Critical Review: Missingham, R. (2009) Encouraging the digital economy and digital citizenship, The Australian Library Journal, 58(4), 386-399
As a parliamentary librarian, Missingham, chronicles the development of Electronic Resources Australia (ERA) as a collaborative and coordinated effort addressing the availability of quality information sources and content without allocated funding. The role of public libraries is defined as being integral in the provision of services, quality information, providing skills development in information literacy, improving access and participation in the digital environment. The participation in the digital economy and environments is linked to active citizenship. Missingham highlights this as linked to principles of the Australian Government 2.0 taskforce launched 2009.
By inference, Missinham identifies a divide between rural and metropolitan regions. The National Broadband Network, (NBN) presents the promise of bridging the divide with the expansion of information infrastructure backed by $43billion of Government funding. No funding has been allocated for information as relevant content, skills development, equitable access in public spaces and training required for information literacy.
Missingham outlines the case for improved services and access to information pointing to a correlation between improved literacy outcomes with participation in digital environments. ERA launched in 2007 after consensus on the model was reached by a representative group of Libraries, Education, Health and Government Associations. ERA delivers digital content based on an opt-in subscription model sponsored by the National Library of Australia. At the time the article was written 8.5 million Australians had access to information provided by ERA.
Missingham identifies issues and barriers encapsulated in the three areas of connectivity, content and capacity and recommends a Federal coordinated effort including committed Government funding for content creation and preservation efforts, skills development, training and improved accessibility.
Missingham’s background in the library sector and extensive publications on digital environments adds credibility to her viewpoints. This paper, contributes to the evidence-based practice necessitated to channel support from the Government as is evident at a micro level with school libraries, (Todd, 2007) and Oberg (2006). Acknowledgement is paid to the limitations of this paper as its main purpose is to chronicle the development of ERA, bringing focus to the need for development of relevant digital content, skills, and equitable access for participation in the Digital environment whilst advocating for funding.
A key weakness is limiting the digital divide to a rural/metropolitan divide. Minimal attention is paid to socio-economic aspects with nothing mentioned of disparity between indigenous Australians and non-indigenous Australians as evidenced in remote communities in Central Australia, (Rennie et.al, 2010). Schleife (2009) points to individual determinants, such as education level, contributing to increased internet use in regional areas of Germany also supported by La Rose, et.al. (2007) in complexities of internet adoption in regional U.S.A. Hutley (2011) echoes Missingham but makes a point of extending the definition of digital divide to take account of socio-economic indicators, highlighting the existence of a digital divide in metropolitan areas. Unesco (p. 30, 2005) points to the digital divide as multifaceted and not a simple binary delineation between rural and metropolitan regions.
Metaphors such as ‘super highway’ help to channel support for governments in building the information infrastructure, Borgman (2000). Missingham alludes to these metaphors at the outset of her paper, however, her arguments strengthen in aligning the importance of the NBN with content, skills, accessibility and training, also supported by Unesco (2005). Hutley (2011) calls for a move away from the focus on the infrastructure and supports Missingham’s call for committed funding to ‘soft’ elements; content creation, skills development, access and training; noting that libraries are yet to be connected to the NBN.
Evidenced in this paper is the interplay between technology, policy and society in coming to grips with the challenges presented by the information Age, (Borgman, 2000), (Unesco, 2005) and (La Rose, et.al. 2007). The NBN is about open access, capacity and connectivity as well as a policy response to the restrictive trade practices of Telstra, (Mulligan and Neal, 2009) and (Morgan, 2010). It is yet to be seen whether the NBN will lead to adoption of broadband in homes and whether the most disadvantaged will be able to afford it, as questioned by Hutley (2011). The U.S.A experience indicates that adoption rates have remained low in rural areas and a significant divide continues to exist (La Rose, et.al 2007) and (Malecki, 2003).
This paper is an effective starting point to the important issues of access, participation, content creation, preservation and digital citizenship with a focus on the importance of libraries. It indicates a collaborative sector determined to contribute to the betterment of all people.
The following clip provides an indication of some of the work carried out by National film and Sound Archive. One of the branches carrying out the wonderful curation and content creation work in Australia.
Borgman, C. (2000) The premise and the promise of a global information infrastructure, Access to information in a network world, pp 1-31, Cambridge: MIT Press
Government 2.0 Taskforce (2009) Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0, Report of the Government 2.0 taskforce. retrieved from http://www.finance.gov.au/publications/gov20taskforcereport/doc/Government20TaskforceReport.pdf
Hutley, S. (2011) Where’s the strategy?, Incite, 32(1), 13-14.
La Rose, R., Greg, J.L., Strover, S., Straubhaar, J., & Carpenter, S. (2007), Closing the rural broadband gap: Promoting adoption of the internet in rural America, Telecommunications Policy, 31, 359-373.
Malecki, E.J. (2003), Digital Development in rural areas: potentials and pitfalls, Journal of Rural Studies, 19, 201-204.
Morgan, K. (2010), Hollow Victory, Dissent, No. 33, 55-57.
Mulligan, P. and Neal, C., (2009), National Broadband Network to impact more than just internet speeds, Law Society Journal, 46(7), 34-35.
Oberg, D. (2006) Developing the respect and support of school administrators, Teacher Librarian, 33(3), 13-18
Rennie, E., Crouch, A., Thomas, J. & Taylor, P. (2010) Beyond Public Access? Reconsidering Broadband for Remote Indigenous communities, Communications, Politics & Culture, 43(1), 48-69.
Schleife, K. (2009), What really matters: Regional versus individual determinants of the digital divide in Germany, Research Policy, 39, 173-185.
Todd, R. J. (2007). Evidence-based practice and school libraries: from advocacy to action In Hughes-Hassell, S. & Harada, V.H (eds) School reform and the school library media
Specialist, ch. 4, pp. 57-78, Westport, Conneticut, Libraries Unlimited.
Unesco World Report (2005), Towards Knowledge Societies, Unesco Publishing, retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/resources/publications-and-communication-materials/publications/full-list/towards-knowledge-societies-unesco-world-report/