Guidelines for the Establishment of a National Information System for Yemen [Archives:2000/15/Reportage]
By: Dr. Mohammad Ahmad Al-Sanabani
Libraries and Information Science Dep.,
Faculty of Arts,
General Director of Libraries,
Through reviewing the literature, and from the writer’s personal experience and knowledge, it is be clear that there is no system incorporating libraries and information centers in the Republic of Yemen. Some libraries and information centers are, of course, there, more are coming up but hardly is there any cooperation and coordination among them. As a result, the same information sources continue to be duplicated and the users continue to remain deprived of getting access to the resources available at the national level.
The situation is frustrating. It needs to be remedied. This can be possible only when the country plans a national information system supported by a national information policy. Therefore, the aim of this study is to provide an insight into the issues and factors involved in the establishment and development of a national information system, hoping that this effort will be taken into consideration b the responsible authorities to develop the Yemeni national information system.
National Information System
There is no need to mention that all the countries of the world, especially the developing countries, need to establish and develop their own national information system. The establishment of such a system will help in pooling and coordinating the available information resources in the existing libraries and information and documentation centers, and encourage the mutual cooperation, in information exchange nationally and internationally. The National Information System is not a unique organization or a defined entity. It is a group of centers and institutions that work as a cooperative network, trying to achieve good cooperation and coordination and ensuring the information flow and dissemination to the community.(1)
The primary aim of a national information system, like any other information system, is to provide effective information services to the scientists, researchers, and the people at large, based on their actual needs. For this reason, it is not out of place to mention that the establishment and development of any national information system requires taking into considerations the different factors involved in establishing the information system in general.
National Information System: some definitions
Vickery defines the information system as “an organization of people, material and machine that serve to facilitate the transfer of information from one person to another. Its function is social – to aid human communication.”(2)
UNISIST study report on the feasibility of world science information system has defined information system from three points of view viz. methodological, organizational and functional.
Methodological: “Any complex set of rules and media.. actualizing the concept of world wide sharing in the transfer of scientific and technical information from scattered producers to dispersed users”.
Organizational: “Information system is a set of interrelated components that jointly switch information from producers to users following identical or compatible rules and procedures with a view to world wide exchange and interconnections.”From the functional point of view, it is defined as a “Unique integration of men, methods, organizational patterns, software elements whose coordinated elements provide manifold dispersed communities of users with all the input data relevant to them at any time, irrespective of origin or physical location, in a variety of possible out-put formats elected by them as best suited to their information gathering habits, abilities and requirement”.(3)
So, from these definitions, we can say that an information system involves “a group of factors, that include human and machines required for collecting and processing data and information”.(4)
The information system should be able to satisfy the following necessary requirements:
1- it should be able to help users to locate the needed information.
2- It should be able to transfer and deliver the needed information to the users.
3- The revision of the required information, and the response to the users’ inquiry should be fulfilled within the right time.
Components of information system
The analysis of the different definition s of information system leads to the recognition of the following components.
They have the function of selection and acquisition of information. These sensors can be a machine-like device that records information or it may be gathered manually be members of the organization.
2- Processing faculty:
Processing faculty has the function of processing i.e. collection, aggregation, interpretation and condensation.
3. Memory Devices:
These channels carry out the function of dissemination of information i.e. transmission and reporting of information.
Norbert Wienner has listed these requirements of information system as early as 1965 while he said “information system… Is held together… by the possession of means for the acquisition, use, retention and transmission of information.”(5)
The needs for a national information system
Information has a great value in our life. It will not be out of place to reiterate that it is basic to all right decisions. There is no need to mention that if the right information were provided to the right person in the exact time, the decisions will be more accurate and valid. For this, many countries have already realized the importance of information, which is indispensable for the development of any society.
The Information has an important role in the different fields of activities. It is essential for the scientific researches. It forms the suitable background for making the right decisions. It is also an important resource for industry, development, and all economic, administrative, military, and political affairs. The saying that “The one who has the information, can become the stronger”(6) bears testimony to this fact.
Further, information is considered to be one of the important components of the contemporary life. It plays an essential and vital role in any society that wants to succeed and participate in this age of continuous technological advancements. The development countries consider the information as a national resource that has the same importance in the increase of Gross National Product, as the other national resources.(7)
The existing developments in all the scientific and technical fields, associated with the new technological developments, have led to an extraordinary increase in the size of the published information. The effect of the information increase on the socio-economic development has determined the need for each country to establish special institutions to gather, organize, store, retrieve and disseminate information, and make it available in the right form, in the right time to all users, such as researchers, scholars, decision-makers, scientists, etc.(8)
Yemen, in its march toward the socio-economic development in different areas of life, should pay great attention to the importance of information. All Yemeni responsible citizens and decision-makers have to realize that information has a vital role in increasing the country, productivity, and in taking the most suitable decisions, in different work activities.
Therefore, it is very important, that the Yemeni government should make the necessary plans and programs for the establishment of the Yemeni NIS, that can help the different sectors, by providing the needed information to support the national development.
There is no doubt that economic development is among the strong reasons that encourages the establishment of a national information system, to help in achieving national goals. In this regard, it is pertinent to mention what Professor Lazar(9) has pointed out, that without effective cooperation among the different information centers, the information service will become more exposure. The other reasons for the establishment of the national information system are the following:
1- The needs to facilitate access to the intellectual production;
2- Impossibility for any organization to become self-sufficient to acquire complete collections of all information resources, and provide all needed services, especially in this age of information explosion and the diversity and complexity of users needs;
3- The increase of information recorded in different media, the increase of users and their information needs, the use of computers, the development of communication technologies, and the international concern to establish and develop national information systems, that can help in felicitating the information flow from different countries, are also among other reasons. Therefore, any country, which wants to benefit from the scientific and technical information available in the world, should take the necessary steps to develop and establish its own national information system to be able to communicate with the different national and international information systems.(10)
These communication networks and contacts are very important for the transfer of expertise and research findings to the developing countries that face a big shortage in the facilities and the trained manpower to do the necessary researches. Thus, it is obvious that the creation of a national information system is the practical solution to provide free flow and exchange of information at optimal cost.(11)”
Planning the national information system
The main steps in planning NIS program include the following:(12)
1- Formulation of the overall objectives of the NIS;
2- Study of the existing infrastructures of the country;
3- Establishment of a national focal point;
4- Preparation of the plan, and
5- Initiating programs and activities conductive to the development of the NIS.
Planning information system at the national level is a very important step toward the establishment and development of an effective national information system. Planning is the basis for control, because without plans, effective control is impossible. Planning involves the systematic study of existing resources and the periodic evaluation of the services given by the system, defining our present and future requirements, stating objectives and organizing activities to achieve the standard goals. Therefore, planning of an information system at national level is essential to ensure a sustained economic growth and effective utilization of the resources and fulfill the present and future requirements of the scientists, researchers and technologists of the country.
Some advantages in planning national information system are as follows: (13)
1- Planning helps to move systematically towards the achievement of the objectives of the system;
2- Planning helps in clear demarcation and allocation of activities among the components of the system;
3- Planning provides a systematic approach to the development of resources and activities of the system;
4- Planning avoids duplication of efforts, and provides improved economic services to large number of users of the system; and
5- Planing helps in drawing an integrated and analytical projection of further course of action for the achievement of goals of the information system.
Objectives of the National Information System:
It will be very helpful if the broad objective of the national information system can be formulated as clearly as possible. The statement of the objectives should be subsequently refined and incorporated in the national information policy(14). A careful study of the national development plans and programs is a prerequisite to the formulation of the overall objectives.
The following statement of the objectives may be taken as an example:
1- To provide and compile a clear national information policy. It is necessary that the government agrees upon a written NIP, that reflects the needs of all the community sectors and organizations. This policy should be integrated in the national development plans;
2- To provide the necessary legislative framework for the national information system;
3- Optimum utilization of existing information services and systems;
4- Promotion of national and international cooperation and liaison for exchange of information.
5- Support and active encouragement for the development of facilities for education and training in information science and technology;
6- Support of and active participation in research, development and innovation in information science and communication to enhance both the efficiency and quality of information services.
In the previous stage of the establishment of the NIS, we believe that it is important for the Yemeni government to take steps and lawful decisions that support the planning and the achievement of the NIS objectives:(15)
1- To ensure the acquisition, organization, analysis, storage and dissemination of information sources in an effective way to support the scientific research, and the socio-economic development of the country;
2- To encourage the cooperation among all libraries and information centers through the coordination and development of special collections for the benefit of the system as a whole;
3- To ensure the optimum utilization of accumulated knowledge in science and technology in order to achieve national objectives;
4- To promote national and international cooperation on the exchange of information and expertise.
5- To focus the attention of the government and private organizations on the problems of information availability and use;
6- to support the research and development in the fields of library science, information and documentation, and the application of standards and information technology.(16)
By achieving those objectives, the unit members of the system, will benefit from the diversity of the resources and services available to each unit. The cooperation among the different units of the system will help in providing better information services to all users in the country as a whole.
Study of the existing infrastructure
The study of the available infrastructure is an important step in the planning of the NIS. Because it is helpful and economical to build the NIS utilizing the existing infrastructure, strengthening the weak links, identifying and establishing the missing elements. Therefore, one of the first tasks to be undertaken is the conduct of a detailed study of the existing information infrastructure in the country in order to identify their special characteristics and the national objectives.
The study of the information infrastructure should cover the following topics:(17)
– Relevant government policies on the development of science and technology;
– Information users and their needs;
– Institutional facilities and information programs;
– Information resources;
– Information access, networking and cooperative programs;
– Information manpower and facilities for manpower development;
– Publication capabilities;
– Information technology and communication capabilities.
The infrastructure of national Information system
A good deal of attention should be given to know the available facilities, and the problems that face the development of NIS. A careful study should be conducted to understand the following aspects:(18)
– The priorities;
– The government information system policy;
– The users and their needs;
– The information sources and the cooperative programs especially the information networks.
The establishment of a national information system requires the planning and development of several infrastructure factors. In this regard, it is beneficial to attract the attention of the Yemeni authorities and decision-makers to the seven factors that constitute the information infrastructure as defined by Baulin Atherton:(19)
1- A group of institutions that deal with information sources (libraries, information centers, analysis centers. etc.);
2- A number of qualified personnel to accomplish this activity;
3- Communication channels with personal sources of information such as technical consultants, scientific researchers and engineers, institution of research and development. etc.;
4- Communication channels with official organizations responsible for decision-making such as the government bodies, economic sectors etc.;
5- Two-way communication channels with users;
6- An organizational set-up which pools together resources, manpower, and channels, and makes them functioning;
7- National strategies to support the systematic and continuous development of the infrastructure.
In addition to the above-mentioned factors, Khafaji(20) ascertains that the adoption of a national information system requires the provisions of several procedures such as
– Issue a decree to define goals and objectives, and point out the priorities that should be observed in the implementation of national information system. The decree should also define responsibilities and functions of the different units that compose the NIS. This opinion asserts that the formulation of a national information policy is a prerequisite for the establishment and development of any NIS.
– The necessity of establishing a focal center to be responsible for managing and monitoring the NIS.
National focal point
it is always helpful to identify a government agency (called the national focal point) to facilitate the coordination and monitoring of programs, activities, and assessment of system performance.
In order to ensure effective functioning of the NIFP, UNESCO Guidelines provide useful ideas on its structure and functions.
It is desirable that the NFP be placed as high as possible in the governmental hierarchy, so that NFP may be able to secure adequate support to the NIS development. Also the NFP should be endowed with adequate policy making, financial and executive powers. In the case of Yemen, it is advisable that the National Focal Point be placed at the presidential office. This will help in providing it with the necessary and adequate support and power.
The functions of the NFP include:(21)
1- Advising the government on the formulation of the NIP and on the methods for its implementation;
2- Developing mechanisms to ensure adequate input manpower, finance, and facility to the NIS;
3- Ensuring that the NIP and plans are incorporated into the national development policy and plan;
4- Allocating funds for projects and monitoring and evaluating the projects;
5- Encouraging and supporting research and development in information and related areas;
6- Promoting and supporting education and training programs in information retrieval and handling and in user education;
7- Developing cooperative and collaborative operations with regional and international information systems and programs;
8- Formulating criteria, guidelines and standards for planning, developing, financing, and assessing the performance of the NIS.
Functions of the national information system
It has been already mentioned that the main function of a national information system is to supply the scientific and technical information available at the national, regional and international levels to the specialists working in administration, research and planning, industry, etc.
The other functions include:(22)
1- To plan the system elements and components, and coordinate their activities;
2- To prepare and distribute primary scientific and technical information;
3- To record and register information obtained via conventional and non-conventional channels;
4- To develop the existing information systems, information resources and services, and provide new ones whenever necessary according to the present and future requirement of users through cooperative acquisition, processing and storage of information resources and the application of latest information technology for analysis, retrieval and dissemination of information;
5- To establish centralized databanks for quick information services;
6- To develop and use efficient tool and techniques of document and information handling.
7- To build up expertise and provide for education and training for an adequate number of professional personnel of different categories in library and information science;
8- To secure adequate service conditions and status for library, and information science personnel;
9- To participate actively in research, development and innovation in library and information science, to enhance both the efficiency of information services and the quality of information provided by these services;
10- To establish standards in materials, techniques and services for use of the components of the system;
11- To issue the national bibliography and prepare a database of the current researches in the country; and
12- To encourage and develop cooperation with other national and international systems.(23)
It will not be out of place to mention here that there are several barriers that face the establishment of NIS. The author in his research work “National Information Network for Yemen” pointed out several of these difficulties.(24)
Here it will not be out of place to mention the barriers pointed out by Cecil Wesley Istasi, which are more relevant in the case of Yemen. These barriers may be indicated as follows:(25)
– The unavailability of adequate governmental support, the shrinking, and the failure to understand that the NIS is an important resource in supporting the national development.
– Lack of NIP as an essential part of the scientific and technological policy, which is, in turn, one of the factors that constitutes the national development system.
– Failure in encouraging the different components of the system to cooperate in planning and executing the tasks of the system, and the difficulty in achieving cooperation among different components;
– Failure in distributing the national responsibilities among the information institutions;
– Inability to define the goals that can be achieved;
– Failure in planning new units and activities needed for the development of the NIS;
– Lack of qualified and trained personnel;
– Absence of national focal point that can be responsible for planning and coordinating the components of the NIS;
– Difficulty in supporting the focal point with the required professional employees, not only in the field of information, but also those who have a knowledge of the national plan of development especially in the fields of education and the application of science and technology for development;
– Lack of information about the users and their needs and the lack of suitable communication channels to link among the components of the system and among the users and the system;
– Inequality of existing libraries, and the lack of information resources;
– Absence of necessary library legislation;
– High level of illiteracy and low level of education and scientific research, which is a result of the insufficient estimation of the value of information; and
– Bureaucratic procedures.
In the foregoing discussion, the researcher attempted to define and explain certain aspects related to the importance of the establishment and development of the national information system. Some guidelines should be considered for the planning of the National Information System such as: Objectives of the NIS, in addition to the discussion of the different steps to be considered while planning the NIS. Yemen should also pay a great attention for the establishment and development of its NIS, because without having a well organized information system Yemen will never be able to support its plans and programs for the socio-economic development. Therefore it is the researcher’s belief that establishing the national information system for Yemen is becoming an urgent necessity. This way the Yemeni government must evolve instruments for the establishment and implementation of the National Information System. The success in establishing and developing the NIS would give the necessary guarantee and support to the national development in the new millennium.
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2. Vickery, (B.C). “Information System.” – London: Butter Worths, 1973. P.2
3. UNESCO and ICSU. INISIST: “Study report on feasibility of World Science Information System.” – Paris: UNESCO, 1971. P. 34
4.Qassem, Hishmat. “Some pillars of the Arabic Information Systems: primary thoughts”. New Trends in Libraries, and Information, Vol. 2, 1994. P. 14 (in Arabic)
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7. Younis, Abdul-Razzag. “Toward a national strategy for information systems and services in Jordan.” Resallat-Al-Maktabah, Vol. 29, No. 1, March 1994. P. 18 (in Arabic)
8. Appukuttan, N. “National information system for science & technology (NISSAT)” In Planning of National Information Network.” edited by S. K. Kapoor and S. B. Ghosh. Ñ Calcutta: Indian Association of special libraries & Information Centers, 1997. PP. A45 – A69.
9. Lazar, Peter. “A National Information System for Science and Technology.” UNESCO Consultant, SI No. 2717/R M D RD/DBA. – Paris, July 1972. P. 39.
10. Istasi, Cecisle Wesley. “National information system.” Arab Journal for Information. Vol. 9, No. 2, 1998. PP 69. (in Arabic)
11. Islam, Seraj UI. “Documentation and Information Activities in Bangladesh.” Dissertation, Hindu University, department of library & Information Science, 1987. P. 372.
12. Neelameghan, A. “Steps in planning a national science and technology information system.” In Planning of National Information Network, edited by S. K. Kapoor and S. B. Ghosh – Calcutta: Indian Association for Special Libraries & Information Centers, 1977. P. 27a.
13. Islam, Seraj – UI. “Documentation and Information….. Op. Cit, P373.
14. Neelameghan, A. “Steps in planning… Op. Cit, P. 28
15. Istasi, Cecile Wesley. “National Information… Op. Cit, P. 70
16. Gandiljy, Amer. “Information System and its Role…. Op. cit. P. 47-48
17. Neelameghan, A ” Steps in Planning… Op. Cit, P. A28
18. Badder, Ahmed. “The National structure for information: study in planning and managing scientific and technological information centers.”
Al-Riyadh: Dar Almerrigh for publishing, 1988. P 46 (in Arabic)
19. Atherton, Baulin. “Information centers: their organization and services.” Translated by Hishmat Qassim, – Cairo: Ghareeb Library, 1981. P. 196-7
20. Khfaji, Mohamed Tawfig. “The Role of libraries in national information systems and its place in the infrastructure.” Arab Journal for Information, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1984. P11 (in Arabic)
21. Neelameghan, A. “Coordinating agency for the national STT system.” In Planning of national library and Information Network, edited by S. K. Kapoor and S. B. Ghosh – Calcutta: Indian Association of special libraries Information Centers, 1977. P. A38 – A40
22. Islam, Seraj – UI. “Documentation and information activities In Bangladesh.” Op. ct, P. 36 8
23. IbId. P. 369
24. Al Sanabani, Mohammed Ahmed “National Information Network for Yemen”. Doctoral Dissertation, Sana’a University, Department of Library and Information Science, 1999.
25. Istasi, Cecile Wesley. “National information… Op. cit, 79-80.