For my SOAN thesis, I am researching how libraries function as social and cultural spaces, and how the widespread digitization of library collections is affecting this space. In order to understand the role of libraries as socio-cultural spaces today, I will also consider how libraries, in America particularly, have functioned as social and cultural spaces in the past, and the contributions that libraries make to individual and cultural identity. While I am not sure what my research field work will look like yet, I am hoping to interview librarians and archivists, as well as library patrons from Tacoma (and potentially other surrounding communities) to better understand how librarians and library patrons understand library space and how they feel digitization is affecting their library experiences.
My interest in this topic was sparked by my summer research fellowship in the archives this past summer, during which I worked as a Wikipedian in Residence for the University, writing and editing Wikipedia articles related to our archival collections. The goal of my summer research was to make the resources available at our physical library more widely accessible, not just to students and faculty, but a larger and more diverse community via the Internet. This got me thinking about the potential implications of digitization in libraries. On the one hand, digitization has the power to make rare or more specialized resources available to anyone with internet access, which would mean that a whole new group of people might have the opportunity to gain forms of cultural capital previously out of their reach. However, if the social and cultural value of libraries is based in their physicality, how does digitization and the liminal space of the Internet affect this aspect of libraries?
I am looking forward to exploring these questions through my research this year!
[Note: In the reconfigured SOAN curriculum, seniors in the department spend their Fall semester reading somewhat comprehensively on two topics they select from the breadth of sociological and anthropological interests. For many of the seniors, that new foundation in the social scientific literature will inform the independent research projects they will design and then conduct in the Spring semester. As we approach the midway point of the Fall semester, I asked students in my thesis seminar to sketch the research projects they are configuring for their last semester at Puget Sound. At this point, these are just plans, but collectively this group of projects look great.]