Connect and conquer

Since returning from the 2007 LIANZA conference with my appreciation of the fashion sensibilities of library workers intact, there's been another issue on my mind, spurred by Brian Pauling and Paul Reynolds' presentation of "The 'enclosing' of public space".

Brian and Paul are both commissioners of LIAC, the Library and Information Advisiory Committee. The vision of LIAC is fairly simple: "Aotearoa - New Zealand: a leading information democracy". Simple, that is, if Herculean tasks are your idea of a good time.

One of the key premises of the presentation is that of access to information. Speaking digitally, access is two-fold: access to computers and access to the network. Based on work our good friends at Statistics New Zealand did in December 2006, 71.6 percent of the 1.5 million households in New Zealand had access to a computer. The Internet was accessed by 64.5 percent of households.

To compare, Australia is at 70 percent for household computers, and 60 percent for Internet. The United States (pdf, 836KB) has 61.8 percent and 54.7 percent, respectively.

Not bad, but we could do better. Take The Republic of Korea for example – with 78.9 percent of households with access to a computer, and 92.7 percent with access to the Internet. And this was way back when, in 2005.

An acoustic coupler. Like, a old-style phone handset with an analogue-to-digital translator thing?

But Internet access can be further dissected. Almost a third of New Zealanders connect via broadband, whilst 30.9 percent are on dial-up. I may be pampered, but the idea of having to access a rich Internet application with the "help" of a 28.8K modem makes me look forward to dental work.

It's also not just a matter of "how", but of "how much". According to Statistics New Zealand, slightly more than half of households cited cost as to why they didn't have broadband. In a not-so-amusing twist on this message, one of the LIANZA Keynote speakers wrote of his trials and tribulations with New Zealand Internet costs. Granted, he was in a hotel, but it's a concrete example of what cost prevents us from achieving when it comes to Internet access.

The point made by Brian and Paul – and hell, I'll jump on their coat tails, I'm not proud – is that we in libraries have a duty to provide this access to those who do not have it, whether due to cost or availability. To that end, programmes like Aotearoa New Zealand People's Network and KAREN are vital.

It's really a chicken-and-the-egg scenario: Access begets more content, which drives access, which...well, you get the point.

A bit more forward-thinking here: Even when broadband access becomes more prevalent (note the when rather than if) it's our job to ensure the access and the information remains as part of the public trust. Otherwise, "A leading information democracy brought to you by Coca-Cola" just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

By Mike Kmiec

Mike was the lead developer and team lead for the National Digital Library.

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