4th European Bielefeld Colloquium

Welcome by Keith Dobson, Director British Council Germany

Dear Professor Rickheit, dear Robert Müller, dear Dr Neubauer,

ladies and gentlemen

For the third time as director of the British Council in Germany I have the pleasure to welcome you, the participants of the European Bielefeld colloquium, to this event and to wish you three interesting, stimulating and also enjoyable days together with colleagues from many European countries.

Many developments in the field of electronic information systems and information provision have taken place over the last two years. Many of the topics of the last colloquium's programme - like search mechanisms in the internet, textcentres for information provision, integrity of electronic documents or database tools - did not mean a lot to me then. Today no organisation can afford to be unaware of the latest technological developments, and every organisation has to evaluate their importance for its own work, and identify mechanisms for the successful integration of the new communication and information technologies into its activities. And libraries are ideally placed to carry these developments forward.

The first theme of this colloquium is the responsibility of politics for the support of the information society. You will also hear a paper about recent initiatives of the new British government, of which I will mention just a few: The Library and Information Commission, which was established to provide the government with a national focus of expertise in the field of library and information services, presented only a couple of weeks ago a proposal for a nationally co-ordinated strategic approach to research, development and innovation for library and information services for the United Kingdom, where appropriate in co-operation with European and other international partners.

The Dearing report "Higher education in the learning society", which was published in July 1998, also makes recommendations to the government for the development of the higher education system over the next twenty years. The recommendations for the improvement of teaching and learning, the use of communication and information technology as well as the administration of universities are of direct relevance to library services. Dearing recommends for example that every institution should have a detailed communication and information strategy in place, that electronic networks and the electronic libraries programme should be further developed and that all students should have access to networked computers.

This colloquium is mainly for academic libraries serving the higher education community, but governments have the responsibility to ensure that every citizen can benefit from the developments in information technology and will have access to information. Public libraries, as the Library and Information Commission argues in its report: New Library: The People's Network, should become the hubs of the information community connecting everyone to the Internet, so that society does not risk becoming divided between information 'haves' and 'have-nots'. The report identifies three important areas of interest: the consumer - or user - of library services; content, i.e. what is actually available through the networks; and training, both of the librarians and of the users. I find all of these aspects reflected in the programme of this colloquium, which suggests that these are areas of equal relevance to academic and public libraries.

Our collaboration for the fourth time in the organising of this colloquium demonstrates the British Council’s commitment to international relations in the field of information and library work. Information work for us is an important element of cultural diplomacy and supports understanding between people. Many colleagues in Germany will have participated in one or the other way in our activities, be it the work-exchange programme, a study tour, participation at an Anglo-German conference or seminar, or in one of our specialist courses "English for librarians".

We see the support for British-German events also as a building stone for wider international relations within the European context, as this colloquium shows particularly well. Many of the partners now collaborating in multinational European projects are building on their earlier experience in bi-lateral British-German activities. And we are also proud to be one of the partners of the new European project EXPLOIT, which will encourage and support the exploitation of project results of the EU telematics for libraries programme, and to which we can bring our unique network of offices and information professionals in all European countries.

I believe that this meeting will develop further the links between information specialists and publishers, will inform all of us about leading-edge developments and will help to strengthen European co-operation in this field. I wish us all a successful conference.