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A. IntroductionUser limitations: limits to learning
|H. Implications and recommendations
Given the current period of budgetary crisis in the international organisation community and elsewhere, it may well be asked whether consideration of "the utilisation of international documentation" at this time can lead to significant conclusions. The report of the 1972 Symposium indicates a range of user problems which remain valid (1). Budgets have however been contracted rather than expanded since then. Further the hopes for major inter-agency information exchanges, particularly at the computer level, have been largely abandoned or focused on narrowly specialised domains. Those who earlier expressed concern are now resigned to the fragmentation of international documentation. Relations between potential collaborators in any such exchanges have been eroded by priority attention to basic programme concerns within each agency. In many cases where there has been a real cross-system need this has been met by external services possibly established by a commercial enterprise at the national level. Given this level of activity, the recommendations of the 1972 Symposium still stand as a minimal adequate guideline.
On the other hand the period since 1972 has witnessed the advent of the pocket computer which has changed peoples' perception of the credibility of the "computer revolution". There have been many studies of the "information society" now and to come. Computer terminals are creeping into offices and the "paper-free office" is announced for the immediate future. In homes such devices are used for education and amusement (attached to television). International and national agencies are now experimenting with such devices-each in their own way in support of their own system. The pressure to do so is great because of the rapid spread of international satellite-linked data networks and the multitude of data bases now available via them.
The boundless optimism of those associated with the information society revolution is far from being matched by those concerned with the world problematique. Crisis has been heaped on crisis and international agencies are increasingly perceived as helpless observers of these worsening conditions. Loss of confidence in them, as reflected in their budgets, is part of the general loss of confidence in established institutions.
In this context it would seem to be shortsighted, if not simply foolish, to attempt any conventional inward-looking evaluation of the problems of "utilization of international documentation". The dramatic times in which we live would seem to call for a new look at the context within which the objectives of "international documentation" are defined and perceived by the user, whether actual or potential. Not to do so would simply beg the well-known management quip: "Having lost sight of their objectives, they redoubled their efforts".
The danger in the emerging information society is that many traditional library dreams of total computerisation and in-depth cataloguing may too easily become a reality. The question is not whether this is worthwhile, especially to the user. In this transition period a major concern should be with whether such innovations are assessed within a broad enough framework in the light of needs during social crisis and upheaval. The latter concern is of course a special responsibility of international documentation services. Are the right questions being asked -- are there better questions to ask? It is the search for such a framework, to stimulate better questions about utilisation, which is the prime thrust of this report.
Given the continuing insistence of international agencies on the complexity and urgency of the world crisis situation, it is unnecessary to summarise this point here (2). In response to recognition of this world problematique a new generation of perceptive studies is now emerging. What is surprising is that they stress similar points which are relevant to the objectives of any international documentation system.
As a first example, in 1978 Ambassador Soedjatmoko of Indonesia (Appointed Rector of the UN University in 1980)stressed the importance of the "learning capacity of nations":
This report examines how learning can help to bridge the human gap. Learning as we shall use the term, has to be understood in a broad sense that goes beyond what conventional terms like education and schooling imply. For us, learning means an approach, both to knowledge and to life, that emphasises human initiative. It encompasses the acquisition and practice of new methodologies, new skills, new attitudes, and new values necessary to live in a world of change. Learning is the process of preparing to deal with new situations.
Distinguishing this notion of learning from schooling does not mean that this report will ignore education which is a fundamental way and a formal means to enhance learning... Further, we shall contend that not only individuals but also groups of people learn, that organisations learn, and that even societies can be said to learn. The concept of "societal learning" is relatively new and stirs some controversy. Some contend that it is merely a metaphor that distorts the meaning of learning. Doubtless the concept of societal learning has limits, but we nonetheless shall maintain that societies can and do learn, and we shall not hesitate to cite evidence of learning processes at work in societies.
The fact that inadequate contemporary learning contributes to the deteriorating human condition and a widening of the human gap cannot be ignored. Learning processes are lagging appallingly behind and are leaving both individuals and societies unprepared to meet the challenges posed by global issues. This failure of learning means that human preparedness remains underdeveloped on a worldwide scale. Learning is in this sense far more than just another global problem: its failure represents, in a fundamental way, the issue of issues in that it limits our capacity to deal with every other issue in the global problematique. These limitations are neither fixed nor absolute. Human potential is being artificially constrained and vastly underutilised -- so much so that for all practical purposes there appear to be virtually no limits to learning." (5, pp. 6-9)
What makes the leap to a Third Wave info-sphere so historically exciting is that it not only vastly expands social memory again, bur resurrects it from the dead.
The computer, because it processes the data it stores, creates an historically unprecedented situation: it makes social memory both extensive and active. And this combination will prove to be propulsive". (6, pp. 192-193)
But Toffler makes the point that:
And, more specifically, how is he to learn from it and to what extent will it facilitate social learning in relation to the world problematique?
This basic constraint emerges more clearly in the Dakar Declaration (1979) of Informatique pour le Tiers Monde (9):
This statement, however, itself fails to distinguish between the collective and the individual dimensions of the problem. These are explored in the following sections.
It is unnecessary to comment here on the large amount of information now available or on the rate at which this is increasing in every field of knowledge -- including those of interest to international organisations. It has long been an accepted truism that nobody can be expected to "master" every field of knowledge, and few can be expected to master one unless it is narrowly specialised. This does not raise major problems in the world of documentation. Users are expected to have specific concerns and are guided, more or less effectively to the information services and tools best able to respond to those concerns.
If at the end of his search the user is faced with a selection of 65 documents (or more) corresponding to his concern, it is the user's problem to decide on how to proceed. If he complains about the quantity, it is considered appropriate that he should be asked to specify his requirements more narrowly. He may even be assisted in this by allowing him to scan abstracts. If finally he complains that he "does not have time" to scan all the relevant abstracts or selected documents, this is not a matter of concern to the documentation service, especially if he has been informed of the documents as a subscriber to a selective dissemination of information (SDI) system on the basis of his user profile.
Expressed in this way, the user problems lie outside the information service. But the nature of those problems is such as to raise questions -in the light of the remarks of the previous section -- about the value of the information systems now available and envisaged. In order to clarify these problems it is necessary to be more precise about the "usage contexts" with which information systems may be concerned. These may be ordered as follows:
2. Procedural, namely information selected and transformed under well-defined procedures, as typified by computerized reservation systems and many aspects of bibliographic control
3. Programme-oriented, namely selection of information governed by a pre-definedset of criteria based on research or learning programme, as typified by the major uses to which documentation systems are put
4. Open-ended exploration, namely dialogue with an information system to determine more valid ways of formulat ing a research or learning programme, as typified by the needs of those attempting to determine the thrust of an as yet un-categorized policy concern.
The first three usage contexts correspond to the requirements of what the Club of Rome report (5) calls "maintenance learning"
But, as the Club of Rome report points out:
(a) The loss of control over events and crises will lead to extremely costly shocks, one of which could possibly be fatal
(b) The long lag times of maintenance learning virtually guarantee the sacrificing of options needed to avert a whole series of recurring crises
(c) The reliance on expertise and short time periods intrinsic to learning by shock will marginalize and alienate more and more people
(d) The incapacity quickly to reconcile value conflicts under crisis conditions will lead to the loss of human dignity and of individual fulfillment". (5, pp. 11-12)
Having reached this conclusion the report asserts as its central thrust that "innovative learning is a necessary means of preparing individuals and societies to act in concert in situations, especially those that have been, and continue to be, created by humanity itself". (5, p. 12) Conscious anticipation is considered to be a primary feature of innovative learning in contrast to the unconscious adaptation characteristic of maintenance learning. Anticipation is conceived as necessarily tied to participation as a second feature. For without it anticipation becomes futile. And participation without anticipation can be counter-productive or misguided, leading to paralysis or to counteraction. The report stresses that it is not enough that only elites or decision-makers are anticipatory when the resolution of global issues depends on the broad-based support of groups of every kind. (5, pp. 13-14)
Clearly innovative learning corresponds to "open-ended exploration" as the fourth usage context noted above. Given the importance attached to it, it is clearly appropriate to ask to what extent international documentation systems respond to the need for anticipatory learning as a participative process.
The previous section noted the widespread condition of user specialization. This is characteristic of a programme-oriented usage context associated with the adaptive processes of maintenance learning. In such a context the user cannot really be said to have limitations because whenever any limitations are encountered it is simply accepted that greater specialisation is necessary. Through specialising, limitations in the user are circumvented (in effect by imposing limitations on the user). Specialization is here taken to include avoidance of any subject matter which is too complex. In other words the user focuses on that material which he believes meets his needs and abilities (whether as a schoolchild or a postgraduate).(Any relative operational "incompetence" of a user-learner can be considered as a limitation society effectively imposes on him; the educational level of documentation he is capable of absorbing define a form of specialisation).
The Club of Rome report optimistically concludes that: "Human potential is being artificially constrained and vastly under-utilized -- so much so that for all practical purposes there appear to be virtually no limits to learning" (5, p. 9 - the added emphasis being the actual title of the report). The subtitle of the report, "bridging the human gap", arises from a recognition that "the human gap is the distance between growing complexity and our capacity to cope with it". (5, p. 6)
This "gap", in the case of the individual user, appears in the form of one or more limits. Only by considering the nature of these limits (listed below) is it possible to determine the form of learning which is "unlimited". (The report itself is necessarily vague, if not ambiguous, in the way in which these limits are neglected in its more general focus on unlimited learning possibilities).
b. Limit to perception of connectedness: Learning is not simply the commitment of isolated elements of information to memory. These elements must be interlinked in a web of comprehended relationships. Such relevance networks extend around every item of information. There are clearly limits to the extent of any such network which an individual can "bear in mind", or tolerate as relevant, particularly as a user of an information system. Even if the task of remembering them is delegated to the system (and there are budgetary limitations), there are limits to the density of connectedness which the user can comprehend as a pattern. Abandoning such comprehension in favour of a linear sequence of accesses imposes a different limit. This is analogous to the case of a traveller on an unmapped subway system who has only lists of stations as a guide -- there is no limitation to his travels but, as in a maze, there is a limit to the complexity of the pattern he could finally comprehend.
c. Limit to comprehension span:. A standard response to the two previous limits is to encode information into some category scheme which provides a better grasp for learning purposes. A user-learner can only tolerate a relatively limited range of categories. This may be as low as 3, or it may extend into the hundreds if only a low degree of overall comprehension is demanded (10). This need for categorisation is a user limitation which arbitrarily distorts his comprehension of the continuum of knowledge.
d. Limit to comprehension depth:. The previous limit necessitates the use of nested sub-categories in order that at each level the number of categories should not exceed an acceptable span. But the number of levels of any such nesting is limited by problems of comprehension if it becomes too "deep". Hierarchical nestings seldom have more than about 7 levels for the same reasons as above (10). The need to restrict the number of levels actively borne in mind by the user is another user limitation which affects his learning capacity in the face of complexity.
e. Pre-logical limitations:. Learning is strongly influenced by pre-logical (possibly culturally determined) biases governing which kinds of information are preferred. A user will unconsciously select information which is in sympathy with his position on each of the following axes, for example: order/disorder, static/dynamic, continuity/discreteness, spontaneity/process, etc. (II). Such preferences impose a limit on the learning capacity of the user, concealing blindspots and giving rise to irrational antipathies for certain forms of information which are significant to others. The situation is further limited because the biases may also determine the media (e.g. text, image, speech) through which information is preferred and via which learning is facilitated. Some information may only be communicable via certain media (e.g. music, space-structures).
f. Attention span limit: As noted above a user is normally only prepared to devote a limited amount of time to any learning process through an information system. The amount is frequently less than the time required to access information from the system. But even if a document is distributed to the user automatically, his available attention time for absorbing the contents (through whatever medium) is often such that the information is effectively rejected. A third aspect is that even if he allocates the necessary time to the learning process, there are limits to his power of concentration in the presence of whatever distractions he accepts in his environment. Given that some phenomena require a significant amount of attention before they can be comprehended (at least by a given user), it is clear that users are limited in their ability to comprehend those requiring more attention than they are prepared to give.
g. Memory limit: A number of the above limits could be circumvented if user-learners were unlimited in their effective memory capacity. This is clearly not the case. Poor or "patchy" memory is a widespread phenomenon. In an information society this situation is complicated as Toffler notes:
"On a personal level, we are all besieged and blitzed by fragments of imagery, contradictory or unrelated, that shake up our old ideas and come shooting at us in the form of broken or disembodied "blips". We live, in fact, in a "blip culture"... Instead of receiving long, related "strings" of ideas, organised or synthesised for us, we are increasingly exposed to short, modular blips of information -- ads, commands, theories, shreds of news, truncated bits and blobs that refuse to fit neatly into our pre-existing mental files". (6, pp. 181-182)
Toffler argues that the "computer is one antidote to the blip culture" (p. 191):
"It can sift vast masses of data to find subtle patterns. It can help assemble "blips" into larger, more meaningful wholes". (p. 190)
Whilst this may be a future possibility, most users are attempting more or less unsuccessfully to navigate through a whirl of blips rapidly forced into oblivion by the emergence of others. Computers have done little to assist memory to organise them, even in sophisticated computer conferencing data base-linked environments (7). And even if assistance was effective, the computer dependence it created for the user could be construed as a major limitation -- a handicap accentuated by the effectiveness of the crutch. Such dependence, without critical renewal of categorisation, could well lead to a computerized version of the "railway hammer civilisation".
This is illustrated by an anecdote cited in the Club of Rome report (p. 22): "An old British story tells of an elderly railway man who, at his retirement after thirty years of irreproachable service, asks his colleagues gathered for the celebration, why it was that he had to hit the wheels with a hammer each time the train was stationed. No one knew the answer. Current sociology is now concerned with the possible emergence of a "railway hammer civilisation" in which people are repeating patterns and forms of behavior without any hint of the reasons, laws, and purposes behind them".
It is possible that in arguing that there were "no limits to learning", the Club of Rome report was really implying the lack of limitations on a mass of people each pursuing overlapping or complementary concerns. The question of the limits to societal learning will therefore be considered in the next section.
Given the above constraints, however, it is important to recognise the challenge to the individual user and to the information system serving him. The report notes:
It is within this integrative perspective that the problem of innovative learning (discussed earlier) must be raised again. How are international information systems with heavy financial, intellectual and personal commitments to fixed category thesauri to respond to the integrative needs of future users? :
Learning implies memory, whether in the case of the individual or of society.
In the past, as Toffler notes (6, p. 192), "social memory" was stored in the minds of individuals as "history, myth, lore and legend and transmitted... to their children through speech, song, chant and example... all the accumulated experience of the group was stored in the neurons and glia and synapses of human beings". This is still the case in many countries and sectors of society. But anthropologists do not appear to have studied "folk memory" or "cultural memory" as such. They focus on traditions as "values, beliefs, rules, and behavior patterns that are shared by a group and passed on from generation to generation as part of the socialisation process" (16). This verbal tradition has largely been replaced by one based on texts.
Biologists on the other hand have tentatively recognised a "noosphere". The age of ecological enlightenment has brought with it a new term, the ecosphere, which implies a responsible stewardship of Earth. Beyond and superimposed on these spheres lies another dimensional sphere, the noosphere, a figurative envelope of conceptual thought, or reflective impulses produced by the human intellect..."It is not scientifically measurable, of course, but its presence is strongly felt and its influence is all-pervading" (17). The concept was first formulated by Vladimir Verdansky and elaborated by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. This approach has not focused on memory. As one biologist remarks, however:
The concept of group mind was examined and discarded by sociologists in connection with public opinion.. This is a collection of individual opinions on an issue of public interest. It is considered to have characteristics that make it something more than the sum of individual opinions on an issue. Its function as social memory does not appear to have been explored. The concept of collective consciousness was developed by Emile Durkheim as a derivative of Rousseau's general will and Comte's consensus. But again there is little concern with memory, although Jung's concept of archetypes of the collective unconsciousness is closely related to it. The distinction between consciousness and unconsciousness may not be important in relation to memory.
Claude Levi-Strauss (Structural Anthropology. Allen Lane, 1968.) notes:
It is to be expected that a social memory concern would emerge more explicitly in the development of the classification of knowledge from Aristotle through Juan Huarte, Francis Bacon, Diderot, to Dewey and Otlet and their successors (22, 23). But whilst such initiatives are effectively attempts to impose some organisation on social memory, their proponents do not appear to be concerned with its nature. Thus although there is a study of classifications in their social context (24), there is little to be found on the social impact of classification schemes. A discipline such as the history of ideas is not concerned with the nature of collective memory. The power of such impacts, is, however, illustrated by Jacques Attali in terms of styles of music as coding systems reflecting social structures and presaging new structures (25). But he does not consider any memory function.
Clearly social memory is an elusive and poorly explored phenomenon. Instead of attempting to clarify its nature as a psycho-social phenomenon, the search can be switched to the repositories of social memories. This switch necessarily abandons the preoccupation with how societies internalise recorded knowledge and focuses instead on how knowledge can be physically recorded and disseminated. Societal learning is not, however, achieved by simply recording and disseminating knowledge. It must be "absorbed" by society. How societal learning (or group learning) takes place remains unclear, as the Club of Rome report stresses.
Before commenting on modern systems it is important to note the role of encyclopaedias as repositories. Initially these were often conceived as "mirrors" of the knowledge of mankind -- which reinforces the distinction noted above. Even in recent years national or ethnic encyclopaedias have been deliberately created to orient social consciousness. Deliberate efforts have also been made to move beyond the traditionally passive role of the library and museum,as with Paul Otlet's Mundaneum which assembled 17 million items (26). The social significance of such initiatives was given its most eloquent form in the H.G. Wells proposal for a "world brain" (27). With the advent of computers, the concept has been refined under the stimulus of information scientists such as Manfred Kochen (28), Harry Schwarzlander (29) and D. Soergel (30), who are linked through the World Mind Group (8).
The reality today is however represented by a multiplicity of information systems, whether national or international, specialised or general, computerized or not, and whatever the degree of interlinkage via data networks (31, 32). In this context the above concern with social memory is reduced to a preoccupation with computer memory and processing power.
Emphasizing societal learning raises the important point of a "collective user" whose requirements are clearly somewhat different from the individual user-learner. How does such a user learn? This relates to the problem of the "learning capacity of nations" (3) and to learning by international agencies, possibly via their international documentation systems.
Although it was not possible to clarify in the previous section how knowledge was internalised by society, the Club of Rome report gives further precision to this process.
The report notes:
"The conventional, often unarticulated, conception of how societies learn usually starts with one or more canters of concentrated competence as the emanators of new discoveries, theories, beliefs, and solutions. These new ideas are then disseminated to larger circles of people and to the public at large. This model of societal learning distinguishes two separate steps: one of distinct discovery and another of less distinct dissemination. The roles people play in this process are likewise differentiated: some invent and others assimilate. The role of society at large is reduced to adjusting to and consuming the discoveries and knowledge produced in canters of expertise. It is easy to see that this conception entails more teaching than learning.
"The unavoidable consequence of this view of societal learning is elitism, technocracy, and paternalism. What is omitted is the fact that meaning and values -- decisive for learning -- are products of society at large, not of specialised canters. Despite all their technical advantages, the bodies of knowledge, technologies, knowhow, and theories produced by such centers contain inherent shortcomings -- they are too often divorced from the social context. They tend to reproduce themselves according to their own internal logic. This autonomous and self-reproducing development accounts in large part for the fact that so much of societal learning is maintenance learning.
"Innovative societal learning seeks to restore active learning to those in society conventionally confined to a passive role of assimilation. Key to this goal is participation that goes beyond mere invitations to accept given products. To encourage innovative societal learning, true participation must enable people to open and inspect the "black-boxes" of knowledge, to question their relevance and meaning, and to re-design, re-combine, and re-order them where necessary. Effective participation therefore does not mean paying lip service to those who in the past have been deemed to count less than others, but rather ensuring a real contribution of the entire society". (5, pp. 80-81)
The phrasing of the previous paragraph easily leads to the error of assuming that in either case it is still only a problem of individual learning. In commenting approvingly on the Club of Rome exercise (5, pp. 138-139), for example, the Deputy Director General of Unesco cites Unesco's concept of the "learning society",which appears to mean life-long education for the individual (33, pp. 160-164, 182, 263). But the Club of Rome report is quite explicit that collective/societal learning ("macro-learning") is to be contrasted with individual learning ("micro-learning"). "Much research has been done on individual learning processes; hardly any research is done on organisational or group or societal learning. This is clearly a new research area". (5,p.137)
Given the urgent tone of the report, and the absence of further information, those responsible for international documentation systems are placed in an embarrassing position. They clearly have a key role in a vital process about which little is known. Furthermore, from the above comments it would appear that they are likely to be contributing mainly to maintenance learning because of the manner in which their function is currently conceived and defined.
Given the time lag before the appropriate research is done, what can be done now to clarify the obstacles to societal learning in order to identify the role of such documentation systems?
It is now appropriate to return to the question of whether there are "no limits to learning". Some definite limits were identified above for the individual learner-user. It may be argued that these focus on the learner's limited relationship to the body of knowledge, whereas the learner is unlimited (except by death) in his ability to continue to engage in the learning process, i.e. however, slowly he learns or relearns, he can always learn something more. It is easier to argue that society's learning capacity is unlimited, especially if it is assumed that the component individuals each focus on overlapping portions of the body of knowledge. Presumably the slogan does not simply refer to the trivial notion that society can always learn something more.
There is a danger in such optimistic slogans that they divert attention from the nature of the obstacles to societal learning -- obstacles which have prevented society from responding with greater maturity and insight to the crises with which it is now faced. The Club of Rome report cites the case of increasing worldwide illiteracy as an example of wasted human learning potential. In 1980, 820 million, namely 20% of the world population, are illiterate following several decades of Unesco literacy programmes. This indicates a very practical limitation on any theoretical possibility of unlimited learning. It is important to explore such limits before launching new learning programmes (34, 35). Understanding the limits helps to redefine the kind of learning which is vital at this time and for which the support of international documentation systems is required.
a. Quantitative limit: Just as no individual can absorb all information, so it is not feasible for any group to do so even by sharing the load amongst its members. In fact it is only practical to devote a limited proportion of time and resources to absorbing or disseminating information. Furthermore much is destroyed after a certain period. Multinational enterprise deliberately destroys most records after several years, for example In an important sense we live in a forgetting society. Much information quickly becomes irrelevant, especially in rapidly evolving disciplines. There have been complaints that the original observations (facts) on which most scientific papers are based are destroyed.
Another fruitful aspect of this question emerges from comparison of the rate of increase in knowledge production with the rate of increase in population. Each advance in knowledge increases awareness of what remains unknown. "Compared to the pond of knowledge, our ignorance remains atlantic. Indeed the horizon of the unknown recedes as we approach it". (The Encyclopeadia of Ignorance. 1977, p. IX).
The question is when the ratio of ignorance to knowledge in society will be such as to render knowledgeable decision-making unimplementable because of ignorance on the part of those who are needed to support the decision in a democratic progress. And given the prevalence of ignorance (and the impossibility of eliminating it) would it not be more creative to investigate it in the hope of discovering properties which would enable it to be viewed and used as a resource.
"The aim of this article has been to show that our most successful theories in physics are those that explicitly leave room for the unknown, while confining this room sufficiently to make the theory empirically disprovable' (Otto Frisch).
If it is assumed that learning can be effectively projected into documents then this merely becomes a question of ensuring that the document systems used by the learning units are interconnected. This is a problem of physical connection (e.g. through data networks) and of the logical and functional connection among the documents and their contents. Considerable progress is being made on this front. But it is fairly evident that this is a long way from matching the requirement of collective learning -- even, and especially, in the case of the intergovernmental agencies within the UN family. And the failure in the latter case indicates the presence of a definite limit which should be borne in mind.
If, however, it is assumed that learning cannot be projected into documents (but is only usable or "activated" once it has been effectively "absorbed" by one or more individuals), then the problem becomes one of ensuring that such "primed" individuals (or groups) are appropriately interconnected, possibly backed up by documentary information stored in data bases. Here again progress is being made through the rapid emergence of computer conferencing systems (7, 36, 37). Yet despite their success, these systems merely serve to clarify the presence of a limit in the ability to establish functional connections between knowledge units (12, 38) and between those so connected (39). In addition such systems are, even more so than the telephone, only available to the privileged. However much they spread in industrialised countries, access to them in developing countries will be very limited. If it is argued that such a degree of on-line interconnectedness is not a necessity for all, there is dynamic discontinuity with those who can only be contacted by post (or unilaterally via the mass media). This "disconnection" is perceived as a serious gap by those on each side of it and immediately affects the dynamism of the learning process and of its use.
c. Limit to collective comprehension span. Again assuming that the task of societal learning can be shared amongst the "appropriately connected" sectors of society, the question is whether the span of collective comprehension of whatever group is empowered to act on such learning corresponds to the range of elements relevant to the act. As in the case of the individual, there is a limit to the number of domains of knowledge (however "pre-digested") which a group can handle conceptually as a comprehensible whole. Most groups have developed, whether consciously or unconsciously, remarkable skills at "sweeping awkward factors under any convenient conceptual carpet" in order to create the impression that they are in control of a situation. Presumably society could reach a condition in which more inconvenient items of knowledge are being repressed in this way than are effectively dealt with. As noted earlier, the Club of Rome report stresses the complete inadequacy of current integrative skills. Why is this? that are the obstacles to conceptual integration? Only by facing up to the nature of this limit can information systems be designed which compensate for the effects of the "repressive instinct".
One aspect of this design problem is the total dedication of information systems to the presentation to the user-learner of information structured linearly (e.g. lists of terms). This leads to linear conceptualisation of problem situations (e.g. agenda items). Comprehension of complex domains demands non-linear presentation of information (15). Consider the relative value, as a decision tool, of a list of subway stations versus a map of the subway network. Both are useful, but the list is almost useless without the map. The non-linear presentation may include structured images, although the Club of Rome report strongly advocates the use of images in general:
The considerable intellectual and financial investment in the hardware and software of non-image oriented information systems makes it unlikely that any useful link to image manipulating systems (including map-generating devices (15)) can be established. Parallel systems may well be developed which fragment what should be an integrated approach. (Note how the photographic libraries are totally separated conceptually from the "more serious" documentary information systems of international agencies). The situation is aggravated by a related limit (discussed below) governing biases against different forms of information.
Another aspect of the design problem is that it is now recognised as misguided to elaborate information systems independently from the groups and institutions that they must serve. The man/machine interface has become such a critical factor that it is now vital to consider "groupware" design as a necessary complement to hardware and software design. Group comprehension of complex problems may well require that a user group "reconfigure" to grasp the pattern of information available (12, 38). Information systems should facilitate this process but as yet no such flexibility is envisaged. The gravity of the situation is particularly evident in the difficulty large conferences experience in organising themselves as groups marshalling the (documentary) information at their disposal to focus on problem complexes (40).
d. Limit to depth of collective comprehension: There are two conventional responses to the previous limit. At one extreme is the effort to achieve an "overview" of a problem situation by sacrificing any focus on detail. At the other extreme is the much favoured tendency to concentrate on some highly specific "practical" question, ignoring the context, in order to make "concrete progress" and "achieve results". Information systems have not yet been designed to stabilise the shift of groupware focus between these different levels -- even though they supposedly correspond to the hierarchy of subject categories by which documents are organised. As in the case of the individual, it is difficult for a group focusing on a given level to bear in mind more than the next broader level and the next narrower level. Where there are many relevant levels, much must remain out of focus. And in the dynamics of practical programmes and policy-making, levels acquire an independence from one another especially since they lend themselves to the establishment of groupware fiefdoms. There may well give rise to their own information systems by which that independence is justified and reinforced. Needless to say such divisions constitute a severe limit on innovative learning.
A slightly different emphasis may be given to the term "depth", namely that associated with the largely neglected concept of "maturity" or "wisdom". It is not at all clear what restricts the manifestation of collective wisdom. It is however very clear that its manifestation is very limited. The question is whether information systems can be designed and used to enhance such manifestation, respecting the limits to comprehension inherent in wisdom of different depth (12).
On the other hand, and more important, many (at every level of education) are totally indifferent to the whole process which the international documentation system is designed to serve. For them, those documents contain no meaningful information. A major group is that for whom the international community is defined by the stars of popular music and song. And yet, perhaps ironically, it is their preference for rhythm, melody and harmony which provides valuable clues to a less "monotonous" approach to alternative futures for the world. (14) It is they who are totally unaffected by efforts to "generate a political will to change through the "mobilisation of public opinion"(51). No wonder that the UN Secretary General remarks:
Although little is known about this pre-logical limit as it affects information, the receptivity to some forms of information only means that there is a limit to the extent which an individual or group can learn from information in other styles and modes. It is not simply a question of "multi-media presentations" but of the pre-logical orientations inherent in any given form of information. The question is how these orientations complement one another and what this limit implies for information systems designed for communication of insights between users of every orientation.
f. Collective attention span limit: It is a well-known characteristic of society that it is unable to focus its collective attention on any situation for any length of time. Even the most dramatic events tend to be only "nine-day wonders" before falling into oblivion. Clearly "nine-days" is more characteristic of attention focused through the mass media. But "issues" brought to the attention of international conferences may only remain active for a period of weeks or months -- although "hot" issues, providing ammunition in a dramatic debate, may even be expended within a period of hours. Of perhaps greater significance are issues that survive the government election cycle (e.g. 4 years) and are given a permanent focal point through institutionalization -- possibly with the creation of special documents and a specialised information system. A special difficulty for the international documentation system in this context (and, subsequently, for users) is the period over which a category is forced (for a period) to carry the significance of concepts already abandoned, then later becomes denatured, and finally "wears out". Perhaps it is appropriate to consider the "half-life" of "active" concepts, by analogy with that of radio-active elements.
This process is well-illustrated by Johan Galtung's disillusioned analysis of "concept careers" within the UN system, meaning both how concepts undergo a career of stages or phases, a life-cycle in other words, and how concepts may move from one organisation to another. Thus, as to the life-cycle aspect:
The special feature of this limit is its dynamic nature. In one sense it is perhaps to be deplored that collective attention cannot be focused long enough to give rise to effective action (40). But in another sense attention shifts once the issue no longer serves the poorly understood needs for dynamism within the international community (issues are 'consumed' to fuel the dynamics). And, to the extent that the attention shift takes place in search of innovative renewal, this is to be welcomed -- particularly since this brings alternative and complementary factors into focus. But, given these extremes, not enough is known to indicate when a shift is premature (in terms of action requirements) and when it is necessary (in terms of the healthy dynamics of world society). Clearly a complex world problematique demands both sustained attention to comprehend the dimension of the problem and shifts in attention to respond to complementary needs.
A more subtle constraint associated with attention lies in the assumption that the process of attention can be completely 'insulated' from the matter to which the attention is directed. This convenient distinction between observer and observed, traditional to the classification sciences, is now shown to be questionable even within that discipline (56, 57). Not only is attention time limited but the process can (and possibly should in a learning situation) change the observer and what is observed. In this sense learning does not result in conceptually "grasping" some fixed "thing", but rather in an elusive, evolving conceptual "dance" in which both partners are modified by the process. The very lack of limitation limits the social relevance of such learning.
Clearly the international information systems should have a major role to play in focusing collective attention, maintaining that focus and shifting without hiatus to alternative issues - recognising of course that many alternative issues must be focused upon simultaneously, in the light of the previous limits, and that the different attention spans of users must be appropriately catered for and somehow "phased" together. In this sense the problem may be defined as the "management" of humanity's most valuable resource, namely attention-time, especially collective focused attention-time. Use of the term "focus" suggests the possible value of investigating optical systems as providing useful analogies to describe the problems and possibilities (see 40). It would be a useful exercise to develop a theory of societal development and control in terms of "attention absorption".
g. Collective memory limit: In an earlier section some clues to the nature of collective memory were explored. It is clear that there has been very little study of this. As a device to stimulate further discussion of the matter, this section will make use of studies of individual memory by assuming that there is some degree of equivalence between individual and societal memory.
In the study of individual memory much has been learnt from its malfunction. Is there not a striking parallel between the many attempts by the UN Secretary General to communicate to world society the urgency of our present situation and the following fictional account of an analogous situation with an individual (see also Annex 1)?
The paragraphs above focus on memory as that which is actively shared in collective consciousness. This was shown to be an elusive phenomenon. The alternative (as before) is to focus on the international information systems on which such collective consciousness is supposedly based (5). Their most striking feature is their fragmentation, whether as systems almost completely independent of each other, or individually in their isolation of subject categories from each other.
As to the first, there are of course many initiatives to interlink such systems via data networks. But for each such initiative successfully achieved, many new specialised independent information systems are created. A distinction must also be made between linkages between such systems (presumably resolving the fragmentation problem for the user), and linkages to such systems from a given user via data networks (which relegate to the user the problem of resolving the fragmentation). In his own review Toffler (6) in discussing the "intelligent environment" makes it clear that the era of the large central computer is largely past. Society is now faced with the "distribution" or de-centralization of computing power to the point that individual offices in an agency could well develop and maintain local memory which they may share with other parts of the organisation or of the system to which it belongs. In the face of the widespread spectre of "Big Brother" manipulation of information systems, it is unlikely that much effort will be made to facilitate such sharing beyond a certain point. This will severely limit collective learning ability.
As to the second, there are of course many attempts to improve and standardise the classification of subjects. But the more fundamental problem is that any such classification scheme is imposed as a relatively rigid logical abstraction on a dynamic subject continuum. The limiting assumption of the observer/observed distinction (56, 57) has already been discussed. But there remains a tremendous functional gap between the logical subject hierarchies and the network of operational realities.
It is as though society depended upon subject categories organized in memory in a manner analogous to the rigid protocol of 16th century battle order when the problematique demands a flexible organisation of memory corresponding to the shifting patterns of modern guerilla warfare and changing alliances.
Environmental information provides an admirable example. Plant and animal species are interrelated in food webs (networks). There is considerable controversy about the "logic" of the systematic (hierarchical) grouping into species although these are used as categories in information systems. Pollutants travel through food webs to points which society chooses to perceive as "problems" and only as problems may the species be included in the systems. But the information systems are organized in terms of the "logical" categories of pollutants and species (if both are in the same system) without any attempt to record the food webs via which the categories are linked in ecosystems and through which a continuing pattern of problems will emerge. (Point made by the author at the UNEP 2nd Infoterra Network Management Meeting, Moscow, 1979).
It may be that the incompatible demands of "hierarchical" and "network" memory organisation cannot be met within present information systems and that this limitation calls for a paradoxical shift in perspective (59).
Another limiting factor in collective memory is the widespread practice of restricting or "classifying" documents as "secret". Information is treated in this way when it is assessed as having the potential to trigger change which the possessor of the information wishes to control, prevent, or use to his advantage. The possibility that some military or industrial classified information might lead to widespread benefits if released need not be discussed here (5, p. 54). Much more serious is restriction of information ("liable to cause public panic") concerning the world problematique or institutional incapacity when it is only such information that can provoke rapid innovative societal learning and galvanise "the political will to change". In such a context, no one can prove that there is not, for example, solid classified evidence for any number of present and future phenomena which would put the world problematique in a totally different light. It is merely a frail assumption that open information systems supply documents of more than trivial significance. In the case of an individual, this problem of hidden pockets of information "charged with significance" is of course well-known to psychoanalysts.
Perhaps, however, the ultimate limit to societal learning lies in the consequences of unrestricted societal over-commitment to learning. As enthusiastically described by Unesco (33) and the Club of Rome (5), learning is not limited by its relationship to other social pressures. As an extreme example, this leads via the "eternal student" to a society dedicated to the consumption of information and totally unable to focus that learning for action on the world problematique, for example. This raises the question as what extent information systems do, or should, empower users to act.
a. Patterns of subjects: It is ironic, in the light of the word-list orientation of the previous section that investigations of individual memory in the 1950s and 1960s focused almost exclusively on the recall of word lists. "At present, we have reached the point where lists of sentences are being substituted for word lists in studies of recall and recognition. Hopefully this will not be the end-point of this development, and we shall soon see psychologists handle effectively the problems posed by the analysis of connected texts". (60, p. 2). But the same author continues:
On this last point work is now being done in which:
Although the production of relevance maps would be a major aid to international document users (15), the challenging requirements for comprehension and innovative learning already make such an advance inadequate. The problem is that such maps are too complex and disorganised to facilitate contextual memorability and comprehension, as opposed to detailed consultation. As noted before, this is the price of moving away from a conventional hierarchical scheme of categories, whatever its disadvantages. Again the use of subway maps provides a good example. They can be used, but are difficult to memorize as a whole.
d. Packing complex patterns of information: The problem is how to "pack" complex patterns of information in order to facilitate representation, communication and comprehension whilst retaining contextual memorability (10). Certain encoding schemes -- the use of imagery, the method of loci, and the mnemonic pegword system are only the most familiar examples -- have long been employed by mnemonists to assure the memorability of events (65). But it is not the curious abilities of memory prodigies that are of interest, rather it is the severe memory challenge to users posed by the world problematique. The optimistic proponents of total "finger-tip" access are quick to relegate all memory problems to any computerized information system. This could ultimately imply a user defined as a "memory-less decider" between computer supplied options, namely a human "switching device" without any sense of context. This is totally inadequate for innovative learning.
As argued elsewhere (10, 13), new approaches are required. It is interesting that these make use of structured images, linking to the strong case made for images by the Club of Rome report (5, pp. 37-42) for different reasons.
It would however be a mistake to be content with structured images in general. It could be that the really significant breakthroughs in the world problematique will only be possible with the development of focused structured images of it (40). Images are too easily lost in the "blip culture" mentioned by Toffler (6). The question is whether new kinds of more powerful image can be developed which can focus and guide user access strategies. Such developments lie at the frontier with the elaboration of a new symbolism. It is symbols which as "meta-patterns" provide the most powerful level of integration in relation to the user and thus empower users to act (10). The question is how to find ways of linking the elaboration of operationally significant symbols with the pattern of a user's access strategies to relevant concepts in an information system (67).
e. Shared symbols: Ideally what is required -- to counteract the fragmentation of collective memory -- are shared symbols rather than simply user-specific symbols. The challenge in user terms is to elaborate some symbol which could be the information system analogue to the earth-globe-- with equivalent significance for the world community. Such a symbol would orient users in terms of the "functional roundness" of the world problematique rather than the present "flat earth" classification of societal functions as subject categories. Whether or not such shared general symbols can be developed to interrelate detailed access maps, users should be able to work in terms of alternative user-specific symbols, constrained by their particular horizon and interrelated by the controlled manner in which they can be generated for users from a data base. Ultimately the pressure for (and constraints of) collective comprehension may lead to efforts to map such symbols back onto the integrated phenomena of the natural environment from which they have been "extracted" -- and with which they remain dramatically associated in many cultures whose participation in the societal learning process would be valuable (68).
It is the web of such alternative symbols, tensed by apparent incompatibilities into the form of an unbounded spherical tensegrity network, which could contain the expanding societal "emptiness" of ever-increasing ignorance (10, 59, 69, 70).
The notion of incompatibilities in a tension relationship is in accordance with points in the Club of Rome report. Thus "it is the tension created by the pressure to select from among multiple values that catalyses innovative learning" (5, p. 40). But "society... is inherently conflictual and hence global issues are not "resolvable" in some final sense but need to be seen conflictual" (5, p. 129). Global issues cannot be resolved by innovative social learning but perhaps they can be contained by some new kind of comprehension structure (13).
The previous sections have emphasised the new problems which individual and collective users face in benefitting from internationally available information. The basic assumption of this paper has been that the "international documentation system" could respond to these user problems and gear itself to a participative approach to innovative societal learning. The question is whether it should do so.
To what extent should the international documentation system be perceived as part of any societal "learning" process, for that matter? This paper assumes that this is a major function and that those responsible for such systems would perceive this to be the case.
Whilst stressing the vital importance of the new innovative learning approach, the Club of Rome report recognises that maintenance learning will itself continue to play a vital role. The two roles must be recognised as complementary.. Does this mean, however, that they are incompatible within the same information environment? Given the already onerous task of document information systems (and the ever-present budget restrictions), to what extent can they respond to user requirements for innovative learning?
Then there is the question of whether international documentation systems have until now concentrated exclusively on users' maintenance learning requirements (as is argued here). The Club of Rome report clarifies the distinction as follows:
Maintenance learning is essential, but insufficient. It is indispensable in closed situations where assumptions remain fixed. The meaning derived from such learning easily assumes an inner coherence. The values underlying it are given and granted. It is primarily analytical and rule-based. But it falters in "border situations". For example, when driving a car, maintenance learning teaches what to do when the traffic light turns red or green. It falters, however, when a power shortage blacks out the light altogether.
Innovative learning is problem formulating and clustering. Its main attributes are integration, synthesis, and the broadening of horizons. It operates in open situations or open systems. Its meaning derives from dissonance among contexts. It leads to critical questioning of conventional assumptions behind traditional thoughts and actions, focusing on necessary changes. Its values are not constant, but rather shifting. Innovative learning advances our thinking by reconstructing wholes, not by fragmenting reality...
Another difference of approach between maintenance and innovative learning is more subtle but no less important. Maintenance learning typically creates solutions whose validity is ascertained by the scientific or administrative authority which originated them. Adoption comes first, public understanding, assimilation and acceptance come afterwards. A key premise for innovative learning is that proposed solutions are judged prior to their adoption...
Thus a key aim of innovative learning is to enlarge the range of options within sufficient time for sound decision-making processes". (5, pp. 42-44).
As stated in the introduction, if they do not consider it appropriate to respond to these new conditions then the report of the 1972 Symposium (1) is an adequate guideline. The following sections assume, however, that they do wish to respond to the problems of innovative learning.
Given the purpose of this report, as described in the introduction, continuing problems should be recognised but should not obscure the more fundamental challenge to international documentation systems. It is important to be realistic in that such issues will continue to exist despite debates and recommendations, such as those of 1972 (1), especially when "too few of the recommendations have been implemented" (71, p. 4 and 20). Constant pressure should be applied to remedy them -- although major breakthroughs should not be expected and there is little hope for recommendations requiring any degree of coordination. In addition, many new issues will emerge as a natural accompaniment to the fragmented evolution of an under-budgeted international community in which documentation is conceived as a budgetary embarrassment to those producing it and a constant source of bewilderment to those facilitating its use (71, pp. 10-11). Robert Schaaf's paper (71) admirably summarises the situation with regard to many of them and his remarks on possible future action (71, pp. 20-24) need not be repeated here. Elaborating upon some of his chapter headings, they can perhaps be grouped as follows:
In general those depository libraries who replied to Professor Arntz's lists of questions answered descriptively in terms of the above headings and their points may be said to have been covered by the 1972 Symposium (1) as updated by Robert Schaaf (71).
Given the earlier sections of this report, it is significant that few of the papers focused directly on user problems. Most of the agency papers of necessity discuss the problems of producing and distributing documents. Most of the depository library papers of necessity discuss the problem of acquiring and controlling the flood of material, and in some cases the question of tools for users. But libraries are only intermediate users, if that. They are obviously not the ultimate users. It is significant that Professor Arntz's questions concerning users gave rise to few answers or answers which were clearly not based on any kind of survey. The questions were:
This section will not discuss the continuing problems listed in the previous section but rather the underlying problems relating to utilisation in terms of individual and collective user needs in conditions requiring innovative societal learning. Given the financial and other handicaps of the international community, it will be assumed that the continuing problems will continue and that any recommendations must recognise the constraint they represent and look for ways to bypass them if any breakthrough is to be achieved.
A basic question for intermediaries therefore is the extent to which international documentation should be treated as a continuous outpouring which ought to be passively conveyed, to the extent possible, to "accessible" users. The intermediaries respond actively only to the extent of pursuing priority user requests and by limiting responsibility to that priority portion of the total outpouring which can be handled with available resources. Is this enough?
A strategy open to intermediaries is to adopt a (low-budget) active role whereby both producers and users are challenged to redefine their action in the light of new patterns of information supplied by the intermediaries. Possibilities will be discussed below, but the point here is to stress a more active attitude toward producers and users. It is a question of a different "posture" than the traditional one of librarianship.
1.2 Producer-user participation network:. Schaaf states that "use of international documents in libraries is primarily subject-oriented" (71, p. 9). But he restricts his attention to intergovernmental organisations (71, p. 1), possibly because these are his professional responsibility. By so doing, however, such papers neglect the production of the several thousand international non-governmental organisations, including the FID publications in which these symposiums papers appear, and the Club of Rome report cited above, which states (5, p. 80):
For maximum learning effectiveness, producers and users need to be woven into a well-integrated network -- especially since most collective users are also producers, and vice versa. This "ganglionic" network is already a major feature of world society, although there is little information on it (see, however, ref. 2). Clearly a key feature is its decentralisation, which is one reason why centralised bibliographic control is virtually impossible. Under these conditions each producer/user functions as a kind of "active guardian" of specific portions of the collective memory. Intermediaries have a responsibility for making that network evident to all concerned. In local communities libraries often have a "community networking" function -- why not internationally?
Societal learning occurs through the accumulation of information in active memory. (A form of "instinctive" learning may be said to occur when knowledge is integrated into operational procedures). But it is difficult to consider forgotten information in forgotten documents as usable knowledge when the key whereby it may be retrieved has itself been forgotten, if only temporarily.
New tools are required to move more information towards a condition of being actively remembered. Intermediaries should actively create such tools or at least encourage their creation
1.4 Subject 1acunae:. At present intermediaries respond passively to the emergence of new topics by creating new categories if old ones appear inadequate. Given the pattern of subject categories "managed" by such intermediaries, who should signal the fact that information is available in documents for "Housing, Africa", "Housing, Asia", etc. but not for "Housing, Pacific"?
Who should be concerned with obvious gaps in the pattern of information available? -- particularly when searching for gaps could be increasingly automated. In contrast with what Gyorgy Rozsa states concerning the lack of distortion in international documentation, at one stage the series of country statistical codes omitted "Taiwan" and "Rhodesia", thus apparently distorting any world trade study because trade with those countries was not supposed to exist. Such silly approaches to data would be extremely serious if they were used for infectious diseases or pollution data. But who should signal the gap?
Should producers not be actively confronted with such gaps by intermediaries? -- not simply as a search for missing documents but specially as a means of identifying programming blindspots. A similar argument could be given for information just "beyond" the frontier of a producer agency's subject mandate. Who assists the agency to determine what information is relevant and should be "imported" (or exported) across this frontier? To what extent can it be done by automated "massaging" of the subject category data base? If not, why not, and who else should have this responsibility?
2.1 User questions: It is typical of maintenance learning for intermediaries to respond passively to a user request with the goal of giving him "exactly what he asked for ". Is enough known about how a user frames his questions -- particularly when intimidated by library procedures or the bewilderment of librarians? (71, p. 11). How can the quality of questions be improved? The plethora of studies on the UN system (71, p. 10), which seem to have very little cumulative value, suggests that it is studied to a large extent "because it is there" and there is a lot of documentation to peruse. An example is voting patterns. What does "improvement" mean in an innovative learning context?
Given the user-recognized importance of subject orientation, why is it that the user guides reviewed by Schaaf (71, pp. 13-16) are producer oriented?
Would it not be appropriate to develop a guide which challenged the way the user thought it best to frame his question? This could be relatively short, possibly even with an abridged office wall-chart (or hand-out) form, structured in the manner of programmed learning manuals. Its functions would include preventing the user from being "locked into":
Such a document should not be agency focused and would therefore need to be produced with the guidance of an organisation such as the Association of International Libraries.
2.2 Producer problems:. When the "producer" agency is also a user, the document mentioned above is also relevant. As noted earlier, tools are required to orient the policy-formulating user in terms of knowledge and issues impacting on his stated area of preoccupation. He needs to be given a sense of overview and context as noted in the Club of Rome report (5, pp. 19-24). The reverse is also true. Exaggerating considerably, it is almost as though a user should formulate "a knowledge-base impact statement" (analogous to an environmental impact statement) to clarify the consequences of "activating" and developing knowledge and action in a particular area to the exclusion of action in response to areas to which it is related.
2.3 Reconfiguration of category schemes: The very large investment of funds, intellect and personal commitment in category schemes must be accepted with all its implications for lack of flexibility in experimenting with alternatives at that level. However, with very little investment users could be confronted with the possibility of experimenting with alternative patterns of categories which reflected their own priorities and preferences. Clearly this could best be done as an on-line exercise, but batch versions might be preferred by some. This would allow users to manipulate a large set of subject categories into new patterns without affecting the existing categorisation of the bibliographic data to which it could be linked. A user might even consult an on-line system via such a "personalised" pattern used as an interface into the standard system. If printed out, such a pattern could well take the form of a map (see below), rather than a list. The process whereby the user prepared "his" map might be usefully linked to an on-line version of the programmed learning procedure described above (point 2.1).
A major advantage of this is that users would be able to incorporate relevant categories not yet "recognised" by their agency information system or only present in systems of other agencies. They could subdivide, combine or link categories according to notions unacceptable to those responsible for the agency's information system. A user could develop several such patterns for different policy orientations (e.g. long-term, emergency action, etc.). A selection of such patterns could be offered to new users.
It is vital not to forget the implications of the vast amount of information generated, even within the UN system. Much of substantive value escapes bibliographic control or is otherwise inaccessible. Much that is under control is of almost no long-term value. In a sense the reference guides to what is under control conceal the extent of what is not. Who could produce a guide to what is not, and who would "dare" to do so? Given the urgency and nature of innovative societal learning, consideration should be given to the benefits from the minimal investment requirements of information aids such as the following.
3.1 Question collections: In the face of rising ignorance and inability to act, ineffectual action ("for action's sake") may often be avoided by asking better questions. Many good questions are "buried" in international documents. Many documents are the result of bad questions. Many good questions never get into accessible (including declassified) documents, even though they do not need to be confidential.
Is it not possible to define criteria for a "question collection", focused mainly on supposedly unanswered questions. The amount of information would be relatively small. It would be of value to policy-formulation and research and as a learning aid. The questions could be periodically rated by a suitable jury so that they could be ranked in different ways and even interlinked in a network of learning pathways. The collection could be open for inclusion of questions from motivated users. Links to documents could be envisaged if justified.
Note that it has often been remarked that it is not better answers to old questions that will lead to better action, but better questions leading to new kinds of answers. The search for better questions is a key to by-passing the shank 1earning process.
3.2 Resolution collections: More conventional and requiring greater investment would be a data base focused on resolutions. This is in no way unique insofar as much has been done for those of the UN itself. The question is whether priority could be given to this aspect of international documentation for all agencies as a distinct, and preferably on-line, subject-indexed (KWIC) system.
At this point, as has often been remarked, there is no clearing-house for decisions affecting the international community. Such a data base is a minimum response to this condition -- whether or not the associated documents are under control.
3.3 Proposal collections: Much creative energy is invested in formulating proposals which, if they are reported, are "buried" in documents. Given that these provide most valuable clues to future action, it would seem that some effort should be devoted to providing a brief abstract of them in a suitably indexed on-line data base. Clearly this is most valuable if it motivates wide participation and does not concentrate on the preoccupations of a particular (group) of agencies. As opposed to documents in general, such proposals are "live" future-oriented information. Whilst a valuable precedent, the Bulletin of Peace Proposals (Oslo) should not he considered a model because of the length of the texts included.
3.4 Problem collections: Given that perceived problems are a core feature of the world problematique, further steps should be taken to maintain brief abstracts of them in a suitably indexed on-line data base. An important reason for treating problems in a separate system is that they are both "buried" in documents and often denatured by the manner in which they are presented as agenda items or remedial programmes. Such problems should be registered in the system in terms of their perceived functional relationship to other problems. Such a data base covering some 2,600 world problems in a network of 13,000 relationships was created in machine readable form for the production of the experimental Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential (2). Producing "problem maps" bound as "atlases" could be an important byproduct stimulating participation in the continual updating of such a data base.
3.5 Key document check-lists: Given the bewilderment of librarians and users faced with the maze of international documentation, a procedure worth exploring is the regular production of a check-list of the "most consulted new documents". This might be restricted to 50, or be as high as 500 or 1000, possibly organised by subjects (with provision for interdisciplinary categories). Selections could be made by agency librarians and pooled by the Association of International Libraries. More ambitiously, it might include any publications considered relevant to the world community/ problematique, as indicated by a pool of collaborating users -- perhaps grouped around each agency library. This would be a very valuable (and saleable) guide to what was worth acquiring (librarians) or reading (users). It would have an important cross-category "pollinating" role. There are many commercial parallels: best-seller lists, record hit lists, TV ratings, etc.
A major effort is required to facilitate the cross-category interrelationship of subject areas and to provide users with some tools to augment their ability to tolerate the complexity with which they have to deal.
4.1 Mapping techniques: Librarians have been tricked by the success with which computers have been used to process lists of subjects, bibliographic entries, and lines of text. This provides them with good control of "librarian problems" but does nothing for the user faced with indigestible acquisition lists or on-line keyword search facilities. Innovative learning necessitates new user tools. "Maps" of interconnected topics around a user's focal topic would be of inestimable value in providing him with a sense of context to guide his searches and to signal related topics of concern (15). It should be possible to generate such maps from relatively simple data bases. The hardware exists, as does the software, but none of those concerned have articulated the need sufficiently in order to assemble these elements with the necessary funding. (70).
A major value of such maps would be as a single-sheet background document for agency meetings to provide the context to each agenda item (and, as a result of criticism, to ensure continual updating of the map for that topic). They would be of obvious value as educational aids. The data base for the Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential was created with this possibility in mind.
4.2 Interdisciplinarity: As Georges Gusdorf notes in a brilliant essay (74a), "interdisciplinarity" has become a disguise for the mere juxtaposition of disciplines without any significant interaction. [It is in this sense that Rozsa's (73) positive assessment of the interdisciplinarity of international documentation must be interpreted. Such documents must often be judged as much by the disciplines they exclude as those they include.] It has failed to emerge in any significant non-token form in a society in desperate need of it. The Club of Rome report notes that despite the amount of information published annually it is "incomplete and deficient because it is essentially of an intra- disciplinary nature with very little emphasis on inter-disciplinary materials" (5, p. 109).
University "interdisciplinarity" is a mockery torn by interfaculty politics and eroded by cynicism. It has become a joke. The situation is, if anything, even worse in international agencies. Thus it is in the greater detachment of libraries and information systems that hopes must be placed. There, however, even the term is an embarrassment so that books with that dimension are "crammed" into any category including "general" to avoid opening up an inter-category notion. The reality of user access problems to such materials, and an indication of the vulnerability of collective memory, is illustrated by an effort in 1975 to consult the General Systems Yearbook (published annually in Washington DC since 1956) at the Library of Congress. Two volumes were available on first request. A protest led to a visit to the stacks where it was clear that several volumes had been misfiled in neighboring racks. The majority had been lost or stolen. (Unesco did not possess the series).
There has, for example, never been any study of the problems of classifying interdisciplinary materials, because librarians have not allowed such problems to exist. Users are therefore totally handicapped in gaining the faintest understanding of the many integrative possibilities (see ref. 2, Section K). This leads to general reinforcement of the inadequacies of the interdisciplinary approach. A study of this whole matter should be made and the status of material in this area should be reviewed in relation to the "general" category in terms of societal learning needs and the challenge of the world problematique.
4.3 Imagery: The Club of Rome report places great stress on imagery: "Images with their integrative power and instant recall, have been underestimated as components of learning" (5, p. 41). Both international agencies and their information systems are committed in many ways to text processing. Only the "public information" programmes use images and these are not considered to be documents of substantive value. A study is required to look into ways to bridge this gap. Users could benefit from images to help them to grasp the nature of the world problematique. It is, however, important to avoid superficial approaches to imagery which constitute a trap justifying any preferences for text. What is needed is a way to select a pattern of images to and comprehension of a matching pattern of interconnected problems (possibly represented on a map, as suggested above). It is the possibilities of cross-linking between the patterns that requires study.
4.4 Analogy, metaphor, and parable: The increasing problem of understanding and communicating the nature of the complex conditions in which we are embedded has been frequently stated. This problem is more acute when there is a requirement for rapid and innovative societal learning. Conventional logical explanations have long ceased to suffice. Mathematicians (Thom, catastrophe theory), biologists, religious leaders, and politicians have long been forced to communicate by the use of analogy, metaphor, and parable. This is often true in intergovernmental plenary speeches but rarely in the background documents which are considered to be so indigestible. These forms use verbal imagery to elucidate unfamiliar points and render them memorable. As with imagery (above), there is clearly a need to bridge the chasm separating this meaningful mode with the often meaningless textual mode of documentation. These forms can also be powerful human-centered integrative tools which work even in the most isolated communities. There are few other forms with these qualities. In addition, as noted by the Club of Rome report, they are a stimulus to intuitive thinking (5, p. 126). The question is whether greater benefits could not be derived from these forms if they could be rendered more accessible (and more "apt") and linked, as an aid to users, to the "problem complexes" about which conventional documents are produced. Documentalists could usefully take the first step by recognising the urgent need for the construction of such a (right-brain/left-brain) bridge.
4.5 Structured images and symbols: The important distinction between "imagery" (above) and structured images has already been discussed. Structured images are in effect a marriage between imagery and mapping, combining some of the strengths of both. They may also overlap with a range of powerful symbols of integration (10). Both can be powerful tools in communicating and rendering credible the nature of action.
Great efforts are made to develop suitable "symbols" for international programmes. Symbols of this type are often little more than images with little power. The question is whether structured images orienting user access to complex subject domains can be linked to (or blended into) existing powerful symbols capable of galvanising a "political will to change". Note the probability of failure of action if the two are not successfully related. Exploration of these possibilities offers a route whereby the currently static concept patterns of information systems can be "achieved" into a dynamic catalyst for change.
5.1 Usage: There is little information available on usage from the panel papers received. In the case of the agency papers, the United Nations paper notes the "difficulty for Governments to study" documentation. The CARICOM paper notes that "about 60% is not of immediate use... about 25% is not of expected value at the time when the request is made". None of the other papers comment on the matter.
In the case of the depository library replies, that of the Hungarian Parliament states, "We feel that the material is satisfactorily used". The Library of Parliament (Finland) only states "frequently used". Whereas that of the Royal Library (Copenhagen) records that "materials from intergovernmental organizations are being used -- but not satisfactorily", which is also the judgement of the Biblioteca Nacional (Madrid). The National Center of Scientific and Technical Information (Tel-Aviv) reports: "Much of this documentation, notwithstanding its potential inherent value, serves no one because the knowledge of its existence, its contents and its access is so badly organised".
Reporting on the Library of Congress (Washington), Schaaf notes: "Lacking any precise data, it is still clear that international materials are underutilized" (71, p. 9). In the case of the British Library, Eve Johansson (74) notes: "It is generally felt in this library as in others in the UK that the documentation of the IGOs is not used as it should be, and that its advantages ... are not fully appreciated". Johansson also itemises "reasons for unsatisfactory degree of use" but her reasons are the "continuing problems" of the previous section. Schaaf notes the bewilderment of users and J.P. Chillag remarks: "Users and prospective users... are often frustrated in their efforts first to identify the material they need and then to locate and gain access to the international documentation they require" (75).
It is really surprising that there is so little information on usage, given the expense of documentation and the assumption that it is sufficiently useful to justify the financial and personnel resources allocated to it. Is the documentation as valuable as some would claim it to be? Would "valuable" have to be carefully defined to justify continued production of certain categories of documents? Which ones? Is the value of such documentation being reduced by the spread of other information media, especially electronic? These are questions that demand a study which would not justify value by the desire to produce or the desire to "stay on a mailing list in case...".
The depository libraries tend to indicate that they are used by "specialists, researchers and students", Johansson notes that there is "little feedback". It must be recognised that there will always be "users" for a topic on which there is a large amount of documentation. Schaaf is the most explicit: "Among the most frequent users are staff members of Government agencies, faculty and students from out-of-town universities, and researchers from innumerable institutions and associations". (71, p.6)
There is almost no indication of the types of questions asked by users. What are they looking for? Could they be asking better questions? Do they know what they need, or do they only think they know? What of the potential users that have become disillusioned, or whose interests are neglected? Are the principal users at present those whose activities are in need of priority support?
Rather than a study of the "acquisition and organisation of international documentation" [The title of my report for the 1972 Symposium (1)], a study should be produced on the "acquisition and organization of users". It is time to think less about "inaccessible documents" and more about "inaccessible users". It is very disturbing to read Johansson's comment: "Many users resort for preference to newspaper and journal sources for some information that could be found in the publications of IGOs, and are prepared to do without some of it".
The whole concept of users and usage has become static, slow and governed largely by the agency desire to produce and distribute. In no way can this be said to correspond to the needs for innovative societal learning.
5.3 Psycho-cultural variants: It is too conveniently assumed that information organization should correspond to approaches elaborated in the developed countries. As recent studies are demonstrating (24), there are other equally meaningful approaches to the organisation of concepts which are characteristic of non-indo-european cultures (and by "inaccessible" potential users in indo-european cultures). And even in western countries there is increasing criticism of Boolean approaches to data searches. New logics and forms of presentation are called for (56, 57). Any user study must take into account these possibilities, if international documentation is to be rendered acceptable to those who have not been coopted into developed country traditions.
Also relevant is the argument of the Club of Rome report: "In large part, it is the inadequacy of learning capacities which accounts for the low level of understanding not only of ideas and knowledge originating outside a particular culture but also of the values intrinsic to and embodied in technologies that are too often 'transferred' inappropriately" (5, p. 89).
Given the amount of valuable information "buried" in inaccessible documents, and given the spread of data networks, it would be appropriate to undertake exploratory investigations of the possibility of creating a "core concept" data base, perhaps on the lines of the "country file" data bases in many agencies. This could include key insights and phrases, possibly from documents, relating specially the world problematique. Properly designed, this could provide a focal point for registering and interrelating insights and needs, with possible reference to documents elaborating the point (76). Such relatively compact dynamic data bases are essential to maintain the momentum of innovative societal learning. The documentation system is a symbol of societal inertia incarnate. Do many of the complex problems of the world problematique lend themselves to treatment in the kinds of documents which can be produced at present?
As noted in the introduction, the features of the information/communication society of the future are emerging. Telecommunications are a vital component. They are basic to the exciting future possibilities of data networks in relation to societal learning. As has been said before such networks are the planetary "nervous system". The Club of Rome report states, however: "The neglect and abuse of telecommunications is another illustration of how innovative learning is impeded. It is because of the existence of a global communications network... that their neglect is so discouraging". (5, p. 55)
Of special concern are the little-reported maneuverings of national PTT authorities and commercial data carriers to set the foundations for a totally elitist communication society. The carriers, with the connivance of PTTs, appear to be aiming to create a situation analogous to the well-known "seven sisters" monopoly in the petroleum industry. The PTTs are using spurious arguments to justify heavy tariffs, monopolistic services, inflexible equipment standards, and restrictive patterns of access. In part this is a classical effort at "creaming the market", in part it is a frantic attempt at conserving control over communications (to maintain revenues and protect the outdated telex technology), and in part it is done under pressure from authorities concerned with social control (military, etc.).
At a time when energy costs are soaring, it is incredible that the communications, on which our civilisation depends to maintain the "social fabric" and innovative learning processes, should be taxed so heavily and so artificially. This cynical irresponsibility should be recognised in terms of its inhibiting effect on learning and all aspects of future access to international documentation. The International Telecommunications Union bears a heavy responsibility in this matter, especially in the light of its proposed World Communications Year (1983).
This paper has deliberately stressed the need for a new international documentation perspective sensitive to the urgent needs of the world problematique. Documentalists in this field have an obligation to render these needs more comprehensible as a whole and to stimulate and support innovative user learning -- especially collective learning. It is they who have a traditional responsibility to ensure the visibility of the "big picture". They cannot afford to adopt a passive, self-satisfied posture.
International documentalists constitute an important group of custodians of society's collective memory. It is this memory which is enriched by societal learning processes. It is the "gene pool" of ideas from which our future is born. And yet it appears to be in a totally pathological condition. How can information systems be used to "get society's act together" at a time when it is falling apart and losing focus? Societal memory is vulnerable -- how vulnerable has not been assessed (see Annex 2). What can be learnt from the rise and fall of civilisations about the factors which need to be brought together in societal memory to bring about a "golden age"? Within what comprehensible configurations can they be brought together?
The Club of Rome report, used as a principal input to this paper, is a first step towards a "capacity study of societal learning". An appropriate approach is that which led to the production of the UNDP Capacity Study of the United Nations Development Systems, 1969 (The Jackson Report). Many more detailed studies are required. The report does not specifically mention document-related systems. This omission should be remedied. It emphasises the learning process and not how society stores what is learnt. The two are, however, so intimately related in a "learning society" that "library" and "information systems" can be meaningfully substituted for "school" and "educational systems" in the following quotations:
"The degree to which societies have neglected innovative learning in favour of maintenance learning can be seen by the extent of irrelevance in their educational systems and their waste of human potential" (5, p. 67).
Given its progressive increase in society, ignorance should be a focus of attention as much as knowledge. Society has to come to terms with it. It cannot be "eliminated"; and, properly conceived, it could even constitute a vital resource. Similarly, "unlearning" is a process complementary to learning. Growth in understanding has often been described as a process of unlearning received misconceptions. What, for that matter, is the appropriate balance between societal remembering and societal forgetting? Exploring these perspectives could have useful implications for the acquisition and organisation of information by users. It sharpens the focus of the debate.
The quantity and interrelatedness of information generated is such that no conventional solution can be adequate to the challenge of the times given current constraints. There is an urgent need for low-cost, short-cuts to accelerated societal learning - learning with "multiplier effects" (to use an economics term). Techniques are required for the "conservation of user attention time" and the "re-energizing of the user". Documentalists have a responsibility to call for the development of "attention focusing systems", and "attention receptacles" to assist the user.
The Club of Rome report stresses the importance of developing human potential as the keystone of the societal learning process. It is unfortunate that in doing so it emphasises that there are "no limits to learning" when it is precisely these limits which are important constraints on the design of a supportive information system. But perhaps more regrettable is the implication that limits themselves are "bad". On the contrary, overcoming limits is intrinsic to the learning process. It is therefore appropriate to close with Richard Wilhelm's commentary on "Limitation", one of the 64 hexagrams in the classic I Ching or Book of Changes:
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