The information needs of governments, institutions, businesses and individuals can be satisfied only if they can be matched to the available resources, and those resources can then be made accessible to the potential users. The quantity and complexity of information, and of the systems and services through which it can be provided, have grown in tandem with the growth of our information needs and our dependence upon effective provision. The information professionals would seem to be the intermediaries between information sources, information systems and information users. They might be – perhaps should be – key players in the information society. In this chapter, we shall explore their role.
If we consider the various issues which have been discussed in the previous chapters of this book, we can identify three strands of information which interlock but which are essentially different. These might be defined as:
• public information
• personal information
• private information.
We shall also need to consider three similarly interwoven aspects of information storage and provision. These are:
• information sources
• information networks and systems
• information agencies.
The distinction between them is critical to understanding the proper role of the information professional.
For our purposes, public information is information which is intended to be in the public domain. This statement, however, needs some further refinement. The phrase ‘public domain’ is not used here as it is used by an intellectual property lawyer; in that context, it means information, texts, designs, and so on which are no longer protected by the relevant laws, and can be freely used, copied and reproduced, like a book whose copyright has expired. In the present context, the phrase is used less precisely, to mean information which is intended to be publicly available within the normal constraints of law and commerce. By this definition, any information on the web is in the public domain even if a charge is made for access. Similarly, the information in any book is also in the public domain. In both cases, of course, the copyright may not be.