Libraries have been involved in technological transformation for several decades, and are now increasingly associated with discourses surrounding the development of a global information society. The information society, however, remains a contested terrain, with a major focus on connectivity to ICTs, and is often linked with technological determinist and technocratic agendas. The library profession and field do not adequately theorize technology in a way that offers a progressive alternative to this dominant information society vision.
In light of this context, this dissertation argues for the relevance of critical theory as a framework for guiding and analyzing library technology actions. This confluence of critical theory and library technology studies is named a “critical theory of library technology.” The framework is both a conceptual tool for re-envisioning the roles of libraries in relation to technology, as well as an analytical tool for exploring library technology decisions at various levels of impact.
The open source software movement in libraries serves as test case in the application of this framework as a mode of analysis. Prominent library open source projects are discussed, and an in-depth, qualitative case study of Simon Fraser University Library in Canada, a library developing open source software for electronic resource management and electronic journal publishing, is undertaken. Interviews and documentary research are the main sources of data.
Findings indicate that while the software projects are nominally open source, the co-developer communities remain limited. Best practices research will have to address areas related to the on-going community development and sustainability of these projects. However, in relation to the critical framework, the library emerges as a model of high investment in the technological skills of systems staff. The case presents a regional example of cooperation that is benefiting smaller client libraries in the regional consortia. Open source ideology, however, appears as just one of a variety of factors behind the deployment of these projects. In the case of the electronic journal publishing software project, an open source/open access ideological orientation is prominent, and the project presents a potentially new model for academic libraries in the support of electronic publishing services.