To Support the Information Commons: Principles for an Effective Information Commons

By the Information Commons Project Working Group (ICWG)

The following principles were developed out of two days of discussions at the November 2001 roundtable, The Information Commons, New Technology, and the Future of Libraries, sponsored by the American Library Association's Office for Information Technology Policy. The principles are intended as discussion points to be used in the ongoing development of the information commons.

  1. We recognize that information is a key resource that has a central role in our development as citizens and as human beings.
  2. We further recognize that, although information is partially a market resource, it should not be seen exclusively as a market resource. We understand that information has necessary uses that transcend the values of the marketplace and we accept that the marketplace alone cannot adequately meet the information needs that fall outside the realm of its value system.
  3. We see the information commons as a useful category for visualizing ways that we ensure access to the information necessary for innovation and democratic activity.
  4. We might understand the commons as a "place" or "space", but we should also understand the commons as a collection of processes for meeting the information needs of our societies.
  5. Even as we accept the usefulness of the notion of the "information commons", we recognize that we must be creative in developing ways of speaking about the ideas embodied in that concept that resonate with a variety of audiences. The information commons may not be the only way we choose to conceive of these ideas. For example, some elements of the commons are embodied in ideas such as fair use and public domain.
  6. The information commons is closely related to notions of community and communal practice. The public is a central figure in the commons.
  7. Libraries are an important category with respect to the information commons. They embody and put into action fundamental values related to the accessibility of information and they are a vital element of the commons.
  8. As actually existing institutions, libraries provide us with infrastructure and experience useful for advocating a vibrant information commons. Libraries suggest a concrete image of what the information commons can and should provide.
  9. Libraries are not the only institutions that are part of the commons. Among the other institutions we might see as a part of the commons are: museums, archives, and other resource centers; cultural heritage centers; religious organizations; non-profit and social service organizations; unions; public interest broadcasters; even commercial organizations may play a role in the information commons to the extent that they benefit from and promote access to information outside strict market limits.
  10. Libraries and other institutions are only effective in the commons to the extent that they fulfill the information needs of their communities.
  11. The information commons is currently subject to a process of "enclosure" or containment which is limiting or threatens to limit non-market access to information to a degree which is not consistent with our fundamental social values.
  12. There is a need to counteract this process of enclosure by working at a variety of levels and in a variety of arenas. Among these: developing ways to talk about information and the information commons; educating the public about the information commons; educating librarians and other people who provide the public with an entry point to the commons; educating policy makers and other "elites"; mobilizing each of these groups; and creating alliances with a variety of organizations to support a vibrant information commons.

An article from the forum, "The Information Commons, New Technology, and the Future of Libraries."
Published June 2002 at

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