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Convergence of Information and Informatics
by Theophilus E. Mlaki

In many developing countries the development of libraries, archives and documentation centres has not yet reached a high level of maturity and has not yet permuted in all sectors of society. Yet the concept is now well understood and accepted. If you requested a village in a rural setting or a school to establish a library, it is something well understood and not an alien concept. On the other hand, many new information technologies currently being introduced in developing countries have not yet gained full acceptance in these societies mainly because they are seen as tools of the elite or the rich.

There is also a myth that these tools are too sophisticated considering the level of development of most developing countries. It is a feeling which is not only being expressed by developing countries themselves but also by developed societies. Yet the new information and informatics technologies have great potential in improving the lives of the people of many developing countries. The introduction and advancement of these technologies (internet, virtual laboratories, telecentres, software and hardware development) to all people in these societies in all developmental sectors, if properly carried out, will greatly improve accessibility to information and improve the quality of life. There is therefore a great need of empowering developing countries to these new technologies.

The establishment of a new programme within UNESCO integrating the mandate of the General Information Programme (PGI) and the Intergovernmental Informatics Programme (IIP) is very much welcome. Through this new programme it is possible to draw new concepts which will strengthen traditional information sources and contents and assimilate new technologies and information carriers for the benefit of improving access and free flow of information to all people and all levels of society. While developing this new programme within UNESCO, it is important that the needs of the developing countries are taken into consideration with an understanding that in these societies the level of access to information and use is still very low and that there is great need to balance between traditional information sources (libraries, archives and documentation centres) and new technologies. It is important that new technologies are seen as an extension and tools of information access rather than new medium which have no relation with traditional tools. Additionally, potentials of new technologies in improving organisation and access to information should be clearly displayed so as to improve their acceptability in developing countries.

  Mr Theophilus E. Mlaki is Director of Information and Documentation of the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology, Dar-es-Salaam. He represented his country during the 12th Session of the PGI Council and the 7th Session of the IIP Committee, held in Paris from 7 to 11 Decmber 1998.

Texts published in 'Points of View' may not reflect UNESCO's position.

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