Public-Private Partnerships and the Digitization of the Textual and Cultural Record

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A range of private-public partnerships, volunteer and crowdsourced labour, local, national, international and commercial agendas, and competing copyright systems intersect with the important but complicated project of digitization of the world's cultural material. These agendas are sometimes open, social, and collaborative (Edmond 2016; Liu 2016) but are also often closed, profit-driven, or sensitive agendas (Thylstrup 2019). This paper investigates a series of case studies of electronic access to books and cultural heritage, each incorporating some notion of a public-private partnership and some notion of the importance of open access agendas. It explores the metaphors that we use to conceptualize a form of open social scholarship based on an open social digitization agenda, including the HathiTrust’s Digital Library, Google Books, and Microsoft’s partnership with the British Library. The paper asks how the principles of open social scholarship contribute to a better and more nuanced understanding of digitization as a cultural practice and asks how a better understanding of the networks, partnerships, and paperwork (agreements, policies etc) of digitization could inform developments in open social scholarship. The public-private partnerships that surround the digitization of the cultural record assist underfunded cultural organizations to do important digitization work but also introduce complexities and contradictions in open social access to information. In addition, the mix of volunteer and crowdsourced labour operating in collaboration with cultural sector professional staff create intricate chains of value over time, space, and sector. The presence of large-scale corporations inside these arrangements has added another layer of complexity over time, and one that many public stakeholders are still struggling to navigate. The case studies examined here illuminate new facets of the large-scale international agenda of digitization at the social and cultural level and provide insight to help establish a framework for digitization that is open, social, and collaborative. The principles of open scholarship provide a useful first step in unpacking this.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalPop Public Open Participatory
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2020


  • Digitization
  • Textual Record
  • Cultural Record
  • internet archive
  • partnerships


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