Lost Identity: The Assimilation of Digital Libraries into the Web
Carl Lagoze, PhD thesis
Information Science, Cornell University. 2010.
NOTE: This is NOT the archival copy of this document, which resides at the eCommons instiutional repository maintained by the Cornell University Library.
The idea of Digital Libraries emerged in the early 1990s from a vision of a â€œlibrary of the futureâ€, without walls and open 24 hours a day. These digital libraries would leverage the substantial investments of federal funding in the Internet and advanced computing for the benefit of the entire population. The worldâ€™s knowledge would be a key press away for everyone no matter where their location. This vision led to substantial levels of funding from federal agencies, foundations, and other organizations for research into fundamental technical problems related to networked information and deployment of the results of this research in numerous digital library applications. The result was a number of exciting and influential technical innovations.
But, the attempt to transplant the library to the online environment met with some unexpected obstacles. The funding agencies and many of the members of the digital library research community mainly focused on the technical issues related to online information. In general, they assumed that the new technology would be applied in a largely traditional (library) context, and largely ignored the profound social, economic, cultural, and political impact of turning â€œbooks (and other information resources) into bytesâ€. The extent of this impact was demonstrated by the concurrent evolution of the World Wide Web, a networked information system not bound by legacy institutional conventions and practices or funding agency mandates and, therefore, able to organically evolve in response to the profoundly democratizing effect of putting information online. This has provided the context for the recent revolution in the web known as Web 2.0, a participatory information environment that contradicts most of the core assumptions of the traditional library information environment. The overwhelming adoption of the Web 2.0 model for both popular culture and serious information exchange and the increased evidence of the efficacy of this model for activities such as learning and scholarship call into question the viability of the library information model and the digital libraries that were meant to instantiate that model online.
In this dissertation I examine the almost two decade history of digital library research and analyze the relevance of the library information model, or meme, in relationship to the transformative Web 2.0 meme. I use my research results in digital library infrastructure and technology over this period as both a lens for viewing this historical relationship and a mirror for revealing its various facets. This analysis is particularly relevant as I, and fellow members of the research community, begin to engage in large-scale cyberinfrastructure projects that need to move beyond the largely technical focus of earlier digital library initiatives and recognize the sociotechnical nature of the work that lies ahead.