Editorial

Frits Pannekoek

David Mitchell

The notion that Canada might be experiencing an "information deficit" in terms of Internet-based content has been registered in a number of recent studies. For example, in 1997 a special issue of this journal concluded that the increasing corporate convergence in the digital world was placing scholarly communication in the hands of a very few American and European interests (see CJC vol. 22, nos. 3-4, Scholarly Communication in the Next Millennium). Of consequence, corporate concentration on the part of Internet aggregators (for example, Elsevier) had driven the costs of serial subscriptions so high that many research libraries in Canada had been forced to cut back on Canadian monographs and serials.

In another relatively recent example, in 1998 the University of Calgary's Information Resources (the university libraries, archives, museums, and press) undertook a study of the information habits of its undergraduates. The results indicated that approximately 60% of students felt confident that they could get all of the information they needed to complete their undergraduate degree from the Internet. Although the faculty at large disapproved, approximately 40% thought the students might just be able to "get away with it."

In another example, in 2000, Keith Archer spearheaded a study of Canadian Web-based content (http://www.ourfutureourpast.ca/e-pub/) for the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation of Canada (HSSFC). After exhaustive searching the study determined that only 200 sites met basic academic criteria (the material was authored and at least minimally reviewed).

These diverse studies register the emergence of two related trends. The first is that wherever connectivity is available, individuals are becoming increasingly reliant on Internet sources for research. The second is that the presence of recognizably Canadian-anchored sites on the Internet remains minimal in comparison with the American presence. Taken together, these trends reveal that the creation of Canadian content on the Internet is not keeping pace with the rate of Internet adoption by Canadian users.

Even assuming that these apparent trends are accurate, why should this trouble us? If we feel anxious about them, is this not merely reminiscent of the kind of dread we felt in the 1960s about being swamped by American television programming? Besides, others share in this dread: Austrians dread being swamped by German-based programming; many Latin American countries feel threatened by Brazil- and Mexican-based programming, and so on. In any case, there is no point in taking the winds of global capitalism personally: multinationals have no particular likes or dislikes for the contents (Internet or otherwise) of small nations such as Canada - they simply view the cultural and intellectual products of such countries as the stuff of minor markets.

But from a Canadian point of view - and, indeed, from the perspective of other small national players on the Internet - it could be argued that as Internet adoption rates increase, citizens need ready access to their own distinctive and authoritative materials to do their work best. This applies to citizens in all walks of life, whether they are involved in government policy, education, creative production, private-sector initiatives, or the political realm. If Canadian usage of the Internet yields mostly American precedent and example, Canada may find its fragile and subtly differentiated experience eroded.

One of the first sectors to claim that there is a growing deficit of Canadian-anchored content on the Internet has been the memory institutions (libraries, archives, museums). Over the past few years, they have taken action on a number of fronts. For example, the universities of Calgary and Laval in partnership with 20 other Canadian memory institutions are active in digitizing all of Canada's local histories. For another, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) is calling for a national data archive. Canada remains the only G-8 nation without such an archive, and as a result literally hundreds of millions of dollars of research involving digital data can no longer be replicated. For yet another, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), supported by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), is responding to the crisis in serial costs by creating a national licensing scheme for scholarly digital journals for 64 postsecondary institutions.

However, solving the Canadian information deficit will likely involve something more than the provision of retrospective digitization or the creation of a digital data archive. This is because the information deficit is probably the consequence of manifold forces related to the growth of the Internet. In response, a number of individuals including Peter Homulos, the assistant deputy minister responsible for Canadian content on the Web, and scholars such as Janice Dickin (University of Calgary), Claude Martin (Université de Montréal), Paul Bernard (Université de Montréal), and ourselves (Mitchell and Pannekoek) felt that the complexities of the issues demanded a national dialogue from which a Canadian community solution to the issues could be created. From this conviction came the Information Deficit: Canadian Solutions conference.

In the fall of 2000 the scholars named above formed a steering committee under the leadership of Janice Dickin to plan the conference. Kelli Bellew Martin was hired as project manager. Shortly thereafter, a national advisory committee was formed to ensure that the conference would be as regionally and culturally inclusive as possible in its design. Funding for the conference was provided by Heritage Canada, the BC-Telus Fund, and SSHRC.

While there was considerable agreement in this group regarding the claim that Canada was experiencing a growing information deficit, it was felt that a conference around this theme should be informed by a systematic study of these trends. To this end, the steering committee commissioned a background report from the InterNet Consulting Group that would summarize all related research around the deficit theme to date. The report, Surveying the Information Deficit, concluded that there are a variety of deficits related to the creation and delivery of Canadian-anchored content on the Net. This report was mounted on the conference Web site (http://www.ucalgary.ca/idcs-disc) and used as a general framework to initiate presentations and discussion. In this issue, David Crowley has restructured this report as an essay entitled "Where Are We Now? Contours of the Internet in Canada."

The call for papers for the conference was nationwide, and the emphasis from the beginning was on diversity. Many of the private-sector and government leaders of Canada's information highway were present, but so also were individuals and representatives from community organizations across the country. Perhaps most important was the involvement of Canada's youth - which was ensured through the advocacy of Senator Laurier LaPierre. At one point, a student from Newfoundland made a transformative comment at the conference when he pointed out that the Web was seen by his generation not as a technology, but rather as a place.

The conference, as this issue will illustrate, looked at the idea of an information deficit on the Internet in Canada in terms of possible cultural, economic, legal, and technological forces. Culturally speaking, the conference was concerned with the creation of new content on the Internet, as well as the retrospective conversion of national memory. Economically, the conference was interested in the challenges facing Internet content providers and distributors in Canada within the context of global Internet industries. Legally, the conference was concerned with creator-side issues such as digital copyright as well as user-side issues such as privacy. Technologically, the conference considered issues such as access, literacy, and so forth in terms of the rollout of broadband connectivity in Canada as projected in the Report of the Broadband Task Force ( http://broadband.gc.ca).

The organization of contents in this issue more or less follows the design of the conference itself, held at the end of October 2001. The event was subdivided into four half-day sessions: (1) Issues, (2) Creation, (3) Use, and (4) Action. Each of these sessions began with a plenary presentation that was followed by four simultaneous breakout sessions on Connectivity, Economy, Law, and Culture. This issue provides abridged versions of the plenary presentations by Laurier LaPierre, Raja Khanna, Marie Pinsonneault, and Paul Hoffert. We would like to thank our assistant editor, Therese Boyle, for her work in editing down these presentations.

The issue also provides one paper from each of the breakout sessions: a paper by Jennifer Bol on law, another by Jeff Dayton-Johnson on economics, yet another by Victoria Dickenson on culture, and finally one by Maggie Matear on connectivity. These papers were selected as exemplary of the many fine presentations that were given at the conference. In order to provide our readers with a well-rounded feel for the conference, we also include a report by Mark Wolfe summarizing the discussions in the various breakout sessions, which were transcribed by a team of graduate students. These summaries were instrumental in framing the discussions of a postconference workshop that was charged with preparing recommendations for a final conference report. This report is included in this issue as "The Internet as a Site of Citizenship: The Final Report of the Information Deficit: Canadian Solutions Conference." Readers are encouraged to visit the conference Web site (http://www.ucalgary.ca/idcs-disc) to read additional printed materials and also to view short video clips of panel presentations and responses from the various audiences.

The conference did not conclude with definitive answers, but it did generate policy suggestions that Canadian cultural leaders might well reflect upon further. The final report of the conference was sent to every provincial and federal government elected official and senior civil servant responsible for culture or the digital infrastructure. To date the conference steering committee has begun to see indications that governments and senior not-for-profit organizations are beginning to reflect upon the document. There are new government programs to encourage a Canadian digital presence, and the publishing and entertainment community is beginning to examine issues as well as solutions.

If the conference made considerable progress in identifying the issues that must be addressed, if we are to create a dynamic retrospective and creative Canadian Internet presence, the future is still not certain. The conference did not, for example, clearly define the Canadian Internet audience. We as Canadians still do not know how we can financially and politically sustain an Internet presence except through government regulation and subsidy. We still do not know whether the rollout of broadband connectivity across the nation as projected in the Report of the National Broadband Task Force will take place. We still do not see co-operation among Canada's memory institutions (libraries, archives, and museums) or between these institutions and Canada's cultural creators. We still have not decided how we will archive and preserve digital materials, nor really determined how the digital environment will change our concepts of citizenship. And although many Canadian agencies are pressing for adherence to digital technical and intellectual standards, these standards remain undetermined and confused. Moreover, in the year since the conference, and although the content deficit is being addressed in some quarters, a co-ordinated national policy on Internet content is still in flux and has yet to become a topic for provincial and federal ministers. Canada's Internet policy deficit remains real.

Frits Pannekoek
David Mitchell
Calgary, AB



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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