Upplýsingaverkefni og stefna á menningarsviðinu - Róm - enska


Mr. Björn Bjarnason, Minister of Education, Science and Culture, Iceland.

Ladies and gentlemen.

In recent years, as international co-operation in the cultural sphere has gained momentum, there has emerged an equal strong trend towards the protection of cultural heritage at the national level. Finding the exact balance may not be easy. For Icelanders, this poses a special dilemma. As a small nation we are as ever determined to preserve our unique cultural heritage but we understand that to really do so, we must adapt to diverse cultural stimuli, utilise the opportunity provided by the new technologies and co-operate with others to both benefit from and contribute to the cultural exchange. No country can afford to forego this important aspect of international collaboration and no cultural co-operative effort can afford to pass up a chance to include a willing partner.

In Europe there appears to be unanimous agreement that the free flow of individuals, as well as of information, is a vital factor in the strengthening of co-operation in our field. Over the last few years, we have witnessed an unprecedented escalation in the use of the Internet and information technology, in almost every facet of life - education, commerce, and of course culture. For Iceland, geographically distant from the community of its European partners, this has brought intellectual and cultural proximity of momentous significance.

We believe that the Internet and the new technologies will be vital catalysts for increased interaction and new types of cultural co-operation, not merely within individual societies, but also and even more importantly between countries. The promotion of cultural exchange and co-operation across national borders and language barriers is a vital aspect of our general advancement. Our work is based on democratic values and through democracy and diversity we shall surely achieve cultural prosperity and vitality.

In early 1996 my ministry launched a new policy on the use of information technology in education and culture. I welcome the opportunity to present our work in this field here today as we discuss the future of work in the cultural area and look at some projects in that context.

Our policy on the use of the new technologies in the educational and cultural area was an integral part of the Icelandic government´s action plan regarding IT, aiming to place Iceland among the world´s leading countries in the use of information technology for the benefit of the public and the economy. In terms of culture the fundamental premise of the policy was that cultural industries and institutions should understand and quikly adapt to structural changes caused by information and communication technologies. In terms of culture, nine general objectives were put forth by the Minstry:

- Information technology must be used to the benefit of cultural life in Iceland. Public access to cultural and artistic events should be increased and possibilities enhanced for a greater number of people to enjoy them. This was to apply to visual arts, music, theatre, dance, literature and all the artistic fields sought after by Icelanders.

- To facilitate and enhance the public enjoyment and participation in culture, an open cultural network was to be established in Iceland, connecting all cultural institutions to one fountain of information.

- Information technology was to be applied in user evaluation of cultural institutions and provide an opportunity for public participation in policy formulation for state run cultural institutions.

- Libraries were to become all-round information centres, providing the public with an opportunity to access information providers and the services offered on the Internet.

- Parties involved in cultural activities were to be provided with the possibility of taking advantage of new multimedia technology. Support should be provided for the production of multimedia materials combining text, sound and image.

- Information technology should be used to provide an easier access to the cultures of other nations, enabling Icelanders to keep up with international cultural currents, and present their own culture internationally.

- Emphasis should be placed on safeguarding the unique characteristics of the Icelandic language and culture within the framework of the information society

- Systematic registration of the Icelandic cultural heritage in a computerised format was emphasised as well as an open access to the information provided by means of the new technologies.

- The media was to be encouraged to take advantage of information technology for the benefit og the media themselves and consumers alike. Computer technology should be used to facilitate public access to news and other programmes, especially cultural programming.

Since the launch of the action plan in 1996, the Icelandic information society´s growth has been exponential, characterised by greatly increasing use of the Internet by the state, private firms and individuals. Computers can now be found in almost 70% of homes and more than 80% of the population has a regular access to the internet. This rapid diffusion has placed a firm foundation under the initiatives taken by the government and allowed for a strong implementation of our policies, both in terms of the economy, education and culture.

In cultural affairs, policy has quickly been turned into concrete action and created favourable conditions for the development of an Icelandic content industry by enhancing the demand and use of multimedia products and services - stimulating the free flow of contents, and striving for equal opportunity for participation in the information society. To name but a few of the policy driven projects currently in progress:

- A special Internet web, the Icelandic Cultural Net, linking artistic and as well as other cultural phenomena in Iceland has been established.

- A special web containing information about Icelandic painters has been opened. http://www.umm.is

- The Icelandic Sagas, our medieaval literature, will in May 2000 be accessible in a digital form on the Internet as a result of a collaboration between the the Icelandic National Library and Cornell University in the United States.

- The Ministry has given special grants to libraries for the development of IT projects, thus turning libraries into information centres for the public.

- An agreement has been reached with Microsoft Corporation to create a localized Icelandic version of the company's newest operating system and software.

- Work within the field of computational lingustics and corpus lingustics, sponsored by the Ministry, aims at the preservation of the Icelandic language in computer technology.

- Access to international databases is an important premise for education, research and cultural work. Encyclopædia Brittannica´s on-line database has been opened to all Icelanders free of charge and agreements with other owners of important databases are well underway.

- Iceland now actively participates in Nordic IT cultural co-operation, for example in development of the Nordic Cultural Network and of the Baltic Interface Net - http://www.baltic-interface.net - which has proved to be an important medium for the promotion of cultural exchange and co-operation across national borders and language barriers.

- We have now defined the objective to enable and encourage Icelandic institutions and firms to create special children´s versions of their Internet web sites. By following the good example of bodies such as NASA in the United States, which has made its web accessible and understandable to youngsters and teenagers, we would be able to add a whole new dimension to the academic and cultural education of our children.

Ladies and gentlemen.

The formulation of policy is a prerequisite of a systematic utilisation of the new technologies for the benefit of European citizens. Implementation, however, is the key to substantive results. The future work in the cultural area is dependent upon the creation of a dynamic and ambitious policy but also, and even more importantly, upon the commitment and determination of individuals, firms and authorities to carry that policy to its logical conclusion, an energetic and vigourous Europe at the dawn of a new milleninum.