Monday, December 1, 2008

Studying Institutional Repositories through a Sociological Lens

In the Fall 2008 issue of The Journal of Electronic Publishing, Oya Y. Rieger, Associate University Librarian for Information Technologies at Cornell University Library, argues that the development of institutional repositories (IRs) should be viewed from a sociological perspective, i.e., the perspective which explores how two groups - librarians and faculty - have approached the creation and use of IRs. According to Rieger,
IR development and deployment efforts to date have been predominantly driven by digital libraries. IRs provide a provocative case for examining the consequences of system development primarily based on perceptions, background, and expectations of a particular community of practitioners—in this case information and library scientists. It is an example of a technologically sound system that is facing challenges being embraced and adopted by intended end users. The problem is the misalignments between developers’ inscriptions of end users—their projection of users’ behavior in order to create the user interface—and the actual end use patterns.
Without more of a coordinated effort between the two groups, the IRs will be no more than "a set of empty shelves." The value of Rieger's article is her use of specific social theories to interpret how this particular area of library technology has evolved thus far. Her concluding remarks serve as an invitation to librarians to become more aware about who was involved in the construction of the IR and how it could be done differently.
Through analysis of sociocultural factors based on social theories, we can attain a better understanding of how information and communications technologies should be designed and implemented, and improve promotional activities to encourage their appropriation. . . . To design effective information and communication technologies, we need to better understand the associations among the information practices, institutions, and the social and material foundation of the scholarly communication processes.

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