Canadian memory institutions and the digital revolution : the last five years
Three American companies carry 80 per cent of Internet traffic. America Online has a large financial interest in two of these companies. Today there are about 1.5 million connections to the Internet; by 2010 there will be 1.5 billion. From 1993 to 1997 graphic content moved from zero per cent to 14 per cent; by 2010 it will dominate. The average capital cost to access the Internet is about $3,000, with an annual operating cost of $400 - enough in most of the world to support a family of four for a year. Over 90 per cent of all communication on the Internet is in English, and most activity on the Internet is commercial. In 1980 there were 411 digital databases; in 1997 there are over 10,000. Over 57 per cent of University of Calgary undergraduates prefer to access information in digital form. Only two to three universities in Canada can afford all the available databases and full text materials. A 2000 University of Calgary study for the Social Science and Humanities Federation indicates that there are only two hundred Canadian sites that meet basic scholarly standards. Six vendors control most of the key academic databases. Fifty-seven per cent of Canadian scholars who identified a reason for not using electronic resources indicated that they were not credible (Archer 2000, Table 6).' What sense can be made of these apparently random numbers and events? Castells (1997) has offered a profound analysis. He argues that we are in the midst of an "information technology revolution" that is "pervasive" and which is influencing social and economic interactions. He would argue further that the adaptations of the new technologies depend very much on national identities and cultures. It should be noted, however, that in his approximately fifteen hundred pages he does not mention libraries, archives or museums even once. If one acknowledges these memory institutions as players in the new information age, however, several conclusions become apparent. First, the "cultural democracy" of the Internet is athe moment an illusion. Content creation and access still rests with a few Western, English-speaking information aggregators who have their roots in commerce rather than in intellectual pursuits or culture. Second, there is an even more concentrated control over the best Web content than there ever was over print. This is in part because the technical capacities of the digital environment allow for the perfect commodification and control of information. Third, the early stages of content and technology development were undertaken by American government agencies, for example the National Science Foundation. Leadership has now been handed of to the private sector. Sprint, Ameritech, and Microsoft now dominate technology, and Thomson and Elsevier high-end content. And the library world's OCLC (Online Computer Library Center), the American-based information collaborative, is beginning to dominate the English-speaking post-secondary world.