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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Open Book: Digital Form in the Making

  • Author(s): Murrell, Mary
  • Advisor(s): Rabinow, Paul
  • et al.

This dissertation attempts to put anthropology in conversation with "the book." It does so through an empirical specification of mass book digitization, the industrial-scale, retrospective conversion of books into digital form. Such mass digitization is the work of research libraries, Internet companies, non-profit organizations, national governments, and the computer scientists, digital librarians, and the lawyers and administrators who advise, encourage, and support them.

The dissertation approaches mass digitization as a venue for plumbing the turbulent waters of what I consider the "contemporary book": an arena of experimentation arising from the productive, seismic encounter of the modern book apparatus with an emergent assemblage in motion around the production, authorization, storage, preservation, circulation, and production of knowledge. By the "contemporary book," I refer to the modern book apparatus (dispositif) as it is being worked upon, reconfigured, and called into question in the early twenty-first century.

The activities of the digitizers I studied are based upon a shared conviction that the book and its institutions are "closed" and need to be "opened": books are "inaccessible" or "locked up" by virtue of their materiality (their printedness); by the institutions that store and keep them (physical libraries); and by the state's often misguided regulation (copyright). For them, mass digitization is an important development in moving from the closed nature of the modern book apparatus to a remediated knowledge infrastructure, a future book. If it could be achieved, mass digitization would be a breakthrough in the long-anticipated opening of the book.

Primary research for the dissertation was conducted at the Internet Archive in San Francisco, CA. Additional research took place in a variety of locations in the United States, in specific relation to the public controversy around the Google Book Search Settlement.

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