A strong emphasis on publicity in all decision making in the Nordic countries is a deep cultural and historical fact. The basis for this was created in 1763, and it is now more valid than ever. The citizens can and are supposed to control power elites through publicity.
Various types of organization favour different means of communication. Communication in bureaucratic organisations is different from that in a net or in a matrix organization. To disseminate enlightenment knowledge differs from the dissemination of instrumental knowledge; both are necessary for decision making. Without understanding about the use of knowledge the communication organisation is watering the Sahara. In spite of huge amounts of knowledge, the soil remains dry.
The professional practice of information specialists and librarians reflects their understanding of publicity and knowledge. Examples from Finland will be presented in the paper.
Nowadays the content of the Nordic democracy is more and more labelled by the idea of a citizens society.
A citizens’ society is a society that is regarded as legitimate by citizens who possess all rights therein. It is this aspect regarding society as legitimate - that keeps up a large number of autonomous institutions (independent) and organizations like schools and libraries.
First and foremost, a citizens’ society is a society where the status of citizen is common. The status of citizen includes certain basic rights, such as equality before the law, the right to vote, the right to social security, the right to education and the right to knowledge.
The concept of citizen enables the elimination of one apparent dichotomy, the dichotomy between positive and negative freedom. Negative freedom means freedom from some obligations, whereas positive freedom means an attempt to define the contents of a person’s life - what life should be like. The individual has opportunities to make life look like their own life. They have similar possibilities to get knowledge. It leaves open whether people use their freedom or not.
On the other hand, citizens are required to behave responsibly, to take responsibility. Our democratic process requires that citizens have an insight into society’s affairs at both state and municipal levels. People are supposed to influence and take part in society in different ways: by elections, by acting, by educating themselves, etc. All this needs the practical, the real possibility of getting information and cultural products according to individual needs. This is solved by free access to both public and scientific libraries. Public libraries nowadays carry minutes of the municipal bodies as well as information on local environmental questions and other matters of public interest. And of course novels, films and music records. And, for instance, the Parliament and the Parliament Library in Finland provide, within 24 hours after decisions are made, the content of those decisions on the Internet. At this time in Finland, most libraries have Internet connections.
Since the 1960's, instrumental knowledge especially is easy to disseminate. Instrumental knowledge is often presented in simple numeric form, as so called facts. In the dissemination of this kind of information, the new technology is especially useful and in this area there is a large potential for self-service.
The dissemination of enlightenment knowledge sets demanding requirements for information specialists. This means, that e.g. from numerical data, various analyses must be made. And different types of information should be analyzed and reformed by intellectual work into knowledge. Useful tips are an in example of this. This type of knowledge does not necessarily aim at direct application but it is necessary for understanding causal relationships and for evaluation of the direction and the consequences of decision making.
Civil servants, who know why it is important to inform citizens, disseminate information. Information specialists, who know why information is so important for a proper functioning of a society, disseminate information, proud of their profession. Finally the users of information that know their right to knowledge want information and are able to use it.
In the Nordic countries, both public and scientific libraries are publicly funded. Both public and scientific libraries are open for everybody. This is the Nordic model for libraries. A vital principle is that scientific libraries, as well as other libraries, are open to everybody, not only for university staff or students. One does not need any recommendations to be a user of a scientific library. Private collections and private libraries have no significance in the overall policy. In Finland we have altogether 1,312 libraries, and only 5 million people. In other words, about 3,800 people have one library. Not too bad at all for fulfilling the right to know. The slogan is not sufficient, one has to have real possibilities of obtaining material.
Everyone has to have the equal possibility to use libraries which are full of knowledge. If you do not have this possibility you are unable to be the master of your life and to be a citizen with rights and responsibilities. You can not follow the laws, you can not influence on the content of the law, you can not criticize the law, if you do not know the law. Democratic society and citizens are unable to act without freedom of knowledge without freedom to know.
Public libraries and scientific libraries have very close contacts with each others in Nordic countries. This cooperation has a very long tradition. For almost 60 years we have had this network. In other words, we had a functioning network long before the concept of network as it is understood today.
The Internet database also give personal data of the MPs elected in the latest general election. The personal data screen links to the speeches of the MP in the plenary sittings, to the initiatives and questions.
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