Sharon L. Comstock
450PT Bruce
Fall 2003
PT Project Proposal
Digital Library Construction for the Inner-urban School:
Contextual Development and Meaning
The emergence of digitally delivered information has shaped how librarians
understand, use, and even create information “packets” for his/her users. The
21st century librarian is in constant negotiation, standing in the role of information
mediator within an emerging information economy. In this economy, I wonder,
who has the creative authority to nurture information empowerment? What does
this look like for librarian practitioners and their patron communities? For this
research project, I would like to examine one aspect of a larger analysis of this
In light of Hickman, Burke, and Dewey (as well as others), I propose the
question: Who defines “digital libraries”? I want to undertake an examination of
indigenous meanings ascribed to the phrase “digital library.” What latent values
shape this definition? Who defines the evaluative semantics that describe a
“good” digital library product versus “bad?” What does a digital library look like
when created by users in the school community? What experiences shape its
development? What uses shape its construction? What explicit and implicit
factors inform the design, and then use, of the digital library? What does the
product itself mean in these schools?
Scenario: Inner-urban public school
The linoleum floor is still mysteriously sticky from last year’s end. Kari
(pseudonym) lifts up a gritty binder from one of the low tables designed for the
students, trying to “clean up this place” for her visitor. Two decade-old IBM clone
computers are on tables by the wall, their screens dark. An indoor-outdoor carpet
is rolled to one end of the classroom, its edges unraveling. The buff and green
walls herald an era of 50 years past. Shelves’ contact-paper peelings mimic the
dangling window shades. There are few books.
“Welcome to my library,” Kari says.
What, in the context of the above inner urban library, does “digital library”
mean? Should it matter? Who is responsible for concepts of information and
technology literacy in these environments? Often, the city school librarian is
watching as funding and support are being given to the technology lab down the
hall while her library stands neglected. The librarians in my research group are
turning toward what they have named “technology empowerment” in order for
them to build their own digital library collections to use with their faculties and
students. Resource-starved, these librarians are creating their own online
presences for their students to use at school. An interesting model emerges
where the student goes down the hall to the tech lab to use the website and
digital collection that the librarian has created. The “library” as space is less used
in some of these environments, feeding further justification for budget cut-backs.
The digital library, then, in some of these sites, is becoming the library of choice.
Which leads us back to the question: what does a digital library mean in
these urban school environments? I will be examining 12 digital libraries created
by urban school librarians who participated in a professional development course
“Digital Libraries” that I co-mentored this summer. While this is part of a larger
research analysis of how these types of classes serve in bridging the digital
divide, I want to closely consider the questions above in the context of pragmatic
technology theory.
Burke, F. Thomas, Hester, D. Micah, & Talisse, Robert B. (Eds.) (2002).
Dewey's logical theory: New studies and interpretations. Nashville:
Vanderbilt University Press.
Chowdhury, G.G. and Sudatta Chowdury (2003). Introduction to Digital
Libraries. London: Facet.
Hickman, Larry (1990). John Dewey’s Pragmatic Technology. Bloomington:
Indian Univ.
Mardis, Marcia, ed. (2003) “If We Build It Will They Come?” in Developing
Digital Libraries for K-12 Education. ERIC Clearinghouse
( , accessed
Schon, Donald, Bish Sanyal, and William Mitchell (1999). High Technology
and Low-income Communities. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Witten, Ian H. and David Bainbridge (2002). How to Build a Digital Library.
London: Elseiver.