Ajit Pyati

A Critical Theory of Library Technology: Libraries & Electronic Publishing
Ajit Pyati


While libraries have transformed themselves into important technology access points, they are also in a position to articulate broader technology goals and development strategies. This fact is evident in the case of academic libraries while not having the broad mandate of public libraries, academic libraries are nonetheless important service institutions to their academic and often broader civic communities. In response to various economic pressures, for instance, academic libraries are taking on important roles with regard to the scholarly publication process. The development of institutional repositories and exploration of electronic and open access publishing models have made academic libraries important players in the debate over the future of scholarly publishing (Willinsky, 2006). While academic libraries are not replacing the role of traditional publishers, the role of the academic library in advocating for and supporting technological solutions to support new forms of publishing is significant.
The transformation of the library into an important information technology hub in the age of the Internet is a process that is both old and new. Libraries have been involved in the development of their own technology for many years, with various homegrown systems for library applications developed in the 1970s and 1980s (Morgan, 2002). What makes the new information technology environment in libraries so different, however, is the networked power of the Internet (Morgan, 2002), and the ability to share resources and expertise to better serve the needs of their user communities.
Some of these new roles include an enhanced role for libraries in the publication process, which can encompass tasks as varied as electronic publishing support services, digitization of cultural and academic resource materials, community archiving, as well as other forms of electronic content management. Libraries have long been in the content business however, rather than merely providing access to content, they are taking more active roles in the development of content itself.
This paper examines the increasingly prominent role of libraries in technological development and advocacy (as in the case of electronic journals and institutional repositories) in light of a critical theoretical framework for library technology development. This framework is entitled a "critical theory of library technology" and draws upon critical theory and technology studies to explore what democratization of technology means in a library context.

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