A 2015 article on UK libraries described efforts by Parliament to amateurise public library services following widespread closures (Dickens, 2015). Given the desire of nearly every country in the world to create an “Information Society” such actions appear counterproductive. This sentiment is also stressed in Library and Information Studies (LIS) literature, especially if the author is writing about information literacy. It could be argued that these writings express a belief in Utopianism, i.e that the work and practices of Information Professionals can overhaul and improve both the individual and society as a whole.
More specifically the dream of many Information professionals is the establishment of a society in which every citizen has acquired the skills necessary to evaluate and utilise the wide range of information sources available to them. Furthermore, the method to achieving this ultimate goal is very simple; information training allows people to improve their overall lives by basing their knowledge on the best sources available.
However, as illustrated by the UK example most governments appear content with the most immediate benefits of the Information and Communication Technology revolution rather than exploiting the full potential of these innovations by providing the necessary infrastructure. Conversely, any unwanted effects of the Information age such as social media whistle blowing, data leaks and the free exchange of opinions and materials are subjected to rigid controls and scrutiny in order to maintain the political, economic and social status quos of various sectors. Despite the global nature of the Information revolution, the corpus of LIS literature is predominately focused on Western Anglophone countries. Therefore, it may be interesting to discuss a state which does not received a great deal of attention e.g. the Republic of Uzbekistan.
After the collapse of the Soviet Bloc many member states of the Commonwealth of Independent Nations received support from UNESCO and the EU to develop their information, educational and cultural heritage sectors. As noted by a 2013 report prepared for the European Commissions TEMPUS-TACIS program (Technical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Independent States):
“the collapse of the Soviet Union was disastrous for the highly centralised and collaborative library system shared by the members states” (Johnson, 2013, p.43).
One of the former Soviet states Uzbekistan sought to reform the library service following economic chaos of the 1990s with “a Presidential Decree (No.381, 20 June 2006):
‘About the organisation of information and library provision for the population of Republic’: which placed ‘librarianship and the implementation of new information technologies among the top priorities in the country’ (Johnson, p.5)
The importance importance of LIS to the Uzbek government is further illustrated by a flurry of similar decrees:
1. No.VII-3029, (2002) “On the Improvement of the Organization of Scientific Research Activity”: adapt library services to post independence circumstances.
2. Presidential Decree (No.381, 20 June 2006): renamed 14 regional public libraries as Information and Library centres (ILC) governed by Communications and Information Agency of Uzbekistan (CIAU)and co-ordinated by the Republican Information-Library Centre
3. 2006 Decree: Renamed school and university libraries Information Resource Centres (IRC) with some falling under the auspices of CIAU
4. 2006 Decree: All ILC’S and RLC’S to possess computers and internet services and help develop “national information resources, electronic libraries and databases”. (Johnson, pp.52, 53, 55, 63)
Moreover, the main role assigned to IRCs and ILCs is “the creation of electronic libraries and databases that combine all their information resources in a union catalogue” (Johnson, p.63). The efforts made by the Uzbek government are detailed in depth by the report with special attention paid to the creation of a Master’s program with EU funding and collaboration to meet local requirements. The program is hosted by Tashkent University of Information Technologies and was a success domestically (Johnson, pp.68-69). Indeed, the author of the report quotes Rakhmatullaev’s, (2000) belief that the development of library and information services is part of a broader program of transforming the region economically, politically and socially (p.70). The only obstacle to the process noted by the author is the country’s reliance on central planning (Johnson, p.70).
As mentioned above, the belief in the transformative powers of LIS is deeply ingrained in academic writing on the subject. Unfortunately the hopeful arguments of LIS researchers rarely match up with the realities of how individuals outside the profession perceive Information services, as evidenced by recent developments in Uzbekistan. Even after the major overhaul of LIS and the information sector the politics, economy and society of the region has not changed for the better. Presidential elections in 2015 have been described “as a show” with no competition against the incumbent leader. Moreover, the state controlled media depicted the election as fair with opposition candidates putting forward programs for reform at managed public meetings, while at the same time stressing the importance of stability and continuity of the current regime (Schenkkan, 2015, Elections). Contrary to the desire to create an information society, freedom of speech is tightly controlled by the Karimov government as evidenced by the following practices: the refusal to acknowledge economic instability, falsified economic forecasts and predetermining the opposition campaign policies etc (Schenkkan, 2015, Elections).
More seriously these trends of information control obfuscate very serious issues. An excellent example is the conflict in Iraq and Syria, which is depicted by Central Asian governments and media outlets as the fate which will befall the country if the current governments were removed from power (Schenkkan, 2015, Central Asians). Moreover, this authoritarianism has created an information situation in which disgruntled Uzbeks (especially migrant workers in Russia) accept misinformation, propaganda and apocryphal information in the traditional and social media as fact (Schenkkan, 2015, Central Asians). However this topic will be discussed in another blog post.
In short, contrary to the idealism of European Information Professionals, Uzbekistan has not become an information society. Despite repeated political and social commitments to the ideal, the stance of the Uzbek government prevents libraries and information institutions from fulfilling their primary goal of providing information to their patrons. The consequences of this policy is a severely misinformed society, who cannot locate or act upon relevant information and are reliant upon a predetermined view of the world, politics, society, economics and certainly every conceivable sphere of life. Such circumstances are debilitating, deceitful and more dangerously deluding. Moreover it is not an information literacy society or a paradise. But it is Utopian is the sense that most of its claims does not exist.
References Dickens, J. (2015, August 19) Nicky Morgan Library campaign branded a ‘hollow gesture’ after closures. Schools Weeks. Retrieved from http://schoolsweek.co.uk/nicky-morgan-library-campaign-branded-a-hollow-gesture-after-closures/
Johnson, I.M, (2013). Library development in Uzbekistan: progress and problems since the dissolution of the USSR. The International Information & Library Review, 45(s 1–2). 50–62.
Schenkkan, N, (Producer). (2015, March 28th) Central Asianist #1: Central Asians in ISIS & ISIS in Central Asia. [Audio Podcast]. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-central-asianist-podcast/id980890993?mt=2
Schenkkan, N, (Producer). (2015, March 28th) Central Asianist #3: Elections in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-central-asianist-podcast/id980890993?mt=2