, classification, indexing, abstracting, acquisitions, circulation, marketing and conservation and preservation of materials through digitization among other areas. Information Science in its broadest context and ICT’s is on record for providing solutions to the management of information and overcoming information overload. However, adjustments to the ICT revolution are more pronounced in resource endowed academic and special libraries and less in resource starved public and school Libraries. The University of Zimbabwe is using open source software DSpace software for its institutional repository consisting of published and unpublished material. This is a commendable initiative which shows creativity in utilizing technology to preserve corporate memory, evade the pitfalls of organizational amnesia and enhance sharing of e-resources.
Information Science has also provided an enhanced understanding of an assortment of problems, processes and structures associated with knowledge, information and human behavior. It is through the intellectual strenuous task of information science scholars like, Ranganathan (1970), Calvin Mores (1950), Mchombu (1990), and Vanessa Bush (1945) among those who contributed to the organized body of knowledge and professional competencies dealing with the challenges of the information age. Saracevic (1992) is not worried whether information science, informatics, information studies, and computer and information sciences, artificial intelligence, library science or knowledge management will address Information problems as long as they are addressed in a manner that takes cognizance of human interests. Information Science and Librarianship are two distinct disciplines but they have a strong relationship in that both have a social-technological and ethical role and are concerned with the problems of effective utilization of information/knowledge.
Social Media and Libraries
The proliferation of virtual communities, social networking and user generated content production has generated new elements to the development of libraries as the service sector according to Antiroiko and Savolainen (2011). The benefits of such technologies are that library collections become more accessible and interactive, libraries become more visible and researchers will be able to share ideas as they develop their scientific work with others irrespective of time and space. Social media can be utilized to reinvigorate library services through promoting content sharing, communication and social networking. Libraries can use social media to promote culture including indigenous knowledge through wiki’s. The array of such technologies includes Facebook, Myspace, blogs, wikis and RSS feeds and so on. It is possible to create a Library page or YouTube are examples of the great potential that can be realized from social media. However, the adoption of social media requires investments and the capacity to provide service to a wider community.
Challenges confronting developing countries in the Information Age
The information economy and society rely on the global interrelationships of ICT’s with economic, political, social and cultural factors. Cogburn (1999) noted that those countries that fail to clinch the digital revolution would face cultural decline, loss of competitive economic strength, and market share as well as possible decline in national income. There are opportunities for international assistance and technical cooperation to bridge the digital divide there is need for a home-grown vision underpinned by a coherent national vision at the national level-learning Africa and Euro Africa forum for ICT research are among some of the significant players in the drive to stimulate the enhancement of a viable ICT sectors in developing countries. Zimbabwe launched its ICT strategic plan (2010-2014) whose targets encompass infrastructure development, application and services development, ICT Industry, investment and partnerships, research and development, security and quality assurance frameworks, ICT utilization and e-inclusion.
The Digital and information divide affects developing countries
The digital divide is a multi-dimensional concept that can be anatomised into the global, social and democratic divideoral .Pippa (2008) states that the global divide relates to the divergence of internet access between developed and developing countries, while the social divide refers to the lacunae between the information rich and poor in each nation and the democratic divide is viewed as a index to the differences between those who do and do not use the digital resources to engage, mobilise and participate in public life.Technological disparieties range from those at local to the global level. The digital age is characterized by digital information as evidenced by online databases, electronic publishing, library networking, e-commerce, e-governance or e-inclusivity. It is an of a high extent of computerisation, large volume growth of electronic information coupled with global access to information via telecommunications infrastructure comprising fibre optics, satellite and wireless technologies.
The greatest challenge to bridge the digital divide involves inadequate funding, lack of coherent policies, connectivity, poverty and lack of infrastructure among others. Zimbabwe has made headway through promulgating ICT policies and allowing private players to invest in the ICT industry. Libraries will greatly benefit from ICT’s through resource sharing, increasing online visibility, and content development. There is need to strengthen Public Private Sector Partnerships to support libraries and related institutions in the drive towards the information/knowledge economy. Libraries are engaged in PPP’s but there is need for a regulatory framework to guide the process to ensure mutual reciprocity rather than a zero sum game.
Information Ethics Information Science
Information professionals should understand legal and ethical issues that are critical in comprehending the challenges of the information age. Hauptman (1988) notes that information ethics range from censorship, privacy, security, access to information, confidentiality, quality of data provided by print and online vendors, copyright, fair use, credibility, respect for intellectual capital, and codes of ethics to name but a few. The convergences of disciplines relating to the modern Internet technology have stimulated the need for information ethics.
Capuro (1988) states that Information ethics become greater as evidenced by the establishment of the International Center for Information Ethics (ICIE), inclusion of legal and ethical issues in the information science curricular and development of professional codes of ethics. Generally Information ethics deal ethical questions relating to the Internet, computer science, bio-information media and communication, library and information sciences, records management and business. In the Information /Knowledge age ethical issues cover such aspects as information production of, collection and classification and access and dissemination. The ethical issues of information production involve intellectual property rights; for example, Zimbabwe has the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act that emphasizes on the economic rights that offer legal protection to knowledge producers.
The ethical issues of collection development and organisation of knowledge relate to censorship and control. This is determined by socio-cultural, political and religious factors according to Froelich (1998). The tools for organising knowledge, for example, classification schemes, indexing schedules, cataloguing rules and search engines are not neutral they have their own biases. Ethical aspects of information access and dissemination relate to public access and inalienable universal right to communicate. This issue also relate to the commoditisation of information versus free access, for example, public libraries, as a gift to society have maintained their reputation as poor peoples universities providing free access to survival and citizenry information. The provision of equal access to information within the context of Information Science is critical because it helps to bridge the digital divide, hence the calls to include the right to communicate and the right to write as human rights in national constitutions and the Universal Declaration of Human rights in the information/knowledge driven age. Capuro (2004) calls for intercultural dialogue in order to harmonise the diverse views of information ethics taking into account socio– cultural factors from different angles and viewpoints.
Libraries are indeed taking the lead in transforming society through providing access to information. Despite socio-economic challenges ICT’s have transformed Library and Information Science with regards to the roles, procedures and processes of information storage and retrieval as well as information seeking behavior. Through networking, libraries, are realizing the benefits of electronic resource sharing through Zimbabwe University Library Consortia and College and Research Library Consortia .Technology can be effectively utilized to overcome the challenges of high cost of reading material and dwindling library budgets. Libraries have no choice other than to adopt appropriate modern technology such as ICT’s, online technology, CDROM, Web 2.0. and reprographics among other technologies. The twenty –first century requires Information professionals who appreciate intellectual and technological humility because of the dynamic nature of the technology driven information/knowledge age which calls for life-wide learning to help people grapple with information, digital and multimodal literacies.
Abidi, S.A.H. (1991) Communication, Information and Development in Africa.Kampala: Bano Publishers.
Submitted by collence chisita on 6 October 2011 - 6:50pm.