A Classification of Digital Emergence

Robert D. Montoya



This paper examines the infrastructure of digital libraries and teases out the subtle ways their formation and construction is a digital extension and representation of the social, political, and institutional circumstances by which they are created. Building off lessons learned from UCLA Library Special Collections as a case study site, this paper proposes a classification of digital emergence that provides more transparency about how digital surrogates come to exist in digital libraries and how we can use this information to better contextualize the importance of these surrogates within academic library services. The discussion then situates digital libraries as medial interfacing infrastructures that are fundamentally non-neutral social apparatuses that disappear in the course of daily use. Marcuse’s notion of technological rationality is incorporated to illustrate the extent to which technological infrastructures influence and reformulate the way we understand the research process using special collections and archives, and how these infrastructures can function as a mechanism for information control. Finally, Bowker and Star’s text,Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences, briefly illustrates how librarians can contextualize the emergence of digital objects, and how this context, and the concomitant technological biases, can be methodologically brought to light usinginfrastructural inversion.


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