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Hey, hey, finally a clear voice that looks at  digital divide literature and  EU Information Society policies and talks about the missing parts !!!
Dijk, Jan van (in press) One Europe, Digitally Divided. In: A. Chadwick & Ph. Howard (Eds). Handbook of Internet Politics, London: Routledge.

Van Dijk is a well known and respected author in the field.  The Deepening divide, Inequality in the Information Society book generated very interesting discussions in my Digital Divide class this semester.  Reading it, even though  valid and pertinent,  I was surprised that it did not criticise the huge emphasis on the material access ( Broadband) of EU policies when addressing the digital divide. (On EC site the eInclusion policy about the “broadband gap” is also caled “digital divide”).

Van Dijk’s  framework for digital divides start with motivational access that will naturally be followed by  physical access. The EU policies however take for granted the motivational access because everybody wants to have a better job (and ICT skills are said to get you a better job). The fact that, for example, informational skills and culture differ greatly around EU or that a non-English speaker might have a hard time finding relevant and good quality information online was of no interest to policy makers in EU.

Things started to change lately with the Ministerial Riga Declaration on eInclusion and recommendation of digital literacy so at least  the conversations  about information literacy are more audible in Europe.  However  European Commission is very vague in its discourse and on national or local level in places where, as van Dijk said “possession of personal computers, the Internet and a broadband connection […] countries such as Romenia (RO) (!) and Bulgaria (BG) run very far behind with access figures of a Third World country” the message fails  (or takes forever) to reach the decision factors.

Van Dijk’s article is  more than welcomed especially since he is an advisor of the EC.  Hopefully EC will pay more attention from now on to bring everybody along with them in the EU information society they build. In the process maybe will also figure out that libraries, especially public ones, have a great potential in helping EU IS countries  by serving communities and providing support at local level for lifelong learning and engaging individuals in using ICT.

This is Clay Shirky‘s talk from the Web 2.0 EXPO 2008.

[blip.tv ?posts_id=862384&dest=-1]

Very informative presentation with great examples to illustrate it. However, as it often happens with things that I want to apply into Romanian context the cognitive surplus seem to have a different history back home.

For what did the Romanian society used its cognitive surplus while building up its “industrial” society during Communism? I cannot answer this yet. For sure though the answer will  not be TV because during those years we had access to the most 3 hours of broadcasting per day (one of them being dedicated to news about the most beloved leader and his wife….) However,  part of it is, I am sure, connected to reading. I talked a little bit about this and its very interesting to see how books and reading were really a pilot for social web of today. Sharing was a key factor of those informal networks that circulated the good books and people were often breaking the laws contributing to these communities.

For almost 20 years now the “original” democracy in Romania has been pushing hard the sitcoms and sitcoms-like-news on the little cognitive surplus left of people after working hard for their daily bread. Not being used to speak their mind they got easily tricked by the media and accepted their passive position as receivers.  Can we hope that the Web will change this?

Part of the Romanians that get online are using the Web as presented by Shirky. Is there any connection between the good readers during Communism and the good web users today? My intuition would say yes, there should be a relation and I feel it is not determined by the financial status. I wish I would have time to look more into this!

How about the rest of “everybody”?  If they were not reading, what were the people doing with their cognitive surplus during Communism and what are they doing with it now? What does the Web has to offer in order to get them to turn the TV off and participate?

No, Romania is not behind the TV looking for the mouse…but it is aware of what a mouse is and that is a start.

Old Dilemma – the cultural magazine that I’ve already talked about – had as theme for this week’s issue: “How we used to read in communism”. With a big question like this, addressed to Romanian students and intellectuals I was curious to see the answers. I already knew about informal networks that existed in Romania back then that circulated the books. Everybody respected a “good” book and was desperately trying to get one for their own library.  A visit to the house of a middle class Romanian in Communism would surprise any Western visitor. The center piece of the living room was always a library. The number of volumes differed, but my guess was that there was no direct connection between income and number of volumes. Having a library was setting a social status.

In Dilemma  intellectuals, mostly writers, expressed their thoughts, shared their experience about reading during Communism. While reading about them, I realize that books were valuable not only because of their content but because of their potential anti Communist content. A book was more popular and was sold right away if there were rumors that it had difficulties with the censorship or if the author was not popular with the regime. After books that were said to be “good” and were nowhere to be found in bookstores, the black market would start making profit out of them. A policemen would confiscate a book who’s author was not liked by the regime and wold sell it on the black market.  I was very little aware of the economic role of books back then.

Anyway, the public or school libraries are mentioned briefly in this issue of Dilemma about reading in Communism:

Mirel Banica presents public libraries as places where one could get books only in cases of “extreme emergency. There [ in libraries] it was cold, dirt, dusted books. But what wander me away from there was the deep hate that comrades librarians had for us, they were profound disturbed from their hibernation by our request […]”

When in high school Radu Pavel Gheo wanted to read Marx’s The Capital so he went to the library. (Of course this was not a “good” book)

Mihai Dinu Gheorge mentions libraries as places where people could find books. However they come only third  after Book stores and Second hand bookshops.

Vintila Mihailescu was very disappointment to discover, after 1990 that intellectuals from West did not have their own huge library but were borrowing books from the library. “And I was dreaming years after years that Them, out there, were spoiling themselves in big libraries, spending nights on endless corridors full of bookshelves…” ( He is talking about private libraries …The idea of a public one, for public sharing is not there)

Where does one start to rehabilitate an institution that existed only for a small number of people in “extreme emergency” situations and had such a bad image. A comparative research with UK or USA libraries would seems pointless( What am I thinking!!!). We are so far from them and yet we (librarians and our public libraries) need to be so close to be able to play an ctive role in our communities.

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