Emerald Group Publishing Limited
These are the proceedings of a conference which marked the twenty‐first anniversary of the UK Office for Library and Information Networking (UKOLN) based at the University of Bath. Contributions from a number of “heavyweights” in the electronic library world ensure a thoughtful and forward‐looking collection of papers. This is by no means the first time (nor will it be the last!) that the “landscape” metaphor has been used to explore and explain the contemporary and future information universe. As one of the co‐editors explains in the opening address, “it [landscape] appears to provide a powerful way of enabling people to make sense of virtual territory” (p. xvii). In this way geographical nomenclature helps to give a down‐to‐earth tangible feel to what can, at times, seem like elusive concepts. The papers are liberally scattered with words and phrases such as communities, maps, compasses, ecology of places, flat Norfolk, boundaries, islands, building bridges, uphill and down dale: you get the drift.
Although some of the papers cover technical issues, the overall tenor of the collection is the placing of information in its social context. Between the opening and closing keynote addresses, the 17 papers have been divided into four parts. The first part, “Information architectures: constructing the digital library”, consists of four papers, kicked off by Dempsey who looks at the heterogeneous, autonomously managed nature of information resources – or “islands” – and how we join them up. This is followed by Greenstein’s discussion about resource discovery and, particularly, his experience with the Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS). Also included in this part is Stapleton’s summary of recent and ongoing projects within museums.
The first contribution (Lyman) in “Information landscapes: the accommodation of knowledge” asks what virtual communities will “look like” and whether they will resemble “places”. Then Baker and Hammond give an example of a regional partnership (between the University of East Anglia and Norfolk County Council) to develop an information landscape for Norfolk in the next century. Lester’s micro‐case study of the Natural History Museum is followed by an interesting paper from Woolston who is keen to point out that she is neither librarian nor computer specialist. She is approaching the subject as an academic with a science background. The exploration of the learning styles of the up‐coming generation of students offers plenty of food for thought. Three of the four contributions in “Information and the public space: an informed citizenry” cover public libraries and public records. Discussion revolves around the use of networking to build community participation and political engagement and the importance of the various national projects which are currently driving the public library agenda. Continuing the theme, McDonald takes the UK Government’s recent discussion paper The learning age: a renaissance for a new Britain and shows how lifelong learning can be supported by cooperative ventures between different library sectors – in the case of Sunderland, further and higher education libraries together with public libraries.
The final clutch of papers looks explicitly to the future. The first, from Denmark, outlines the JULIA Project which examines the hybrid library from the human resources viewpoint. Fisher outlines developments in the Sheffield area, particularly in relation to information management skills, which have come about as a response to the needs of lifelong learning. The highlight, however, is the provocative paper by Webster. He examines recent claims that the new technologies will encourage democratisation. In particular, he considers the claim that they will lead to greater knowledgeability among the public and also that improvements in communications will transform democracy for the better. This is a stimulating collection, aimed at anyone with an interest in the challenges faced by the library and information providers of today and tomorrow. I bet the conference was good!