Information Technology in Librarianship
This edited collection of essays is a reprise of a 1993 work by John Buschman. The goal of the earlier work was "to look soberly and critically at the phenomenon of information technology in our profession and in our institutions" from a critical perspective based on a number of extant, analytical approaches. This general theme continues in the current volume with the additional purpose of updating the thinking surrounding these approaches as they apply to the increasingly dynamic and even more compelling technological environment we find ourselves in today. As stated by the editors in the introductory chapter, "alternative perspectives on our library technological juggernauts need to be renewed so that they may be an effective part of the discussions over technology in libraries."
The critical ethos invoked to guide discussion throughout the essays is based on Ricouer's interpretive method aimed at exposing the interests concealed behind what might be, and otherwise is, indifferently accepted as quite sensible "matters of fact," in this case, focusing on the role and effect of information technologies on our social structures and personal identities. Within this larger critical orientation, six themes are outlined and addressed in each of the essays comprising the volume: capital control of technology; rationalization, control, and monitoring; the information revolution as ideology; feminist critiques; technological utopianism; and technology politics and the public sphere. [End Page 99]
In a manner similar to the 1993 volume, the book is divided into two parts. Part 1, "Foundations," contains a series of five articles providing "metalevel critical analyses and overviews of technologically related issues." Andrew Feenberg, in an excellent introductory essay, outlines the role of accommodating the interests of philosophy and technology toward a more useful synthesis of the empirical and the theoretical. Gary T. Marx's essay on surveillance, its relationship to privacy, and the rise of new surveillance techniques raises important questions concerning the assessment of surveillance practices. From an autonomist Marxist perspective, the relationship between digital-age workers and the influence of capital on the Internet is addressed by Nick Dyer-Witheford. Rounding out these foundational essays are Ross Collin's and Michael W. Apple's works on the "pedagogy of multiliteracies," and Sandra Braman's paper on the effect of technology on the relationship between libraries and the state.
The essays in Part 2 focus on applications, where "authors examine both macro- and microlevel processes and effects surrounding information technology-library relationships and the implications of those relationships for libraries, librarians, users of libraries, and LIS as a discipline." John Budd leads with a disciplinary perspective, noting how in information science we continue to offer technology as a solution in search of a problem, and proposing that research should attend more closely to the "critical study of informing." Michael F. Winter follows with an essay on labour processes in libraries and the effects of the changing division of labour as new technologies are introduced. From a critical feminist point of view, Roma Harris discusses the relationship between gender and technology within libraries and the effect technology has in reducing the perceived efficacy of more process-oriented, relationship-based activities between librarians and library users. In examining the use of information technologies by children, Andrew Large calls for research that maximizes information technologies' "potential to enrich the lives of young people" while minimizing its harmful effects. Ajit Pyati addresses the role of open source software in libraries and the questions this raises about libraries' ability to "re-envision alternatives" to the dominant, corporate software culture. On a related theme, Gloria Leckie, Lisa Given, and Grant Campbell question why online public access catalogues, in all their forms, remain so underwhelming in comparison to the many alternatives available to most users, and introduces a means to study the "mode of social regulation" in libraries that work to enforce the continued use of these systems. Dorothy Warner, in the last of the "applied" chapters, [End Page 100] signals the need for a more substantial critical perspective on digital preservation, particularly in the areas of standards, digitization methods, and cost.
The essays in this collection make a substantial contribution to an area of the library and information science literature that has been woefully underserved. The quality of writing is uniformly good, and the breadth of coverage excellent. With few exceptions, the essays reflect a profound connection between the critical perspectives outlined in Leckie and Buschman's introduction, and the substantive focus of each essay has a wide potential audience, including not only academics, students, and practitioners, but also members of the general readership interested in alternative perspectives on the role of information technology in society.