At the end of the first day of the Bridging Worlds 2008 conference the speakers took part in a panel session during which the audience could ask questions related to the day’s series of talks. The question I asked was whether the upbeat nature of all of the talks I listened to was appropriate in light of the economic downturn. The speakers felt that the library sector should be feeling confident as there would be a continued demand for the expertise of information professionals in a rapidly changing world. It was also felt that the skills gained by those who were making use of Web 2.0 technologies would be particularly valuable. After all, suggested one of the speakers, there’ll be no going back to an old way of working.
I would agree with this – but who will be the providers of the Web 2.0 infrastructure? Well a news item I could on the BBC World described how “Google, owner of the most popular Internet search engine, [has seen its] third-quarter profit climb[ing] more than 25% as more customers used Web search ads to spur sales in a slowing economy” (as also reported in The Telegraph, amongst others).
And as government funding is being used to bail out banks (no I didn’t expect George Bush and Gordon Brown to nationalise banks, either) on top of the costs associated with the “war against terrorism” and, in the UK, the draining of public sector funds to pay for the costs of the 2012 London Olympics, wouldn’t it be ‘prudent’ to seek to make use of commercial services where they can be used to support digital activities in the educational and cultural heritage sectors? After all as I described back in August in a post on the JISC Innovation Forum John Selby of HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council of England) “praised the work of the JISC and the JISC Services, but went on to warn of troubled financial times ahead for the educational sector. The glory days of the past 10 years are over, he predicted“. And this was before the current financial turmoil. Isn’t a reliance on public sector funding the risky alternative which we need to assess and manage carefully?