Public library service is based on the values of providing universal access to information by promoting literacy, supporting authors and scholars in their research, preserving cultural heritage, and providing other publicly supported services. The mandate of the public library is grounded in broad societal goals that justify a model of service delivery that relies on public funding and that operates outside of the constraints of private markets. However, there is a growing tension between the rationale for public service delivery and the principles of trade liberalization that underlie global trade institutions such as the World Trade Organization. Recent controversies surrounding WTO meetings and summits brought to the public's attention the concerns that the institutions of globalization could empower transnational corporations at the expense of the regulatory power of sovereign nations. While much attention has focused on the effects of globalization on labour, the environment, and human rights, there are also serious implications for information policy.
An initial study undertaken by various Canadian
library and educational associations (Shrybman, 2001) underscored the inherent
tensions between the values of public library services and the logic of international
trade regimes by emphasizing how the General Agreement on Trade in Services
(GATS) seeks to constrain government policy and regulatory options in favor
of solutions rooted in the free market. In general, GATS applies to measures
(laws, regulations, rules) by any level of government. GATS seeks to constrain
government action by establishing a list of measures that may not be maintained
or established by government that can regulate or affect the delivery of
services by the private sector. The Shrybman report identified various issues
and raised questions for further study including: whether
public sector libraries are exempt under the GATS; if not exempt, the extent
to which the GATS rules apply to public library services; if public sector
library services are within the GATS framework, then to what extent public
funding violates GATS requirements; and how the imposition of fees, the provision
of services on a cost recovery basis, or the creation of
private partnerships@ impact
on these outcomes. This paper explores how the WTO
General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) will affect government policies,
programs and funding arrangements concerning public sector libraries. The
objective is to begin to sort out the various challenges posed by GATS, to
situate these issues within the context of modern public library services,
and to provide a roadmap for librarians to better grapple with these issues.
The overall framework of the WTO and GATS, the specific GATS disciplines,
and the scope and limitations of the governmental authority exemption are
covered first. Then attention turns to the changing nature of public library
services, identifying particular examples of services and programs that might
be vulnerable to a GATS challenge. Finally suggestions are provided for avoiding
or ameliorating the potential risks to public libraries under GATS.
Research traditions in Library and Information Science are deeply rooted in Enlightenment notions of Western science, falling squarely within the influence of the unity of science thesis. A central element of this tradition is the insistence on neutrality as a prerequisite to objectivity. In LIS, neutrality is taken not only as a requisite to objectivity in a methodological sense, but also has been elevated into a guiding practice in librarianship itself.
Alternative epistemological projects that have recently emerged to challenge Enlightenment-based conceptions of knowledge production and scientific progress have much to offer the development of research and scholarship in LIS. Through integrating these projects into the conceptual frameworks and theoretical structures that guide LIS research, powerful epistemological resources may be provided for future work.
A broad metatheoretical framework for social science is reviewed and the qualitative/quantitative dichotomy still prevalent in LIS is critiqued. In its place, a methodological strategy capable of supporting a critical research program is considered.
Standpoint epistemology, as a critique of existing power-knowledge relationships, is then taken as an example of such a critical research strategy; one that can provide a useful starting point for the project of reconceptualizing LIS research.
Economic analysis has played a central role in the development of intellectual property policy. Since information exhibits characteristics of a public good, both non-rival consumption and non-exclusivity, information markets are prone to market failure. This requires a policy response in the form of a subsidy or direct government provision. The monopoly rights granted to owners of intellectual property can be viewed as a form of subsidy intended to avert market failure. But in the digital environment, the tendency to market failure increases as information is more susceptible to copying and distribution with neither significant additional cost nor loss of quality.
While a wide range of policy tools are available to meet the challenges of the new digital environment, the range of current legislative proposals shows that the expansion of property rights in information is the only approach being given serious consideration. This paper reviews these proposals as well as the wide variety of other approaches that could be considered including an increased role for the public provision of information. It is concluded that the traditional model of positive economic analysis is unable to explain the current policy environment and that a broader approach rooted in political economy would be appropriate.