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The White House Conference: The academic library agenda

By James G. Neal

Dean of University Libraries Indiana University

Solutions… that is what needs to flow from the collective deliberations and resolutions of the White House Conference on library and Information Services. The conference delegates wrestled through a cumbersome process, a rich diversity of interests, significant but largely symbolic political attention, and surprising media inattention to develop a plan that links the future health of the country to the vitality of the information and library infrastructure. Solutions can and will be forged at the national level, but the true value of the conference will be played out at the state and local levels. The resolutions must serve as catalysts for an action agenda in each state and for raising civic dialogue on the future of libraries. The ability of library professionals and citizen advocates to network effectively with the business, political, research, information, and education communities will dictate the difference between a schizophrenic week in the nation s capital and a revolution in our national thinking about and support for libraiy and information services.

The interests of academic and research libraries were well represented at the conference and received significant attention in the resolutions. Delegates voted and accepted 95 recommendations and petitions which are being organized in the WHCLIS final report into ten subject areas: availability and access to information, structure and governance, marketing to communities, networks through technology, national information policy, preservation of information, services for diverse needs, information technology, training to reach end users, and personnel and staff development. The resolutions in each category offer outstanding opportunities for “a continued and indeed strengthened investment in academic libraries” as outlined in ACRL’s pre-conference statement on the federal role in supporting the information needs of students and researchers.

The ACRL Tack Force on WHCLIS recommended six priority actions, and all are reflected in the final package of resolutions approved by the delegates:

1. Reauthorization and expansion of the Higher Education Act.

2. Reauthorization of the Library Services and Construction Act to support interlibrary cooperation and resource sharing.

3. Preservation of and access to records of our national culture.

4. Expansion of support for federal programs such as the Library of Congress, National Library of Medicine, National Agriculture Library, National Archives, federal depository and Government Printing Office, subsidized postal rates and discount rates from common carriers of electronic data, and open access to information through the Freedom of Information Act.

5. Creation and funding of the N ational Research and Education Network.

6. Development of regulations that foster information sharing and international data flow.

In addition to endorsement of this federal mandate, many issues of prime concern to academic libraries are covered in the final WHCLIS report. Particularly noteworthy and demanding of coordinated follow-up are the following:

• library and information science programs in support of multicultural and multilingual populations;

• library and information service programs in support of persons with disabilities;

• a national institute for library and information services;

• networking policies and programs that ensure system compatibility;

• copyright legislation to accommodate the impact of new and emerging technologies;

• a national research and development agenda for library and information technologies;

• library leadership role in lifelong learning programs;

• training of students in the use of libraries and information services;

• alternative delivery systems for graduate programs in library and information science;

• continuing education, staff development, and training programs;

• and a national program to strengthen library collection capabilities.

ACRL and the academic library community must continue to pursue a legislative agenda and planing process that will enable successful refinement, elaboration, and implementation of these resolutions. On the national, state, and local levels, academic librarians must achieve positions of leadership as conference follow-up strategies are outlined. The central issues must be taken to the faculty, the administration, state higher education officials, legislators, and citizens. State and regional conferences from which the mass ofideas streamed into WHCLIS should be reconvened to forge local action plans. ACRL chapters must play a key educational role. Libraries are part of the solution to the challenges of democracy, productivity, and literacy. The blueprint now being presented to us by WHCLIS must be translated into a new vision of our information future and provoke us to adopt innovative and bold approaches to information services.

Ed. note:James G. Neal was head of the Indiana delegation to WHCLIS and was an elected member of the Conference Resolutions Committee.

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