Constructing the Universal Library
Jones, Elisabeth A.
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The expanded access to millions of books provided by large-scale digitization initiatives (LSDIs) like Google Books and the Open Content Alliance (OCA) has the potential to reshape myriad social structures; yet, despite this potential, they remain underassessed as social phenomena. This dissertation seeks to provide a foundation for such assessment by situating LSDIs in historical context. Specifically, it argues that LSDIs derive from the same basic urge to provide free, widespread public information access that spurred the creation of the public library movement in nineteenth century America, and that through parallel examination of these phenomena, the older can help to illuminate the newer. Methodologically, the dissertation comprises a nested comparative case study analysis of the early years of the two LSDIs already noted and two early American public library systems - the Boston Public Library and the Carnegie Libraries - employing a theoretical lens informed by structuration theory and social construction of technologies. The research interrogates the motivations, intended user base and collection scope, and initial implementation of each initiative, as well as the relationships between these elements. In order to investigate these questions for the two public libraries, primary archival research was carried out at three physical archives and online. For the digitization initiatives, eighteen semi-structured interviews with project leadership were conducted, and supplemented by other primary and secondary source accounts. Data analysis for all cases followed an analytical-inductive approach, in which all 197 primary source documents were qualitatively coded in two iterations. The dissertation provides an in-depth examination of the motivations, definitions, and implementations underlying each case, with a full chapter devoted to each one. It then concludes by drawing parallels and contrasts between the four cases along each of these lines. The themes explored in the conclusion include (1) the inequalities of power and mediation among stakeholder groups in each case; (2) the role of personal passions, principles, and pragmatics in motivating these projects; (3) the boundaries on the "universal" user and the "comprehensive" collection; and (4) the procedural and structural features that seem to characterize this type of project, especially in terms of leadership styles, standardization and systematization of procedures and infrastructures, the issue of structural persistence, and the initial absence of guidance for users.
- Information science