My Dissertation: a Preview

Earlier this week, at long last, I submitted my dissertation, Constructing the Universal Library, to my reading committee. I also passed it along to all of those interviewed for it (at least those for whom I could locate a current email address), just as a final check that the document accurately reflects their views and experiences.

The defense is scheduled for Monday, May 12, 2014, at 9 AM, in the UW Libraries’ Allen Auditorium, and it’s open to the public – so if you’re in Seattle, please feel free to come.

In the meantime, I thought I’d post the abstract and table of contents, just to give a preview of what this behemoth* actually says.**

So, without further ado…

Abstract

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.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1. Need for the Study 3
1.1 Lack of Conceptual Work on LSDIs 3
1.1.1 Finding the Universe 4
1.1.2 Drilling Down to Scholarly Conceptualization 4
1.1.3 Leaving LSDIs to Journalists and Lawyers 6
1.1.4 Describing Different Parts of the Elephant 6
1.2 Lack of Contemporary Conceptual Work on American Public Libraries 8
1.2.1 Mythos vs. Analysis 8
1.2.2 Local vs. Systemic 9
2. Rationale for the Comparison 9
2.1 Aspects of Interest 9
2.2 Boundary Cases 12
2.3 Contrasts 15
3. Research Questions: First Formulation 17
4. Theoretical Foundations 18
4.1 IDEs as Sociotechnical Systems 19
4.2 Power and Mediation 21
4.3 The Unique Attributes of Information and Information Access Technologies 23
4.4 The Structuration of Complex Information Systems 24
4.4.1 The Duality of Structure 25
4.4.2 Power and Constraint 26
4.4.3 The Role of Information in Structuration 29
5. Research Questions: Second Formulation 30
RQ1 – Why? 32
RQ2 – What? 33
RQ3 – How? 33
Methodology 35
1. Case Selection 37
1.1 Large Scale Digitization Initiatives 37
1.1.1 Google Books 38
1.1.2 The Open Content Alliance 39
1.2 Early American Public Libraries 40
1.2.1 The Boston Public Library 40
1.2.2 The Carnegie Library Program 42
2. Data Collection 44
2.1 Early American Public Libraries 44
2.2 Large-Scale Digitization Initiatives 45
3. Data Analysis 47
3.1 Phase 1: Prior to Data Collection 48
3.2 Phase 2: During and After Data Collection 49
3.3 Phase 3: Secondary Analysis 51
Case 1: Boston Public Library (1848-1865) 52
1. Historical Synopsis 54
2. Motivations 60
2.1(Adult) Education 60
2.2 Egalitarianism & Uplift 62
2.3 Moral/character Development 63
2.4 Secondary Motivations 64
2.4.1 Municipal Prestige and Competitiveness 65
2.4.2 Economic Development 66
2.4.3 Public Demand 66
3. Definitions 68
3.1 Users 68
3.1.1 Intended Composition 68
3.1.2 Quantity 76
3.2 Collections 78
3.2.1 Size 78
3.2.2 Composition 80
4. Implementation 84
4.1 Structures 84
4.1.1 Building 84
4.1.2 Stacks 89
4.1.3 Catalogues 91
4.2 Processes 94
4.2.1 Management 94
4.2.2 Acquisitions 96
4.2.3 Cataloging 98
4.2.4 Public Service 100
4.2.5 Protecting the Collections 103
5. Conclusion 108
Case 2: The Carnegie Library Program (~1889-1899) 110
1. Historical Synopsis 111
2. Motivations 117
2.1 Carnegie’s Motivations for Philanthropy 117
2.1.1 Wealth as Virtue, Virtue as Duty 118
2.1.2“Nothing for Nothing” 119
2.1.3 Evolution, not Revolution 120
2.2 Carnegie’s Motivations for Giving Libraries 122
2.2.1 Providing a Ladder for the Aspiring 122
2.2.2 Personal History and Affection for Books 123
2.2.3 Shifting Motivations Over Time 125
2.3 Recipient Community Motivations 126
2.3.1 Local Pride 126
2.3.2 Education 127
2.3.3 Social Palliative 128
3. Definitions 129
3.1 Users 129
3.1.1 Intended Composition 130
3.1.2 Quantity 139
3.2 Collections 141
3.2.1 Size 142
3.2.2 Composition 143
4. Implementation 145
4.1 Processes 146
4.1.1 Early Paternalism 146
4.1.2 Corporatization 147
4.2 Structures 156
4.2.1 Building Planning 157
4.2.2 Stacks Arrangement 163
5. Conclusion 165
Case 3: Google Books Library Project (2004-2012) 167
1. Historical Synopsis 170
2. Motivations 178
2.1 Google’s Motivations 178
2.1.1 Mythos and Mission 179
2.1.2 Profit motive (or not) 182
2.1.3 Get More Data 185
2.2 Libraries’ Motivations 186
2.2.1 Mission 187
2.2.2 Pragmatic Aims 193
3. Definitions 199
3.1 Intended Users 199
3.1.1 The Global Public 201
3.1.2 Favored Users 202
3.1.3 Not-so-Favored Users 207
3.2 Collections 210
3.2.1 Size 210
3.2.2“Comprehensiveness” 213
3.2.3 Composition 216
4. Implementation 223
4.1 Processes 223
4.1.1 Selection and Ordering 225
4.1.2 Library Pre-processing 228
4.1.3 Transit and Scanning 230
4.1.4 Digital Delivery 236
4.1.5 Constraints on use 238
4.2 Structures 244
4.2.1 Viewing Books (or Parts Thereof) on Google 244
4.2.2 Library Hosting and Serving 249
4.2.3 Standards 252
4.2.4 Invisible structures 259
5. Conclusion 262
Case 4: Open Content Alliance (2005-2011) 264
1. Historical Synopsis 268
2. Motivations 274
2.1 “Brewster, Brewster, Brewster” 275
2.1.1 The Collector 275
2.1.2 The Tech Entrepreneur 276
2.1.3 The Open Access Visionary 278
2.2 Principles 279
2.2.1 Anti-Googlism 280
2.2.2 Openness 283
2.2.3 Procedural Transparency 285
2.2.4 Preservation 286
2.3 Pragmatics 287
2.3.1 Improve Technologies 288
2.3.2 Keeping Up with Technology (“Modernization”) 290
2.3.3 Cost Reduction 291
3. Definitions 291
3.1 Users 291
3.1.1 The Anti-Definition 292
3.1.2 The (Internet) Literate User 294
3.1.3 The Maker 295
The Machine 297
3.2 Collections 298
3.2.1 Size 298
3.2.2“Comprehensiveness” 304
3.2.3 Composition 307
4. Implementation 314
4.1 Processes 314
4.1.1 Administrative Structure (or lack thereof) 314
4.1.2 Scanning 315
4.1.3 Constraints on end-use 320
4.1.4 Transparency in Practice 322
4.2 Structures 324
4.2.1 Primary Interfaces: Archive.org and OpenLibrary.org 324
4.2.2 Platform Approach 331
4.2.3 Standards 333
5. Conclusion 335
Conclusion 337
1. Motivations 337
1.1 Positioning “Key Stakeholders” Across Cases 339
1.2 The Spark: Personal Passions 345
1.3 Grand Ideals: Motivations Based on Principle 347
1.4 Brass Tacks: Pragmatic Motivators 349
2. Definitions 352
2.1 Boundaries on “Everyone” 354
2.2 Boundaries on “Everything” 361
3. Implementation: Processes and Structures for Access at Scale 364
3.1 Leadership 366
3.2 Standardization and Systematization 369
3.3 Structural Residue 373
3.4 Physical vs. Intellectual Access: The Question of Guidance 376
4. Limitations 377
4.1 Data Lacunae 377
4.2 Subjectivity 380
4.3 Comparability 380
5. Looking Forward: The Future of the [Universal] Library 381
Appendix A: Coding Framework 385
Appendix B: Primary Source Documents 387
Appendix C: Interview Protocol (Generic) 398
Appendix D: Contact Summary Form 403
Appendix E: Google Books Library Project Timeline 405
Appendix F: Open Content Alliance Timeline 409
Works Cited 415

*It’s a beast – 384 pages of content; 454 including frontmatter, appendices, and works cited.

**It is, of course, still subject to change, as are both of the pieces presented here.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s