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Title:The Imagined User of "Universal" Information Access Efforts: Ingrained Assumptions in Early American Public Libraries and Large-Scale Digitization Initiatives
Author(s):Jones, Elisabeth Anne
Large-Scale Digitization Initiatives
Public Libraries
Library History
Structural Bias
Abstract:Five years ago, two ambitious book-scanning initiatives – Google Book Search and the Open Content Alliance – were launched, both claiming the eventual goal of digitizing every book in the world, for the use of every person in the world. The initiatives have followed different paths: one private, one public; one centralized, one dispersed; one scanning everything right away, one starting with the public domain. Both, however, have been lauded for their groundbreaking potential to increase access to information worldwide. Still, the basic impetus that underlies these initiatives is far from novel. In fact, the central motivation of such large-scale digitization initiatives (LSDIs) – to provide wide-ranging information access to as many people as possible – has strong historical precedents, especially in the early history of the American public library. Specifically, like LSDIs, early free public libraries reflected a top-down, supply-side approach to information access, and incorporated a high degree of private patronage at their initiation. The history of the American public library can thus illuminate many of the positive outcomes that can result from large-scale information initiatives; however, it also reveals some of the perils they might encounter. In this poster, I will begin to explore one facet of the comparison between LSDIs and early free public libraries: that is, the sense in which each is constructed around a particular vision of “the imagined user,” and how the inscription of that imaginary in each case has impacted – or might in the future impact – the claims to universality maintained by each.
Issue Date:2010-02-03
Genre:Conference Poster
Date Available in IDEALS:2010-02-26

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