Emerging Information Society in Pakistan and the Role of Libraries-Khalid Mahmood and Farzana Shafique
Pakistan is a developing country with many social and economic problems, but indicators show that an information society is emerging in this country at a very fast pace. These indicators include fast-growing telecommunication facilities, free flow of information through electronic media and the use of computers and the Internet in public life. This paper argues that libraries can play a vital role in an information society. The situation of libraries in Pakistan, particularly public and school libraries, is very poor. Most federal policies do not provide for the establishment of effective libraries. Some policies do recommend a library system but there is no effort to implement these at the governmental level. This paper urges decision makers to include libraries in their planning for the country.
Our society is undergoing profound and rapid changes resulting from the development of the information superhighway. These changes are evident in the economic, social, cultural and political spheres of our society. Increased dependence on computers, economic globalization, and the shaping of government policy by multinational corporations are only a few points on a landscape of change. The revolution in information and communication technologies (ICT ) has created a platform for the free flow of information, ideas and knowledge across the globe. The Internet has become an important global resource, one that is critical to both the developed world as a business and social tool and the developing world as a passport to equitable participation as well as to economic, educational and social development. This revolution has made a profound impression on the way the world functions and has transformed it to an evolving information societyt. Aware of the rapid expansion of the information society, the United Nations organized the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), organized under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union. The two-phase summit began in Geneva in 2003 and concluded in November 2005 in Tunis. The goal of this meeting was to assess progress and prompt further global action to capture the promise of ICT for all. The purpose of the WSIS was to ensure that these benefits are accessible to all while promoting specific advantages in areas such as e-strategies, e-commerce, e-governance, e-health, education, literacy, cultural diversity, gender equality, sustainable development and environmental protection.
At the Geneva WSIS meeting in December 2003, world leaders declared
"Our common desire and commitment to build a people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented information society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." (World Summit on the Information Society, 2007)
Recognizing the importance of the revolution in ICTs as a means of shaping the future of the world and in achieving the development goals outlined in the Millennium Declaration, world leaders decided that a global vision and a global dialogue were needed to build the framework of an all-inclusive and equitable Information Society.
The Government of Pakistan actively participated in the World Summit on the Information Society. In this context, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) came up with a proposal to conduct consultations in selected countries in Africa and Asia to develop new models of multi-stakeholder collaboration to catalyze and strengthen implementation from Geneva to Tunis. It was carried out by a team of international experts in collaboration with the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICTD) Group in UNDP Headquarters. The UNDP chose Pakistan as one of two countries from Asia (the other was the Philippines). Pakistan was chosen for a number of reasons, including its recent major focus on IT and the ICTD's extensive work undertaken by one of its own global initiatives in the country - the Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP). SDNP Pakistan was assigned the responsibility for helping to facilitate this national consultation, which involved all the country's important stakeholders of WSIS. Pakistan's Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication provided support and guidance to achieve the goals and objectives of WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society, 2007).