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Volume 25, No. 5

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June / July 1999

 

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Information Science in Europe


by Sheila Webber

Editor's note: Sheila Webber, editor of the newsletter of the ASIS European Chapter, has agreed to write an occasional column for the Bulletin on happenings in Europe.

In my first European column, I begin with an introductory discussion of that short and difficult word Europe and then continue with a look at European information and library associations. Finally, I discuss the European Commission and more specifically the recently announced Information Society Technologies Research Programme. This column is aimed primarily at non-European ASIS members, although I hope that some of the Internet resources listed at the end of the article may be of wider interest.

I welcome suggestions from European colleagues and from other ASIS members on what should be included in future columns. I would also like to hear from anyone who disagrees with what is written below!

What Is Europe?

I was grateful to be asked to contribute to the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science with a European Column, but as I started writing, I had to pause. Although I think of myself as European and aim to give a broad perspective, I am located in the United Kingdom (UK), geographically on the edge of Europe. Even though I can network across cyberspace and hope to draw on experience of other European ASIS members, a view from someone based in a single country cannot be truly representative of many.

The term Europe is itself ambiguous. Although there are some countries that everyone is likely to name as European (e.g., France and Germany), there are many more that may or may not be included. One definition includes European Union (EU) countries, another also includes some countries that decided not to come into the EU (e.g., Norway). Some people still seem to think that Europe does not include the UK.

Then there is Central and Eastern Europe, where boundaries are, even now, being redrawn. In other words, Europe is an ill-defined term, and it masks diversity. This diversity is not only linguistic and broadly cultural, economic and political. It also, more specifically, encompasses diversity of approach to the information and library profession: its status and the way it is organized, served and educated.

The European Information Profession

In some countries, Germany for example, graduate and postgraduate library and information education tends to be specialized (e.g., for public librarianship), whereas in others, for example the UK, it tends to be more generalist. This means that, although theoretically there is free movement of labor within the European Union, in practice it can be difficult for information and library professionals to get the job they want in a different country.

The professional associations differ from country to country in terms of their specialties, services and sizes. There is a huge difference between the financial income of the smaller European library associations (such as the Greek Library Association) and the larger ones, such as the UK's Library Association, the Netherlands' NBLC and the Danish Library Association. This is not just to do with the size of the country, but also with the status of the information and library profession, the political history of the country and various other factors.

When countries divide, the library and information network is obviously affected, as is everything else. Even less drastic ethnic divisions can have an impact, as, for example, in Belgium. In the UK, Scottish devolution in May 1999 (giving Scotland more autonomy than it currently has) may well have an effect on information scientists. There are active talks about a merger between the UK's Library Association (LA) and Institute of Information Scientists (IIS), to form a new body, the Information and Library Association. The doubts which some Scottish members of the IIS have about the merger are compounded by the fact that the local chapter of the LA, the Scottish Library Association, is a robust body and more firmly a "library" association than is its parent organization. Scottish devolution is likely to make it even more independent-minded and no less library-oriented.

The fact that the LA and the IIS are seriously considering merger also highlights differences in terminology and interpretation. My impression is that the UK's IIS defines information science more broadly than does ASIS. In other parts of Europe the term would be associated with computer science, and the word documentalist is likely to be used to describe someone who would be called an information scientist in the UK.

All this may seem irrelevant to a researcher working in a specialized area, who knows other researchers internationally and does not really care whether they call themselves Informatiker, documentalists or information scientists. However, outside well-defined areas such as information retrieval it makes it more difficult (in my experience, at any rate) to identify potential partners and adds to the problems of communication.

EBLIDA and European Legislation

There have been initiatives to seek common ground between information and library professionals across Europe. One of these is the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations (EBLIDA). Its prime objective is to represent the views of the information and library community to the European Commission and European Parliament. EBLIDA's members are relevant professional associations. There are members representing all EU countries that have such associations, which helps to give weight to the voice of EBLIDA. It is funded through member subscriptions and has a small secretariat based in The Hague.

I must admit to bias, since, as IIS representative, I was involved in setting up EBLIDA. However, its influence has undoubtedly grown steadily since its foundation in 1992, and it maintains a wider (in terms of countries) and broader (in terms of association type) membership than the rival European Council for Information Associations.

A key issue for EBLIDA has been copyright, especially electronic copying. European Directives have an impact on all EU countries (and beyond, as US business' concern about legislation on data privacy has shown). Just lobbying at a national level is no longer effective. You now need to have a strong voice at the European level and lobby again when the European Directive is being incorporated into national law. The legislative process is also complicated, with three bodies involved: the European Commission, the European Parliament (the elected body) and the Council of Ministers.

Broadly speaking, the European Commission drafts the legislation, which goes through two stages in the different institutions. The European Parliament adopts amendments to this draft in a first reading. The Commission examines the amendments and produces an amended proposal, taking Parliament's amendments into account where possible. The Council of Ministers has to adopt a common position on the amended proposal, and this is sent back to Parliament for second reading. Parliament's opinion on this is forwarded to Commission and Council. The latter will then adopt the legislative text, with a deadline for incorporating it into national law (though there may need to be a conciliation between Parliament and Council if the Council does not agree with the amendments). The Commission has an influential role, since it will be doing much of the basic work in drafting legislation. However, the crucial power ultimately lies with national governments through the Council of Ministers.

As a result, there is a need to build contacts with people in all these bodies in order to promote the interests of users of information. The views of rights holders are also important, but publishers are spending a great deal of money on promoting these. EBLIDA also campaigns to ensure that library and information concerns are covered when the European Commission is carrying out another of its functions: drafting budgets for European research initiatives and managing their implementation.

Research Funding and the European Commission

While there has been criticism of some aspects of Commission funding for research and cultural initiatives, it is still an immensely important funding body. For the latest newsletter of the ASIS European Chapter I asked Dr. Peter Kokol in Slovenia and Dr. Fabrizio Sebastiani in Italy to name the most exciting research initiatives with which they were involved. Both named Commission-funded projects: respectively, Nursing Informatics and Computer-Aided Education (NICE) and Project Eurosearch. Projects normally have to involve researchers in several countries, and the involvement of private sector organizations is encouraged.

The Commission has recently launched the Information Society Technologies (IST) program. There is a large volume of information on the Internet about the European Union in general, and for this research program, the Internet is the prime medium for communication. As well as basic information on the calls for research proposals, there are sites with news, background information and tools to enable research-partner finding and discussion.

The IST program represents the Information Society theme of the fifth Framework Programme of the EU's research and development strategy. The main focus in the first year is on enhancing the user friendliness of the information society. Other important areas concern fostering convergence across technologies and media and the need for interoperability of technologies at a global level. Underlying the program are the constant themes of improving the competitiveness of European business, fostering good European research and enabling effective development of good research ideas.

 Please check the accompanying box for a list of Internet resources for those who would like to learn more about European associations, institutions and research.

RESOURCES

ASSOCIATIONS

ASIS European Chapter: http://asis-europe.uni-konstanz.de/
Includes links to other associations, a list of members and a discussion list

EBLIDA: http://www.eblida.org/
This Web site has a particularly large amount of information relating to copyright initiatives and links to member associations' Web sites.

European Council for Information Associations: http://www.aslib.co.uk/ecia/index.html

Institute of Information Scientists and the Library Association: http://www.iis.org.uk/news/future30-3rmv.html
Our professional future: a proposal for a new organisation for the library and information professional. London, UK: 1998.

European Union
Cambridge Management Group. Cultural Heritage and EC funding.

http://inf2.pira.co.uk/pub/ecwebsite97.html
A useful site which includes a general introduction to European funding as well as updated news with hyperlinks.

ETHOS: http://www.ethoseurope.org/
This EC-funded site has regularly updated news of interest to those carrying out research in the telematics area.

Euroguide: http://www.euroguide.org/
A subject gateway to Web sites with information about the EU, developed by Essex County Libraries and the EARL (Electronic Access to Resources in Libraries) public library consortium.

Europa: http://europa.eu.int/
The main European Union site

European programmes: http://www.mailbase.ac.uk/lists/lis-european-programmes/
Archive and joining instructions for the European Programmes discussion list, a useful UK-based list with news related to European library and information research.

I'M guide: http://www.echo.lu/
Information from the European Commission relevant to those interested in the multimedia and information market sectors.

Information Society Technologies Programme: http://www.cordis.lu/ist/
This includes participation rules for non-EU countries as well as full documentation.

SPECIFIC PROJECTS MENTIONED ABOVE

NICE: http://mario.uni-mb.si/Nice/

Project Eurosearch: http://www.echo.lu/langeng/projects/eurosearch/index.html
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sheila Webber is a lecturer in the Department of Information Science at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland. Her research areas are business information on the Internet and online pricing.

She edits the newsletter of the ASIS European Chapter and is a Fellow of the Institute of Information Scientists. She can be reached by e-mail at  sheila@dis.strath.ac.uk, http://www.dis.strath.ac.uk/people/sheila/

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