This paper discusses the North–South knowledge gap and its relationship to socioeconomic development, information development, education and information literacy. Information development – the information progress of a country – is analysed using indicators of production, storage and demand of recorded information/knowledge. Most concepts are discussed from the point of view of developing countries – nations that basically fall within the Southern Hemisphere. The term ‘developing economies’ is used to group middle-, low- and lowest-income nations that share general characteristics but also have several differences even within their own regions/states. The analysis is simplistic and does not attempt to give a full conceptual scientific explanation of North–South knowledge gaps. The term ‘literacy’ is used to denote the various competencies that citizens are required to master at a basic level. The most familiar meaning of literacy is the one related to basic reading and writing. However, literacy has become a common word to denote elementary skills that are needed by most, if not all, members of society, such as information literacy.
Text originally presented as the Mortenson Distinguished Lecture, at the Mortenson Center for International Library Programs, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The development of a nation can be measured according to the dissemination of information because it shows how a country generates and uses knowledge, especially the printed type. Recorded knowledge has a production cycle: authors, inventors and researchers generate information and knowledge in the form of arti-cles, books, texts and patents that are then processed by publishers, database builders, webmasters and electronic media companies. Processed information is, in turn, stored and distributed by bookstores, libraries and other information providers to meet the demand (if the proper competencies to use information are present) of researchers, faculty, students, companies and society in general (see Figure 14.1). It is assumed that citizens need a working knowledge of the social, economic and political activities of their own country to improve their personal, family and business life. If this is true, it is also assumed that information literacy is a crucial set of skills that enables individuals to benefit from the wealth of knowledge available in paper or electronic format, and that these competencies are basically fostered by the country's educational system.