Florence Paisey 2Last week
The Wall Street Journal
among other organizations, including the Societyof American Archivists, reported the British Library’s settlement to collaborate withGoogle in digitizing
250,000 out-of-copyright books from the Library’s collections(WSJ, 2011).
Although the essential technological know-how for accomplishing thisgoal has existed for many years, the impetus and resolve to carry out this formidable task has only now come to pass. What is the impetus driving the British Library’s decision?The Library purports that scholars will now have access to facsimiles of rare historicalmaterials. Does the Library know that scholars will embrace these digitized versions?What was the drive underneath a similar settlement between Oxford and MichiganUniversities as well as others? What, indeed, was the interest in Oxford University’scommunity digitization project?Each of these projects broke with convention, forming new ground in conceptualizingor extending each library’s mission, digitization techniques, project scale, workflow,digital preservation standards, levels of metadata, access points, and issues pertaining tocopyright conditions. What controversies and negotiations occurred (and may continueto occur) in implementing these projects? Who were the stakeholders and whatconditions did they stipulate? What innovative technologies were applied and whattechnologies were innovated in bringing the projects to fruition? How have theseinnovative enterprises influenced social relations, society, cultural institutions, andculture at large? The answers to these questions form the tide behind the impetus, process, and product or potential product of these technological ventures as well as other technological innovations and collaborations.The digitization projects named above (and other technological innovations) are theresult of elaborate social, scientific, and technological negotiations. The fabric of thesenegotiations involves interweaving sociological, scientific, and technical contingenciesthat shape technologies and, conversely, the technological contingencies that shape the behaviors, culture, and society, giving rise to the technologies. This sociotechnicalinterlinking engages numerous stakeholders who interpret the meaning of the technologyand, ultimately, affect the outcome. The general notion or proposition that technologiesare socially constructed may be viewed through a conceptual core where descriptiveconcepts are defined; facts stated and interrelated logically; generalizations or organizing