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Public Library
# Public Library
In *What Was Revolutionary about the French Revolution?*[1](#ftn1) Robert Darnton considers how a complete collapse of the social order (when absolutely everything – all social values – is turned upside down) would look. Such trauma happens often in the life of individuals but only rarely on the level of an entire society.
> In 1789 the French had to confront the collapse of a whole social order—the world that they defined retrospectively as the Ancien Régime—and to find some new order in the chaos surrounding them. They experienced reality as something that could be destroyed and reconstructed, and they faced seemingly limitless possibilities, both for good and evil, for raising a utopia and for falling back into tyranny.[2](#ftn2)
The revolution bootstraps itself.
In the dictionaries of the time, the word revolution was said to derive from the verb to revolve and was defined as *“the return of the planet or a star to the same point from which it parted.”*[3](#ftn3) French political vocabulary spread no further than the narrow circle of the feudal elite in Versailles. The citizens, revolutionaries, had to invent new words, concepts . . . an entire new language in order to describe the revolution that had taken place.
They began with the vocabulary of time and space. In the French revolutionary calendar used from 1793 until 1805, time started on 1 Vendémiaire, Year 1, a date which marked the abolition of the old monarchy on (the Gregorian equivalent) 22 September 1792. With a decree in 1795, the metric system was adopted. As with the adoption of the new calendar, this was an attempt to organize space in a rational and natural way. Gram became a unit of mass.
In Paris, 1,400 streets were given new names. Every reminder of the tyranny of the monarchy was erased. The revolutionaries even changed their names and surnames. Le Roy or Leveque, commonly used until then, were changed to Le Loi or Liberté. To address someone, out of respect, with *vous* was forbidden by a resolution passed on 24 Brumaire, Year 2. *Vous* was replaced with *tu*. People are equal.
 
The watchwords Liberté, égalité, fraternité (freedom, equality, brotherhood)[4](#ftn4) were built through literacy, new epistemologies, classifications, declarations, standards, reason, and rationality. What first comes to mind about the revolution will never again be the return of a planet or a star to the same point from which it departed. Revolution bootstrapped, revolved, and hermeneutically circularized itself.
Melvil Dewey was born in the state of New York in 1851.[5](#ftn5) His thirst for knowledge was found its satisfaction in libraries. His knowledge about how to gain knowledge was  developed by studying libraries. Grouping books on library shelves according to the color of the covers, the size and thickness of the ridge, or by title or author’s name did not satisfy Dewey’s intention to develop appropriate new epistemologies in the service of the production of knowledge about knowledge. At the age of twenty-four, he had already published the first of nineteen editions of A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library,[6](#ftn6) the classification system that still bears its author’s name: the Dewey Decimal System. Dewey had a dream: for his twenty-first birthday he had announced, “My World Work [will be] Free Schools and Free Libraries for every soul.”[7](#ftn7)
His dream came true. “Public Library” is an entry in the catalog of History with a fantastic decimal describing a category of phenomenon that—together with free public education, a public health system, the scientific method, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Wikipedia, and free software, among others—we, the people, are most proud of.
The public library is a part of these invisible structures that we start to notice only once they begin to disappear. A utopian dream—about the place from which every human being will have access to every piece of available knowledge that can be collected—looked impossible for a long time, dependent as it was on the limited resources of rich patrons or the budgetary instability of (welfare) states.
The Internet has, as in many other situations, completely changed our expectations and imagination about what is possible. The dream of a catalogue of the world – a universal approach to all available knowledge for every member of society – became realizable. A question merely of the meeting of curves on a graph: the point at which the line of global distribution of personal computers meets that of the critical mass of people with access to the Internet. However, even though this moment has been accomplished and even though nobody today lacks the imagination necessary to see public libraries as part of a global infrastructure of universal access to knowledge for literally every member of society. The emergence and development of the Internet is taking place precisely when an institutional crisis—one with inconceivable consequences—has also begun.
Public libraries cannot get, cannot even buy digital books from the world’s largest publishers,[8](#ftn8) those e-books that they already have in their catalogs must be destroyed after twenty-six lendings,[9](#ftn9) and they are losing in every possible way the battle with a market dominated by new players such as Amazon.com, Google, and Apple.
In 2012, Canada’s Conservative Party–led government cut financial support for Libraries and Archives Canada (LAC) by Can\$9.6 million, which resulted in the loss of 400 archivist and librarian jobs, the shutting down of some of LAC’s Internet pages, and the cancellation of the further purchase of new books.[10](#ftn10) In only three years, from 2010 to 2012, some 10 percent of public libraries were closed in Great Britain.[11](#ftn11)
The combination of knowledge, education, and schooling commodification (which are the consequences of a globally harmonized, restrictive legal regime for intellectual property) with neoliberal austerity politics terminates the possibility of adapting to new sociotechnological conditions, not to mention further development, innovation, or even basic maintenance of public libraries’ infrastructure.
Public libraries are an endangered institution, doomed to extinction.
Petit bourgeois pride prevents society from confronting this disturbing insight. As in many other fields, the only perceived way out is innovative market-based entrepreneurship, and some have suggested that the public library should become an open software platform on top of which creative developers will build app stores[12](#ftn12) or Internet cafés for the poorest, ensuring that they are only a click away from the Amazon.com catalog or the Google search bar.
Those who are well-meaning, intelligent, and full of tact will try to remind the public of all the side effects of the phenomenon that is the public library: major community center, service for the vulnerable, center of literacy and informal and lifelong learning, place where hobbyists, enthusiasts, old and young meet and share knowledge and skills.[13](#ftn13) Fascinating. Unfortunately, for purely tactical reasons, this reminder to the public does not always contain an explanation of how these varied effects arise out of the foundational idea of a public library: universal access to knowledge for each member of the society produces knowledge, produces knowledge about knowledge, produces knowledge about knowledge transfer: the public library produces sociability.
The public library does not need the sort of creative crisis management that wants to propose what the library should be transformed into once our society, obsessed with market logic, has made it impossible for the library to perform its main mission. Such proposals, if they do not insist on universal access to knowledge for all members, are Trojan horses for the silent but galloping disappearance of the public library from the historical stage. Sociability—produced by public libraries, with all the richness of its various appearances—will be best preserved if we manage to fight for the values upon which we have built the public library: universal access to knowledge for each member of our society.
Freedom, equality, and fraternity need brave librarians practicing civil disobedience.
Library Genesis[14](#ftn14) is an online repository with over a million books and is the first project in history to offer everyone on the Internet free download of its entire book collection (as of this writing, about fifteen terabytes of data), together with the all metadata (MySQL dump) and PHP/HTML/Java Script code for webpages. The most popular earlier repositories, such as Gigapedia (later Library.nu), handled their upload and maintenance costs by selling advertising space to the pornographic and gambling industries. Legal action was initiated against them, and they were closed.[15](#ftn15) News of the termination of Gigapedia/Library.nu strongly resonated in academic and book lovers’ circles and was even noted in the mainstream Internet media, just like other major world events. The decision by Library Genesis to share its resources has resulted in a network of identical sites (so-called mirrors) through the development of an entire range of Net services of metadata exchange and catalog maintenance, thus ensuring an exceptionally resistant survival architecture.
Aaaaarg.org, started by the artist Sean Dockray, is an online repository with over 50,000 books and texts. A community of enthusiastic researchers from critical theory, contemporary art, philosophy, architecture, and other fields in the humanities maintains, catalogs, annotates, and initiates discussions around it.
UbuWeb[16](#ftn16) is the most significant and largest online archive of avant-garde art; it was initiated and is lead by conceptual artist Kenneth Goldsmith. UbuWeb, although still informal, has grown into a relevant and recognized critical institution of contemporary art. Artists want to see their work in its catalog and thus agree to a relationship with UbuWeb that has no formal contractual obligations.
Monoskop is a wiki for the arts, culture, and media technology, with a special focus on the avant-garde, conceptual, and media arts of Eastern and Central Europe; it was launched by Dušan Barok and others. In the form of a blog Dušan uploads to Monoskop.org/log an online catalog of chosen titles (at the moment numbering around 3,000), and, as with UbuWeb, it is becoming more and more relevant as an online resource.
Library Genesis, Aaaaarg.org, Kenneth Goldsmith, and Dušan Barok show us that the future of the public library does not need crisis management, venture capital, start-up incubators, or outsourcing but simply the freedom to continue fulfilling the dreams of Melvil Dewey and Paul Otlet, just as it did before the emergence of the Internet.
With the emergence of the Internet and software tools such as Calibre nd “[let’s share books],”[17](#ftn17) librarianship was granted an opportunity, similar to astronomy and the project SETI@home,[18](#ftn18) to include thousands of amateur librarians who will, together with the experts, build a distributed peer-to-peer network to care for the catalog of available knowledge, because
> a public library is:
>
> * free access to books for every member of society
>
> * library catalog
>
> * librarian
>
> With books ready to be shared, meticulously cataloged, everyone is a
> librarian.
>
> When everyone is librarian, library is everywhere. [19](#ftn19)
*Marcell Mars 2014.*
----
References:
[1](#body_ftn1)        Robert H. Darnton, What Was Revolutionary about
the French Revolution? (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 1996), 6.
[2](#body_ftn2)        Ibid.
[3](#body_ftn3)        Ibid.
[4](#body_ftn4)        “Slogan of the French Republic,” France.fr, n.d.,
http://www.france.fr/en/institutions-and-values/slogan-french-republic.html.
[5](#body_ftn5)        Richard F. Snow, “Melvil Dewey” American Heritage
32, no. 1 (December 1980),
http://www.americanheritage.com/content/melvil-dewey.
[6](#body_ftn6)        Melvil Dewey, A Classification and Subject Index
for Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library
(1876), Project Gutenberg e-book 12513 (2004),
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12513/12513-h/12513-h.htm.
[7](#body_ftn7)        Snow, “Melvil Dewey.”
[8](#body_ftn8)        “American Library Association Open Letter to
Publishers on E-Book Library Lending,” Digital Book World, 24 September
2012,
http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2012/american-library-association-open-letter-to-publishers-on-e-book-library-lending/.
[9](#body_ftn9)        Jeremy Greenfield, “What Is Going On with Library
E-Book Lending?” Forbes, 22 June
2012,
http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremygreenfield/2012/06/22/what-is-going-on-with-library-e-book-lending/.
[10](#body_ftn10)        Aideen Doran, “Free Libraries for Every Soul:
Dreaming of the Online Library,” The Bear, March 2014,
http://www.thebear-review.com/\#!free-libraries-for-every-soul/c153g.
[11](#body_ftn11)        Alison Flood, “UK Lost More than 200 Libraries
in 2012,” Guardian, 10 December 2012,
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/dec/10/uk-lost-200-libraries-2012.
[12](#body_ftn12)        David Weinberger, “Library as Platform,”
Library Journal, 4 September 2012,
http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2012/09/future-of-libraries/by-david-weinberger/.
[13](#body_ftn13)        Shannon Mattern, “Library as Infrastructure,”
Design Observer, 9 June 2014,
http://places.designobserver.com/entryprint.html?entry=38488.
[14](#body_ftn14)        See http://libgen.org/.
[15](#body_ftn15)        Andrew Losowsky, “Library.nu, Book Downloading
Site, Targeted in Injunctions Requested by 17 
Publishers,” Huffington
Post, 15 February
2012,
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/15/librarynu-book-downloading-

injunction\_n\_1280383.html.
[16](#body_ftn16)        See http://ubu.com/.
[17](#body_ftn17)        “Tools,” Memory of the World, n.d.,
https://www.memoryoftheworld.org/tools/.
[18](#body_ftn18)        See http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/.
[19](#body_ftn19)        “End-to-End Catalog,” Memory of the World, 26
November 2012, 
https://www.memoryoftheworld.org/end-to-end-catalog/.
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