Is There a Place for Digital Literature
in the Information Society?

by Raine Koskimaa

Finland and other Nordic countries in many ways belong to the forerunners in the development of the so-called information society. For the time being, the level of development towards the information society has mainly been measured by technological and infrastructural qualities - the amount of computers available, the coverage of wide band connections etc. It looks like the substance side of the equation has been largely forgotten. Information still is, to a large extent, published and distributed as books. Libraries, as well organized archives of literature with well educated personnel, can be even seen as one of the corner stones of the information society. Especially so in the Nordic countries, where the public library system has traditionally been widely acknowledged and respected. Currently, there is a serious discussion going on about the future role, strategies, and foci of public libraries: should they stick to their traditional role, or should they remodel their services toward portal-like gateways to virtual archives.

One more characteristic of Nordic culture should be mentioned here, which is the high appreciation of literary knowledge, accompanied with literacy rates reaching towards 100 percent. All this put together creates an interesting test bed for the case of digital literature. The infrastructure is there, the literary culture and literacy is there, and public access to literature, both print and digital, is well organized. Only one thing lacks, which is the digital literature itself. The central question in this paper is, why is it so -- does the (almost) non-existence of digital literature in countries where the circumstances seem to be as close to the ideal as one can imagine seriously undermine the belief in the digital literature in general? Or is it rather, that too strong a literary culture is foremost an obstacle for the development of digital literature?

I will take a closer look at projects carried on in Finland, in order to promote digital literature (such as lending ebook devices out from public libraries; providing pupils with 'e-bags', publishing national bestsellers in ebook format, establishing literary fora in the Internet, etc.), and seek out what has been learned from these experiments. Also, I will take a look at similar projects in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, which all share, by and large, the same qualities of well-developed information society and strong belief in literary knowledge. Through this survey I'll try to find some tentative answers to the questions if there is, indeed, a place for literature in the information society, and if there is, where is it, and how would that literature look like.

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