I spent two stimulating days at the Library of Congress (LC) last week. The first involved meeting with staff of the LC who are involved in thinking through short and long-range plans for the Library’s future, everything from space to holdings that will help the LC take a leading position in the US and globally through its many initiatives and collaborations. All that I could imagine the library doing seemed already on-track in one or more of their many new and existing programs and planned initiatives, leaving me with a positive sense about their direction of change. Staff members are engaging their colleagues in wide-ranging discussions about shaping the LC for the digital age in ways that nevertheless respects what the Librarian defines as the ‘culture of the book’. All the many themes emerging from our Oxford lecture series on ‘innovation and digital scholarship‘ are coming into play in their discussions.
The second day of meetings shifted to whether and how The John W. Kluge Center of the LC might develop a new program around Digital Studies or Internet Studies – the exact nature of their prospective program has yet to be decided. The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies (OUP 2013) helped secure me a seat for a wonderful debate over what the Center might do that would be unique and have major global implications, but also help the Library shape its holdings and activities for 21st Century digital research and scholarship. With the support of the Librarian and the ability to bring in scholars on the forefront of the field, such as Professor Manuel Castells, who the was the LC’s Kluge Chair in Technology and Society, during the summer of 2012, and continues as a member of the Library’s Scholars Council. I am quite optimistic about their prospects. The Center is developing an innovative program that will help build the larger field of Internet Studies, as I would define it, as well as support the LC.
I left with the impression that the LC does not trumpet its own work as much as we might do in academia, but they are involved in major initiatives at a scale most universities could not match. Academics should be tracking the Kluge Center and the LC over the coming years as its initiatives around the digital age take shape.
William H. Dutton (B.A. University of Missouri; M.A., PhD. SUNYBuffalo, 1974) is Professor of Internet Studies, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and Fellow of Balliol College.