Libraries around the world have been concerned with the digitization of theirmaterials for the past two decades. A digitally available global library is growing, thanks to immense projects like Google Books, and large academic libraries that have been ceaselessly digitizing their materials as new scanning and data storage technologies continue to revolutionize the field. This presents a question of a huge amount of labor—who will do it?
First, I want this paper to shine a light on the actual labor performed by book
scanners for Google, and for other, smaller, library digitization projects. Manual labor continues to drive technological advancement, whether it’s in Apple’s Chinese factories where women construct iPhones for menial pay, or in Silicon Valley where Google’s scanning team works overnight to digitize the world’s libraries.
Second, I want to reveal the ways in which this labor goes undiscussed, both as
(likely) company policy at Google, and in smaller libraries, public and private, around world. Why does this labor remain hidden? The underground sensation that surrounds the Google’s scanning labor, and the way that the transformative labor of digitization goes unremarked, gets us close to the very old class conflict that is at the center of the new tech economy.
The first section of this paper will look at artist Andrew Norman Wilson’s
findings in his art pieces dealing with Google’s book scanning operations, and what we can know about labor conditions there. I then want to connect those findings to labor in smaller digitization undertakings at academic, public, and private libraries around the country. This leads to a discussion of automated robotic book scanners, and the future of library material digitization in the burgeoning convenience economy.