Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Committee Member 1
Committee Member 2
Committee Member 3
This project traces the digital publishing history of the audiobook archive LibriVox.org, examining how its volunteers manage, control, and negotiate procedures and policies for their ongoing collaborative work. Examples of public knowledge work like LibriVox illustrate the value of professional and technical communication in accessibly digitizing knowledge and culture for use now and in the future. I investigate and theorize how groups of diverse and transient volunteers create and engage with the tools and documentation they use to manage their crowdsourced audio digitization work. The example of LibriVox can help us better recognize and value the invitational care work embedded in the professional and instructional documents we create, circulate, and consume.
As both researcher and participant with LibriVox, I interrogate conventions of crowdsourced digitization and sharing in the public domain, recover some of the technological and social history upon which LibriVox was built (and is still being built), and explore how LibriVox and its volunteers are preserving crucial modes of openness and access with regards to public culture. Crowdsourcing models of production are proliferating in professional, social, and scholarly contexts. Understanding how individuals contribute to such projects can help us understand the implications such models have for the future of collaborative work and distributed workplaces. As social production and digitization efforts become more supported across sectors, these models offer and allow for many unique collaborative learning opportunities. The complex, often transient, extra-institutional communities that emerge around the activities of socially sharing knowledge are valuable for what insights they may offer into the future of information access and the future of distributed work arrangements. I aim to extend what we know about technical communication in public, open, volunteer spaces. How we organize and preserve content—whether old, new, or re-imagined—matters to how we and others access and use that content, both now and in the future.
LibriVox is an example of a digitally-based volunteer-run community of practice engaged in public, crowdsourced social production. With this project, I begin to document how the LibriVox’s initially ad hoc and somewhat chaotic processes have (and have not) congealed into a more stable, yet still idiosyncratic, protocol. I find LibriVox volunteers managing their ongoing work using documentation, instruction, and interactions that are marked by a generous, patient invitational rhetoric. For digital knowledge projects like LibriVox, the invitational and instructional roles of documentation become especially important for stewarding a transient, multicultural, digital community of practice.
The LibriVox project’s clarity of purpose and open, welcoming processes demonstrate possibilities for pluralism and inclusiveness in terms of work, culture, and knowledge curation. Such a project makes a useful potential model for future collaborative, online media projects. The implications of this successful, sustainable, commons-based, digital publishing model may help prompt important, democratizing shifts in the future of multimodal and open scholarly publishing. Understanding the nuances of LibriVox practices will also help us to better prepare students to intervene effectively in other similarly distributed, ad hoc organizations and to face the shifting and uncertain futures of 21st-century work.
Volunteers at LibriVox are digitizing and preserving certain types of available human culture in particular ways that afford near limitless access, re-distribution, and re-use. The ways LibriVox and other archives, digital curation projects, and public collections manage themselves make a difference for how (and perhaps whether) cultural knowledge is preserved, not only into the future, but for access now, across platforms and across user groups with varying abilities. I contend that investigating the example of LibriVox and what it means for how we conceptualize and make use of human culture and knowledge can help us in formulating and answering important questions about the lasting value of LibriVox and of other open knowledge projects.
Chesley, Amelia, "Conventions of the Commons: Technical Communication and Crowdsourced Digital Publishing" (2018). Open Access Dissertations. 1918.