Friday, July 13, 2007

A Critical Theory of Library Technology: Libraries & Electronic Publishing

Presenter: Ajit Pyati, Assistant Professor, FIMS, University of Western Ontario
Friday, July 13, 2007
11:00 AM - 12:00 PM in SFUHC Earl and Jennie Lohn Floor Policy Room


Ajit Pyati has recently finished his PhD at UCLA’s Department of Information Studies and is now looking forward to teach at the University of Western Ontario. His research interests cover the following areas: international library development; information society and policy; and globalization, migration, and ICTs.

Ajit Pyati examines the changing role of libraries, particularly academic libraries, in the era of electronic journals and institutional repositories. Using "critical theory of library technology" as the framework of study, he explores how democratization of technology affects libraries with regards to scholarly publishing.

He started his presentation with a bit of background by touching on the notion of Information Society. He explained that the proliferation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has created a new society – the information society. The World Summit on Information Society held by the United Nations has tried to connect the ideas of such information society to the development of countries. The issue falls under his research interest - in his Master's thesis, Ajit looked at how technology affects society, which in some cases marginalizes the society.

Ajit views the so-called crisis in scholarly publication in the context of the dominant information society vision. He observes that libraries are responding to the crisis in various ways:
  • cutting subscriptions
  • advocacy by ALA, CLA, ACRL, IFLA
  • Open Access movements

Within the Open Access Initiatives, several OA advocates such as Stevan Harnad, Peter Suber, and John Willinsky, have responded to the “crisis”.

Ajit called for the need for the libraries’ response to draw upon social theories to understand library-based reaction to the crisis (OA advocacy). He maintained that democratic access to information is part of libraries’ ethics and values. The questions are how to extend this to the realm of technology in libraries and what does democratization mean to this realm.

After explaining the critical theory underlying his study, he proceeded to apply the framework to the context of library technology. He questioned the levels of impact of various aspects in library technology as follows:
  • Are library technology actions progressive and democratic?
  • Are library technology actions participatory and community-oriented?
  • Are library technology actions open and collaborative?

In the future, Ajit would like to see in depth, “test” cases of library-based OA advocacy. He’d also like to study broader library technology practices such as OA publishing, digital libraries, community archiving, content development, etc. He’s also interested to see how this framework can adapt and incorporate other relevant social theories and approaches.


Libraries are responding to the invitation from the Budapest Open Access Initiative to join the open access movement, to become OA advocates. Ajit has asked us to think critically (in his case using the critical theory as the framework) about library-based OA advocacy, specifically in using library technology. His study is providing a solid base for libraries to take an active role in the development of scholarly publishing and to strategically focus their effort in the right direction.

Links to OA advocacy from library organizations: