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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

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ISC 19. Editorial

Alternative library and information views and perspectives: 10 years on, ISC Issue No. 19

Ruth Rikowski and John Pateman   (ISC Chief Editors)

Welcome to ISC, issue No. 19. This year is the 10 th Anniversary of ISC, and there have been many developments during this 10-year period. ISC has covered a wide range of different topics, and has raised awareness on a variety of issues. Many things have changed since our first issue in 1994. We now have a New Labour rather than a Tory Government, for example - but can you really spot the differences much these days? Some things have not changed. In our very first edition of ISC John wrote a piece about "Emerging Democracies and Freedom of Information". In this John explored the changing political situation in Eastern Europe and its effect on libraries. John also examined the IFLA position on Cuba, which was not supportive.

As we write this joint editorial in 2004 (on Friday 13 August, unlucky for some but lucky for the Cuban people because Fidel Castro was born 78 years ago today) the same issues are being discussed at the IFLA conference in Buenos Aires. Robert Kent and his CIA funded so-called "Friends of Cuban Libraries" are trying to turn the IFLA conference into a circus of anti-Cuba activity. He is allegedly being assisted in this task by Vaclav Havel, Elena Bonner and the former Prime Ministers of Estonia and Bulgaria. These East European has-beens are venting their bitterness and hatred of communism by assisting the US in its relentless attack on Cuba.

Before the organised removal of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, these countries had very well developed library and education systems and high levels of literacy. Today much of that legacy has been wiped out by market forces, consumerism and capitalism. Cuba, on the other hand, has a comprehensive library system that is well stocked, well staffed, and fully socially inclusive. There are more teachers per head of population in Cuba than in any other country in the world. And the literacy rate of nearly 100% puts the UK and US to shame.

And that is why Cuba is constantly attacked; this island of socialism in a sea of capitalism has shown that there is another way for us to live our lives. That "from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs" can become a living reality rather than a utopian aspiration. To achieve this in any circumstances is not easy; to achieve this despite a 40-year US blockade and the loss of 85% of the islands trade in 1990 is nothing short of a miracle. We would like to dedicate this 10 th year anniversary edition of ISC to Comrade Fidel Castro and the Cuban People. Hands off Cuba! Socialism or Death! Venceremos!   

John would also like to dedicate this issue to his co-editor, Ruth Rikowski, and her forthcoming book Globalisation, Information and Libraries.

Contents in this issue

This issue covers a number of different themes, including globalisation, the reference librarian and the library user relationship, the increase in higher education fees and student debt in California and school and library closures in Contra Costa County in California. Also, librarians and the World Social Forum, a Marxist analysis of the length of the working-day for intellectual labour in the knowledge revolution and the development of, and influences on, e-learning.

The issue begins with a piece by Ruth, providing some background to, and an overview of her forthcoming book Globalisation, Information and Libraries: The WTO's GATS and TRIPS Agreements, which will be published at the end of the year (2004) through, Chandos publishing. Her book builds on the work that she undertook in ISC issue No. 14, on Globalisation and Information and, in particular, one of the chapters in the book builds on her article in ISC - The corporate takeover of libraries.

Secondly, there is an article by J. O. Ajileye-Laogun, a librarian at the Obafemi Awolomo University in Nigeria. The article considers the link between the attitude of librarians and library usage and focuses on some research that was undertaken in 2003/04 at the Obafemi Awolomo University. A questionnaire was compiled, which was entitled 'Questionnaire on reference librarian/user relationship'. The research found that both the personality of the librarian and library buildings affect library usage. If librarians are unfriendly, antagonistic or unhelpful, users are likely to be reluctant to ask them questions. Furthermore,

Large buildings, deteriorating buildings, rules perceived as being difficult and bureaucracy also contribute to users abandoning libraries.


The importance of this article can be linked to John Pateman's article on social exclusion - the final article in this issue. One of the ways to tackle social exclusion and to encourage minority groups to use our libraries more is surely to ensure that librarians and information professionals adopt an inviting, friendly and open approach.


Glenn Rikowski and Htun Lin indicate some of the consequences of Arnold Schwazenegger's budget cuts in higher education in California (Rikowski) and in schools and libraries in Contra Costa County California (Lin). Not so long ago we were reading about the ransacking of museums, archives and libraries in Iraq. But Htun Lin's article shows that libraries are not necessarily safe within the imperialist heartlands. Glenn Rikowski demonstrates how Arnold Schwarzenneger's squeeze on higher education funding in California has led to the state universities attempting to compensate by raising student fees. This is a process that has lessons for higher education in England when variable fees are introduced in 2006, and when the lid is taken off higher education fees altogether in 2010.

This is followed by a poem written by Victor Rikowski, which is entitled Perfect Sound , with an alternative look at the world! Victor is now 17 years old.

From here, we move on to Mikael Böök's article on Librarians and the World Social Forum (WSF). Mikael Böök organised a very successful library workshop at the fourth World Social Forum that was held in Mumbai, India, 2004, which was entitled Democratisation of information: focus on libraries. At this workshop Kay Raseroka, the current President of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) said that librarians should participate in and document the WSF. In his article, Mikael Böök gives some consideration to the meaning of documentation itself and also the difficulties involved in finding out more about the WSF, particularly from conventional library catalogues. Böök then considers the WSF itself, why people go to it and why it is important. He emphasises the exchanging of information that takes place, saying that:

The WSF is a gigantic information market for the exchange of news, thoughts and knowledge. But

it is not a mass market, nor an instance of mass communication. The information is not commodified and reified. The communication is between individuals and groups of individuals in kind of global public sphere beyond the distorted information landscape offered by today's mass media.  

Böök argues that librarians should go to future WSF's, participate in them and organise the documentation and says:

The documentation of the World Social Forum: a necessary step towards the global public library.

Furthermore, he also points out that both libraries and the WSF are often seen to be a meeting place. The World Social Forum, The European Social Forum and the London Social Forum all provide vehicles for those of us that seek to articulate and promote anti-global capitalist and alternative views. Thus, it is most encouraging that librarians are participating in the WSF and hopefully, this can be built on in the future.

There then follows another article by Ruth, which is entitled On the impossibility of determining the length of the working-day for intellectual paper. Ruth gave this paper at a one-day seminar that was held at the Institute of Education, University of London, in May 2004, entitled Marxism and Education: Renewing Dialogues IV - Education and the Labour Process. This article builds on the writing and research that she has been undertaking on the knowledge revolution and knowledge management, from a Marxist perspective. She argues that in the knowledge revolution that we find ourselves in today, this being the latest phase of capitalism, there is a greater exertion of intellectual labour and less exertion of manual labour. Hence, we have 'flexible knowledge workers'. Marx formulated his concept of the 'length of the working-day' when the greatest expenditure of labour was undertaken by manual labour. Capitalism is sustained by value, but this value can only ever be created by labour, both from manual labour and from intellectual labour. The capitalist wants to extract as much value from labour as possible, but the labourer cannot work for 24 hours a day - she/he needs rest and nourishment.   So, a compromise has to be established between the capitalist and the labourer and as Marx says:

The creation of a normal working-day is.the product of a protracted civil war, more or less

dissembled, between the capitalist class and the working-class. (Marx, 1887, p.283)

Thus, the length of the working-day is established - such as the 8-10 hour day. However, Ruth argues that whilst the length of the working-day can be established for manual labour relatively easily, it cannot be so easily established for intellectual labour. This is because value is being extracted more from the knowledge and ideas that people have (their intellectual labour), yet, knowledge and ideas can be formulated in minutes, or they can take weeks, months or even years. They cannot be formulated within a neat 8-10 hour run. Thus, we need an appreciation of Marx's concepts, but we also need to build on them, and make them applicable for the global capitalist world that we find ourselves in today. Therefore, Ruth argues that it becomes impossible to determine the length of the working-day for intellectual labour in the knowledge revolution, and that, indeed:

All that is solid melts into air . (Marx and Engels, 1888, p.83)

The importance, indeed necessity, of exploring this topic further cannot be over-emphasised.

Following on from this we have two articles by Paul Catherall. The first encapsulates some personal reflections on Paul Catherall's career development in a non-traditional library environment. He is a qualified, chartered librarian/information professional but working in a non-traditional library setting. He is a 'Web developer' at the North East Wales Institute under the 'Academic Services' department of the library and is also a writer and a part-time lecturer. He considers the roles he plays and the ways in which these roles fit in (or not) with the traditional library environment, and concludes by emphasising the need for:

.innovation and adaptability in achieving personal development, and in particular not to rely on traditional sources of career development in a sector increasingly characterised by changing values and priorities.

The changing nature of library and information work clearly needs to be appreciated today, as does the need to try to ensure that it works for the good of humanity.

Paul Catherall's second article examines e-learning and is entitled Influences in E-Learning: forces for change or confusion? He considers web-based e-learning and the use of the Blackboard e-learning system, in particular. Furthermore, he argues that the Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) which includes Blackboard have become the dominant form of e-learning within academic institutions today, in both Further and Higher Education. He concludes by arguing that e-learning is not so much driven by pedagogical research and planning but more by technological innovation and political impetus. Paul Catherall points out that e-learning systems are largely being developed by e-learning companies, rather than by suggestions from the education community itself. This, once again, demonstrates the power that large corporations have in capitalism, and that the needs of capital largely takes precedence over other needs - in this case, over wider educational and pedagogical considerations. When developing and using e-learning systems we surely need to try to ensure that such systems are not just being driven forward by the profit motive. Paul has written a book through Chandos publishing, entitled Delivering e-learning for information services in higher education, which is due to be published in November 2004.

The final article in this issue is an article on Social Exclusion by John Pateman, who is now Head of Libraries, Sport and Support Services, Lincolnshire County Council. He begins by highlighting the fact that the latter part of the 20 th century saw an increase in social exclusion and inequality in the UK. However, in 1997 the UK New Labour Government put in place an agenda to tackle both the causes and consequences of social exclusion and that this led to some improvements. The long-term increase in the numbers of children in relative poverty began to reverse, for example, and there was a decrease in unemployment. John points out that libraries, information and advice services can play a significant role in tackling social exclusion and that they have and continue to contribute to Inclusion, Learning and Regeneration Programmes. This includes programmes such as the UK Sure Start Programme, which offers services to over 400,000 children under four years of age, including a third of all children living in poverty. John concludes by considering what else libraries can do in the future to try to tackle social exclusion. This includes the provision of more outreach library workers, multi-agency working, addressing the needs of the most disadvantaged and 'hardest to reach' groups of people in the community and making library services more accessible. Libraries can also provide reliable information about vulnerable groups, such as refugees, homeless people and mobile or transient populations such as Gypsies and Travellers.  

Finally, Jeremy Hunsinger reviews a very interesting book entitled Digital play: the interaction of technology, culture and marketing by Stephen Kline, Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig De Peuter. He describes the book as being ".both a fun read and a serious critical study of the social, economic, political and cultural systems surrounding the computer game industry." The authors provide a critical history of the computer game industry as well as critical perspectives on the industry. In particular, they highlight how brand names commodify play and consider the gender stereotyping and capitalist structuring that is provided in many computer games. In essence, the book considers the effect of computer games on society as a whole and as such is surely a worthwhile read for ISC readers.

We hope that you enjoy reading ISC 19 and that you will continue to enjoy reading ISC in the future. The need to 'challenge the dominant paradigms of library and information work' remains as powerful as ever.

If you have any comments and/or would like to contribute to future issues of ISC, please contact us at:

John Pateman   - johnpateman9at

Ruth Rikowski - rikowskiat or rikowski.ukat

John Pateman and Ruth Rikowski , 13 th August 2004


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