The aim of this paper is to define a framework for public information services in the twenty‐first century, as a means to address some arguments that are put forward in the debate on the obsoleteness of public information services in the age of the internet.
The paper discusses theoretical concepts on the function of information in modern democracy, followed by analysis of two foremost models of seeking knowledge, “the wisdom of crowds” and “expertise”, the different kinds of questions both forms apply to, the kind of knowledge the different models result in, and the application of the findings from that analysis in the information services environment.
The function of information in a modern democracy still applies today. Information is a means to allow citizens to make informed decisions in the democratic process. The debate on the proper way to provide functional information services in modern democracy is roughly divided between two “schools of thought”. One of them puts the model of “the wisdom of crowds” forward, and sees information technology as the final answer to all questions. The other relies on expertise, which is paramount in classic information services. The conclusion of this paper is that, where not all (research) questions yield to knowledge derived from the wisdom of crowds, there is a true need for information services that specialize in providing information produced by experts. As no other party provides that, public information services should commit themselves to playing a central role in society in providing expert information.
The main value of the paper is comprehensive analysis of the widespread claim that free information on the internet is the end to all means, providing all knowledge at the fingertips. It provides arguments to put forward in debates on the value of public information services.
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