This section will not discuss the continuing problems listed in the previous section but rather the underlying problems relating to utilisation in terms of individual and collective user needs in conditions requiring innovative societal learning. Given the financial and other handicaps of the international community, it will be assumed that the continuing problems will continue and that any recommendations must recognise the constraint they represent and look for ways to bypass them if any breakthrough is to be achieved.
1.1 Active attitude: What is the "international documentation system"? There is little point in indulging in definitional games, but perhaps it is appropriate to distinguish four components:
- producers (agencies, etc.)
- intermediaries (libraries, abstracting services, etc.)
- ultimate users (social, change agents)
- individuals and communities (from whom producers derive their mandate)
A basic question for intermediaries therefore is the extent to which international documentation should be treated as a continuous outpouring which ought to be passively conveyed, to the extent possible, to "accessible" users. The intermediaries respond actively only to the extent of pursuing priority user requests and by limiting responsibility to that priority portion of the total outpouring which can be handled with available resources. Is this enough?
A strategy open to intermediaries is to adopt a (low-budget) active role whereby both producers and users are challenged to redefine their action in the light of new patterns of information supplied by the intermediaries. Possibilities will be discussed below, but the point here is to stress a more active attitude toward producers and users. It is a question of a different "posture" than the traditional one of librarianship.
1.2 Producer-user participation network:. Schaaf states that "use of international documents in libraries is primarily subject-oriented" (71, p. 9). But he restricts his attention to intergovernmental organisations (71, p. 1), possibly because these are his professional responsibility. By so doing, however, such papers neglect the production of the several thousand international non-governmental organisations, including the FID publications in which these symposiums papers appear, and the Club of Rome report cited above, which states (5, p. 80):
- "Looking at the three spheres of governments, intergovernmental agencies, and non-governmental organisations (the NGOs), it is the NGOs that appear to have the longer term, flexible, interdisciplinary perspectives and where both anticipation and participation are emerging. Not every NGO, of course, could be considered a source of innovative learning. Yet the number and importance of those which are innovative is growing with astonishing rapidity. Many provide the forums where new ideas and creative alternatives can be explored and simulated without the constraints of the existing economic, social, cultural, military, or political obstacles"
- the effect such an attitude has when it governs the scope of the service offered to users
- the importance in society today of involving all organizational resources in the process of societal learning.
- "Groups of every definition are asserting themselves around the world and rejecting a marginal position or subordinated status with respect to power centres... Without participation, for instance, anticipation often becomes futile... Probably no area is so essential to innovative learning as participation, and at the same time probably no greater need exists than to learn how to participate effectively... And from a global view, the potential for innovative learning in the world system as a whole hinges on the extent of participation at international as well as national and local levels" (5, pp. 14, 29 and 30).
For maximum learning effectiveness, producers and users need to be woven into a well-integrated network -- especially since most collective users are also producers, and vice versa. This "ganglionic" network is already a major feature of world society, although there is little information on it (see, however, ref. 2). Clearly a key feature is its decentralisation, which is one reason why centralised bibliographic control is virtually impossible. Under these conditions each producer/user functions as a kind of "active guardian" of specific portions of the collective memory. Intermediaries have a responsibility for making that network evident to all concerned. In local communities libraries often have a "community networking" function -- why not internationally?
1.3 Active memory:. The amount of information is so great that it is useful to think of the tendency to push it into "inactive" memory through the following overlapping stages:
- in individual memory: current active preoccupation
- in individual memory: remembered if triggered
- documents on desk (or personal cardfile)
- documents on office bookshelf (or filing cabinet)
- documents in section library (or file room)
- documents in agency library stacks (or archives)
Societal learning occurs through the accumulation of information in active memory. (A form of "instinctive" learning may be said to occur when knowledge is integrated into operational procedures). But it is difficult to consider forgotten information in forgotten documents as usable knowledge when the key whereby it may be retrieved has itself been forgotten, if only temporarily.
New tools are required to move more information towards a condition of being actively remembered. Intermediaries should actively create such tools or at least encourage their creation
1.4 Subject 1acunae:. At present intermediaries respond passively to the emergence of new topics by creating new categories if old ones appear inadequate. Given the pattern of subject categories "managed" by such intermediaries, who should signal the fact that information is available in documents for "Housing, Africa", "Housing, Asia", etc. but not for "Housing, Pacific"?
Who should be concerned with obvious gaps in the pattern of information available? -- particularly when searching for gaps could be increasingly automated. In contrast with what Gyorgy Rozsa states concerning the lack of distortion in international documentation, at one stage the series of country statistical codes omitted "Taiwan" and "Rhodesia", thus apparently distorting any world trade study because trade with those countries was not supposed to exist. Such silly approaches to data would be extremely serious if they were used for infectious diseases or pollution data. But who should signal the gap?
Should producers not be actively confronted with such gaps by intermediaries? -- not simply as a search for missing documents but specially as a means of identifying programming blindspots. A similar argument could be given for information just "beyond" the frontier of a producer agency's subject mandate. Who assists the agency to determine what information is relevant and should be "imported" (or exported) across this frontier? To what extent can it be done by automated "massaging" of the subject category data base? If not, why not, and who else should have this responsibility?
2. Challenging producers and users
2.1 User questions: It is typical of maintenance learning for intermediaries to respond passively to a user request with the goal of giving him "exactly what he asked for ". Is enough known about how a user frames his questions -- particularly when intimidated by library procedures or the bewilderment of librarians? (71, p. 11). How can the quality of questions be improved? The plethora of studies on the UN system (71, p. 10), which seem to have very little cumulative value, suggests that it is studied to a large extent "because it is there" and there is a lot of documentation to peruse. An example is voting patterns. What does "improvement" mean in an innovative learning context?
Given the user-recognized importance of subject orientation, why is it that the user guides reviewed by Schaaf (71, pp. 13-16) are producer oriented?
Would it not be appropriate to develop a guide which challenged the way the user thought it best to frame his question? This could be relatively short, possibly even with an abridged office wall-chart (or hand-out) form, structured in the manner of programmed learning manuals. Its functions would include preventing the user from being "locked into":
- an agency oriented perspective
- a too-narrow subject orientation when related subjects are highly relevant
- a too-broad subject orientation an uncritical acceptance of the available documentation
Such a document should not be agency focused and would therefore need to be produced with the guidance of an organisation such as the Association of International Libraries.
2.2 Producer problems:. When the "producer" agency is also a user, the document mentioned above is also relevant. As noted earlier, tools are required to orient the policy-formulating user in terms of knowledge and issues impacting on his stated area of preoccupation. He needs to be given a sense of overview and context as noted in the Club of Rome report (5, pp. 19-24). The reverse is also true. Exaggerating considerably, it is almost as though a user should formulate "a knowledge-base impact statement" (analogous to an environmental impact statement) to clarify the consequences of "activating" and developing knowledge and action in a particular area to the exclusion of action in response to areas to which it is related.
2.3 Reconfiguration of category schemes: The very large investment of funds, intellect and personal commitment in category schemes must be accepted with all its implications for lack of flexibility in experimenting with alternatives at that level. However, with very little investment users could be confronted with the possibility of experimenting with alternative patterns of categories which reflected their own priorities and preferences. Clearly this could best be done as an on-line exercise, but batch versions might be preferred by some. This would allow users to manipulate a large set of subject categories into new patterns without affecting the existing categorisation of the bibliographic data to which it could be linked. A user might even consult an on-line system via such a "personalised" pattern used as an interface into the standard system. If printed out, such a pattern could well take the form of a map (see below), rather than a list. The process whereby the user prepared "his" map might be usefully linked to an on-line version of the programmed learning procedure described above (point 2.1).
A major advantage of this is that users would be able to incorporate relevant categories not yet "recognised" by their agency information system or only present in systems of other agencies. They could subdivide, combine or link categories according to notions unacceptable to those responsible for the agency's information system. A user could develop several such patterns for different policy orientations (e.g. long-term, emergency action, etc.). A selection of such patterns could be offered to new users.
3. Unconventional information tools
It is vital not to forget the implications of the vast amount of information generated, even within the UN system. Much of substantive value escapes bibliographic control or is otherwise inaccessible. Much that is under control is of almost no long-term value. In a sense the reference guides to what is under control conceal the extent of what is not. Who could produce a guide to what is not, and who would "dare" to do so? Given the urgency and nature of innovative societal learning, consideration should be given to the benefits from the minimal investment requirements of information aids such as the following.
3.1 Question collections: In the face of rising ignorance and inability to act, ineffectual action ("for action's sake") may often be avoided by asking better questions. Many good questions are "buried" in international documents. Many documents are the result of bad questions. Many good questions never get into accessible (including declassified) documents, even though they do not need to be confidential.
Is it not possible to define criteria for a "question collection", focused mainly on supposedly unanswered questions. The amount of information would be relatively small. It would be of value to policy-formulation and research and as a learning aid. The questions could be periodically rated by a suitable jury so that they could be ranked in different ways and even interlinked in a network of learning pathways. The collection could be open for inclusion of questions from motivated users. Links to documents could be envisaged if justified.
Note that it has often been remarked that it is not better answers to old questions that will lead to better action, but better questions leading to new kinds of answers. The search for better questions is a key to by-passing the shank 1earning process.
3.2 Resolution collections: More conventional and requiring greater investment would be a data base focused on resolutions. This is in no way unique insofar as much has been done for those of the UN itself. The question is whether priority could be given to this aspect of international documentation for all agencies as a distinct, and preferably on-line, subject-indexed (KWIC) system.
At this point, as has often been remarked, there is no clearing-house for decisions affecting the international community. Such a data base is a minimum response to this condition -- whether or not the associated documents are under control.
3.3 Proposal collections: Much creative energy is invested in formulating proposals which, if they are reported, are "buried" in documents. Given that these provide most valuable clues to future action, it would seem that some effort should be devoted to providing a brief abstract of them in a suitably indexed on-line data base. Clearly this is most valuable if it motivates wide participation and does not concentrate on the preoccupations of a particular (group) of agencies. As opposed to documents in general, such proposals are "live" future-oriented information. Whilst a valuable precedent, the Bulletin of Peace Proposals (Oslo) should not he considered a model because of the length of the texts included.
3.4 Problem collections: Given that perceived problems are a core feature of the world problematique, further steps should be taken to maintain brief abstracts of them in a suitably indexed on-line data base. An important reason for treating problems in a separate system is that they are both "buried" in documents and often denatured by the manner in which they are presented as agenda items or remedial programmes. Such problems should be registered in the system in terms of their perceived functional relationship to other problems. Such a data base covering some 2,600 world problems in a network of 13,000 relationships was created in machine readable form for the production of the experimental Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential (2). Producing "problem maps" bound as "atlases" could be an important byproduct stimulating participation in the continual updating of such a data base.
3.5 Key document check-lists: Given the bewilderment of librarians and users faced with the maze of international documentation, a procedure worth exploring is the regular production of a check-list of the "most consulted new documents". This might be restricted to 50, or be as high as 500 or 1000, possibly organised by subjects (with provision for interdisciplinary categories). Selections could be made by agency librarians and pooled by the Association of International Libraries. More ambitiously, it might include any publications considered relevant to the world community/ problematique, as indicated by a pool of collaborating users -- perhaps grouped around each agency library. This would be a very valuable (and saleable) guide to what was worth acquiring (librarians) or reading (users). It would have an important cross-category "pollinating" role. There are many commercial parallels: best-seller lists, record hit lists, TV ratings, etc.
3.6 Subject field glossaries: Fred Riggs in his paper (77) notes that:
- "International documents written in 'technical jargon' cannot be understood by many readers. The problems involved in utilising international documents... concern not so much the availability or intrinsic importance of these documents as the capacity of users to understand what they contain... The problem of comprehension arises from a basic semantic difficulty involving the appearance and use of many new concepts as a result of progress in the social and natural sciences, and in the fields of technology and information science... Consequently it is by no means a simple matter to convert technical jargon into ordinary language"
- "In order to master these new technical languages, reference tools are required which will take the form of subject field glossaries -- but such glossaries cannot be very useful if they follow the traditional format used in most such works".
4. Integration and comprehension
A major effort is required to facilitate the cross-category interrelationship of subject areas and to provide users with some tools to augment their ability to tolerate the complexity with which they have to deal.
4.1 Mapping techniques: Librarians have been tricked by the success with which computers have been used to process lists of subjects, bibliographic entries, and lines of text. This provides them with good control of "librarian problems" but does nothing for the user faced with indigestible acquisition lists or on-line keyword search facilities. Innovative learning necessitates new user tools. "Maps" of interconnected topics around a user's focal topic would be of inestimable value in providing him with a sense of context to guide his searches and to signal related topics of concern (15). It should be possible to generate such maps from relatively simple data bases. The hardware exists, as does the software, but none of those concerned have articulated the need sufficiently in order to assemble these elements with the necessary funding. (70).
A major value of such maps would be as a single-sheet background document for agency meetings to provide the context to each agenda item (and, as a result of criticism, to ensure continual updating of the map for that topic). They would be of obvious value as educational aids. The data base for the Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential was created with this possibility in mind.
4.2 Interdisciplinarity: As Georges Gusdorf notes in a brilliant essay (74a), "interdisciplinarity" has become a disguise for the mere juxtaposition of disciplines without any significant interaction. [It is in this sense that Rozsa's (73) positive assessment of the interdisciplinarity of international documentation must be interpreted. Such documents must often be judged as much by the disciplines they exclude as those they include.] It has failed to emerge in any significant non-token form in a society in desperate need of it. The Club of Rome report notes that despite the amount of information published annually it is "incomplete and deficient because it is essentially of an intra- disciplinary nature with very little emphasis on inter-disciplinary materials" (5, p. 109).
University "interdisciplinarity" is a mockery torn by interfaculty politics and eroded by cynicism. It has become a joke. The situation is, if anything, even worse in international agencies. Thus it is in the greater detachment of libraries and information systems that hopes must be placed. There, however, even the term is an embarrassment so that books with that dimension are "crammed" into any category including "general" to avoid opening up an inter-category notion. The reality of user access problems to such materials, and an indication of the vulnerability of collective memory, is illustrated by an effort in 1975 to consult the General Systems Yearbook (published annually in Washington DC since 1956) at the Library of Congress. Two volumes were available on first request. A protest led to a visit to the stacks where it was clear that several volumes had been misfiled in neighboring racks. The majority had been lost or stolen. (Unesco did not possess the series).
There has, for example, never been any study of the problems of classifying interdisciplinary materials, because librarians have not allowed such problems to exist. Users are therefore totally handicapped in gaining the faintest understanding of the many integrative possibilities (see ref. 2, Section K). This leads to general reinforcement of the inadequacies of the interdisciplinary approach. A study of this whole matter should be made and the status of material in this area should be reviewed in relation to the "general" category in terms of societal learning needs and the challenge of the world problematique.
4.3 Imagery: The Club of Rome report places great stress on imagery: "Images with their integrative power and instant recall, have been underestimated as components of learning" (5, p. 41). Both international agencies and their information systems are committed in many ways to text processing. Only the "public information" programmes use images and these are not considered to be documents of substantive value. A study is required to look into ways to bridge this gap. Users could benefit from images to help them to grasp the nature of the world problematique. It is, however, important to avoid superficial approaches to imagery which constitute a trap justifying any preferences for text. What is needed is a way to select a pattern of images to and comprehension of a matching pattern of interconnected problems (possibly represented on a map, as suggested above). It is the possibilities of cross-linking between the patterns that requires study.
4.4 Analogy, metaphor, and parable: The increasing problem of understanding and communicating the nature of the complex conditions in which we are embedded has been frequently stated. This problem is more acute when there is a requirement for rapid and innovative societal learning. Conventional logical explanations have long ceased to suffice. Mathematicians (Thom, catastrophe theory), biologists, religious leaders, and politicians have long been forced to communicate by the use of analogy, metaphor, and parable. This is often true in intergovernmental plenary speeches but rarely in the background documents which are considered to be so indigestible. These forms use verbal imagery to elucidate unfamiliar points and render them memorable. As with imagery (above), there is clearly a need to bridge the chasm separating this meaningful mode with the often meaningless textual mode of documentation. These forms can also be powerful human-centered integrative tools which work even in the most isolated communities. There are few other forms with these qualities. In addition, as noted by the Club of Rome report, they are a stimulus to intuitive thinking (5, p. 126). The question is whether greater benefits could not be derived from these forms if they could be rendered more accessible (and more "apt") and linked, as an aid to users, to the "problem complexes" about which conventional documents are produced. Documentalists could usefully take the first step by recognising the urgent need for the construction of such a (right-brain/left-brain) bridge.
4.5 Structured images and symbols: The important distinction between "imagery" (above) and structured images has already been discussed. Structured images are in effect a marriage between imagery and mapping, combining some of the strengths of both. They may also overlap with a range of powerful symbols of integration (10). Both can be powerful tools in communicating and rendering credible the nature of action.
Great efforts are made to develop suitable "symbols" for international programmes. Symbols of this type are often little more than images with little power. The question is whether structured images orienting user access to complex subject domains can be linked to (or blended into) existing powerful symbols capable of galvanising a "political will to change". Note the probability of failure of action if the two are not successfully related. Exploration of these possibilities offers a route whereby the currently static concept patterns of information systems can be "achieved" into a dynamic catalyst for change.
5. Users and usage
5.1 Usage: There is little information available on usage from the panel papers received. In the case of the agency papers, the United Nations paper notes the "difficulty for Governments to study" documentation. The CARICOM paper notes that "about 60% is not of immediate use... about 25% is not of expected value at the time when the request is made". None of the other papers comment on the matter.
In the case of the depository library replies, that of the Hungarian Parliament states, "We feel that the material is satisfactorily used". The Library of Parliament (Finland) only states "frequently used". Whereas that of the Royal Library (Copenhagen) records that "materials from intergovernmental organizations are being used -- but not satisfactorily", which is also the judgement of the Biblioteca Nacional (Madrid). The National Center of Scientific and Technical Information (Tel-Aviv) reports: "Much of this documentation, notwithstanding its potential inherent value, serves no one because the knowledge of its existence, its contents and its access is so badly organised".
Reporting on the Library of Congress (Washington), Schaaf notes: "Lacking any precise data, it is still clear that international materials are underutilized" (71, p. 9). In the case of the British Library, Eve Johansson (74) notes: "It is generally felt in this library as in others in the UK that the documentation of the IGOs is not used as it should be, and that its advantages ... are not fully appreciated". Johansson also itemises "reasons for unsatisfactory degree of use" but her reasons are the "continuing problems" of the previous section. Schaaf notes the bewilderment of users and J.P. Chillag remarks: "Users and prospective users... are often frustrated in their efforts first to identify the material they need and then to locate and gain access to the international documentation they require" (75).
It is really surprising that there is so little information on usage, given the expense of documentation and the assumption that it is sufficiently useful to justify the financial and personnel resources allocated to it. Is the documentation as valuable as some would claim it to be? Would "valuable" have to be carefully defined to justify continued production of certain categories of documents? Which ones? Is the value of such documentation being reduced by the spread of other information media, especially electronic? These are questions that demand a study which would not justify value by the desire to produce or the desire to "stay on a mailing list in case...".
5.2 Users: The panel papers also give little information on users. The agency papers, if they mention users at all, focus on obligatory distribution to members and conference participants.
The depository libraries tend to indicate that they are used by "specialists, researchers and students", Johansson notes that there is "little feedback". It must be recognised that there will always be "users" for a topic on which there is a large amount of documentation. Schaaf is the most explicit: "Among the most frequent users are staff members of Government agencies, faculty and students from out-of-town universities, and researchers from innumerable institutions and associations". (71, p.6)
There is almost no indication of the types of questions asked by users. What are they looking for? Could they be asking better questions? Do they know what they need, or do they only think they know? What of the potential users that have become disillusioned, or whose interests are neglected? Are the principal users at present those whose activities are in need of priority support?
Rather than a study of the "acquisition and organisation of international documentation" [The title of my report for the 1972 Symposium (1)], a study should be produced on the "acquisition and organization of users". It is time to think less about "inaccessible documents" and more about "inaccessible users". It is very disturbing to read Johansson's comment: "Many users resort for preference to newspaper and journal sources for some information that could be found in the publications of IGOs, and are prepared to do without some of it".
The whole concept of users and usage has become static, slow and governed largely by the agency desire to produce and distribute. In no way can this be said to correspond to the needs for innovative societal learning.
5.3 Psycho-cultural variants: It is too conveniently assumed that information organization should correspond to approaches elaborated in the developed countries. As recent studies are demonstrating (24), there are other equally meaningful approaches to the organisation of concepts which are characteristic of non-indo-european cultures (and by "inaccessible" potential users in indo-european cultures). And even in western countries there is increasing criticism of Boolean approaches to data searches. New logics and forms of presentation are called for (56, 57). Any user study must take into account these possibilities, if international documentation is to be rendered acceptable to those who have not been coopted into developed country traditions.
Also relevant is the argument of the Club of Rome report: "In large part, it is the inadequacy of learning capacities which accounts for the low level of understanding not only of ideas and knowledge originating outside a particular culture but also of the values intrinsic to and embodied in technologies that are too often 'transferred' inappropriately" (5, p. 89).
6. Core contents
Given the amount of valuable information "buried" in inaccessible documents, and given the spread of data networks, it would be appropriate to undertake exploratory investigations of the possibility of creating a "core concept" data base, perhaps on the lines of the "country file" data bases in many agencies. This could include key insights and phrases, possibly from documents, relating specially the world problematique. Properly designed, this could provide a focal point for registering and interrelating insights and needs, with possible reference to documents elaborating the point (76). Such relatively compact dynamic data bases are essential to maintain the momentum of innovative societal learning. The documentation system is a symbol of societal inertia incarnate. Do many of the complex problems of the world problematique lend themselves to treatment in the kinds of documents which can be produced at present?
As noted in the introduction, the features of the information/communication society of the future are emerging. Telecommunications are a vital component. They are basic to the exciting future possibilities of data networks in relation to societal learning. As has been said before such networks are the planetary "nervous system". The Club of Rome report states, however: "The neglect and abuse of telecommunications is another illustration of how innovative learning is impeded. It is because of the existence of a global communications network... that their neglect is so discouraging". (5, p. 55)
Of special concern are the little-reported maneuverings of national PTT authorities and commercial data carriers to set the foundations for a totally elitist communication society. The carriers, with the connivance of PTTs, appear to be aiming to create a situation analogous to the well-known "seven sisters" monopoly in the petroleum industry. The PTTs are using spurious arguments to justify heavy tariffs, monopolistic services, inflexible equipment standards, and restrictive patterns of access. In part this is a classical effort at "creaming the market", in part it is a frantic attempt at conserving control over communications (to maintain revenues and protect the outdated telex technology), and in part it is done under pressure from authorities concerned with social control (military, etc.).
At a time when energy costs are soaring, it is incredible that the communications, on which our civilisation depends to maintain the "social fabric" and innovative learning processes, should be taxed so heavily and so artificially. This cynical irresponsibility should be recognised in terms of its inhibiting effect on learning and all aspects of future access to international documentation. The International Telecommunications Union bears a heavy responsibility in this matter, especially in the light of its proposed World Communications Year (1983).