tactics in Constant 2016

Mondotheque: A Radiated Book





• Mondotheque::a radiated book/un livre irradiant/een
irradiërend boek
◦ Property:Person (agents + actors)
◦ EN Introduction
◦ FR Préface
◦ NL Inleiding
• Embedded hierarchies
◦ FR+NL+EN A radiating interview/Un entrevue irradiant/Een irradiërend gesprek
◦ EN Amateur Librarian - A Course in Critical Pedagogy TOMISLAV MEDAK &
MARCELL MARS (Public Library project)
◦ FR Bibliothécaire amateur - un cours de pédagogie critique TOMISLAV MEDAK


A bag but is language nothing of words MICHAEL MURTAUGH
A Book of the Web DUSAN BAROK
Une lecture-écriture du livre sur le livre ALEXIA DE VISSCHER

• Disambiguation
◦ EN An experimental transcript SÎNZIANA PĂLTINEANU
◦ EN+FR LES UTOPISTES and their common logos/et leurs logos communs


A Pre-emptive History of the Google Cultural Institute GERALDINE



Une histoire préventive du Google Cultural Institute GERALDINE JUÁREZ

• Location, location, location
◦ EN From Paper Mill to Google Data Center SHINJOUNG YEO
◦ EN House, City, World, Nation, Globe NATACHA ROUSSEL
◦ EN The Smart City - City of Knowledge DENNIS POHL
◦ FR La ville intelligente - Ville de la connaissance DENNIS POHL
◦ EN The Itinerant Archive
• Cross-readings
◦ EN Les Pyramides
◦ EN Transclusionism
◦ EN Reading list
◦ FR+EN+NL Colophon/Colofon



Meet the cast of historical, contemporary and fictional people that populate La

Unknown man,Andrew
Warden Boyd Carnegie
Rayward, Françoise
Levie, Alex Wright

André CanonneArni Jonsson , Barack ObamaBernard Otlet Bernard Otlet, Bernard Otlet, Bill Echikson
Sauli Niinistö
Lafontaine Lafontaine

Bill Echikson, Delphine JenartDelphine Jenart,
Elio Di Rupo Unknown man,Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo, Sylvia Van
Delphine Jenart
Nooka Kiili ,
Elio Di Rupo, Sylvia Van Sylvia Van Thierry GeertsPeteghem, Elio
Joyce Proot
Roi Albert II, Peteghem
Di Rupo, JeanJean-Claude
Paul Deplus

Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo Alexander De Elio Di Rupo, Nicolas Sarkozy,
Eric E. SchmidtErnest de Potter
Thierry Geerts,Guy Quaden , Rudy Demotte
Croo, Elio Di Unknown man,Eric E. Schmidt
Unknown man Yves Vasseur
Roi Albert II,



Alexia de Visscher,
Femke Snelting,Robert M. Nicolas Malevé,
Manfroid, Femke
Michael Murtaugh,
Dennis Pohl, Ochshorn, JanMichael
Manfroid, Femke
Manfroid, Femke
Snelting, Dick Femke Snelting,Alexia de
Gerber , FemkeMurtaugh, Alexia
Snelting, Natacha
Snelting, Natacha
Visscher, Andre
Snelting, Marcell
de Visscher, Roussel, Dick Roussel, Dick
Mars, Sebastian
Femke Snelting,Reckard
Păltineanu, Nicolas
Luetgert , Donatella
Portoghese Păltineanu


Gustave AbeelsHarm Post

Henri La

Henri La

Henri La

Mathilde Lhoest,
Henri La
Henri La

Igor PlatounoffWilhelmina
Coops, Igor

Annie Besant, Jean François Jean Otlet Jr. Bill Echikson, Jean-Paul Deplus
Annie Besant, Louis Masure,Unidentified Woman,
Marcel Flamion
Jean Delville Fueg
Jean-Paul Deplus
Mademoiselle Poels,
Mademoiselle Poels
Krishnamurti Mademoiselle de

Marie-Louise Paul Otlet, Paul Otlet
Madame Taupin
, Pierre

Paul Otlet

Wilhelmina Paul Otlet
Coops, Paul

Marie Van Paul Otlet, Cato
Paul Otlet, Cato
Mons , Paul van Nederhasselt
van Nederhasselt

Unidentified Wilhelmina Paul Otlet
Woman, Paul Coops, Paul

Paul Otlet

Jiddu Krishnamurti
Paul Otlet
, Paul Otlet, Jean

Unidentified Paul Otlet
Woman, Paul
Otlet, Georges


Paul Otlet


Cato van
Le Corbusier, Paul Otlet,
Nederhasselt, Paul
Paul Otlet, Georges
Hélène de

Unidentified Paul Otlet, Henri
Paul Otlet
Woman, Jean La Fontaine,
Delville, Paul Mathilde Lhoest
Otlet, Henri La

Unidentified Unidentified Paul Otlet, Unidentified Paul Otlet,
Woman, Paul Woman, Paul Mathilde La Woman, W.E.B.
Otlet, GeorgesFontaine , Henri
Du Bois, Paul Woman
La Fontaine Otlet, Henri La
Fontaine, Jean

Paul Panda, Unidentified Paul Otlet
Unidentified Woman, Paul
Woman, HenriOtlet
Fontaine, Cato van
Nederhasselt, Paul
Otlet, W.E.B. Du
Bois, Blaise Diagne
, Mathilde Lhoest

Unidentified Woman,
Paul Otlet, Cato
Nederhasselt, Georges
Lorphèvre, André
Colet, Thea Coops,
Broese van Groenou

Steve Crossan Stéphanie

Sylvia Van

Thea Coops Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified
Woman, LouisWoman
Woman, LouisWoman

Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Vint Cerf, Chris
Vint Cerf


Vint Cerf






Yves Bernard

This Radiated Book started three years ago with an e-mail from the Mundaneum archive
center in Mons. It announced that Elio di Rupo, then prime minister of Belgium, was about
to sign a collaboration agreement between the archive center and Google. The newsletter
cited an article in the French newspaper Le Monde that coined the Mundaneum as 'Google
on paper' [1]. It was our first encounter with many variations on the same theme.
The former mining area around Mons is also where Google has installed its largest
datacenter in Europe, a result of negotiations by the same Di Rupo[2]. Due to the re-branding
of Paul Otlet as ‘founding father of the Internet’, Otlet's oeuvre finally started to receive
international attention. Local politicians wanting to transform the industrial heartland into a
home for The Internet Age seized the moment and made the Mundaneum a central node in
their campaigns. Google — grateful for discovering its posthumous francophone roots — sent
chief evangelist Vint Cerf to the Mundaneum. Meanwhile, the archive center allowed the
company to publish hundreds of documents on the website of Google Cultural Institute.
While the visual resemblance between a row of index drawers and a server park might not
be a coincidence, it is something else to conflate the type of universalist knowledge project
imagined by Paul Otlet and Henri Lafontaine with the enterprise of the search giant. The
statement 'Google on paper' acted as a provocation, evoking other cases in other places
where geographically situated histories are turned into advertising slogans, and cultural
infrastructures pushed into the hands of global corporations.
An international band of artists, archivists and activists set out to unravel the many layers of
this mesh. The direct comparison between the historical Mundaneum project and the mission
of Alphabet Inc[3] speaks of manipulative simplification on multiple levels, but to de-tangle its
implications was easier said than done. Some of us were drawn in by misrepresentations of
the oeuvre of Otlet himself, others felt the need to give an account of its Brussels' roots, to reinsert the work of maintenance and caretaking into the his/story of founding fathers, or joined
out of concern with the future of cultural institutions and libraries in digital times.
We installed a Semantic MediaWiki and named it after the Mondotheque, a device
imagined by Paul Otlet in 1934. The wiki functioned as an online repository and frame of
reference for the work that was developed through meetings, visits and presentations[4]. For
Otlet, the Mondotheque was to be an 'intellectual machine': at the same time archive, link
generator, writing desk, catalog and broadcast station. Thinking the museum, the library, the
encyclopedia, and classificatory language as a complex and interdependent web of relations,
Otlet imagined each element as a point of entry for the other. He stressed that responses to



displays in a museum involved intellectual and social processes that where different from
those involved in reading books in a library, but that one in a sense entailed the other. [5]. The
dreamed capacity of his Mondotheque was to interface scales, perspectives and media at the
intersection of all those different practices. For us, by transporting a historical device into the
future, it figured as a kind of thinking machine, a place to analyse historical and social
locations of the Mundaneum project, a platform to envision our persistent interventions
together. The speculative figure of Mondotheque enabled us to begin to understand the
situated formations of power around the project, and allowed us to think through possible
forms of resistance. [6]
The wiki at http://mondotheque.be grew into a labyrinth of images, texts, maps and semantic
links, tools and vocabularies. MediaWiki is a Free software infrastructure developed in the
context of Wikipedia and comes with many assumptions about the kind of connections and
practices that are desirable. We wanted to work with Semantic extensions specifically
because we were interested in the way The Semantic Web[7] seemed to resemble Otlet's
Universal Decimal Classification system. At many moments we felt ourselves going down
rabbit-holes of universal completeness, endless categorisation and nauseas of scale. It made
the work at times uncomfortable, messy and unruly, but it allowed us to do the work of
unravelling in public, mixing political urgency with poetic experiments.
This Radiated Book was made because we wanted to create a moment, an incision into that
radiating process that allowed us to invite many others a look at the interrelated materials
without the need to provide a conclusive document. As a salute to Otlet's ever expanding
Radiated Library, we decided to use the MediaWiki installation to write, edit and generate
the publication which explains some of the welcome anomalies on the very pages of this
The four chapters that we propose each mix fact and fiction, text and image, document and
catalogue. In this way, process and content are playing together and respond to the specific
material entanglements that we encountered. Mondotheque, and as a consequence this
Radiated book, is a multi-threaded, durational, multi-scalar adventure that in some way
diffracts the all-encompassing ambition that the 19th century Utopia of Mundaneum stood
Embedded hierarchies addresses how classification systems, and the dream of their universal
application actually operate. It brings together contributions that are concerned with
knowledge infrastructures at different scales, from disobedient libraries, institutional practices
of the digital archive, meta-data structures to indexing as a pathological condition.
Disambiguation dis-entangles some of the similarities that appear around the heritage of Paul
Otlet. Through a close-reading of seemingly similar biographies, terms and vocabularies it relocates ambiguity to other places.

Location, location, location is an account of geo-political layers at work. Following the
itinerant archive of Mundaneum through the capital of Europe, we encounter local, national
and global Utopias that in turn leave their imprint on the way the stories play out. From the
hyperlocal to the global, this chapter traces patterns in the physical landscape.
Cross-readings consists of lists, image collections and other materials that make connections
emerge between historical and contemporary readings, unearthing possible spiritual or
mystical underpinnings of the Mundaneum, and transversal inclusions of the same elements in
between different locations.
The point of modest operations such as Mondotheque is to build the collective courage to
persist in demanding access to both the documents and the intellectual and technological
infrastructures that interface and mediate them. Exactly because of the urgency of the
situation, where the erosion of public institutions has become evident, and all forms of
communication seem to feed into neo-liberal agendas eventually, we should resist
simplifications and find the patience to build a relation to these histories in ways that makes
sense. It is necessary to go beyond the current techno-determinist paradigm of knowledge
production, and for this, imagination is indispensable.

Paul Otlet, design for Mondotheque (Mundaneum archive center, Mons)

1. Jean-Michel Djian, Le Mundaneum, Google de papier, Le Monde Magazine, 19 december 2009



2. « À plusieurs
reprises, on a eu chaud, parce qu’il était prévu qu’au moindre couac sur ce point, Google arrêtait tout » Libre Belgique, 27 april
3. Sergey and I are seriously in the business of starting new things. Alphabet will also include our X lab, which incubates new
efforts like Wing, our drone delivery effort. We are also stoked about growing our investment arms, Ventures and Capital, as
part of this new structure. Alphabet Inc. will replace Google Inc. as the publicly-traded entity (...) Google will become a whollyowned subsidiary of Alphabet https://abc.xyz/
4. http://mondotheque.be
5. The Mundaneum is an Idea, an Institution, a Method, a Body of workmaterials and Collections, a Building, a Network. Paul
Otlet, Monde (1935)
6. The analyses of these themes are transmitted through narratives -- mythologies or fictions, which I have renamed as "figurations"
or cartographies of the present. A cartography is a politically informed map of one's historical and social locations, enabling the
analysis of situated formations of power and hence the elaboration of adequate forms of resistance Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic
Theory (2011)
7. Some people have said, "Why do I need the Semantic Web? I have Google!" Google is great for helping people find things, yes!
But finding things more easily is not the same thing as using the Semantic Web. It's about creating things from data you've
complied yourself, or combining it with volumes (think databases, not so much individual documents) of data from other sources
to make new discoveries. It's about the ability to use and reuse vast volumes of data. Yes, Google can claim to index billions of
pages, but given the format of those diverse pages, there may not be a whole lot more the search engine tool can reliably do.
We're looking at applications that enable transformations, by being able to take large amounts of data and be able to run models
on the fly - whether these are financial models for oil futures, discovering the synergies between biology and chemistry researchers
in the Life Sciences, or getting the best price and service on a new pair of hiking boots. Tim Berners-Lee interviewed in
Consortium Standards Bulletin, 2005 http://www.consortiuminfo.org/bulletins/semanticweb.php





Stéphanie Manfroid and Raphaèle Cornille are responsible for the
Mundaneum archives in Mons. We speak with them about the relationship
between the universe of Otlet and the concrete practice of scanning, meta-data
and on-line publishing, and the possibilities and limitations of their work with
Google. How to imagine a digital archive that could include the multiple
relationships between all documents in the collection? How the make visible
the continuous work of describing, maintaining and indexing?


The interview is part of a series of interviews with Belgian knowledge
institutions and their vision on digital information sharing. The voices of Sylvia
Van Peteghem and Dries Moreels (Ghent University), Églantine Lebacq and
Marc d'Hoore (Royal library of Belgium) resonate on the following pages.
We hear from them about the differences and similarities in how the three
institutions deal with the unruly practice of digital heritage.

The full interviews with the Royal Library of Belgium and Ghent University
Library can be found in the on-line publication.

• RC = Raphaèle Cornille (Mundaneum archive center, responsable des collections
• SM = Stéphanie Manfroid (Mundaneum archive center, responsable des archives)
• ADV = Alexia de Visscher
• FS = Femke Snelting

Mons, 21 avril 2016

ADV : Dans votre politique de numérisation, quelle infrastructure d’accès envisagez-vous et
pour quel type de données et de métadonnées ?
RC : On numérise depuis longtemps au Mundaneum, depuis 1995. À l’époque, il y avait
déjà du matériel de numérisation. Forcément pas avec les même outils que l’on a aujourd’hui,
on n’imaginait pas avoir accès aux bases de données sur le net. Il y a eu des évolutions
techniques, technologiques qui ont été importantes. Ce qui fait que pendant quelques années
on a travaillé avec le matériel qui était toujours présent en interne, mais pas vraiment avec un
plan de numérisation sur le long terme. Juste pour répondre à des demandes, soit pour nous,
parce qu’on avait des publications ou des expositions ou parce qu’on avait des demandes
extérieures de reproductions.
L’objectif évidemment c’est de pouvoir mettre à la disposition du public tout ce qui a été
numérisé. Il faut savoir que nous avons une base de données qui s’appelle Pallas[1] qui a été
soutenue par la Communauté Française depuis 2003. Malheureusement, le logiciel nous
pose pas mal de problème. On a déjà tenté des intégrations d’images et ça ne s’affiche pas
toujours correctement. Parfois on a des fiches descriptives mais nous n’avons pas l’image qui
SM : Les archives soutenues par la Communauté française, mais aussi d’autres centres, ont
opté pour Pallas. C’est ainsi que ce système permettait une compréhension des archives en
Belgique et en Communauté française notamment.

L’idée c’est que les centres d’archives utilisent tous un même système. C’est une belle
initiative, et dans ce cadre là, c’était l’idée d’avoir une plateforme générale, où toutes les
sources liées aux archives publiques, enfin les archives soutenues par la Communauté
Française - qui ne sont pas publiques d’ailleurs - puissent être accessibles à un seul et même
RC : Il y avait en tout cas cette idée par la suite, d’avoir une plate-forme commune, qui
s’appelle numériques.be[2]. Malheureusement, ce qu’on trouve sur numeriques.be ne
correspond au contenu sur Pallas, ce sont deux structures différentes. En gros, si on veut
diffuser sur les deux, c’est deux fois le travail.
En plus, ils n’ont pas configuré numérique.be pour qu’il puisse être moissonné par
Europeana[3]. Il y a des normes qui ne correspondent pas encore.
SM : Ce sont des choix politiques là. Et nous on dépend de ça. Et nous, nous dépendons de
choix généraux. Il est important que l’on comprenne bien la situation d'centre d’archives
comme le nôtre. Sa place dans le paysage patrimoniale belge et francophone également.
Notre intention est de nous situer tant dans ce cadre qu’à un niveau européen mais aussi
international. Ce ne sont pas des combinaisons si aisées que cela à mettre en place pour ces
différents publics ou utilisateurs par exemple.
RC : Soit il y a un problème technique, soit il y a un problème d’autorisation. Il faut savoir
que c’est assez complexe au niveau des métadonnées, il y a pas mal de choses à faire. On a
pendant tout un temps numérisé, mais on a généré les métadonnées au fur et à mesure, donc
il y aussi un gros travail à réaliser par rapport à ça. Normalement, pour le début 2017 on
envisagera le passage à Europeana avec des métadonnées correctes et le fait qu’on puisse
verser des fichiers corrects.
C’est assez lourd comme travail parce que nous devons générer les métadonnées à chaque
fois. Si vous prenez le Dublin Core[4], c’est à chaque fois 23 champs à remplir par document.
On essaye de remplir le maximum. De temps en temps, ça peut être assez lourd quand

FS : Pouvez-vous nous parler du détail de la lecture des documents d’Otlet et de la rédaction
de leur description, le passage d’un document « Otletien » à une version numérisée ?



RC : Il faut déjà au minimum avoir un inventaire. Il faut
que les pièces soient numérotées, sinon c’est un peu
difficile de retracer tout le travail. Parfois, ça passe par
une petite phase de restauration parce qu’on a des
documents poussiéreux et quand on scanne ça se voit.
Parfois, on doit faire des mises à plat, pour les journaux
par exemple, parce qu’ils sont pliés dans les boîtes. Ça
prend déjà un petit moment avant de pouvoir les
numériser. Ensuite, on va scanner le document, ça c’est la
partie la plus facile. On le met sur le scanner, on appuie
sur un bouton, presque.
Si c’est un manuscrit, on ne va pas pouvoir océriser. Par
contre, si c’est un document imprimé, là, on va l’océriser
en sachant qu’il va falloir le revérifier par la suite, parce
qu’il y a toujours un pourcentage d’erreur. Par exemple,
dans les journaux, en fonction de la typographie, si vous
avez des mots qui sont un peu effacés avec le temps, il
faut vérifier tout ça. Et puis, on va générer les
métadonnées Dublin Core. L’identifiant, un titre, tout ce
qui concerne les contributeurs : éditeurs, illustrateurs,
imprimeurs etc . c’est une description, c’est une
indexation par mots clefs, c’est une date, c’est une
localisation géographique, si il y en a une. C’est aussi,
faire des liens avec soit des ressources en interne soit des
ressources externes. Donc par exemple, moi si je pense à
une affiche, si elle a été dans une exposition si elle a été
publiée, il faut mettre toutes les références.

From Voor elk boek is een gebruiker:
SVP: Wij scannen op een totaal
andere manier. Bij Google gaat het
om massa-productie. Wij kiezen zelf
voor kleinere projecten. We hebben
een vaste ploeg, twee mensen die
voltijds scannen en beelden
verwerken, maar daarmee begin je
niet aan een project van 250.000
boeken. We doen wel een scan-ondemand of selecteren volledige
collecties. Toen we al onze
2.750.000 fiches enkele jaren
geleden door een externe firma lieten
scannen had ik medelijden met de
meisjes die de hele dag de
invoerscanner bedienden. Hopeloos
From X = Y:
According to the ideal image
described in "Traité", all the tasks of
collecting, translating, distributing,
should be completely automatic,
seemingly without the necessity of
human intervention. However, the
Mundaneum hired dozens of women
to perform these tasks. This humanrun version of the system was not
considered worth mentioning, as if it
was a temporary in-between phase
that should be overcome as soon as
possible, something that was staining
the project with its vulgarity.

SM : La vie de la pièce.
RC : Et faire le lien par exemple vers d’autres fonds, une autre lettre… Donc, vous avez
vraiment tous les liens qui sont là. Et puis, vous avez la description du fichier numérique en
lui-même. Nous on a à chaque fois quatre fichiers numériques : Un fichier RAW, un fichier
Tiff en 300 DPI, un JPEG en 300 DPI et un dernier JPE en 72 DPI, qui sont en fait les
trois formats qu’on utilise le plus. Et puis, là pareil, vous remettez un titre, une date, vous
avez aussi tout ce qui concerne les autorisations, les droits… Pour chaque document il y a
tout ces champs à remplir.
SM : Face à un schéma d’Otlet, on se demandait parfois ce que sont tous ces gribouillons.
On ne comprend pas tout de suite grand chose.
FS : Qui fait la description ? Plusieurs personnes ou quelqu’un qui travaille seul ?

RC : Ça demande quand même une certaine discipline, de la concentration et du temps pour
pouvoir le faire bien.
RC : Généralement c’est quelqu’un seul qui décrit. Là c’est un texte libre, donc c’est encore
assez facile. Maintenant quand vous devez indexer, il faut utiliser des Thesaurus existants, ce
qui n’est pas toujours facile parce que parfois ce sont des contraintes, et que ce n’est pas tout
à fait le vocabulaire que vous avez l’habitude d’utiliser.
SM : On a rencontré une firme, effectivement, quelqu’un qui pensait qu’on allait pouvoir
automatiser la chaîne de description des archives avec la numérisation y compris. Il ne
comprenait pas que c’était une tâche impossible. C’est une tâche humaine. Et franchement,
toute l’expérience qu’on peut avoir par rapport à ça aide énormément. Je ne pense pas, là
maintenant, qu’un cerveau humain puisse être remplacé par une machine dans ce cadre. Je
n’y crois pas.

FS : Votre travail touche très intimement à la pratique d’Otlet même. En fait, dans les
documents que nous avons consultés, nous avons vus plusieurs essais d’indexation, plusieurs
niveaux de systèmes de classement. Comment cela se croise-t-il avec votre travail de
numérisation ? Gardez-vous une trace de ces systèmes déjà projetés sur les documents euxmêmes ?
SM : Je crois qu’il y a deux éléments. Ici, si la question portait sur les étapes de la
numérisation, on part du document lui-même pour arriver à un nommage de fichier et il y a
une description avec plusieurs champs. Si finalement la pièce qui est numérisée, elle a sa
propre vie, sa propre histoire et c’est ça qu’on comprend. Par contre, au départ, on part du
principe que le fond est décrit, il y a un inventaire. On va faire comme si c’était toujours le
cas, ce n’est pas vrai d’ailleurs, ce n’est pas toujours le cas.
Et autre chose, aujourd’hui nous sommes un centre d’archives. Otlet était dans une
conception d’ouverture à la documentation, d’ouverture à l’Encyclopédie, vraiment quelque
chose de très très large. Notre norme de travail c’est d’utiliser la norme de description
générale des archives[5], et c’est une autre contrainte. C’est un gros boulot ça aussi.
On doit pouvoir faire des relations avec d’autres éléments qui se trouvent ailleurs, d’autres
documents, d’autres collections. C’est une lecture, je dirais presque en réseau des documents.
Évidemment c’est intéressant. Mais d’un autre côté, nous sommes archivistes, et c’est pas
qu’on n’aime pas la logique d’Otlet, mais on doit se faire à une discipline qui nous impose
aussi de protéger le patrimoine ici, qui appartient à la Communauté Française et qui donc
doit être décrit de manière normée comme dans les autres centres d’archives.



C’est une différence de dialogues. Pour moi ce n’est pas un détail du tout. Le fait que par
exemple, certains vont se dire « vous ne mettez pas l’indice CDU dans ces champs » ... vous
n’avez d’ailleurs pas encore posé cette question … ?
ADV : Elle allait venir !
SM : Aujourd’hui on ne cherche pas par indice CDU, c’est tout. Nous sommes un centre
d’archives, et je pense que ça a été la chance pour le Mundaneum de pouvoir mettre en
avant la protection de ce patrimoine en tant que tel et de pouvoir l’ériger en tant que
patrimoine réel, important pour la communauté.
RC : En fait la classification décimale n’étant pas une méthode d’indexation standardisée,
elle n’est pas demandée dans ces champs. Pour chaque champ à remplir dans le Dublin
Core, vous avez des normes à utiliser. Par exemple, pour les dates, les pays et la langue vous
avez les normes ISO, et la CDU n’est pas reconnue comme une norme.
Quand je décris dans Pallas, moi je mets l’indice CDU. Parce que les collections
iconographiques sont classées par thématique. Les cartes postales géographiques sont
classées par lieu. Et donc, j’ai à chaque fois l’indice CDU, parce que là, ça a un sens de le
FS : C’est très beau d’entendre cela mais c’est aussi tragique dans un sens. Il y a eu tellement
d’efforts faits à cette époque là pour trouver un standard ...

SM : La question de la légitimité du travail d’Otlet se place sur un débat contemporain qui
est amené sur la gestion des bases de données, en gros. Ça c’est un axe qui est de
communication, ce n’est pas le seul axe de travail de fond dans nos archives. Il faut distinguer
des éléments et la politique de numérisation, je ne suis pas en train de vouloir dire : « Tiens,
on est dans la gestion de méga-données chez nous. »
Nous ne gérons pas de grandes quantités de données. Le Big Data ne nous concerne pas
tout à fait, en terme de données conservées chez nous. Le débat nous intéresse au même titre
que ce débat existait sous une autre forme fin du 19e siècle avec l’avènement de la presse
périodique et la multiplication des titres de journaux ainsi que la diffusion rapide d’une
RC : Le fait d’avoir eu Paul Otlet reconnu comme père de l’internet etcetera, d’avoir pu le
rattacher justement à des éléments actuels, c’était des sujets porteurs pour la communication.
Ça ne veut pas dire que nous ne travaillons que là dessus. Il en a fait beaucoup plus que ça.
C’était un axe porteur, parce qu’on est à l’ère de la numérisation, parce qu’on nous demande

de numériser, de valoriser. On est encore à travailler sur les archives, à dépouiller les
archives, à faire des inventaires et donc on est très très loin de ces réflexions justement Big
Data et tout ça.
FS : Est-il imaginable qu’Otlet ait inventé le World Wide Web ?
SM : Franchement, pour dire les choses platement : C’est impossible, quand on a un regard
historique, d’imaginer qu’Otlet a imaginé… enfin il a imaginé des choses, oui, mais est-ce
que c’est parce que ça existe aujourd’hui qu’on peut dire « il a imaginé ça » ?. C’est ce qu’on
appelle de l’anachronisme en Histoire. Déontologiquement, ce genre de choses un historien
ne peut pas le faire. Quelqu’un d’autre peut se permettre de le faire. Par exemple, en
communication c’est possible. Réduire à des idées simples est aussi possible. C’est même un
avantage de pouvoir le faire. Une idée passera donc mieux.
RC : Il y a des concepts qu’il avait déjà compris.
From Voor elk boek is een gebruiker:
Maintenant, en fonction de l’époque, il n’a pas pu tout
Dus in de 19e eeuw wou Vander
mettre en place mais, il y a des choses qu’il avait
Haeghen een catalogus, en Otlet een
comprises dès le départ. Par exemple, standardiser les
bibliografie. En vandaag heeft Google
alles samen met de volledige tekst
choses pour pouvoir les changer. Ça il le comprend dès
erbij die dan nog op elk woord
le départ, c’est pour ça, la rédaction des fiches, c’est
doorzoekbaar is. Dat is de droom van
standardisé, vous ne pouvez pas rédiger n’importe
zowel Vander Haeghen als Otlet
méér dan verder zetten. Vanuit die
comment. C’est pour ça qu’il développe la CDU, il faut
gedachte zijn wij vanzelfsprekend
un langage qui soit utilisable par tous. Il imagine avec les
meegegaan. We hebben aan de
Google onderhandelaars gevraagd:
moyens de communications qu’il a à l’époque, il imagine
waarom doet Google dit? Het
déjà un moment pouvoir les combiner, sans doute parce
antwoord was: “Because it's in the
qu’il a vu un moment l’évolution des techniques et qu’il
heart of the founders”. Moesten wij de
idealen van Vander Haeghen en
pense pouvoir aller plus loin. Il pense à la
Otlet niet als voorbeeld hebben
dématérialisation quand il utilise des microfilms, il se dit
gehad, dan was er misschien twijfel
« attention la conservation papier, il y a un soucis. Il faut
geweest, maar nu niet.
conserver le contenu et donc il faut le passer sur un autre
support ». D’abord il va essayer sur des plaques
photographiques, il calcule le nombre de pages qu’il peut mettre sur une plaque et voilà. Il
transforme ça en autre support.
Je pense qu’il a imaginé des choses, parce qu’il avait cette envie de communiquer le savoir,
ce n’est pas quelqu’un qui a un moment avait envie de collectionner sans diffuser, non. C’était
toujours dans cette idée de diffuser, de communiquer quelques soient les personnes, quelque
soit le pays. C’est d’ailleurs pour ça qu’il adapte le Musée International, pour que tout le
monde puisse y aller, même ceux qui ne savaient pas lire avaient accès aux salles et
pouvaient comprendre, parce qu’il avait organisé les choses de telles façons. Il imagine à
chaque fois des outils de communication qui vont lui servir pour diffuser ses idées, sa pensée.



Qu’il ait imaginé à un moment donné qu’on puisse lire des choses à l’autre bout du monde ?
Il a du y penser, mais maintenant, techniquement et technologiquement, il n’a pas pu
concevoir. Mais je suis sûre qu’il avait envisagé le concept.

SM : Otlet, à son époque, a par moments réussi à se faire détester par pas mal de gens,
parce qu’il y avait une sorte de confusion au niveau des domaines dans lesquels il exerçait. À
la fois, cette fascination de créer une cité politique qui est la Cité Mondiale, et le fait de
vouloir mélanger les genres, de ne pas être dans une volonté de standardisation avec des
spécialistes, mais aussi une volonté de travailler avec le monde de l’industrie, parce que c’est
ce qu’il a réussi. C’est un réel handicap à cette époque là parce que vous avez une
spécialisation dans tous les domaines de la connaissance et finalement celui qui fait un peu de
tout, il le fait un peu mal moins bien. Dans certains milieux ou après une lecture très
superficielle du travail mené par Otlet, on comprend que le personnage bénéficie d’un a
priori négatif car il a mélangé les genres ou les domaines. Par exemple, Otlet s’est attaqué à
différentes institutions pour leur manque d’originalité en terme de bibliographie. La
Bibliothèque Royale en a fait les frais. Ça peut laisser quelques traces inattendues dans
l’histoire. L’héritage d’Otlet en matière bibliographique n’est pas forcément mis en évidence
dans un lieu tel que la bibliothèque nationale. C’est on le comprend difficile d’imaginer une
institution qui explique certains engagements de manière aussi personnalisée ou
individualisée. On va plutôt parler d’un service et de son histoire dans une période plus
longue. On évite ainsi d’entrer dans des détails tels que ceux-là.
Effectivement, il y a à la fois le Monsieur dans son époque, la vision que les scientifiques vont
en garder aujourd’hui et des académiques. Et puis, il y a la fascination de tout un chacun.
Notre travail à nous, c’est de faire de tout. C’est à la fois de faire en sorte que les archives
soient disponibles pour le tout un chacun, mais aussi que le scientifique qui a envie d’étudier,
dans une perspective positive ou négative, puisse le faire.

FS : Le travail d’Otlet met en relation l’organisation du savoir et de la communication.
Comment votre travail peut-il, dans un centre d’archives qui est aussi un lieu de rencontre et
un musée, être inspiré - ou pas - par cette mission qu’Otlet s’était donné ?
SM : Il y a quand même un chose qui est essentielle, c’est qu’on est pas dans l’Otletaneum
ici, on n’est pas dans la fondation Otlet.

Nous sommes un centre d’archives spécialisé, qui a conservé toutes les archives liées à une
institution. Cette institution était animée par des hommes et des femmes. Et donc, ce qui les
animaient, c’était différentes choses, dont le désir de transmission. Et quand à Otlet, on a
identifié son envie de transmettre et il a imaginé tous les moyens. Il n’était pas ingénieur non
plus, il ne faut pas rire. Et donc, c’est un peu comme Jules Verne, il a rêvé le monde, il a
imaginé des choses différentes, des instruments. Il s’est mis à rêver à certaines choses, à des
applications. C’est un passionné, c’est un innovateur et je pense qu’il a passionné des gens
autour de lui. Mais, autour de lui, il y avait d’autres personnes, notamment Henri La
Fontaine, qui n’est pas moins intéressant. Il y avait aussi le Baron Descamps et d’autres
personnes qui gravitaient autour de cette institution. Il y avait aussi tout un contexte
particulier lié notamment à la sociologie, aux sciences sociales, notamment Solvay, et voilà.
Tout ceux qu’on retrouve et qui ont traversé une quarantaine d’années.
Aujourd’hui, nous sommes un centre d’archives avec des supports différents, avec cette
volonté encyclopédique qu’ils ont eu et qui a été multi supports, et donc l’œuvre phare n’a
pas été uniquement Le Traité de Documentation. C’était intéressant de comprendre sa
genèse avec les visites que vous aviez fait, mais il y d’autres fonds, notamment des fonds liés
au pacifisme, à l’anarchisme et au féminisme. Et aussi tout ce département iconographique
avec ces essais un peu particuliers qui ne sont pas super connus.
Donc on n’est pas dans l’Otletaneum et nous ne sommes pas dans le sanctuaire d’Otlet.
ADV : La question est plutôt : comment s’emparer de sa vision dans votre travail ?
SM : J’avais bien compris la question.
En rendant accessible ses archives, son patrimoine et en participant à la meilleure
compréhension à travers nos efforts de valorisation : des publications, visites guidées mais
aussi le programme d’activités qui permettent de mieux comprendre son travail. Ce travail
s’effectue notamment à travers le label du Patrimoine Européen mais aussi dans le cadre de
Mémoire du Monde[6].
RC : Ce n’est pas parce que Otlet a écrit que La Fontaine n’a pas travaillé sur le projet. Ce
n’était pas du tout les mêmes personnalités.
SM : On est sur des stéréotypes.
ADV : Otlet a tout de même énormément écrit ?
SM : Otlet a beaucoup synthétisé, diffusé et lu. Il a été un formidable catalyseur de son
RC : C’est plutôt perdre la pensée d’Otlet en allant dans un seul sens, parce que lui il voulait
justement brasser des savoirs, diffuser l’ensemble de la connaissance. Pour nous l’objectif



c’est vraiment de pouvoir tout exploiter, tous les sujets, tous les supports, toutes les
thématiques… Quand on dit qu’il a préfiguré internet, c’est juste deux schémas d’Otlet et on
tourne autour de deux schémas depuis 2012, même avant d’ailleurs, ces deux schémas A4.
Ils ne sont pas grands.
SM : Ce qui n’est pas juste non plus, c’est le caractère réducteur par lequel on passe quand
on réduit le Mundaneum à Otlet et qu’on ne réduit Otlet qu’à ça. Et d’un autre côté, ce que
je trouve intéressant aussi, c’est les autres personnalités qui ont décidé de refaire aussi le
monde par la fiche et là, notre idée était évidemment de mettre en évidence toutes ces
personnes et les compositions multiformes de cette institution qui avait beaucoup d’originalité
et pas de s’en tenir à une vision « La Fontaine c’est le prix Nobel de la paix, Otlet c’est
monsieur Internet, Léonie La Fontaine c’est Madame féminisme, Monsieur Hem Day[7] c’est
l’anarchiste … » On ne fait pas l’Histoire comme ça, en créant des catégories.
RC : Je me souviens quand je suis arrivée ici en 2002 : Paul Otlet c’était l’espèce de savant
fou qui avait voulu créer une cité mondiale et qui l’avait proposée à Hitler. Les gens avaient
oublié tout ce qu’il avait fait avant.
Vous avez beaucoup de bibliothèques qui aujourd’hui encore classent au nom de la CDU
mais ils ne savent pas d’où ça vient. Tout ce travail on l’a fait et ça remettait, quand même,
les choses à leur place et on l’a ouvert quand même au public. On a eu des ouvertures avec
des différents publics à partir de ce moment là.
SM : C’est aussi d’avoir une vision globale sur ce que les uns et les autres ont fait et aussi de
ce qu’a été l’institution, ce qui est d’ailleurs l’une des plus grosse difficulté qui existe. C’est de
s’appeler Mundaneum dans l’absolu.
On est le « Mundaneum Centre d’archives » depuis 1993. Mais le Mundaneum c’est une
institution qui nait après la première guerre mondiale, dont le nom est postérieur à l'IIB.
Dans ses gênes, elle est bibliographique et peut-être que ce sont ces différentes notions qu’il
faut essayer d’expliquer aux gens.
Mais c’est quand même formidable de dire que Paul Otlet a inventé internet, pourquoi pas.
C’est une formule et je pense que dans l’absolu la formule marque les gens. Maintenant, il
n’a pas inventé Google. J’ai bien dit Internet.

FS : Qu’est ce que votre collaboration avec Google vous a-t-elle apportée ? Est-ce qu'ils vous
ont aidé à numériser des documents?

RC : C’est nous qui avons numérisé. C’est moi qui met les images en ligne sur Google.
Google n’a rien numérisé.
ADV : Mais donc vous vous transmettez des images et des métadonnées à Google mais le
public n’a pas accès à ces images … ?
RC : Ils ont accès, mais ils ne peuvent pas télécharger.
FS : Les images que vous avez mises sur Google Cultural Institute sont aujourd’hui dans le
domaine public et donc en tant que public, je ne peux pas voir que les images sont libres de
droit, parce qu’elles sont toutes sous la licence standard de Google.
RC : Ils ont mis « Collection de la Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles » à chaque fois. Puisque
ça fait partie des métadonnées qui sont transmises avec l’image.
ADV : Le problème, actuellement, comme il n’y a pas de catalogue en ligne, c’est qu’il n’y a
pas tant d’autres accès. À part quelques images sur numeriques.be, quand on tape « Otlet »
sur un moteur de recherche, on a l’impression que ce n’est que via le Google Cultural Institute
par lequel on a accès et en réalité c’est un accès limité.
SM : C’est donc une impression.
RC : Vous avez aussi des images sur Wikimedia commons. Il y a la même chose que sur
Google Cultural Institute. C’est moi qui les met des deux cotés, je sais ce que je mets. Et là
je suis encore en train d’en uploader dessus, donc allez y. Pour l’instant, c’est de nouveau des
schémas d’Otlet, en tout cas des planches qui sont mises en ligne.
Sur Wikimédia Commons je sais pas importer les métadonnées automatiquement. Enfin
j’importe un fichier et puis je dois entrer les données moi-même. Je ne peux pas importer un
fichier Excel. Dans Google je fais ça, j’importe les images et ça se fait tout seul.
AV : Et vous pouvez pas trouver une collaboration avec les gens de Wikimédia Commons ?
RC : En fait, ils proposent des systèmes d’importations mais qui ne fonctionnent pas ou alors
qui ne fonctionnent pas avec Windows. Et donc, moi je ne vais pas commencer à installer un
PC qui fonctionne avec Linux ou Ubuntu juste pour pouvoir uploader sur Wikimédia.
AV : Mais eux peuvent le faire ?
RC : On a eu la collaboration sur Le traité de Documentation, puisque c’est eux qui ont
travaillés. Ils ont tout retranscrit.
Aussi, il faut dédommager les bénévoles. Ça je peux vous garantir. Ils sont bénévoles jusqu’à
un certain point. Mais si vous leur confiez du travail comme ça … Ils sont bénévoles parce



que quand ils retravaillent des fiches sur Wikipédia, parce que c’est leur truc, ils en ont envie,
c’est leur volonté.
Je ne mets pas plus sur Google Cultural Institute que sur Wikipédia. Je ne favorise pas
Google. Ce qu’il y a sur le Cultural Institute, c’est qu’on a la possibilité de réaliser des
expositions virtuelles et quand j’upload là, c’est parce qu’on a une exposition qui va être faite.
On essaye de faire des expositions virtuelles. C’est vrai que ça fonctionne bien pour nous en
matière de communication pour les archives. Ça, il ne faut pas s’en cacher. J’ai beaucoup de
demandes qui arrivent, des demandes d’images, par ce biais là. Ça nous permet de valoriser
des fonds et des thématiques qu’on ne pourrait pas faire dans l’espace.
On a fait une exposition sur Léonie Lafontaine, qui a permis de mettre en ligne une centaine
de documents liés au féminisme, ça n’avait jamais été fait avant. C’était très intéressant et ça
a eu un bon retour pour les autres expositions aussi. Moi, c’est plutôt comme ça que j’utilise
Google Cultural Institute. Je ne suis pas pro Google mais là, j’ai un outil qui me permet de
valoriser les archives.
ADV : Google serait-il la seule solution pour valoriser vos archives ?
SM : Notre solution c’est d’avoir un logiciel à nous. Pourquoi avoir cette envie d’alimenter
d’autres sites ? Parce qu’on ne l’a pas sur le nôtre. Pour rappel, on travaille pour la
Communauté Française qui est propriétaire des collections et avec laquelle on est
conventionné. Elle ne nous demande pas d’avoir un logiciel externe. Elle demande qu’on ait
notre propre produit aussi. Et c’est là dessus que l’on travaille depuis 2014, pour le
remplacement de Pallas, parce que ça fait des années qu’ils nous disent qu’ils ne vont plus
soutenir. C’est plutôt ça qui nous met dans une situation complètement incompréhensible.
Comment voulez vous qu’on puisse faire transparaître ce que nous avons si on n’a pas un
outil qui permette aux chercheurs, quels qu’ils soient, scientifiques ou non, pour qu’ils
puissent être autonomes dans leur recherches ? Et pour nous, le travail que nous avons fait
en terme d’inventaire et de numérisation, qu’il soit exploitable de manière libre ?
Moi, franchement, je me demande, si cette question et cette vision que vous avez, elle ne se
poserait pas si finalement nous étions déjà sur autre chose que Pallas. On est dans un
inconfort de travail de base.
Je pense aussi que l’information à donner de notre part c’est de dire « il y a tout ceci qui
existe, venez le voir ».
On arrive à sensibiliser aussi sur les collections qu’il y a au centre d’archives et c’est bien,
c’est tout à fait intéressant. Maintenant ce serait bien aussi de franchir une autre étape et
d’éduquer sur l'ouverture au patrimoine. C’est ça aussi notre mission.

Donc Google a sa propre politique. Nous avons mis à disposition quelques expositions et
ceci en est l’intérêt. Mais on a quand même tellement de partenaires différents avec lesquels
on a travaillé. On ne privilégie pas un seul partenaire. Aujourd’hui, certaines firmes viennent
vers nous parce qu’elles ont entendu parler justement plus de Google que du Mundaneum et
en même temps du Mundaneum par l’intermédiaire de Google.
Ce sont des éléments qui nous permettent d’ouvrir peut-être le champ du dialogue avec
d’autres partenaires mais qui ne permettent pas d’aller directement en profondeur dans les
archives, enfin, dans le patrimoine réel que l’on a.
Je veux dire, on aura beau dire qu’on fait autre chose, on ne verra que celui là parce que
Google est un mastodonte et parce que ça parle à tout le monde. On est dans une aire de
communication particulière.
RC : Maintenant la collaboration Google et l’image que vous en avez et bien nous on en
pâtit énormément au niveau des archives. Et encore, parce que souvent les gens nous disent
« mais vous avez un gros mécène »
SM : Ils nous réduisent à ça. Pour la caricature c’est sympa. Pour la réalité moins.
FS : Quand on parle aux gens de l’Université de Gand, c’est clair que leur collaboration avec
Google Books a eu une autre fonction. Ce ne sont que des livres, des objets qui sont scannés
de manière assez brutes. Il n’y a pas de métadonnées complexes, c’est plutôt une question de
SM : La politique de numérisation de l’Université de
Gand, je pense, est plus en lien avec ce que Google
imagine. C’est-à-dire quelle est la plus value que ça leur
apporte de pouvoir travailler à la fois une bibliothèque
universitaire telle que la bibliothèque de l’Université de
Gand, et le fait de l’associer avec le Mundaneum ?
FS : C’est aussi d'autres besoins, un autre type d’accès ?
Dans une bibliothèque les livres sont là pour être lus, j’ai
l’impression que ce n’est pas la même vision pour un
centre d’archives.
SM : C’est bien plus complexe dans d’autres endroits.

From Voor elk boek is een gebruiker:
SVP: Maar ... je kan niet bij Google
gaan aankloppen, Google kiest jou.
Wij hebben wel hun aandacht
gevraagd voor het Mundaneum met
de link tussen Vander Haeghen en
Otlet. Als Google België iets
organiseert, proberen ze ons altijd te
betrekken, omdat wij nu eenmaal een
universiteit zijn. U heeft het
Mundaneum gezien, het is een zeer
mooi archief, maar dat is het ook.
Voor ons zou dat enkel een stuk van
een collectie zijn. Ze worden ook op
een totaal andere manier gesteund
door Google dan wij.

Notre intention en terme de numérisation n’est pas celle
là, et nous ne voyons pas notre action, nous, uniquement
par ce biais là. À Gand, ils ont numérisé des livres. C’est leur choix soutenu par la Région
flamande. De notre côté, nous poursuivons une même volonté d’accès pour le public et les



chercheurs mais avec un matériel un patrimoine, bien différent de livres publiés uniquement !
Le travail avec Google a permis de collaborer plusieurs fois avec l’Université mais nous
l’avions déjà fait avant de se retrouver avec Google sur certaines activités et l’accueil de
conférenciers. Donc, il y a un partenariat avec l’Université gantoise qui est intéressée par
l’histoire d’Otlet, l’histoire des idées mais aussi de l’internationalisme, de l’architecture de la
schématique. C’est d’ailleurs très enrichissant comme réflexion.

FS : J’ai entendu quelqu’un se demander « pourquoi ne pas numériser toutes les fiches
bibliographiques qui sont dans les tiroirs » ?
RC : Ça ne sert à rien. Toutes les fiches ça n’aurait pas de sens. Maintenant, ce serait
intéressant d’en étudier quelques-unes.
Il y avait un réseau aussi autour du répertoire. C’est à dire que si on a autant de fiches, ce
n'est pas seulement parce qu’on a des fiches qui ont été rédigées à Bruxelles, on a des fiches
qui viennent du monde entier. Dans chaque pays il y avait des institutions responsables de
réaliser des bibliographies et de les renvoyer à Bruxelles.
Ça serait intéressant d’avoir un échantillon de toutes ces institutions ou de toutes ces fiches
qui existent. Ça permettrait aussi de retrouver la trace de certaines institutions qui n’existent
plus aujourd’hui. On a quand même eu deux guerres, il y a eu des révolutions etcetera. Ils
ont quand même travaillé avec des institutions russes qui n’existent plus aujourd’hui. Par ce
biais là, on pourrait retrouver leur trace. Même chose pour des ouvrages. Il y a des ouvrages
qui n’existent plus et pour lesquels on pourrait retrouver la trace. Il faut savoir qu’après la
deuxième guerre mondiale, en 46-47, le président du Mundaneum est Léon Losseau. Il est
avocat, il habite Mons, sa maison d’ailleurs est au 37 rue de Nimy, pas très loin. Il collabore
avec le Mundaneum depuis ses débuts et donc vu que les deux fondateurs sont décédés
pendant la guerre, à ce moment là il fait venir l’UNESCO à Bruxelles. Parce qu’on est dans
une phase de reconstruction des bibliothèques, beaucoup de livres ont été détruits et on
essaye de retrouver leur traces. Il leur dit « venez à Bruxelles, nous on a le répertoire de tous
ces bouquins, venez l’utiliser, nous on a le répertoire pour reconstituer toutes les
bibliothèques ».
Donc, tout numériser, non. Mais numériser certaines choses pour montrer le mécanisme de
ce répertoire, sa constitution, les différents répertoires qui existaient dans ce répertoire et de
pouvoir retrouver la trace de certains éléments, oui.
Si on numérise tout, cela permettrait d’avoir un état des lieux des sources d’informations qui
existaient à une époque pour un sujet.
SM : Le cheminement de la pensée.

Il y a des pistes très intéressantes qui vont nous permettre d’atteindre des aspects
protéiformes de l’institution, mais c’est vaste.

FS : Nous étions très touchées par les fiches annotées de la CDU que vous nous avez
montrées la dernière fois que nous sommes venues.
RC : Le travail sur le système lui-même.
SM : C’est fantastique effectivement, avec l’écriture d’Otlet.
SM : Autant on peut dire qu'Otlet est un maître du marketing, autant il utilisait plusieurs
termes pour décrire une même réalité. C’est pour ça que ne s’attacher qu’à sa vision à lui
c’est difficile. Comme classer ses documents, c’est aussi difficile.
ADV : Otlet n’a-t-il pas laissé suffisamment de documentation ? Une documentation qui
explicite ses systèmes de classement ?
RC : Quand on a ouvert les boîtes d'Otlet en 2002, c’était des caisses à bananes non
classées, rien du tout. En fonction de ce qu’on connaissait de l’histoire du Mundaneum à
l’époque on a pu déterminer plus ou moins des frontières et donc on avait l'Institut
international de bibliographie, la CDU, la Cité Mondiale aussi, le Musée International.
SM : Du pacifisme ...
RC : On a appelé ça « Mundapaix » parce qu’on ne savait pas trop comment le mettre dans
l’histoire du Mundaneum, c’était un peu bizarre. Le reste, on l'avait mis de côté parce qu’on
n'était pas en mesure, à ce moment là, de les classer dans ce qu’on connaissait. Puis, au fur
et à mesure qu’on s’est mis à lire les archives, on s’est mis à comprendre des choses, on a
découvert des institutions qui avaient été créées en plus et ça nous a permis d’aller
rechercher ces choses qu’on avait mises de coté.
Il y avait tellement d’institutions qui ont été créées, qui ont pu changer de noms, on ne sait
pas si elles ont existé ou pas. Il faisait une note, il faisait une publication où il annonçait :
« l’office centrale de machin chose » et puis ce n'est même pas sûr qu’il ait existé quelque



Parfois, il reprend la même note mais il change certaines
choses et ainsi de suite … rien que sa numérotation c’est
pas toujours facile. Vous avez l’indice CDU, mais
ensuite, vous avez tout le système « M » c’est la référence
aux manuels du RBU. Donc il faut seulement aller
comprendre comment le manuel du RBU est organisé.
C’est à dire trouver des archives qui correspondent pour
pouvoir comprendre cette classification dans le « M ».
RC : On n’a pas trouvé un moment donné, et on aurait
bien voulu trouver, un dossier avec l’explication de son
classement. Sauf qu’il ne nous l’a pas laissé.
SM : Peut-être qu’il est possible que ça ait existé, et je
me demande comment cette information a été expliquée
aux suivants. Je me demande même si George Lorphèvre
savait, parce qu'il n’a pas pu l’expliquer à Boyd
Rayward. En tout cas, les explications n’ont pas été

From De Indexalist:
"Bij elke verwijzing stond weer een
andere verwijzing, de één nog
interessanter dan de ander. Elk
vormde de top van een piramide van
weer verdere literatuurstudie, zwanger
met de dreiging om af te dwalen. Elk
was een strakgespannen koord dat
indien niet in acht genomen de auteur
in de val van een fout zou lokken, een
vondst al uitgevonden en
From The Indexalist:
“At every reference stood another
reference, each more interesting than
the last. Each the apex of a pyramid
of further reading, pregnant with the
threat of digression, each a thin high
wire which, if not observed might lead
the author into the fall of error, a
finding already found against and
written up.”

L’équipe du Mundaneum a développé une expérience
de plusieurs années et une compréhension sur les archives et leur organisation. Nous avons
par exemple découvert l’existence de fichiers particuliers tels que les fichiers « K ». Ils sont
liés à l’organisation administrative interne. Il a fallu montrer les éléments et archives sur
lesquels nous nous sommes basés pour bien prouver la démarche qui était la nôtre. Certains
documents expliquaient clairement cela. Mais si vous ne les avez jamais vu, c’est difficile de
croire un nouvel élément inconnu !
RC : On n’a pas beaucoup d’informations sur l’origine des collections, c’est-à-dire sur
l’origine des pièces qui sont dans les collections. Par hasard, je vais trouver un tiroir où il est
mis « dons » et à l’intérieur, je ne vais trouver que des fiches écrites à la main comme « dons
de madame une telle de deux drapeaux pour le Musée International » et ainsi de suite.
Il ne nous a pas laissé un manuel à la fin de ses archives et c’est au fur et à mesure qu’on lit
les archives qu’on arrive à faire des liens et à comprendre certains éléments. Aujourd’hui,
faire une base de données idéale, ce n’est pas encore possible, parce qu’il y a encore
beaucoup de choses que nous-mêmes on ne comprend pas. Qu’on doit encore découvrir.
ADV : Serait-il imaginable de produire une documentation issue de votre cheminement dans
la compréhension progressive de cette classification ? Par exemple, des textes enrichis donnant
une perception plus fine, une trace de la recherche. Est-ce que c’est quelque chose qui pourrait
exister ?
RC : Oui, ce serait intéressant.

Par exemple si on prend le répertoire bibliographique. Déjà, il n’y a pas que des références
bibliographiques dedans. Vous avez deux entrées : entrée par matière, entrée par auteur,
donc vous avez le répertoire A et le répertoire B. Si vous regardez les étiquettes, parfois,
vous allez trouver autre chose. Parfois, on a des étiquettes avec « ON ». Vous savez ce que
c’est ? C’est « catalogue collectif des bibliothèque de Belgique ». C’est un travail qu’ils ont
fait à un moment donné. Vous avez les « LDC » les « Bibliothèques collectifs de sociétés
savantes ». Chaque société ayant un numéro, vous avez tout qui est là. Le « K » c’est tout ce
qui est administratif donc à chaque courrier envoyé ou reçu, ils rédigeaient une fiche. On a
des fiches du personnel, on sait au jour le jour qui travaillait et qui a faisait quoi… Et ça, il
ne l’a pas laissé dans les archives.
SM : C’est presque la mémoire vive de l’institution.
On a eu vraiment cette envie de vérifier dans le répertoire cette façon de travailler, le fait
qu’il y ait des informations différentes. Effectivement, c’était un peu avant 2008, qu’on l'a su
et cette information s’est affinée avec des vérifications. Il y a eu des travaux qui ont pu être
faits avec l’identification de séries particulières des dossiers numérotés que Raphaèle a
identifié. Il y avait des correspondances et toute une structuration qu’on a identifié aussi. Ce
sont des sections précises qui ont permis d’améliorer, à la fois la CDU, au départ de faire la
CDU, de faire le répertoire et puis de créer d’autres sections, comme la section féministe,
comme la section chasse et pêche comme la section iconographique. Et donc, par rapport à
ça, je pense qu’il y a vraiment tout un travail qui doit être mis en relation à partir d’une
observation claire, à partir d’une réflexion claire de ce qu’il y a dans le répertoire et dans les
archives. Et ça, c’est un travail qui se fait étape par étape. J’espère qu’on pourra quand
même bien avancer là dessus et donner des indications qui permettront d’aller un peu plus
loin, je ne suis pas sûre qu’on verra le bout.
C’est au moins de transmettre une information, de faire en sorte qu’elle soit utilisable et que
certains documents et ces inventaires soient disponibles, ceux qui existent aujourd’hui. Et que
ça ne se perde pas dans le temps.
FS : Un jour, pensez-vous pouvoir dire « voilà, maintenant c’est fini, on a compris » ?
SM : Je ne suis pas sûre que ce soit si impossible que ça.
Ça dépend de notre volonté et dialogue autour de ces documents. Un dialogue entre les
chercheurs de tout type et l’équipe du Mundaneum enrichit la compréhension. Plus on est
nombreux autour de certains points, plus la compréhension s’élargit. Ça implique bien
entendu une implication de partenaires externes également.
Aujourd’hui on est passé à une politique de numérisation par un matériel, par une
spécialisation du personnel. Et je pense que cette spécialisation nous a permis, depuis des
années, d’aller un peu plus profondément dans les archives et donc de mieux les comprendre.



Il y a un historique que l’on comprend véritablement bien aussi, il ne demande qu’à se
déployer. Il y a à comprendre comment on va pouvoir valoriser cela autour de journées,
autour de publications, autour d’outils qui sont à notre disposition. Et donc, autour de
catalogues en ligne, notamment, et de notre propre catalogue en ligne.

FS : Les méthodes et les standards de documentation changent, l’histoire institutionnelle et les
temps changent, les chercheurs passent… vous avez vécu avec tout ça depuis longtemps. Je
me demande comment le faire transparaître, le faire ressentir?
SM : C’est vrai qu’on aimerait bien pouvoir axer aussi la communication de l’institution sur
ces différents aspects. C’est bien ça notre rêve en fait, ou notre aspiration. Pour l’instant, on
est plutôt en train de se demander comment on va mieux communiquer, sur ce que nous
faisons nous ?
RC : Est-ce que ce serait uniquement en mettant en ligne des documents ? Ou imaginer une
application qui permettrait de les mettre en œuvre? Par exemple, si je prends la
correspondance, moi j’ai lu à peu près 3000 courriers. En les lisant, on se rend vraiment
compte du réseau. C’est-à-dire qu’on se rend compte qu’il a de la correspondance à peu près
partout dans le monde. Que ce soit avec des particuliers, avec des bibliothèques, avec des
universités, avec des entreprises et donc déjà rien qu’avec cet échantillon-là, ça donne une
masse d’informations. Maintenant, si on commence à décrire dans une base de données,
lettre par lettre, je ne suis pas sûre que cela apporte quelque chose. Par contre, si on imagine
une application qui permette de faire ressortir sur une carte à chaque fois le nom des
correspondants, là, ça donne déjà une idée et ça peut vraiment mettre en œuvre toute cette
correspondance. Mais prise seule juste comme ça, est-ce que c’est vraiment intéressant ?
Dans une base de données dite « classique », c’est ça aussi le problème avec nos archives, le
Mundaneum n'étant pas un centre d’archives comme les autres de par ses collections, c’est
parfois difficile de nous adapter à des standards existants.
ADV : Il n’y aurait pas qu’un seul catalogue ou pas une seule manière de montrer les
données. C’est bien ça ?
RC : Si vous allez sur Pallas vous avez la hiérarchie du fond Otlet. Est-ce que ça parle à
quelqu’un, à part quelqu’un qui veut faire une recherche très spécifique ? Mais sinon ça ne
lui permet pas de vraiment visualiser le travail qui a été fait, et même l’ampleur du travail.
Nous, on ne peut pas se conformer à une base de donnée comme ça. Il faut que ça existe
mais ça ne transparaît pas le travail d'Otlet et de La Fontaine. Une vision comme ça, ce n'est
pas Mundaneum.

SM : Il n’y a finalement pas de base de données qui arrive à la cheville de ce qu’ils ont
imaginés en terme de papier. C’est ça qu’il faut imaginer.
FS : Pouvez-vous nous parler de cette vision d’un catalogue possible ? Si vous aviez tout
l’argent et tout le temps du monde ?
SM : On ne dort plus alors, c’est ça ?
Il y a déjà une bonne structure qui est là, et l’idée c’est vraiment de pouvoir lier les
documents, les descriptions. On peut aller plus loin dans les inventaires et numériser les
documents qui sont peut-être les plus intéressants et peut-être les plus uniques. Maintenant,
le rêve serait de numériser tout, mais est-ce que ce serait raisonnable de tout numériser ?
FS : Si tous les documents étaient disponibles en ligne ?
RC : Je pense que ça serait difficile de pouvoir transposer la pensée et le travail d'Otlet et
La Fontaine dans une base de données. C’est à dire, dans une base de données, c’est
souvent une conception très carrée : vous décrivez le fond, la série, le dossier, la pièce. Ici
tout est lié. Par exemple, la collection d’affiches, elle dépend de l’Institut International de
Photographie qui était une section du Mundaneum, c’était la section qui conserve l’image.
Ça veut dire que je dois d’abord comprendre tous les développements qui ont eu lieu avec le
concept de documentation pour ensuite lier tout le reste. Et c’est comme ça pour chaque
collection parce que ce ne sont pas des collections qui sont montées par hasard, elles
dépendaient à chaque fois d’une section spécialisée. Et donc, transposer ça dans une base de
données, je ne sais pas comment on pourrait faire.
Je pense aussi qu’aujourd’hui on n’est pas encore assez loin dans les inventaires et dans toute
la compréhension parce qu’en fait à chaque fois qu’on se plonge dans les archives, on
comprend un peu mieux, on voit un peu plus d’éléments, un peu plus de complexité, pour
vraiment pouvoir lier tout ça.
SM : Effectivement nous n’avons pas encore tout compris, il y a encore tous les petits
offices : office chasse, office pêche et renseignements…
RC : À la fin de sa vie, il va aller vers tout ce qui est standardisation, normalisation. Il va être
membre d’associations qui travaillent sur tout ce qui est norme et ainsi de suite. Il y a cet
aspect là qui est intéressant parce que c’est quand même une grande évolution par rapport au
Avec le Musée International, c’est la muséographie et la muséologie qui sont vraiment une
grosse innovation à l’époque. Il y a déjà des personnes qui s’y sont intéressé mais peut-être
pas suffisamment.



Je rêve de pouvoir reconstituer virtuellement les salles d’expositions du Musée International,
parce que ça devait être incroyable de voyager là dedans. On a des plans, des photos. Même
si on n’a plus d’objets, on a suffisamment d’informations pour pouvoir le faire. Et il serait
intéressant de pouvoir étudier ce genre de salle même pour aujourd’hui, pour la
muséographie d’aujourd’hui, de reprendre exemple sur ce qu’il a fait.
FS : Si on s’imagine le Mundaneum virtuel, vraiment, si on essaye de le reconstruire à partir
des documents, c’est excitant !
SM : On en parle depuis 2010, de ça.
FS : C’est pas du tout comme le scanner hig-tech de Google Art qui passe devant le Mona
Lisa …
SM : Non. C’est un autre travail
FS : Ce n’est pas ça le musée virtuel.
RC : C’est un autre boulot.

1. Logiciel fourni par la Communauté française aux centres d’archives privées. « Pallas permet de décrire, de gérer et de consulter
des documents de différents types (archives, manuscrits, photographies, images, documents de bibliothèques) en tenant compte
des conditions de description spécifiques à chaque type de document. » http://www.brudisc.be/fr/content/logiciel-pallas
2. « Images et histoires des patrimoines numérisés » [1]
3. « Notre mission : On transforme le monde par la culture! Nous voulons construire sur le riche héritage culturel européen et
donner aux gens la possibilité de le réutiliser facilement, pour leur travail, pour leur apprentissage personnel ou tout simplement
pour s’amuser. » http://www.europeana.eu
4. « The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) supports shared innovation in metadata design and best practices across a
broad range of purposes and business models. » http://dublincore.org/about-us/
5. La norme générale et internationale de description archivistique, ISAD(G) http://www.ica.org/sites/default/files/


6. « L'UNESCO a mis en place le Programme Mémoire du monde en 1992. Cette mise en oeuvre est d'abord née de la prise
de conscience de l'état de préservation alarmant du patrimoine documentaire et de la précarité de son accès dans différentes
régions du monde. » http://www.unesco.org/new/fr/communication-and-information/memory-of-the-


7. Marcel Dieu dit Hem Day

Tomislav Medak & Marcell Mars (Public Library project)

A proposal for a curriculum in amateur librarianship, developed through the
activities and exigencies of the Public Library project. Drawing from a historic
genealogy of public library as the institution of access to knowledge, the
proletarian tradition of really useful knowledge and the amateur agency driven
by technological development, the curriculum covers a range of segments from
immediately applicable workflows for scanning, sharing and using e-books,
over politics and tactics around custodianship of online libraries, to applied
media theory implicit in the practices of amateur librarianship. The proposal is
made with further development, complexification and testing in mind during the
future activities of the Public Library and affiliated organizations.

Public libraries have historically achieved as an institutional space of exemption from the
commodification and privatization of knowledge. A space where works of literature and
science are housed and made accessible for the education of every member of society
regardless of their social or economic status. If, as a liberal narrative has it, education is a
prerequisite for full participation in a body politic, it is in this narrow institutional space that
citizenship finds an important material base for its universal realization.



The library as an institution of public access and popular literacy, however, did not develop
before a series of transformations and social upheavals unfolded in the course of 18th and
19th century. These developments brought about a flood of books and political demands
pushing the library to become embedded in an egalitarian and democratizing political
horizon. The historic backdrop for these developments was the rapid ascendancy of the book
as a mass commodity and the growing importance of the reading culture in the aftermath of
the invention of the movable type print. Having emerged almost in parallel with capitalism, by
the early 18th century the trade in books was rapidly expanding. While in the 15th century
the libraries around the monasteries, courts and universities of Western Europe contained no
more than 5 million manuscripts, the output of printing presses in the 18th century alone
exploded to formidable 700 million volumes.[1] And while this provided a vector for the
emergence of a bourgeois reading public and an unprecedented expansion of modern
science, the culture of reading and Enlightenment remained largely a privilege of the few.
Two social upheavals would start to change that. On 2 November 1789 the French
revolutionary National Assembly passed a decision to seize all library holdings from the
Church and aristocracy. Millions of volumes were transferred to the Bibliothèque Nationale
and local libraries across France. At the same time capitalism was on the rise, particularly in
England. It massively displaced the impoverished rural population into growing urban
centres, propelled the development of industrial production and, by the mid-19th century,
introduced the steam-powered rotary press into the commercial production of books. As
books became more easily mass-produced, the
commercial subscription libraries catering to the better-off
parts of society blossomed. This brought the class aspect
of the nascent demand for public access to books to the
After the failed attempt to introduce universal suffrage
and end the system of political representation based on
property entitlements through the Reform Act of 1832,
the English Chartist movement started to open reading
rooms and cooperative lending libraries that would
quickly become a popular hotbed of social exchange
between the lower classes. In the aftermath of the
revolutionary upheavals of 1848, the fearful ruling
classes finally consented to the demand for tax-financed
public libraries, hoping that the access to literature and
edification would after all help educate skilled workers
that were increasingly in demand and ultimately
hegemonize the working class for the benefits of
capitalism's culture of self-interest and competition.[2]

management hierarchies, and national
security issues. Various sets of these
conditions that are at work in a
particular library, also redefine the
notion of publishing and of the
publication, and in turn the notion of

From Bibliothécaire amateur un cours de pédagogie
Puisqu'il était de plus en plus facile de
produire des livres en masse, les
bibliothèques privées payantes, au
service des catégories privilégiées de
la société, ont commencé à se
répandre. Ce phénomène a mis en
relief la question de la classe dans la
demande naissante pour un accès
public aux livres.


It's no surprise that the Chartists, reeling from a political defeat, had started to open reading
rooms and cooperative lending libraries. The education provided to the proletariat and the
poor by the ruling classes of that time consisted, indeed, either of a pious moral edification
serving political pacification or of an inculcation of skills and knowledge useful to the factory
owner. Even the seemingly noble efforts of the Society for the Diffusion of the Useful
Knowledge, a Whig organization aimed at bringing high-brow learning to the middle and
working classes in the form of simplified and inexpensive publications, were aimed at dulling
the edge of radicalism of popular movements.[4]
These efforts to pacify the downtrodden masses pushed them to seek ways of self-organized
education that would provide them with literacy and really useful knowledge – not applied,
but critical knowledge that would allow them to see through their own political and economic
subjection, develop radical politics and innovate shadow social institutions of their own. The
radical education, reliant on meagre resources and time of the working class, developed in the
informal setting of household, neighbourhood and workplace, but also through radical press
and communal reading and discussion groups.[5]
The demand for really useful knowledge encompassed a critique of “all forms of ‘provided’
education” and of the liberal conception “that ‘national education’ was a necessary condition
for the granting of universal suffrage.” Development of radical “curricula and pedagogies”
formed a part of the arsenal of “political strategy as a means of changing the world.”[6]

This is the context of the emergence of the public library. A historical compromise between a
push for radical pedagogy and a response to dull its edge. And yet with the age of
digitization, where one would think that the opportunities for access to knowledge have
expanded immensely, public libraries find themselves increasingly limited in their ability to
acquire and lend both digital and paper editions. It is a sign of our radically unequal times
that the political emancipation finds itself on a defensive fighting again for this material base of
pedagogy against the rising forces of privatization. Not only has mass education become
accessible only under the condition of high fees, student debt and adjunct peonage, but the
useful knowledge that the labour market and reproduction of the neoliberal capitalism
demands has become the one and only rationale for education.



No wonder that over the last 6-7 years we have seen self-education, shadow libraries and
amateur librarians emerge again to counteract the contraction of spaces of exemption that
have been shrunk by austerity and commodity.
The project Public Library was initiated with the counteraction in mind. To help everyone
learn to use simple tools to be able to act as an Amateur Librarian – to digitize, to collect, to
share, to preserve books and articles that were unaffordable, unavailable, undesirable in the
troubled corners of the Earth we hail from.
Amateur Librarian played an important role in the narrative of Public Library. And it seems
it was successful. People easily join the project by 'becoming' a librarian using Calibre[7] and
[let’s share books].[8] Other aspects of the Public Library narrative add a political articulation
to that simple yet disobedient act. Public Library detects an institutional crisis in education,
an economic deadlock of austerity and a domination of commodity logic in the form of
copyright. It conjures up the amateur librarians’ practice of sharing books/catalogues as a
relevant challenge against the convergence of that crisis, deadlock and copyright regime.
To understand the political and technological assumptions and further develop the strategies
that lie behind the counteractions of amateur librarians, we propose a curriculum that is
indebted to a tradition of critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy is a productive and theoretical
practice rejecting an understanding of educational process that reduces it to a technique of
imparting knowledge and a neutral mode of knowledge acquisition. Rather, it sees the
pedagogy as a broader “struggle over knowledge, desire, values, social relations, and, most
important, modes of political agency”, “drawing attention to questions regarding who has
control over the conditions for the production of knowledge.”[9]

No industry in the present demonstrates more the
asymmetries of control over the conditions of production
of knowledge than the academic publishing. The denial
of access to outrageously expensive academic
publications for many universities, particularly in the
Global South, stands in stark contrast to the super-profits
that a small number of commercial publishers draws from
the free labour of scientists who write, review and edit
contributions and the extortive prices their institutional
libraries have to pay for subscriptions. It is thus here that
the amateur librarianship attains its poignancy for a
critical pedagogy, inviting us to closer formulate and
unfold its practices in a shared process of discovery.

Public library is:
• free access to books for every member of society,
• library catalogue,
• librarian.

The curriculum in amateur librarianship develops aspects
and implications of this definition. Parts of this curriculum
have evolved over a number of workshops and talks
previously held within the Public Library project, parts of
it are yet to evolve from a process of future research,
exchange and knowledge production in the education
process. While schematic, scaling from the immediately
practical, over strategic and tactical, to reflexive registers
of knowledge, there are actual – here unnamed – people
and practices we imagine we could be learning from.
The first iteration of this curriculum could be either a
summer academy rostered with our all-star team of
librarians, designers, researchers and teachers, or a small
workshop with a small group of students delving deeper
into one particular aspect of the curriculum. In short it is
an open curriculum: both open to educational process
and contributions by others. We welcome comments,
derivations and additions.

From Bibliothécaire

amateur un cours de pédagogie
Actuellement, aucune industrie ne
montre plus d'asymétries au niveau du
contrôle des conditions de production
de la connaissance que celle de la
publication académique. Refuser
l'accès à des publications
académiques excessivement chères
pour beaucoup d'universités, en
particulier dans l'hémisphère sud,
contraste ostensiblement avec les
profits énormes qu'un petit nombre
d'éditeurs commerciaux tirent du
travail bénévole de scientifiques qui
écrivent, révisent et éditent des
contributions et avec les prix
exorbitants des souscriptions que les
bibliothèques institutionnelles doivent
From Voor elk boek is een
FS: Hoe gaan jullie om met boeken
en publicaties die al vanaf het begin
digitaal zijn? DM: We kopen e-books
en e-tijdschriften en maken die
beschikbaar voor onderzoekers. Maar
dat zijn hele andere omgevingen,
omdat die content niet fysiek binnen
onze muren komt. We kopen toegang
tot servers van uitgevers of de
aggregator. Die content komt nooit bij
ons, die blijft op hun machines staan.
We kunnen daar dus eigenlijk niet
zoveel mee doen, behalve verwijzen
en zorgen dat het evengoed vindbaar
is als de print.



• from book to e-book
◦ digitizing a book on a
book scanner
◦ removing DRM and
converting e-book
• from clutter to catalogue
◦ managing an e-book
library with Calibre
◦ finding e-books and
articles on online
• from reference to bibliography
◦ annotating in an ebook reader device or
◦ creating a scholarly
bibliography in Zotero
• from block device to network device
◦ sharing your e-book
library on a local
network to a reading
◦ sharing your e-book
library on the
internet with [let’s
share books]
• from private to public IP space
◦ using [let’s share
books] &
◦ using logan & jessica
◦ using Science Hub
◦ using Tor

• from developmental subordination to subaltern disobedience
◦ uneven development &
political strategies
◦ strategies of the
developed v strategies
of the
underdeveloped : open
access v piracy
• from property to commons
◦ from property to
◦ copyright, scientific
publishing, open
◦ shadow libraries,
• from collection to collective action
◦ critical pedagogy &
◦ archive, activation &
collective action

• from linear to computational
◦ library &
catalogue, search,
discovery, reference
◦ print book v e-book:
page, margin, spine
• from central to distributed
◦ deep librarianship &
amateur librarians



◦ network infrastructure
(s)/topologies (ruling
class studies)
• from factual to fantastic
◦ universe as library as

• Mars, Marcell; Vladimir, Klemo. Download & How to:
Calibre & [let’s share books]. Memory of the World (2014)
• Buringh, Eltjo; Van Zanden, Jan Luiten. Charting the “Rise of
the West”: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A
Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth
Centuries. The Journal of Economic History (2009) http://
• Mattern, Shannon. Library as Infrastructure. Places Journal
(2014) https://placesjournal.org/article/library-asinfrastructure/
• Antonić, Voja. Our beloved bookscanner. Memory of the
World (2012) https://www.memoryoftheworld.org/
• Medak, Tomislav; Sekulić, Dubravka; Mertens, An. How to:
Bookscanning. Memory of the World (2014) https://
• Barok, Dusan. Talks/Public Library. Monoskop (2015)
• Custodians.online. In Solidarity with Library Genesis and
Science Hub (2015) http://custodians.online
• Battles, Matthew. Library: An Unquiet History Random
House (2014)
• Harris, Michael H. History of Libraries of the Western World.
Scarecrow Press (1999)
• MayDay Rooms. Activation (2015) http://
• Krajewski, Markus. Paper Machines: About Cards &
Catalogs, 1548-1929. MIT Press (2011) https://

For updates: https://www.zotero.org/groups/amateur_librarian__a_course_in_critical_pedagogy_reading_list

1. For an economic history of the book in the Western Europe see Eltjo Buringh and Jan Luiten Van Zanden, “Charting the ‘Rise
of the West’: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth
Centuries,” The Journal of Economic History 69, No. 02 (June 2009): 409–45, doi:10.1017/S0022050709000837,
particularly Tables 1-5.
2. For the social history of public library see Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (Random House, 2014) chapter 5:
“Books for all”.
3. For this concept we remain indebted to the curatorial collective What, How and for Whom/WHW, who have presented the
work of Public Library within the exhibition Really Useful Knowledge they organized at Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid,
October 29, 2014 – February 9, 2015.
4. “Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, June 25, 2015, https://


5. Richard Johnson, “Really Useful Knowledge,” in CCCS Selected Working Papers: Volume 1, 1 edition, vol. 1 (London u.a.:
Routledge, 2014), 755.
6. Ibid., 752.
7. http://calibre-ebook.com/
8. https://www.memoryoftheworld.org/blog/2014/10/28/calibre-lets-share-books/
9. Henry A. Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy (Bloomsbury Academic, 2011), 5.



- un
cours de
Tomislav Medak & Marcell Mars (Public Library project)

Proposition de programme d'études de bibliothécaire amateur développé à
travers les activités et les exigences du projet Public Library. Prenant pour
base la généalogie historique de la bibliothèque publique en tant qu'institution
permettant l'accès à la connaissance, la tradition prolétaire de la connaissance
réellement utile et la puissance de l'amateur motivée par le développement
technologique, le programme couvre différents secteurs : depuis les flux de
travail directement applicables comme la numérisation, le partage et l'utilisation
de livres électroniques, à la politique et la tactique de conservation des
bibliothèques en ligne, en passant par la théorie médiatique appliquée qui est
implicite dans les pratiques du bibliothécaire amateur. La proposition est plus
amplement développée, complexifiée et sera testée durant les futures activités
de Public Library et des organisations affiliées.

Historiquement, les bibliothèques publiques sont parvenues à être un espace institutionnel
exempté de la marchandisation et de la privatisation de la connaissance. Un espace dans
lequel les œuvres littéraires et scientifiques sont abritées et rendues accessibles pour
l'éducation de chaque membre de la société, quel que soit son statut social ou économique.
Si, du point de vue libéral, l'éducation est un prérequis à la véritable participation au corps

politique, c'est dans cet espace institutionnel étroit que la citoyenneté trouve une base
matérielle importante à sa réalisation universelle.
Si aujourd'hui elle est une institution d'accès public et de savoir populaire, il a fallu une série
de transformations et de bouleversements sociaux au 18e et 19e siècle pour que la
bibliothèque se développe. Ces développements ont provoqué l'arrivée d'un flot de livres et
d'exigences politiques qui ont encouragé la bibliothèque à s'intégrer dans un horizon politique
démocratisant et égalitaire. En toile de fond historique de ces développements, il y eut
l'ascendance rapide du livre en tant que commodité de masse et l'importance croissante de la
culture de la lecture suite à l'invention des caractères d'imprimerie mobiles. Ayant émergé à
la même époque que le capitalisme, au début du 18e siècle le commerce des livres, était en
pleine expansion. Alors qu'au 15e siècle, en Europe occidentale, les bibliothèques qui se
trouvaient autour des monastères, des tribunaux et des universités ne contenaient pas plus de
cinq millions de manuscrits, la production de l'imprimerie a atteint 700 millions de volumes,
et ce, au 18e siècle seulement.[1] Et alors que cela a offert un vecteur à l'émergence d'un
public de lecteurs bourgeois et contribué à une expansion sans précédent de la science
moderne, la culture de la lecture et des Lumières restait alors principalement le privilège
d'une minorité.
Deux bouleversements sociaux allaient commencer à changer cela. Le 2 novembre 1789,
l'Assemblée nationale de la Révolution française a approuvé la saisie de tous les biens
bibliothécaires de l'Église et de l'aristocratie. Des millions de volumes ont été transférés à la
Bibliothèque Nationale ainsi qu'aux bibliothèques régionales, à travers la France. Au même
moment, le capitalisme progressait, en particulier en Angleterre. Ce mouvement a
massivement déplacé une population rurale pauvre dans les centres urbains en pleine
croissance et propulsé le développement de la production industrielle. À la moitié du 19e
siècle, il a également a introduit la presse typographique à vapeur dans la production
commerciale de livres. Puisqu'il était de plus en plus facile de produire des livres en masse,
les bibliothèques privées payantes, au service des
catégories privilégiées de la société, ont commencé à se
répandre. Ce phénomène a mis en relief la question de la
classe dans la demande naissante pour un accès public
aux livres.
Après une tentative ratée d'introduction du suffrage
universel en vue d'en finir avec le système de
représentation politique basée sur les droits de propriété à
travers l'Acte de réforme de 1832, le mouvement anglais
du chartisme a commencé à ouvrir des salles de lectures
et des bibliothèques de prêts coopératifs qui allaient
bientôt devenir un foyer pour l'échange social entre les
classes populaires. Suite aux mouvements
révolutionnaires de 1848, les classes dirigeantes



apeurées ont fini par accepter de répondre à la demande qui réclamait des librairies financées
par l'argent public. Elles espéraient qu'un accès à la littérature et à l'édification favoriserait
l'éducation des travailleurs qualifiés qui étaient de plus en plus en demande, mais
souhaitaient aussi maintenir l'hégémonie sur la classe ouvrière au profit de la culture du
capitalisme, de l'intérêt personnel et de la compétition.[2]

Sans surprise, les chartistes, qui s'étaient retrouvés chancelants après une défaite politique,
avaient commencé à ouvrir des salles de lecture et des bibliothèques de prêts coopératifs. En
effet, à l'époque, l'éducation proposée au prolétariat et aux pauvres par les classes dirigeantes
consistait, soit à une édification morale pieuse au service de la pacification politique, soit à
l'inculcation de qualifications ou de connaissances qui seraient utiles au propriétaire de
l'usine. Même les efforts aux allures nobles de la Society for the Diffusion of the Useful
Knowledge, une organisation du parti whig cherchant à apporter un apprentissage intellectuel
à la classe ouvrière et à la classe moyenne sous la forme de publications bon marché et
simplifiées, avaient pour objectif l'atténuation de la tendance radicale des mouvements
Ces efforts de pacification des masses opprimées les ont poussées à chercher des manières
d'organiser par elles-mêmes une éducation qui leur apporterait l'alphabétisation et une
connaissance réellement utile : une connaissance non pas appliquée, mais critique qui leur
permettrait de voir à travers leur propre soumission politique et économique, de développer
une politique radicale et d'innover leurs propres institutions sociales d'opposition. L'éducation
radicale, dépendante du peu de ressources et du manque de temps de la classe ouvrière, s'est
développée dans les cadres informels des foyers, des quartiers et des lieux de travail, mais
également à travers une presse radicale, une lecture commune et des groupes de discussion.[5]
La demande pour une connaissance réellement utile comprenait une critique de « toute
forme d'éducation “fournie” » et de la conception libérale selon laquelle « une “éducation
nationale” était une condition nécessaire à la garantie du suffrage universel ». Un
développement de « programmes et de pédagogies » radicaux constituait une part de l'arsenal
de « stratégie politique comme moyen de changer le monde »[6]

L'émergence de la bibliothèque publique a donc eu lieu dans le contexte d'un compromis
historique entre la formation des fondements d'une pédagogie radicale et une réaction visant
à l'atténuer. Pourtant, à l'âge de la numérisation dans lequel nous pourrions penser que les
opportunités pour un accès à la connaissance se sont largement étendues, les bibliothèques

publiques se retrouvent particulièrement limitées dans leurs possibilités d'acquérir et de prêter
des éditions aussi bien sous une forme papier que numérique. Cette difficulté est un signe de
l'inégalité radicale de notre époque : une fois encore, l'émancipation politique se bat de
manière défensive pour une base matérielle pédagogique contre les forces croissantes de la
privatisation. Non seulement l'éducation de masse est devenue accessible à prix d'or
uniquement, entrainant la dette étudiante et la servitude qui y est associée, mais la
connaissance utile exigée par le marché du travail et la reproduction du capitalisme néolibéral
sont devenues la seule logique de l'éducation.
Sans surprise, au cours des six-sept dernières années, nous avons vu l'apprentissage
autodidacte, les bibliothèques de l'ombre et les bibliothécaires amateurs émerger pour contrer
la contraction des espaces d'exemption réduits par l'austérité et la commodification. Le projet
Public Library a été initié dans l'idée de contrer ce phénomène. Pour aider tout le monde à
apprendre l'utilisation d'outils simples permettant d'agir en tant qu'Amateur Librarian :
numériser, rassembler, partager, préserver des livres, des articles onéreux, introuvables ou
indésirables dans les coins mouvementés de notre planète.
Amateur Librarian a joué un rôle important dans le système narratif de Public Library. Un
rôle qui semble avoir porté ses fruits. Les gens rejoignent facilement le projet en « devenant »
bibliothécaire grâce à l'outil Calibre[7] et [let’s share books].[8] D'autres aspects du narratif de
Public Library ajoutent une articulation politique à cet acte simple, mais désobéissant. Public
Library perçoit une crise institutionnelle dans l'éducation, une impasse économique
d'austérité et une domination de la logique de commodité sous la forme du droit d'auteur.
Elle fait apparaitre la pratique du partage de livres et de catalogues des bibliothécaires
amateurs comme un défi pertinent à l'encontre de la convergence de cette crise, de cette
impasse et du régime du droit d'auteur.
Pour comprendre les hypothèses politiques et technologiques et développer plus en
profondeur les stratégies sur lesquelles les réactions des bibliothécaires amateurs se basent,
nous proposons un programme issu de la tradition pédagogique critique. La pédagogie
critique est une pratique productive et théorique qui rejette la définition du procédé
éducationnel comme réduit à une simple technique de communication de la connaissance et
présentée comme un mode d'acquisition neutre. Au contraire, la pédagogie est perçue plus
largement comme « une lutte pour la connaissance, le désir, les valeurs, les relations sociales,
et plus important encore, les modes d'institution politique », « une attention portée aux
questions relatives au contrôle des conditions de production de la connaissance. »[9]



Actuellement, aucune industrie ne montre plus
d'asymétries au niveau du contrôle des conditions de
production de la connaissance que celle de la publication
académique. Refuser l'accès à des publications
académiques excessivement chères pour beaucoup
d'universités, en particulier dans l'hémisphère sud,
contraste ostensiblement avec les profits énormes qu'un
petit nombre d'éditeurs commerciaux tirent du travail
bénévole de scientifiques qui écrivent, révisent et éditent
des contributions et avec les prix exorbitants des
souscriptions que les bibliothèques institutionnelles
doivent payer. C'est donc ici que la bibliothèque amateur
atteint le sommet de son intensité en matière de
pédagogie critique : elle nous invite à formuler et à narrer
plus précisément sa pratique à travers un processus
partagé de découverte.

Une bibliothèque publique, c'est :
• un libre accès aux livres pour tous les membres de la
• un catalogue de bibliothèque,
• un bibliothécaire.

From Amateur

Librarian - A
Course in Critical Pedagogy:
No industry in the present
demonstrates more the asymmetries of
control over the conditions of
production of knowledge than the
academic publishing. The denial of
access to outrageously expensive
academic publications for many
universities, particularly in the Global
South, stands in stark contrast to the
super-profits that a small number of
commercial publishers draws from the
free labour of scientists who write,
review and edit contributions and the
extortive prices their institutional
libraries have to pay for subscriptions.
From Voor elk boek is een
FS: Hoe gaan jullie om met boeken
en publicaties die al vanaf het begin
digitaal zijn? DM: We kopen e-books
en e-tijdschriften en maken die
beschikbaar voor onderzoekers. Maar
dat zijn hele andere omgevingen,
omdat die content niet fysiek binnen
onze muren komt. We kopen toegang
tot servers van uitgevers of de
aggregator. Die content komt nooit bij
ons, die blijft op hun machines staan.
We kunnen daar dus eigenlijk niet
zoveel mee doen, behalve verwijzen
en zorgen dat het evengoed vindbaar
is als de print.

Le programme de bibliothécaire amateur développe
plusieurs aspects et implications d'une telle définition.
Certaines parties du programme ont été construites à
partir de différents ateliers et exposés qui se déroulaient précédemment dans le cadre du
projet Public Library. Certaines parties de ce programme doivent encore évoluer s'appuyant
sur un processus de recherche futur, d'échange et de production de connaissance dans le
processus éducatif. Tout en restant schématique en allant de la pratique immédiate, à la
stratégie, la tactique et au registre réflectif de la
connaissance, il existe des personnes et pratiques - non
citées ici - desquelles nous imaginons pouvoir apprendre.
La première itération de ce programme pourrait aussi
bien être une académie d'été avec notre équipe
sélectionnée de bibliothécaires, concepteurs, chercheurs,
professeurs, qu'un petit atelier avec un groupe restreint
d'étudiants se plongeant dans un aspect précis du
programme. En résumé, ce programme est ouvert, aussi

bien au processus éducationnel qu'aux contributions des autres. Nous sommes ouverts aux
commentaires, aux dérivations et aux ajouts.
• du livre au livre électronique
◦ numériser un livre
avec un scanner de
◦ supprimer la gestion
des droits numériques
et convertir au format
livre numérique
• du désordre au catalogue
◦ gérer une bibliothèque
de livres numériques
avec Calibre
◦ trouver des livres
numériques et des
articles dans des
bibliothèques en ligne
• de la référence à la bibliographie
◦ annoter à partir d'une
application ou d'un
appareil de lecture de
livres électroniques
◦ créer une
académique sur Zotero
• du dispositif de bloc au périphérique réseau
◦ partager votre
bibliothèque de livres
numériques d'un
périphérique local à
un appareil de lecture
◦ partager votre
bibliothèque de livres
numériques sur
internet avec [let’s
share books]



• de l'espace IP privé à l'espace IP public
◦ utiliser [let’s share
books] et
◦ utiliser logan &
◦ utiliser Science Hub
◦ utiliser Tor

• du développement de la subordination à la désobéissance
◦ développement inégal
et stratégies
◦ stratégies de
développement contre
les stratégies de sous
développement : accès
ouvert contre piratage
• de la propriété au commun
◦ de la propriété au
◦ droit d'auteur,
scientifique, accès
◦ bibliothèque de
l'ombre, piratage,
• de la collection à l'action collective
◦ pédagogie critique et
◦ archive, activation et
action collective

• du linéaire à l'informatique
◦ bibliothèque

◦ livre imprimé et livre
numérique : page,
marge, dos
• du central au distribué
◦ bibliothécaires
professionnels et
◦ infrastructure(s) de
(études des classes
• du factuel au fantastique
◦ l'univers pour
bibliothèque, la
bibliothèque pour

• Mars, Marcell; Vladimir, Klemo. Download & How to:
Calibre & [let’s share books]. Memory of the World (2014)
• Buringh, Eltjo; Van Zanden, Jan Luiten. Charting the “Rise of
the West”: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A
Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth
Centuries. The Journal of Economic History (2009) http://
• Mattern, Shannon. Library as Infrastructure. Places Journal
(2014) https://placesjournal.org/article/library-asinfrastructure/
• Antonić, Voja. Our beloved bookscanner. Memory of the
World (2012) https://www.memoryoftheworld.org/
• Medak, Tomislav; Sekulić, Dubravka; Mertens, An. How to:
Bookscanning. Memory of the World (2014) https://
• Barok, Dusan. Talks/Public Library. Monoskop (2015)
• Custodians.online. In Solidarity with Library Genesis and
Science Hub (2015) http://custodians.online



• Battles, Matthew. Library: An Unquiet History Random
House (2014)
• Harris, Michael H. History of Libraries of the Western World.
Scarecrow Press (1999)
• MayDay Rooms. Activation (2015) http://
• Krajewski, Markus. Paper Machines: About Cards &
Catalogs, 1548-1929. MIT Press (2011) https://

Dernière version: https://www.zotero.org/groups/amateur_librarian__a_course_in_critical_pedagogy_reading_list

1. 1. Pour une histoire économique du livre en Europe occidentale, voir Eltjo Buringh et Jan Luiten Van Zanden, « Charting the
‘Rise of the West’ : Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth
Centuries, » The Journal of Economic History 69, n°. 02 (juin 2009) : 409–45, doi :10.1017/S0022050709000837, en
particulier les tableaux 1-5.
2. 2. Pour une histoire sociale de la bibliothèque publique, voir Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (Random House,
2014) chapitre 5 : “Books for all”.
3. 3. Pour ce concept, nous sommes redevables au collectif de curateurs What, How and for Whom/WHW, qui a présenté le
travail de Public Library dans le cadre de l'exposition Really Useful Knowledge qu'ils ont organisée au Museo Reina Sofía à
Madrid, entre 29 octobre 2014 et le 9 février 2015.
4. 4. « Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, » Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Juin 25, 2015, https://


5. 5. Richard Johnson, « Really Useful Knowledge, » dans CCCS Selected Working Papers: Volume 1, 1 édition, vol. 1
(Londres u.a. : Routledge, 2014), 755.
6. Ibid., 752.
7. http://calibre-ebook.com/
8. https://www.memoryoftheworld.org/blog/2014/10/28/calibre-lets-share-books/
9. Henry A. Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy (Bloomsbury Academic, 2011), 5.

A bag
but is
of words
(language is nothing but a bag of words)

In text indexing and other machine reading applications the term "bag of
words" is frequently used to underscore how processing algorithms often
represent text using a data structure (word histograms or weighted vectors)
where the original order of the words in sentence form is stripped away. While
"bag of words" might well serve as a cautionary reminder to programmers of
the essential violence perpetrated to a text and a call to critically question the
efficacy of methods based on subsequent transformations, the expression's use
seems in practice more like a badge of pride or a schoolyard taunt that would
go: Hey language: you're nothin' but a big BAG-OF-WORDS.

In information retrieval and other so-called machine-reading applications (such as text
indexing for web search engines) the term "bag of words" is used to underscore how in the
course of processing a text the original order of the words in sentence form is stripped away.
The resulting representation is then a collection of each unique word used in the text,
typically weighted by the number of times the word occurs.
Bag of words, also known as word histograms or weighted term vectors, are a standard part
of the data engineer's toolkit. But why such a drastic transformation? The utility of "bag of
words" is in how it makes text amenable to code, first in that it's very straightforward to
implement the translation from a text document to a bag of words representation. More



significantly, this transformation then opens up a wide collection of tools and techniques for
further transformation and analysis purposes. For instance, a number of libraries available in
the booming field of "data sciences" work with "high dimension" vectors; bag of words is a
way to transform a written document into a mathematical vector where each "dimension"
corresponds to the (relative) quantity of each unique word. While physically unimaginable
and abstract (imagine each of Shakespeare's works as points in a 14 million dimensional
space), from a formal mathematical perspective, it's quite a comfortable idea, and many
complementary techniques (such as principle component analysis) exist to reduce the
resulting complexity.
What's striking about a bag of words representation, given is centrality in so many text
retrieval application is its irreversibility. Given a bag of words representation of a text and
faced with the task of producing the original text would require in essence the "brain" of a
writer to recompose sentences, working with the patience of a devoted cryptogram puzzler to
draw from the precise stock of available words. While "bag of words" might well serve as a
cautionary reminder to programmers of the essential violence perpetrated to a text and a call
to critically question the efficacy of methods based on subsequent transformations, the
expressions use seems in practice more like a badge of pride or a schoolyard taunt that would
go: Hey language: you're nothing but a big BAG-OF-WORDS. Following this spirit of the
term, "bag of words" celebrates a perfunctory step of "breaking" a text into a purer form
amenable to computation, to stripping language of its silly redundant repetitions and foolishly
contrived stylistic phrasings to reveal a purer inner essence.

Lieber's Standard Telegraphic Code, first published in 1896 and republished in various
updated editions through the early 1900s, is an example of one of several competing systems
of telegraph code books. The idea was for both senders and receivers of telegraph messages
to use the books to translate their messages into a sequence of code words which can then be
sent for less money as telegraph messages were paid by the word. In the front of the book, a
list of examples gives a sampling of how messages like: "Have bought for your account 400
bales of cotton, March delivery, at 8.34" can be conveyed by a telegram with the message
"Ciotola, Delaboravi". In each case the reduction of number of transmitted words is
highlighted to underscore the efficacy of the method. Like a dictionary or thesaurus, the book
is primarily organized around key words, such as act, advice, affairs, bags, bail, and bales,
under which exhaustive lists of useful phrases involving the corresponding word are provided
in the main pages of the volume. [1]





[...] my focus in this chapter is on the inscription technology that grew parasitically
alongside the monopolistic pricing strategies of telegraph companies: telegraph code
books. Constructed under the bywords “economy,” “secrecy,” and “simplicity,”

telegraph code books matched phrases and words with code letters or numbers. The
idea was to use a single code word instead of an entire phrase, thus saving money by
serving as an information compression technology. Generally economy won out over
secrecy, but in specialized cases, secrecy was also important.

In Katherine Hayles' chapter devoted to telegraph code books she observes how:
The interaction between code and language shows a steady movement away from a
human-centric view of code toward a machine-centric view, thus anticipating the
development of full-fledged machine codes with the digital computer.

Aspects of this transitional moment are apparent in a notice included prominently inserted in
the Lieber's code book:
After July, 1904, all combinations of letters that do not exceed ten will pass as one
cipher word, provided that it is pronounceable, or that it is taken from the following
languages: English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese or Latin -[4]
International Telegraphic Conference, July 1903

Conforming to international conventions regulating telegraph communication at that time, the
stipulation that code words be actual words drawn from a variety of European languages
(many of Lieber's code words are indeed arbitrary Dutch, German, and Spanish words)



underscores this particular moment of transition as reference to the human body in the form
of "pronounceable" speech from representative languages begins to yield to the inherent
potential for arbitrariness in digital representation.
What telegraph code books do is remind us of is the relation of language in general to
economy. Whether they may be economies of memory, attention, costs paid to a
telecommunicatons company, or in terms of computer processing time or storage space,
encoding language or knowledge in any form of writing is a form of shorthand and always
involves an interplay with what one expects to perform or "get out" of the resulting encoding.
Along with the invention of telegraphic codes comes a paradox that John Guillory has
noted: code can be used both to clarify and occlude. Among the sedimented structures
in the technological unconscious is the dream of a universal language. Uniting the
world in networks of communication that flashed faster than ever before, telegraphy
was particularly suited to the idea that intercultural communication could become
almost effortless. In this utopian vision, the effects of continuous reciprocal causality
expand to global proportions capable of radically transforming the conditions of human
life. That these dreams were never realized seems, in retrospect, inevitable.



Far from providing a universal system of encoding messages in the English language,
Lieber's code is quite clearly designed for the particular needs and conditions of its use. In
addition to the phrases ordered by keywords, the book includes a number of tables of terms
for specialized use. One table lists a set of words used to describe all possible permutations of
numeric grades of coffee (Choliam = 3,4, Choliambos = 3,4,5, Choliba = 4,5, etc.); another
table lists pairs of code words to express the respective daily rise or fall of the price of coffee
at the port of Le Havre in increments of a quarter of a Franc per 50 kilos ("Chirriado =
prices have advanced 1 1/4 francs"). From an archaeological perspective, the Lieber's code
book reveals a cross section of the needs and desires of early 20th century business
communication between the United States and its trading partners.
The advertisements lining the Liebers Code book further situate its use and that of
commercial telegraphy. Among the many advertisements for banking and law services, office
equipment, and alcohol are several ads for gun powder and explosives, drilling equipment
and metallurgic services all with specific applications to mining. Extending telegraphy's
formative role for ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship communication for reasons of safety,
commercial telegraphy extended this network of communication to include those parties
coordinating the "raw materials" being mined, grown, or otherwise extracted from overseas
sources and shipped back for sale.

Tim Berners-Lee: [...] Make a beautiful website, but
first give us the unadulterated data, we want the data.
We want unadulterated data. OK, we have to ask for
raw data now. And I'm going to ask you to practice
that, OK? Can you say "raw"?
Audience: Raw.
Tim Berners-Lee: Can you say "data"?
Audience: Data.
TBL: Can you say "now"?
Audience: Now!
TBL: Alright, "raw data now"!

From La ville intelligente - Ville de la
Étant donné que les nouvelles formes
modernistes et l'utilisation de
matériaux propageaient l'abondance
d'éléments décoratifs, Paul Otlet
croyait en la possibilité du langage
comme modèle de « données brutes »,
le réduisant aux informations
essentielles et aux faits sans ambiguïté,
tout en se débarrassant de tous les
éléments inefficaces et subjectifs.
From The Smart City - City of
As new modernist forms and use of
materials propagated the abundance
of decorative elements, Otlet believed
in the possibility of language as a
model of 'raw data', reducing it to
essential information and
unambiguous facts, while removing all
inefficient assets of ambiguity or

So, we're at the stage now where we have to do this -the people who think it's a great idea. And all the
people -- and I think there's a lot of people at TED
who do things because -- even though there's not an
immediate return on the investment because it will only really pay off when everybody
else has done it -- they'll do it because they're the sort of person who just does things
which would be good if everybody else did them. OK, so it's called linked data. I want
you to make it. I want you to demand it.

As graduate students at Stanford, Sergey Brin and Lawrence (Larry) Page had an early
interest in producing "structured data" from the "unstructured" web. [7]
The World Wide Web provides a vast source of information of almost all types,
ranging from DNA databases to resumes to lists of favorite restaurants. However, this
information is often scattered among many web servers and hosts, using many different
formats. If these chunks of information could be extracted from the World Wide Web
and integrated into a structured form, they would form an unprecedented source of
information. It would include the largest international directory of people, the largest
and most diverse databases of products, the greatest bibliography of academic works,
and many other useful resources. [...]



2.1 The Problem
Here we define our problem more formally:
Let D be a large database of unstructured information such as the World Wide Web

In a paper titled Dynamic Data Mining Brin and Page situate their research looking for rules
(statistical correlations) between words used in web pages. The "baskets" they mention stem
from the origins of "market basket" techniques developed to find correlations between the
items recorded in the purchase receipts of supermarket customers. In their case, they deal
with web pages rather than shopping baskets, and words instead of purchases. In transitioning
to the much larger scale of the web, they describe the usefulness of their research in terms of
its computational economy, that is the ability to tackle the scale of the web and still perform
using contemporary computing power completing its task in a reasonably short amount of
A traditional algorithm could not compute the large itemsets in the lifetime of the
universe. [...] Yet many data sets are difficult to mine because they have many
frequently occurring items, complex relationships between the items, and a large
number of items per basket. In this paper we experiment with word usage in documents
on the World Wide Web (see Section 4.2 for details about this data set). This data set
is fundamentally different from a supermarket data set. Each document has roughly
150 distinct words on average, as compared to roughly 10 items for cash register
transactions. We restrict ourselves to a subset of about 24 million documents from the
web. This set of documents contains over 14 million distinct words, with tens of
thousands of them occurring above a reasonable support threshold. Very many sets of
these words are highly correlated and occur often.

In programming, I've encountered a recurring "problem" that's quite symptomatic. It goes
something like this: you (the programmer) have managed to cobble out a lovely "content
management system" (either from scratch, or using any number of helpful frameworks)
where your user can enter some "items" into a database, for instance to store bookmarks.
After this ordered items are automatically presented in list form (say on a web page). The
author: It's great, except... could this bookmark come before that one? The problem stems
from the fact that the database ordering (a core functionality provided by any database)
somehow applies a sorting logic that's almost but not quite right. A typical example is the
sorting of names where details (where to place a name that starts with a Norwegian "Ø" for
instance), are language-specific, and when a mixture of languages occurs, no single ordering
is necessarily "correct". The (often) exascerbated programmer might hastily add an
additional database field so that each item can also have an "order" (perhaps in the form of a
date or some other kind of (alpha)numerical "sorting" value) to be used to correctly order
the resulting list. Now the author has a means, awkward and indirect but workable, to control

the order of the presented data on the start page. But one might well ask, why not just edit
the resulting listing as a document? Not possible! Contemporary content management
systems are based on a data flow from a "pure" source of a database, through controlling
code and templates to produce a document as a result. The document isn't the data, it's the
end result of an irreversible process. This problem, in this and many variants, is widespread
and reveals an essential backwardness that a particular "computer scientist" mindset relating
to what constitutes "data" and in particular it's relationship to order that makes what might be
a straightforward question of editing a document into an over-engineered database.
Recently working with Nikolaos Vogiatzis whose research explores playful and radically
subjective alternatives to the list, Vogiatzis was struck by how from the earliest specifications
of HTML (still valid today) have separate elements (OL and UL) for "ordered" and
"unordered" lists.
The representation of the list is not defined here, but a bulleted list for unordered lists,
and a sequence of numbered paragraphs for an ordered list would be quite appropriate.
Other possibilities for interactive display include embedded scrollable browse panels.

Vogiatzis' surprise lay in the idea of a list ever being considered "unordered" (or in
opposition to the language used in the specification, for order to ever be considered
"insignificant"). Indeed in its suggested representation, still followed by modern web
browsers, the only difference between the two visually is that UL items are preceded by a
bullet symbol, while OL items are numbered.
The idea of ordering runs deep in programming practice where essentially different data
structures are employed depending on whether order is to be maintained. The indexes of a
"hash" table, for instance (also known as an associative array), are ordered in an
unpredictable way governed by a representation's particular implementation. This data
structure, extremely prevalent in contemporary programming practice sacrifices order to offer
other kinds of efficiency (fast text-based retrieval for instance).

In announcing Google's impending data center in Mons, Belgian prime minister Di Rupo
invoked the link between the history of the mining industry in the region and the present and
future interest in "data mining" as practiced by IT companies such as Google.
Whether speaking of bales of cotton, barrels of oil, or bags of words, what links these subjects
is the way in which the notion of "raw material" obscures the labor and power structures
employed to secure them. "Raw" is always relative: "purity" depends on processes of
"refinement" that typically carry social/ecological impact.



Stripping language of order is an act of "disembodiment", detaching it from the acts of writing
and reading. The shift from (human) reading to machine reading involves a shift of
responsibility from the individual human body to the obscured responsibilities and seemingly
inevitable forces of the "machine", be it the machine of a market or the machine of an
The computer scientists' view of textual content as
"unstructured", be it in a webpage or the OCR scanned
pages of a book, reflect a negligence to the processes and
labor of writing, editing, design, layout, typesetting, and
eventually publishing, collecting and cataloging [11].

From X = Y:
Still, it is reassuring to know that the
products hold traces of the work, that
even with the progressive removal of
human signs in automated processes,
the workers' presence never
disappears completely. This presence
is proof of the materiality of
information production, and becomes
a sign of the economies and
paradigms of efficiency and
profitability that are involved.

"Unstructured" to the computer scientist, means nonconformant to particular forms of machine reading.
"Structuring" then is a social process by which particular
(additional) conventions are agreed upon and employed.
Computer scientists often view text through the eyes of
their particular reading algorithm, and in the process
(voluntarily) blind themselves to the work practices which have produced and maintain these
Berners-Lee, in chastising his audience of web publishers to not only publish online, but to
release "unadulterated" data belies a lack of imagination in considering how language is itself
structured and a blindness to the need for more than additional technical standards to connect
to existing publishing practices.

1. Benjamin Franklin Lieber, Lieber's Standard Telegraphic Code, 1896, New York; https://archive.org/details/
2. Katherine Hayles, "Technogenesis in Action: Telegraph Code Books and the Place of the Human", How We Think: Digital
Media and Contemporary Technogenesis, 2006
3. Hayles
4. Lieber's
5. Hayles
6. Tim Berners-Lee: The next web, TED Talk, February 2009 http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_berners_lee_on_the_next_web/
7. "Research on the Web seems to be fashionable these days and I guess I'm no exception." from Brin's Stanford webpage
8. Extracting Patterns and Relations from the World Wide Web, Sergey Brin, Proceedings of the WebDB Workshop at EDBT
1998, http://www-db.stanford.edu/~sergey/extract.ps
9. Dynamic Data Mining: Exploring Large Rule Spaces by Sampling; Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, 1998; p. 2 http://
10. Hypertext Markup Language (HTML): "Internet Draft", Tim Berners-Lee and Daniel Connolly, June 1993, http://
11. http://informationobservatory.info/2015/10/27/google-books-fair-use-or-anti-democratic-preemption/#more-279

A Book
of the

Is there a vital difference between publishing in print versus online other than
reaching different groups of readers and a different lifespan? Both types of texts
are worth considering preserving in libraries. The online environment has
created its own hybrid form between text and library, which is key to
understanding how digital text produces difference.
Historically, we have been treating texts as discrete units, that are distinguished by their
material properties such as cover, binding, script. These characteristics establish them as
either a book, a magazine, a diary, sheet music and so on. One book differs from another,
books differ from magazines, printed matter differs from handwritten manuscripts. Each
volume is a self-contained whole, further distinguished by descriptors such as title, author,
date, publisher, and classification codes that allow it to be located and referred to. The
demarcation of a publication as a container of text works as a frame or boundary which
organises the way it can be located and read. Researching a particular subject matter, the
reader is carried along by classification schemes under which volumes are organised, by
references inside texts, pointing to yet other volumes, and by tables of contents and indexes of
subjects that are appended to texts, pointing to places within that volume.
So while their material properties separate texts into distinct objects, bibliographic information
provides each object with a unique identifier, a unique address in the world of print culture.
Such identifiable objects are further replicated and distributed across containers that we call
libraries, where they can be accessed.
The online environment however, intervenes in this condition. It establishes shortcuts.
Through search engine, digital texts can be searched for any text sequence, regardless of
their distinct materiality and bibliographic specificity. This changes the way they function as a
library, and the way its main object, the book, should be rethought.
(1) Rather than operate as distinct entities, multiple texts are simultaneously accessible
through full-text search as if they are one long text, with its portions spread across the



web, and including texts that had not been considered as candidates for library
(2) The unique identifier at hand for these text portions is not the bibliographic
information, but the URL.
(3) The text is as long as web-crawlers of a given search engine are set to reach,
refashioning the library into a storage of indexed data.

These are some of the lines along which online texts appear to produce difference. The first
contrasts the distinct printed publication to the machine-readable text, the second the
bibliographic information to the URL, and the third the library to the search engine.
The introduction of full-text search has created an
environment in which all machine-readable online
documents in reach are effectively treated as one single
document. For any text-sequence to be locatable, it
doesn't matter in which file format it appears, nor whether
its interface is a database-powered website or mere
directory listing. As long as text can be extracted from a
document, it is a container of text sequences which itself
is a sequence in a 'book' of the web.
Even though this is hardly news after almost two decades
of Google Search ruling, little seems to have changed
with respect to the forms and genres of writing. Loyal to
standard forms of publishing, most writing still adheres to
the principle of coherence, based on units such as book
chapters, journal papers, newspaper articles, etc., that are
designed to be read from beginning to end.

From Voor elk boek is een gebruiker:
FS: Maar het gaat toch ook over de
manier waarop jullie toegang bieden,
de bibliotheek als interface? Online
laten jullie dat nu over aan Google.
SVP: De toegang gaat niet meer
over: “deze instelling heeft dit, deze
instelling heeft iets anders”, al die
instellingen zijn via dezelfde interface
te bereiken. Je kan doorheen al die
collecties zoeken en dat is ook weer
een stukje van die originele droom van
Otlet en Vander Haeghen, het idee
van een wereldbibliotheek. Voor elk
boek is er een gebruiker, de
bibliotheek moet die maar gaan
Wat ik intrigerend vind is dat alle
boeken één boek geworden zijn
doordat ze op hetzelfde niveau
doorzoekbaar zijn, dat is ongelooflijk
opwindend. Dat is een andere manier
van lezen die zelfs Otlet zich niet had
kunnen voorstellen. Ze zouden zot
worden moesten ze dit weten.

Still, the scope of textual forms appearing in search
results, and thus a corpus of texts in which they are being
brought into, is radically diversified: it may include
discussion board comments, product reviews, private emails, weather information, spam etc., the type of content
that used to be omitted from library collections. Rather than being published in a traditional
sense, all these texts are produced onto digital networks by mere typing, copying, OCR-ing,
generated by machines, by sensors tracking movement, temperature, etc.
Even though portions of these texts may come with human or non-human authors attached,
authors have relatively little control over discourses their writing gets embedded in. This is
also where the ambiguity of copyright manifests itself. Crawling bots pre-read the internet
with all its attached devices according to the agenda of their maintainers, and the decisions

about which, how and to whom the indexed texts are served in search results is in the code of
a library.
Libraries in this sense are not restricted to digitised versions of physical public or private
libraries as we know them from history. Commercial search engines, intelligence agencies,
and virtually all forms of online text collections can be thought of as libraries.
Acquisition policies figure here on the same level with crawling bots, dragnet/surveillance
algorithms, and arbitrary motivations of users, all of which actuate the selection and
embedding of texts into structures that regulate their retrievability and through access control
produce certain kinds of communities or groups of readers. The author's intentions of
partaking in this or that discourse are confronted by discourse-conditioning operations of
retrieval algorithms. Hence, Google structures discourse through its Google Search
differently from how the Internet Archive does with its Wayback Machine, and from how the
GCHQ does it with its dragnet programme.
They are all libraries, each containing a single 'book' whose pages are URLs with
timestamps and geostamps in the form of IP address. Google, GCHQ, JStor, Elsevier –
each maintains its own searchable corpus of texts. The decisions about who, to which
sections and under which conditions is to be admitted are
From Amateur Librarian - A Course
informed by a mix of copyright laws, corporate agendas,
in Critical Pedagogy:
management hierarchies, and national security issues.
As books became more easily massVarious sets of these conditions that are at work in a
produced, the commercial
subscription libraries catering to the
particular library, also redefine the notion of publishing
better-off parts of society blossomed.
and of the publication, and in turn the notion of public.
This brought the class aspect of the
Corporate journal repositories exploit publicly funded
research by renting it only to libraries which can afford it;
intelligence agencies are set to extract texts from any
moving target, basically any networked device, apparently
in public interest and away from the public eye; publiclyfunded libraries are being prevented by outdated
copyright laws and bureaucracy from providing digitised
content online; search engines create a sense of giving
access to all public record online while only a few know
what is excluded and how search results are ordered.


nascent demand for public access to
books to the fore.
From Bibliothécaire amateur - un
cours de pédagogie critique:
Puisqu'il était de plus en plus facile de
produire des livres en masse, les
bibliothèques privées payantes, au
service des catégories privilégiées de
la société, ont commencé à se
répandre. Ce phénomène a mis en
relief la question de la classe dans la
demande naissante pour un accès
public aux livres.


It is within and against this milieu that libraries such as
the Internet Archive, Wikileaks, Aaaaarg, UbuWeb,
Monoskop, Memory of the World, Nettime, TheNextLayer
and others gain their political agency. Their countertechniques for negotiating the publicness of publishing
include self-archiving, open access, book liberation,
leaking, whistleblowing, open source search algorithms
and so on.
Digitization and posting texts online are interventions in
the procedures that make search possible. Operating
online collections of texts is as much about organising
texts within libraries, as is placing them within books of
the web.

Originally written 15-16 June 2015 in Prague, Brno
and Vienna for a talk given at the Technopolitics seminar in Vienna on 16 June 2015.
Revised 29 December 2015 in Bergen.


I first spoke to the patient in the last week of that August. That evening the sun was tender in
drawing its shadows across the lines of his face. The eyes gazed softly into a close middle
distance, as if composing a line upon a translucent page hung in the middle of the air, the
hands tapping out a stanza or two of music on legs covered by the brown folds of a towelling
dressing gown. He had the air of someone who had seen something of great amazement but
yet lacked the means to put it into language. As I got to know the patient over the next few
weeks I learned that this was not for the want of effort.
In his youth he had dabbled with the world-speak
language Volapük, one designed to do away with the
incompatibility of tongues, to establish a standard in
which scientific intercourse might be conducted with
maximum efficiency and with minimal friction in
movement between minds, laboratories and publications.
Latin biological names, the magnificent table of elements,
metric units of measurement, the nomenclature of celestial
objects from clouds to planets, anatomical parts and
medical conditions all had their own systems of naming
beyond any specific tongue. This was an attempt to bring
reason into speech and record, but there were other
means to do so when reality resisted these early

The dabbling, he reflected, had become a little more than
that. He had subscribed to journals in the language, he
wrote letters to colleagues and received them in return. A
few words of world-speak remained readily on his tongue, words that he spat out regularly
into the yellow-wallpapered lounge of the sanatorium with a disgust that was lugubriously
According to my records, and in piecing together the notes of previous doctors, there was
something else however, something more profound that the language only hinted at. Just as
the postal system did not require the adoption of any language in particular but had its



formats that integrated them into addressee, address line, postal town and country, something
that organised the span of the earth, so there was a sense of the patient as having sustained
an encounter with a fundamental form of organisation that mapped out his soul. More thrilling
than the question of language indeed was that of the system of organisation upon which
linguistic symbols are inscribed. I present for the reader’s contemplation some statements
typical of those he seemed to mull over.
“The index card system spoke to my soul. Suffice it to say that in its use I enjoyed the
highest form of spiritual pleasure, and organisational efficiency, a profound flowering of
intellect in which every thought moved between its enunciation, evidence, reference and
articulation in a mellifluous flow of ideation and the gratification of curiosity.” This sense of
the soul as a roving enquiry moving across eras, across forms of knowledge and through the
serried landscapes of the vast planet and cosmos was returned to over and over, a sense that
an inexplicable force was within him yet always escaping his touch.
“At every reference stood another reference, each more
interesting than the last. Each the apex of a pyramid of
further reading, pregnant with the threat of digression,
each a thin high wire which, if not observed might lead
the author into the fall of error, a finding already found
against and written up.” He mentions too, a number of
times, the way the furniture seemed to assist his thoughts
- the ease of reference implied by the way in which the
desk aligned with the text resting upon the pages of the
off-print, journal, newspaper, blueprint or book above
which further drawers of cards stood ready in their
cabinet. All were integrated into the system. And yet,
amidst these frenetic recollections there was a note of
mourning in his contemplative moods, “The superposition
of all planes of enquiry and of thought in one system
repels those for whom such harmonious speed is
suspicious.” This thought was delivered with a stare that
was not exactly one of accusation, but that lingered with
the impression that there was a further statement to follow
it, and another, queued up ready to follow.

As I gained the trust of the patient, there was a sense in
which he estimated me as something of a junior
collaborator, a clerk to his natural role as manager. A
lucky, if slightly doubtful, young man whom he might
mentor into efficiency and a state of full access to
information. For his world, there was not the corruption and tiredness of the old methods.
Ideas moved faster in his mind than they might now across the world. To possess a register of

thoughts covering a period of some years is to have an asset, the value of which is almost
incalculable. That it can answer any question respecting any thought about which one has
had an enquiry is but the smallest of its merits. More important is the fact that it continually
calls attention to matters requiring such attention.
Much of his discourse was about the optimum means of arrangement of the system, there
was an art to laying out the cards. As the patient further explained, to meet the objection that
loose cards may easily be mislaid, cards may be tabbed with numbers from one to ten. When
arranged in the drawer, these tabs proceed from left to right across the drawer and the
absence of a single card can thus easily be detected. The cards are further arranged between
coloured guide cards. As an alternative to tabbed cards, signal flags may be used. Here,
metal clips may be attached to the top end of the card and that stand out like guides. For use
of the system in relation to dates of the month, the card is printed with the numbers 1 to 31
at the top. The metal clip is placed as a signal to indicate the card is to receive attention on
the specified day. Within a large organisation a further card can be drawn up to assign
responsibility for processing that date’s cards. There were numerous means of working the
cards, special techniques for integrating them into any type of research or organisation, means
by which indexes operating on indexes could open mines of information and expand the
knowledge and capabilities of mankind.
As he pressed me further, I began to experiment with such methods myself by withdrawing
data from the sanatorium’s records and transferring it to cards in the night. The advantages of
the system are overwhelming. Cards, cut to the right mathematical degree of accuracy,
arrayed readily in drawers, set in cabinets of standard sizes that may be added to at ease,
may be apportioned out amongst any number of enquirers, all of whom may work on them
independently and simultaneously. The bound book, by contrast, may only be used by one
person at a time and that must stay upon a shelf itself referred to by an index card system. I
began to set up a structure of rows of mirrors on chains and pulleys and a set of levered and
hinged mechanical arms to allow me to open the drawers and to privately consult my files
from any location within the sanatorium. The clarity of the image is however so far too much
effaced by the diffusion of light across the system.
It must further be borne in mind that a system thus capable of indefinite expansion obviates
the necessity for hampering a researcher with furniture or appliances of a larger size than are
immediately required. The continuous and orderly sequence of the cards may be extended
further into the domain of furniture and to the conduct of business and daily life. Reasoning,
reference and the order of ideas emerging as they embrace and articulate a chaotic world and
then communicate amongst themselves turning the world in turn into something resembling
the process of thought in an endless process of consulting, rephrasing, adding and sorting.
For the patient, ideas flowed like a force of life, oblivious to any unnatural limitation. Thought
became, with the proper use of the system, part of the stream of life itself. Thought moved
through the cards not simply at the superficial level of the movement of fingers and the
mechanical sliding and bunching of cards, but at the most profound depths of the movement



between reality and our ideas of it. The organisational grace to be found in arrangement,
classification and indexing still stirred the remnants of his nervous system until the last day.




Note: The editor has had the good fortune of finding a whole box of
handwritten index cards and various folded papers (from printed screenshots to
boarding passes) in the storage space of an institute. Upon closer investigation,
it has become evident that the mixed contents of the box make up one single
document. Difficult to decipher due to messy handwriting, the manuscript
poses further challenges to the reader because its fragments lack a preestablished order. Simply uploading high-quality facsimile images of the box
contents here would not solve the problems of legibility and coherence. As an
intermediary solution, the editor has opted to introduce below a selection of
scanned images and transcribed text from the found box. The transcript is
intended to be read as a document sample, as well as an attempt at manuscript
reconstruction, following the original in the author's hand as closely as possible:
pencilled in words in the otherwise black ink text are transcribed in brackets,
whereas curly braces signal erasures, peculiar marks or illegible parts on the
index cards. Despite shifts in handwriting styles, whereby letters sometimes
appear extremely rushed and distorted in multiple idiosyncratic ways, the
experts consulted unanimously declared that the manuscript was most likely
authored by one and the same person. To date, the author remains unknown.

I've been running with a word in my mouth, running with this burning untitled shape, and I
just can't spit it out. Spit it with phlegm from a balcony, kiss it in a mirror, brush it away one
morning. I've been running with a word in my mouth, running...

… it must have been only last month that I began half-chanting-half-mumbling this looped
sequence of sentences on the staircase I regularly take down to work and back up to dream,
yet it feels as if it were half a century ago. Tunneling through my memory, my tongue begins
burning again and so I recollect that the subject matter was an agonizing, unutterable
obsession I needed to sort out most urgently. Back then I knew no better way than to keep
bringing it up obliquely until it would chemically dissolve itself into my blood or evaporate
through the pores of my skin. To whisper the obsession away, I thought not entirely so
naïvely, following a peculiar kind of vengeful logic, by emptying words of their pocket
contents on a spiraling staircase. An anti-incantation, a verbal overdose, a semantic dilution or
reduction – for the first time, I was ready to inflict harm on words! [And I am sure, the
thought has crossed other lucid minds, too.]

During the first several days, as I was rushing up and down the stairs like a Tasmanian devil,
swirling those same sentences in my expunction ritual, I hardly noticed that the brown
marbled staircase had a ravenous appetite for all my sound making and fuss: it cushioned the
clump of my footsteps, it absorbed the vibrations of my vocal chords and of my fingers
drumming on the handrail. All this unusual business must have carried on untroubled for
some time until that Wed. [?] morning when I tried approaching the employee at the
reception desk in the hideously large building where I live with a question about elevator
safety. I may take the elevator once in a blue moon, but I could not ignore the new
disquieting note I had been reading on all elevator doors that week:
m a k e / s u r e / t h e / e l e v a t o r / c a r / i s / s t a t i o n e d / o n / y o u r / f l
o o r / b e f o r e / s t e p p i n g / i n




Walking with a swagger, I entered the incandescent light field around the fancy semicircular,
brown reception desk, pressed down my palms on it, bent forward and from what I found to
be a comfortable inquiry angle, launched question mark after question mark: “Is everything
alright with the elevators? Do you know how worrisome I find the new warning on the
elevator doors? Has there been an accident? Or is this simply an insurance disclaimer-trick?”
Too many floors, too many times reading the same message against my will, must have
inflated my concern, so I breathed out the justification of my anxiety and waited for a
reassuring head shake to erase the imprint of the elevator shaft from my mind. Oddly, not the
faintest or most bored acknowledgment of my inquiry or presence came from across the desk.
From where I was standing, I performed a quick check to see if any cables came out of the
receptionist's ears. Nothing. Channels unobstructed, no ear mufflers, no micro-devices.
Suspicion eliminated, I waved at him, emitted a few other sounds – all to no avail. My
tunnel-visioned receptionist rolled his chair even closer to one of the many monitors under his
hooked gaze, his visual field now narrowed to a very acute angle, sheltered by his high desk.
How well I can still remember that at that exact moment I wished my face would turn into
the widest, most expensive screen, with an imperative, hairy ticker at the bottom –
h e y t o u c h m y s c r e e n m y m u s t a c h e s c r e e n e l e v a t o r t o u c h d o w n s
c r e a m


That's one of the first red flags I remember in this situation (here, really starting to come
across more or less as a story): a feeling of being silenced by the building I inhabited. [Or to
think about it the other way around: it's also plausible and less paranoid that upon hearing
my flash sentences the building manifested a sense of phonophobia and consequently
activated a strange defense mechanism. In any case, t]hat day, I had been forewarned, but I
failed to understand. As soon as I pushed the revolving door and left the building with a wry
smile [on my face], the traffic outside wolfed down the warning.

The day I resigned myself to those forces – and I assume, I had unleashed them upon myself
through my vengeful desire to hxxx {here, a 3-cm erasure} words until I could see carcass
after carcass roll down the stairs [truth be said, a practice that differed from other people's
doings only in my heightened degree of awareness, which entailed a partially malevolent but
perhaps understandable defensive strategy on my part] – that gloomy day, the burning
untitled shape I had been carrying in my mouth morphed into a permanent official of my
cavity – a word implant in my jaw! No longer do I feel pain on my tongue, only a tinge of
volcanic ash as an aftermath of this defeat.


I've been running with a word in my mouth, running with this burning untitled shape, and I
just can't spit it out. Spit it with phlegm from a balcony, kiss it in a mirror, brush it away one
morning. It has become my tooth, rooted in my nervous system. My word of mouth.

Since then, my present has turned into an obscure hole, and I can't climb out of it. Most of
the time, I'm sitting at the bottom of this narrow oubliette, teeth in knees, scribbling notes with
my body in a terribly twisted position. And when I'm not sitting, I'm forced to jump.
Agonizing thoughts numb my limbs so much so that I feel my legs turning to stone. On some
days I look up, terrified. I can't even make out whether the diffuse opening is egg- or squareshaped, but there's definitely a peculiar tic-tac sequence interspersed with neighs that my
pricked ears are picking up on. A sound umbrella, hovering somewhere up there, high above
my imploded horizon.
{illegible vertical lines resembling a bar code}
Hypotheses scanned and merged, I temporarily conclude that a horse-like creature with
metal intestines must be galloping round and round the hole I'm in. When I first noticed the
sound, its circular cadence was soft and unobtrusive, almost protective, but now the more laps
the clock-horse is running, the deeper the ticking and the neighing sounds are drilling into the
hole. I picture this as an ever rotating metal worm inside a mincing machine. If I point my
chin up, it bores through my throat!



What if, in returning to that red flag in my reconstructive undertaking [instead of “red flag”,
whose imperialist connotations strike me today, we cross it out and use “pyramid” to refer to
such potentially revealing frames, when intuitions {two words crossed out, but still legible:
seem to} give the alarm and converge before thoughts do], we posit that an elevator accident
occurred not long after my unanswered query at the High Reception Desk, and that I –
exceptionally – found myself in the elevator car that plummeted. Following this not entirely
bleak hypothesis, the oubliette I'm trapped in translates to an explainable state of blackout
and all the ticking and the drilling could easily find their counterparts in the host of medical
devices (and their noise-making) that support a comatose person. What if what I am
experiencing now is another kind of awareness, inside a coma, which will be gone once I
wake up in a few hours or days on a hospital bed, flowers by my side, someone crying / loud
as a horse / in the other corner of the room, next to a child's bed?
[Plausible as this scenario might be, it's still strange how the situation calls for reality-like
insertions to occur through “what if”s...]

Have I fallen into a lucid coma or am I a hallucination, made in 1941 out of gouache and
black pencil, paper, cardboard and purchased in 1966?
[To visualize the equation of my despair, the following elements are given: the abovewhispered question escalates into a desperate shout and multiplies itself over a considerable
stretch of time at the expense of my vocal chords. After all, I am not made of black pencil or
cardboard or paper. Despite this conclusion, the effort has left me sulking for hours without
being able to scribble anything, overwhelmed by a sensation of being pinched and pulled
sideways by dark particles inside the mineral dampness of this open tomb. What's the use of
a vertical territory if you can't sniff it all the way up?]
{several overlapping thumbmarks in black ink, lower right corner}

/ one gorgeous whale \
my memory's biomorphic shadow
can anyone write in woodworm language?

how to teach the Cyrillic alphabet to woodworms?
how many hypotheses to /re-stabilize\ one's situation?
how many pyramids one on top of the other to the \coma/ surface?
the denser the pyramid net, the more confusing the situation. true/false\fiction


Hasty recordings of several escape attempts. A slew of tentacle-thoughts are rising towards
the ethereal opening and here I am / hopeful and unwashed \ just beneath a submundane
landscape of groping, shimmering arms, hungry to sense and to collect every memory detail in
an effort of sense making, to draw skin over hypotheses and hypotheses over bones. It might
be morning, it might be yesterday's morning out there or any other time in the past, when as I
cracked the door to my workplace, I entered my co-workers' question game and paraverbal
Puckered lips open: “Listen, whose childhood dream was it to have one of their eye-bulbs
replaced with a micro fish-eye lens implant?” Knitted eyebrows: “Someone whose neural
pathways zigzagged phrenologist categories?” Microexpressionist: “How many semioticiandentists and woodworm-writers have visited the Chaos Institute to date?” A ragged mane:
“The same number as the number of neurological tools for brain mapping that the Institute
owns?” {one lengthy word crossed out, probably a name}: “Would your brain topography get
upset and wrinkle if you imagined all the bureaucrats' desks from the largest country on earth
[by pop.] piled up in a pyramid?” Microexpressionist again: “Who wants to draft the call for
asemic writers?” Puckered lips closes {sic} the door.

It's a humongous workplace, with a blue entrance door, cluttered with papers on both sides.
See? Left hand on the entrance door handle, the woman presses it and the three of them
[guiding co-worker, faceless cameraman, scarlet-haired interviewer] squeeze themselves



inside all that paper. [Door shuts by itself.] Doesn't it feel like entering a paper sculpture? [,
she herself appearing for a split second to have undergone a material transformation, to have
turned into paper, the left side of her face glowing in a retro light. It's still her.] This is where
we work, a hybrid site officially called The Institute for Chaos and Neuroplasticity – packed
with folders, jammed with newspapers, stacks of private correspondence left and right,
recording devices, boxes with photographs, xeroxed documents on shelves, {several pea-sized
inkblots} printed screenshots and boarding passes – we keep it all, everything that museums
or archives have no interest in, all orphaned papers, photographic plates and imperiled books
or hard disks relatives might want to discard or even burn after someone's death. Exploring
leftovers around here can go up and down to horrifying and overwhelming sensorial levels...

{a two-centimeter line of rust from a pin in the upper left corner of the index card}
Sociological-intelligence rumors have it that ours is the bureau for studying psychological
attachment to “garbage” (we very much welcome researchers), while others refer to the
Institute as the chaos-brewing place in the neighborhood because we employ absolutely no
classification method for storing papers or other media. The chances of finding us? [Raised
eyebrows and puckered lips as first responses to the scarlet-haired question.] Well, the
incidence is just as low as finding a document or device you're looking for in our storage.
Things are not lost; there are just different ways of finding them. A random stroll, a lucky find
– be that on-line or off-line –, or a seductive word of mouth may be the entrance points into
this experiential space, a manifesto for haphazardness, emotional intuitions, subversion of
neural pathways, and non-productive attitudes. A dadaist archive? queried Scarlet Hair.
Ours is definitely not an archive, there's no trace of pyramidal bureaucracy or taxonomy
here, no nation state at its birth. Hence you won't find a reservoir for national or racial
histories in here. Just imagine we changed perception scales, imagine a collective cut-up
project that we, chaos workers, are bringing together without scissors or screwdrivers because
all that gets through that blue door [and that is the only condition and standard] has already
been shaped and fits in here. [Guiding co-worker speaks in a monotonous and plain GPS
voice. Interview continues, but she forgets to mention that behind the blue door, in this very
big box 1. everyone is an authorized user and 2. time rests unemployed.]

Lately, several trucks loaded with gray matter have been adding extra hours of induced
chaos to everyone's content. Although it is the Institute's policy to accept paper donations
only from private individuals, it occasionally makes exceptions and takes on leftovers from
nonprofit organizations.

Each time this happens, an extended rite of passage follows so as to slightly delay and
thereby ease the arrival of chaos bits: the most reliable chaos worker, Microexpressionist by
metonymically selected feature, supervises the transfer of boxes at the very beginning of a
long hallway [eyeballs moving left to right, head planted in an incredibly stiff neck]. Then,
some fifty meters away, standing in front of the opened blue door, Puckered Lips welcomes
newcomers into the chaos, his gestures those of a marshaller guiding a plane into a parking
position. But once the gray [?] matter has passed over the threshold, once the last full
suitcase or shoe box with USB sticks has landed, directions are no longer provided.
Everyone's free to grow limbs and choose temporal neighbors.

… seated cross-legged at the longest desk ever, Ragged Mane is randomly extracting
photodocuments from the freshest chaos segment with a metallic extension of two of her
fingers [instead of a pince-nez, she's the one to carry a pair of tweezers in a small pocket at
all times]. “Look what I've just grabbed,” and she pushes a sepia photograph in front of
Knitted Eyebrows, whose otherwise deadpan face instantaneously gets stamped this time
with a question mark: “What is it?” “Another capture, of course! Two mustaches, one hat,
three pairs of glasses, some blurred figures in the background, and one most fascinating
detail!” – [… takes out a magnifying glass and points with one of her flashy pink fingers to
the handheld object under the gaze of four eyes on the left side of the photo. Then, Ragged
Mane continues:] “That raised right index finger above a rectangular-shaped object... you see
it?” “You mean [00:00 = insertion of a lengthy time frame = 00:47] could this mustachioed
fellow be holding a touchscreen mobile phone in his left hand?” For several unrecorded
skeptical moments, they interlock their eyes and knit their eyebrows closer together.
Afterward, eyes split again and roll on the surface of the photograph like black-eyed peas on
a kitchen table. “It's all specks and epoch details,” a resigned voice breaks from the chaos
silence, when, the same thought crosses their minds, and Ragged Mane and Knitted
Eyebrows turn the photo over, almost certain to find an answer. [A simultaneous hunch.] In
block letters it most clearly reads: “DOCUMENTING THE FILMING OF
SWITZERLAND / 17.05.2008”



/ meanwhile, the clock-horse has grown really nervous out there – it's drawing smaller and
smaller circles / a spasmodic and repetitive activity causing dislocation / a fine powder
begins to float inside the oubliette in the slowest motion possible / my breathing has already
been hampered, but now my lungs and brain get filled with an asphyxiating smell of old
paper / hanging on my last tentacle-thought, on my tiptoes, refusing to choke and disintegrate
/ NOT READY TO BE RECYCLED / {messiest handwriting}
A Cyrillic cityscape is imagining how one day all the bureaucrats' desks from the largest
country on earth get piled up in a pyramid. “This new shape is deflating the coherence of my
horizon. [the cityscape worries] No matter!” Once the last desk is placed at the very top, the
ground cracks a half-open mouth, a fissure the length of Rxssxx. On the outside it's spotted
with straddled city topographies, inside, it's filled with a vernacular accumulation of anational
dust without a trace of usable pasts.
{violent horizontal strokes over the last two lines, left and right from the hole at the bottom of
the index card; indecipherable}

“What's on TV this afternoon?” This plain but beautifully metamorphosed question has just
landed with a bleep on the chaos couch, next to Ragged Mane, who usually loses no chance
to retort [that is, here, to admonish too hard a fall]: “Doucement!” Under the weight of a
short-lived feeling of guilt, {name crossed out} echoes back in a whisper – d – o – u – c – e
– m – e – n – t –, and then, as if after a palatable word tasting, she clicks her tongue and
with it, she searches for a point of clarification: “Doucement is an anagram for documenté –
which one do you actually mean?” [All conversations with {name crossed out} would suffer
unsettling Meaning U-turns because she specialized in letter permutation.]


Gurgling sounds from a not-so-distant corner of the chaos dump make heads simultaneously
rotate in the direction of the TV screen, where a documentary has just started with a drone'seye view over a city of lined-up skyscrapers. Early on, the commentator breaks into unwitty
superlatives and platitudes, while the soundtrack unnecessarily dramatizes a 3D layering of
the city structure. Despite all this, the mood on the couch is patient, and viewers seem to
absorb the vignetted film. “A city like no other, as atypical as Cappadocia,” explains the low
trepid voice from the box, “a city whose peculiarity owes first to the alignment of all its
elements, where street follows street in a parallel fashion like in linear writing. Hence, reading
the city acquires a literal dimension, skyscrapers echo clustered block letters on a line, and
the pedestrian reader gets reduced to the size of a far-sighted microbe.”
[Woodworm laughs]

Minutes into the documentary, the micro-drone camera zooms into the silver district/chapter
of the city to show another set of its features: instead of steel and glass, what from afar
appeared to be ordinary skyscrapers turn out to be “300-meter-tall lofty towers of mailboxlike constructs of dried skin, sprayed on top with silver paint for rims, and decorated with
huge love padlocks. A foreboding district for newlyweds?” [nauseating atmosphere] Unable
to answer or to smell, the mosquito-sized drone blinks in the direction of the right page, and it
speedily approaches another windowless urban variation: the vastest area of city towers – the
Wood Drawers District. “Despite its vintage (here and there rundown) aura, the area is an
exquisite, segregated space for library aficionados, designed out of genetically-engineered
trees that grow naturally drawer-shaped with a remarkable capacity for self-(re)generation. In
terms of real proportions, the size of a mailbox- or a drawer-apartment is comparable to that



of a shipping container, from the alternative but old housing projects…” bla bla the furniture
bla... [that chaos corner, so remote and so coal black / that whole atmosphere with blurred
echoes beclouds my reasoning / and right now, I'm feeling nauseous and cursed with all the
words in an unabridged dictionary / new deluxe edition, with black covers and golden

In front of the place where, above a modest skyline, every single morning [scholars'] desks
conjoin in the shape of a multi-storied pyramid, there's a sign that reads: right here you can
bend forward, place your hands on your back, press down your spine with your thumbs and
throw up an index card, throw out a reality version, take out a tooth. In fact, take out all that
you need and once you feel relieved, exchange personas as if in an emergency situation.
Then, behind vermillion curtains, replace pronouns at will.
[Might this have been a pipe dream? An intubated wish for character replacement? {Name
crossed out} would whisper C E E H I N N O R T as place name]

[“gray – …
Other Color Terms –
argentine, cerise, cerulean, cyan, ocher, perse, puce, taupe, vermillion”]
To be able to name everything and everyone, especially all the shades in a gray zone, and
then to re-name, re-narrate/re-count, and re-photograph all of it. To treat the ensuing
multilayered landscape with/as an infinitive verb and to scoop a place for yourself in the
accordion of surfaces. For instance, take the first shot – you're being stared at, you're under
the distant gaze of three {words crossed out; illegible}. Pale, you might think, how pallid and
lifeless they appear to be, but try to hold their gaze and notice how the interaction grows
uncomfortable through persistence. Blink, if you must. Move your weight from one leg to the
other, and become aware of how unflinching their concentration remains, as if their eyes are
lured into a screen. And as you're trying to draw attention to yourself by making ampler,
pantomimic gestures, your hands touch the dark inner edges of the monitor you're [boxed] in.
Look out and around again and again...


Some {Same?} damned creature made only of arms and legs has been leaving a slew of
black dots all over my corridors and staircases, ashes on my handrails, and larger spots of
black liquid in front of my elevator doors on the southern track – my oldest and dearest
vertically mobile installation, the one that has grown only ten floors high. If I were in shape,
attuned and wired to my perception angles and sensors, I could identify beyond precision that
it is a 403 cabal plotting I begin fearing. Lately, it's all been going really awry. Having failed
at the character recognition of this trickster creature, the following facts can be enumerated in
view of overall [damage] re-evaluation, quantification, and intruder excision: emaciating
architectural structure, increasingly deformed spiraling of brown marbled staircases, smudged
finger- and footprints on all floors, soddened and blackened ceilings, alongside thousands of
harrowing fingers and a detection of an insidious and undesirable multiplication of {word
crossed out: white} hands [tbc].

Out of the blue, the clock-horse dislocated particles expand in size, circle in all directions like
giant flies around a street lamp, and then in the most predictable fashion, they collide with my
escapist reminiscences multiple times until I lose connection and the landscape above comes
to a [menacing] stillness. [How does it look now? a scarlet-haired question.] I'm blinking, I'm
moving my weight from one leg to the other, before I can attempt a description of the earth
balls that stagnate in the air among translucent tentacles [they're almost gone] and floating
dioramas of miniatures. Proportions have inverted, scraped surfaces have commingled and
my U-shaped. reality. and. vision. are. stammering... I can't find my hands!



-- Ospal ( talk ) 09:27, 19 November 2015 (CET) Here is where the transcript ENDS,
where the black text lines dribble back into the box. For information on document location or
transcription method, kindly contact the editor.



In itself this list is just a bag of words that orders the common terms used in the works of
Le Corbusier and Paul Otlet with the help of text comparison. The quantity of similar words
relates to the word-count of the texts, which means that each appearance has a different
weight. Taken this into account, the appearance of the word esprit for instance, is more
significant in Vers une Architecture (127 times) than in Traité de documentation (240
times), although the total amount of appearances is almost two times higher.
Beyond the mere quantified use of a common language, this list follows the intuition that
there is something more to elaborate in the discourse between these two utopians. One
possible reading can be found in The Smart City, an essay that traces their encounter.

Cette liste n'est en elle même qu'un sac de mots qui organisent les termes les plus
communs utilisés dans les travaux de Le Corbusier et Paul Otlet en utilisant un comparateur
de texte. Le nombre de mots similaires rapotés par le comptage automatique des mots du
texte, ceci signifie que chaque occurence a une valeur différente. Prenons l'exemple des
aparitions du mot esprit par exemple sont plus significatives dans Vers une Architecture (127



fois) plutot que dans le Traité de documentation (240 fois), et ceci bien que le nombre
d'occurences est pratiquement 2 fois plus élevé.
Au delà de simplement comptabiliser la pratique d'un langage commun, mais cette liste suit
une intuition qu'il y a quelque chose qui mériterait une recherche plus approfondie sur le
discours de ces deux utopistes. Une proposition pour une telle recherche peut être trouvée
dans La Ville Intelligente, un essai qui retrace leur rencontre.
Books taken into consideration/Livres prise en compte:
• Le Corbusier, Vers une Architecture, Paris: les éditions G. Crès, 1923. Wordcount: 32733.
• Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique, Bruxelles:
Mundaneum, Palais Mondial, 1934. Word-count: 356854.
• Le Corbusier, Urbanisme, Paris: les éditions G. Crès, 1925. Word-count: 37699.
• Paul Otlet, Monde: essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du Monde, Sentiment du
Monde, Action organisee et Plan du Monde, Bruxelles: Editiones Mundeum 1935.
Word-count: 140209.

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The PR imagery produced by and around the
Mundaneum (disambiguation: the institution in
Mons) often suggests, through a series of
'samenesses', an essential continuity between
Otlet's endeavour and Internet-related products
and services, in particular Google's. A good
example is a scene from the video "From
industrial heartland to the Internet age",
published by The Mundaneum, 2014 , where the drawers of Mundaneum
(disambiguation: Otlet's Utopia) morph into the servers of one of Google's
data centres.
This approach is not limited to images: a recurring discourse that shapes some of the
exhibitions taking place in the Mundaneum maintains that the dream of the Belgian utopian
has been kept alive in the development of internetworked communications, and currently
finds its spitiual successor in the products and services of Google. Even though there are
many connections and similarities between the two endeavours, one has to acknowledge that
Otlet was an internationalist, a socialist, an utopian, that his projects were not profit oriented,
and most importantly, that he was living in the temporal and cultural context of modernism at
the beginning of the 20th century. The constructed identities and continuities that detach
Otlet and the Mundaneum from a specific historical frame, ignore the different scientific,
social and political milieus involved. It means that these narratives exclude the discording or
disturbing elements that are inevitable when considering such a complex figure in its entirety.
This is not surprising, seeing the parties that are involved in the discourse: these types of
instrumental identities and differences suit the rhetorical tone of Silicon Valley. Newly
launched IT products for example, are often described as groundbreaking, innovative and
different from anything seen before. In other situations, those products could be advertised
exactly the same, as something else that already exists[1]. While novelty and difference
surprise and amaze, sameness reassures and comforts. For example, Google Glass was
marketed as revolutionary and innovative, but when it was attacked for its blatant privacy

issues, some defended it as just a camera and a phone joined together. The samenessdifference duo fulfils a clear function: on the one hand, it suggests that technological
advancements might alter the way we live dramatically, and we should be ready to give up
our old-fashioned ideas about life and culture for the sake of innovation. On the other hand, it
proposes we should not be worried about change, and that society has always evolved
through disruptions, undoubtedly for the better. For each questionable groundbreaking new
invention, there is a previous one with the same ideal, potentially with just as many critics...
Great minds think alike, after all. This sort of a-historical attitude pervades techno-capitalist
milieus, creating a cartoonesque view of the past, punctuated by great men and great
inventions, a sort of technological variant of Carlyle's Great Man Theory. In this view, the
Internet becomes the invention of a few father/genius figures, rather than the result of a long
and complex interaction of diverging efforts and interests of academics, entrepreneurs and
national governments. This instrumental reading of the past is largely consistent with the
theoretical ground on which the Californian Ideology[2] is based, in which the conception of
history is pervaded by various strains of technological determinism (from Marshall McLuhan
to Alvin Toffler[3]) and capitalist individualism (in generic neoliberal terms, up to the fervent
objectivism of Ayn Rand).
The appropriation of Paul Otlet's figure as Google's grandfather is a historical simplification,
and the samenesses in this tale are not without fundament. Many concepts and ideals of
documentation theories have reappeared in cybernetics and information theory, and are
therefore present in the narrative of many IT corporations, as in Mountain View's case. With
the intention of restoring a historical complexity, it might be more interesting to play the
exactly the same game ourselves, rather than try to dispel the advertised continuum of the
Google on paper. Choosing to focus on other types of analogies in the story, we can maybe
contribute a narrative that is more respectful to the complexity of the past, and more telling
about the problems of the present.
What followings are three such comparisons, which focus on three aspects of continuity
between the documentation theories and archival experiments Otlet was involved in, and the
cybernetic theories and practices that Google's capitalist enterprise is an exponent of. The
First one takes a look at the conditions of workers in information infrastructures, who are
fundamental for these systems to work but often forgotten or displaced. Next, an account of
the elements of distribution and control that appear both in the idea of a Reseau Mundaneum
, and in the contemporary functioning of data centres, and the resulting interaction with other
types of infrastructures. Finally, there is a brief analysis of the two approaches to the
'organization of world's knowledge', which examines their regimes of truth and the issues that



come with them. Hopefully these three short pieces can provide some additional ingredients
for adulterating the sterile recipe of the Google-Otlet sameness.

In a drawing titled Laboratorium Mundaneum, Paul
Otlet depicted his project as a massive factory, processing
books and other documents into end products, rolled out
by a UDC locomotive. In fact, just like a factory,
Mundaneum was dependent on the bureaucratic and
logistic modes of organization of labour developed for
industrial production. Looking at it and at other written
and drawn sketches, one might ask: who made up the
workforce of these factories?
In his Traité de Documentation, Otlet describes
extensively the thinking machines and tasks of intellectual
work into which the Fordist chain of documentation is
broken down. In the subsection dedicated to the people
who would undertake the work though, the only role
described at length is the Bibliotécaire. In a long chapter
that explains what education the librarian should follow, which characteristics are required,
and so on, he briefly mentions the existence of “Bibliotecaire-adjoints, rédacteurs, copistes,
gens de service”[4]. There seems to be no further description nor depiction of the staff that
would write, distribute and search the millions of index cards in order to keep the archive
running, an impossible task for the Bibliotécaire alone.
A photograph from around 1930, taken in the Palais
Mondial, where we see Paul Otlet together with the rest
of the équipe, gives us a better answer. In this beautiful
group picture, we notice that the workforce that kept the
archival machine running was made up of women, but we
do not know much about them. As in telephone switching
systems or early software development[5], gender
stereotypes and discrimination led to the appointment of
female workers for repetitive tasks that required specific
knowledge and precision. According to the ideal image described in "Traité", all the tasks of
collecting, translating, distributing, should be completely
automatic, seemingly without the necessity of human
intervention. However, the Mundaneum hired dozens of
women to perform these tasks. This human-run version of RC : Il faut déjà au minimum avoir
the system was not considered worth mentioning, as if it
was a temporary in-between phase that should be
overcome as soon as possible, something that was staining the project with its vulgarity.
Notwithstanding the incredible advancement of information technologies and the automation
of innumerable tasks in collectiong, processing and distributing information, we can observe
the same pattern today. All automatic repetitive tasks that technology should be able to do for
us are still, one way or another, relying on human labour. And unlike the industrial worker
who obtained recognition through political movements and struggles, the role of many
cognitive workers is still hidden or under-represented. Computational linguistics, neural
networks, optical character recognition, all amazing machinic operations are still based on
humans performing huge amounts of repetitive intellectual tasks from which software can
learn, or which software can't do with the same efficiency. Automation didn't really free us
from labour, it just shifted the where, when and who of labour.[6]. Mechanical turks, content
verifiers, annotators of all kinds... The software we use requires a multitude of tasks which
are invisible to us, but are still accomplished by humans. Who are they? When possible,
work is outsourced to foreign English-speaking countries with lower wages, like India. In the
western world it follows the usual pattern: female, lower income, ethnic minorities.
An interesting case of heteromated labour are the socalled Scanops[7], a set of Google workers who have a
different type of badge and are isolated in a section of the
Mountain View complex secluded from the rest of the
workers through strict access permissions and fixed time
schedules. Their work consists of scanning the pages of
printed books for the Google Books database, a task that
is still more convenient to do by hand (especially in the
case of rare or fragile books). The workers are mostly
women and ethnic minorities, and there is no mention of
them on the Google Books website or elsewhere; in fact
the whole scanning process is kept secret. Even though
the secrecy that surrounds this type of labour can be
justified by the need to protect trade secrets, it again
conceals the human element in machine work. This is
even more obvious when compared to other types of
human workers in the project, such as designers and
programmers, who are celebrated for their creativity and
However, here and there, evidence of the workforce shows up in the result of their labour.
Photos of Google Books employee's hands sometimes mistakenly end up in the digital
version of the book online[8].
Whether the tendency to hide the human presence is due to the unfulfilled wish for total
automation, to avoid the bad publicity of low wages and precarious work, or to keep an aura
of mystery around machines, remains unclear, both in the case of Google Books and the



Palais Mondial. Still, it is reassuring to know that the products hold traces of the work, that
even with the progressive removal of human signs in
automated processes, the workers' presence never
disappears completely. This presence is proof of the
materiality of information production, and becomes a sign
in a webpage or the OCR scanned
pages of a book, reflect a negligence
to the processes and labor of writing,
editing, design, layout, typesetting, and
eventually publishing, collecting and
cataloging .

In 2013, while Prime Minister Di Rupo was celebrating the beginning of the second phase
of constructing the Saint Ghislain data centre, a few hundred kilometres away a very similar
situation started to unroll. In the municipality of Eemsmond, in the Dutch province of
Groningen, the local Groningen Sea Ports and NOM development were rumoured to have
plans with another code named company, Saturn, to build a data centre in the small port of
A few months later, when it was revealed that Google
was behind Saturn, Harm Post, director of Groningen
Sea Ports, commented: "Ten years ago Eemshaven
became the laughing stock of ports and industrial
development in the Netherlands, a planning failure of the
previous century. And now Google is building a very
large data centre here, which is 'pure advertisement' for
Eemshaven and the data port."[10] Further details on tax
cuts were not disclosed and once finished, the data centre will provide at most 150 jobs in
the region.
Yet another territory fortunately chosen by Google, just like Mons, but what are the selection
criteria? For one thing, data centres need to interact with existing infrastructures and flows of
various type. Technically speaking, there are three prerequisites: being near a substantial
source of electrical power (the finished installation will consume twice as much as the whole
city of Groningen); being near a source of clean water, for the massive cooling demands;
being near Internet infrastructure that can assure adequate connectivity. There is also a
whole set of non-technical elements, that we can sum up as the social, economical and
political climate, which proved favourable both in Mons and Eemshaven.
The push behind constructing new sites in new locations, rather expanding existing ones, is
partly due to the rapid growth of the importance of Software as a service, so-called cloud
computing, which is the rental of computational power from a central provider. With the rise
of the SaaS paradigm the geographical and topological placement of data centres becomes of
strategic importance to achieve lower latencies and more stable service. For this reason,

Google has in the last 10 years been pursuing a policy of end-to-end connection between its
facilities and user interfaces. This includes buying leftover fibre networks[11], entering the
business of underwater sea cables[12] and building new data centres, including the ones in
Mons and Eemshaven.
The spread of data centres around the world, along the main network cables across
continents, represents a new phase in the diagram of the Internet. This should not be
confused with the idea of decentralization that was a cornerstone value in the early stages of
interconnected networks.[13] During the rapid development of the Internet and the Web, the
new tenets of immediacy, unlimited storage and exponential growth led to the centralization
of content in increasingly large server farms. Paradoxically, it is now the growing
centralization of all kind of operations in specific buildings, that is fostering their distribution.
The tension between centralization and distribution and the dependence on neighbouring
infrastructures as the electrical grid is not an exclusive feature of contemporary data storage
and networking models. Again, similarities emerge from the history of the Mundaneum,
illustrating how these issues relate closely to the logistic organization of production first
implemented during the industrial revolution, and theorized within modernism.
Centralization was seen by Otlet as the most efficient way to organize content, especially in
view of international exchange[14] which already caused problems related to space back then:
the Mundaneum archive counted 16 million entries at its peak, occupying around 150
rooms. The cumbersome footprint, and the growing difficulty to find stable locations for it,
concurred to the conviction that the project should be included in the plans of new modernist
cities. In the beginning of the 1930s, when the Mundaneum started to lose the support of the
Belgian government, Otlet thought of a new site for it as part of a proposed Cité Mondiale,
which he tried in different locations with different approaches.
Between various attempts, he participated in the competition for the development of the Left
Bank in Antwerp. The most famous modernist urbanists of the time were invited to plan the
development from scratch. At the time, the left bank was completely vacant. Otlet lobbied for
the insertion of a Mundaneum in the plans, stressing how it would create hundreds of jobs for
the region. He also flattered the Flemish pride by insisting on how people from Antwerp
were more hard working than the ones from Brussels, and how they would finally obtain their
deserved recognition, when their city would be elevated to World City status.[15] He partly
succeeded in his propaganda; aside from his own proposal, developed in collaboration with
Le Corbusier, many other participants included Otlet's Mundaneum as a key facility in their
plans. In these proposals, Otlet's archival infrastructure was shown in interaction with the
existing city flows such as industrial docks, factories, the
railway and the newly constructed stock market.[16]The
modernist utopia of a planned living environment implied
that methods similar to those employed for managing the
flows of coal and electricity could be used for the
organization of culture and knowledge.

From From Paper Mill to Google
Data Center:
In a sense, data centers are similar to
the capitalist factory system; but


The Traité de Documentation, published in 1934, includes an extended reflection on a
Universal Network of Documentation, that would coordinate the transfer of knowledge
between different documentation centres such as libraries or the Mundaneum[17]. In fact the
existing Mundaneum would simply be the first node of a wide network bound to expand to
the rest of the world, the Reseau Mundaneum. The nodes of this network are explicitly
described in relation to "post, railways and the press, those three essential organs of modern
life which function unremittingly in order to unite men, cities and nations."[18] In the same
period, in letter exchanges with Patrick Geddes and Otto Neurath, commenting on the
potential of heliographies as a way to distribute knowledge, the three imagine the White Link
, a network to distribute copies throughout a series of Mundaneum nodes[19]. As a result, the
same piece of information would be serially produced and logistically distributed, described
as a sort of moving Mundaneum idea, facilitated by the railway system[20]. No wonder that
future Mundaneums were foreseen to be built next to a train station.
In Otlet's plans for a Reseau Mundaneum we can already detect some of the key
transformations that reappear in today's data centre scenario. First of all, a drive for
centralization, with the accumulation of materials that led to the monumental plans of World
Cities. In parallel, the push for international exchange, resulting in a vision of a distribution
network. Thirdly, the placement of the hypothetic network nodes along strategic intersections
of industrial and logistic infrastructure.
While the plan for Antwerp was in the end rejected in favour of more traditional housing
development, 80 years later the legacy of the relation between existing infrastructural flows
and logistics of documentation storage is highlighted by the data ports plan in Eemshaven.
Since private companies are the privileged actors in these types of projects, the circulation of
information increasingly respond to the same tenets that regulate the trade of coal or
electricity. The very different welcome that traditional politics reserve for Google data centres
is a symptom of a new dimension of power in which information infrastructure plays a vital
role. The celebrations and tax cuts that politicians lavish on these projects cannot be
explained with 150 jobs or economic incentives for a depressed region alone. They also
indicate how party politics is increasingly confined to the periphery of other forms of power
and therefore struggle to assure themselves a strategic positioning.
C. 025.45UDC; 161.225.22; 004.659GOO:004.021PAG.

The Universal Decimal Classification[21] system, developed by Paul Otlet and Henri
Lafontaine on the basis of the Dewey Decimal Classification system is still considered one of
their most important realizations as well as a corner-stone in Otlet's overall vision. Its
adoption, revision and use until today demonstrate a thoughtful and successful approach to
the classification of knowledge.

The UDC differs from Dewey and other bibliographic systems as it has the potential to
exceed the function of ordering alone. The complex notation system could classify phrases
and thoughts in the same way as it would classify a book, going well beyond the sole function
of classification, becoming a real language. One could in fact express whole sentences and
statements in UDC format[22]. The fundamental idea behind it [23]was that books and
documentation could be broken down into their constitutive sentences and boiled down to a
set of universal concepts, regulated by the decimal system. This would allow to express
objective truths in a numerical language, fostering international exchange beyond translation,
making science's work easier by regulating knowledge with numbers. We have to understand
the idea in the time it was originally conceived, a time shaped by positivism and the belief in
the unhindered potential of science to obtain objective universal knowledge. Today,
especially when we take into account the arbitrariness of the decimal structure, it sounds
doubtful, if not preposterous.
However, the linguistic-numeric element of UDC which enables to express fundamental
meanings through numbers, plays a key role in the oeuvre of Paul Otlet. In his work we learn
that numerical knowledge would be the first step towards a science of combining basic
sentences to produce new meaning in a systematic way. When we look at Monde, Otlet's
second publication from 1935, the continuous reference to multiple algebraic formulas that
describe how the world is composed suggests that we could at one point “solve” these
equations and modify the world accordingly.[24] Complementary to the Traité de
Documentation, which described the systematic classification of knowledge, Monde set the
basis for the transformation of this knowledge into new meaning.
Otlet wasn't the first to envision an algebra of thought. It has been a recurring topos in
modern philosophy, under the influence of scientific positivism and in concurrence with the
development of mathematics and physics. Even though one could trace it back to Ramon
Llull and even earlier forms of combinatorics, the first to consistently undertake this scientific
and philosophical challenge was Gottfried Leibniz. The German philosopher and
mathematician, a precursor of the field of symbolic logic, which developed later in the 20th
century, researched a method that reduced statements to minimum terms of meaning. He
investigated a language which “... will be the greatest instrument of reason,” for “when there
are disputes among persons, we can simply say: Let us calculate, without further ado, and
see who is right”.[25] His inquiry was divided in two phases. The first one, analytic, the
characteristica universalis, was a universal conceptual language to express meanings, of which
we only know that it worked with prime numbers. The second one, synthetic, the calculus
ratiocinator, was the algebra that would allow operations between meanings, of which there is
even less evidence. The idea of calculus was clearly related to the infinitesimal calculus, a
fundamental development that Leibniz conceived in the field of mathematics, and which
Newton concurrently developed and popularized. Even though not much remains of
Leibniz's work on his algebra of thought, it was continued by mathematicians and logicians in
the 20th century. Most famously, and curiously enough around the same time Otlet



published Traité and Monde, logician Kurt Godel used the same idea of a translation into
prime numbers to demonstrate his incompleteness theorem.[26] The fact that the characteristica
universalis only made sense in the fields of logics and mathematics is due to the fundamental
problem presented by a mathematical approach to truth beyond logical truth. While this
problem was not yet evident at the time, it would emerge in the duality of language and
categorization, as it did later with Otlet's UDC.
The relation between organizational and linguistic aspects of knowledge is also one of the
open issues at the core of web search, which is, at first sight, less interested in objective
truths. At the beginning of the Web, around the mid '90s, two main approaches to online
search for information emerged: the web directory and web crawling. Some of the first search
engines like Lycos or Yahoo!, started with a combination of the two. The web directory
consisted of the human classification of websites into categories, done by an “editor”; crawling
in the automatic accumulation of material by following links with different rudimentary
techniques to assess the content of a website. With the exponential growth of web content on
the Internet, web directories were soon dropped in favour of the more efficient automatic
crawling, which in turn generated so many results that quality has become of key importance.
Quality in the sense of the assessment of the webpage content in relation to keywords as well
as the sorting of results according to their relevance.
Google's hegemony in the field has mainly been obtained by translating the relevance of a
webpage into a numeric quantity according to a formula, the infamous PageRank algorithm.
This value is calculated depending on the relational importance of the webpage where the
word is placed, based on how many other websites link to that page. The classification part is
long gone, and linguistic meaning is also structured along automated functions. What is left is
reading the network formation in numerical form, capturing human opinions represented by
hyperlinks, i.e. which word links to which webpage, and which webpage is generally more
important. In the same way that UDC systematized documents via a notation format, the
systematization of relational importance in numerical format brings functionality and
efficiency. In this case rather than linguistic the translation is value-based, quantifying network
attention independently from meaning. The interaction with the other infamous Google
algorithm, Adsense, adds an economic value to the PageRank position. The influence and
profit deriving from how high a search result is placed, means that the relevance of a wordwebsite relation in Google search results translates to an actual relevance in reality.
Even though both Otlet and Google say they are tackling the task of organizing knowledge,
we could posit that from an epistemological point of view the approaches that underlie their
respective projects, are opposite. UDC is an example of an analytic approach, which
acquires new knowledge by breaking down existing knowledge into its components, based on
objective truths. Its propositions could be exemplified with the sentences “Logic is a
subdivision of Philosophy” or “PageRank is an algorithm, part of the Google search engine”.
PageRank, on the contrary, is a purely synthetic one, which starts from the form of the
network, in principle devoid of intrinsic meaning or truth, and creates a model of the

network's relational truths. Its propositions could be exemplified with “Wikipedia is of the
utmost relevance” or “The University of District Columbia is the most relevant meaning of
the word 'UDC'”.
We (and Google) can read the model of reality created by the PageRank algorithm (and all
the other algorithms that were added during the years[27]) in two different ways. It can be
considered a device that 'just works' and does not pretend to be true but can give results
which are useful in reality, a view we can call pragmatic, or instead, we can see this model as
a growing and improving construction that aims to coincide with reality, a view we can call
utopian. It's no coincidence that these two views fit the two stereotypical faces of Google, the
idealistic Silicon Valley visionary one, and the cynical corporate capitalist one.
From our perspective, it is of relative importance which of the two sides we believe in. The
key issue remains that such a structure has become so influential that it produces its own
effects on reality, that its algorithmic truths are more and more considered as objective truths.
While the utility and importance of a search engine like Google are out of the question, it is
necessary to be alert about such concentrations of power. Especially if they are only
controlled by a corporation, which, beyond mottoes and utopias, has by definition the single
duty of to make profits and obey its stakeholders.
1. A good account of such phenomenon is described by David Golumbia. http://www.uncomputing.org/?p=221
2. As described in the classic text looking at the ideological ground of Silicon Valley culture. http://www.hrc.wmin.ac.uk/theorycalifornianideology-main.html
3. For an account of Toffler's determinism, see http://www.ukm.my/ijit/IJIT%20Vol%201%202012/7wan%20fariza.pdf .
4. Otlet, Paul. Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique. Editiones Mundaneum, 1934: 393-394.
5. http://gender.stanford.edu/news/2011/researcher-reveals-how-%E2%80%9Ccomputer-geeks%E2%80%9D-replaced-%
6. This process has been named “heteromation”, for a more thorough analysis see: Ekbia, Hamid, and Bonnie Nardi.
“Heteromation and Its (dis)contents: The Invisible Division of Labor between Humans and Machines.” First Monday 19, no.
6 (May 23, 2014). http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/5331
7. The name scanops was first introduce by artist Andrew Norman Wilson when he found out about this category of workers
during his artistic residency at Google in Mountain View. See http://www.andrewnormanwilson.com/WorkersGoogleplex.html
8. As collected by Krissy Wilson on her http://theartofgooglebooks.tumblr.com .
9. http://informationobservatory.info/2015/10/27/google-books-fair-use-or-anti-democratic-preemption/#more-279
10. http://www.rtvnoord.nl/nieuws/139016/Keerpunt-in-de-geschiedenis-van-de-Eemshaven .
11. http://www.cnet.com/news/google-wants-dark-fiber/ .
12. http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/telecom/internet/google-new-brazil-us-internet-cable .
13. See Baran, Paul. “On Distributed Communications.” Product Page, 1964. http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_memoranda/
RM3420.html .
14. Pierce, Thomas. Mettre des pierres autour des idées. Paul Otlet, de Cité Mondiale en de modernistische stedenbouw in de jaren
1930. PhD dissertation, KULeuven, 2007: 34.
15. Ibid: 94-95.
16. Ibid: 113-117.
17. Otlet, Paul. Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique. Editiones Mundaneum, 1934.
18. Otlet, Paul. Les Communications MUNDANEUM, Documentatio Universalis, doc nr. 8438
19. Van Acker, Wouter. “Internationalist Utopias of Visual Education: The Graphic and Scenographic Transformation of the
Universal Encyclopaedia in the Work of Paul Otlet, Patrick Geddes, and Otto Neurath.” Perspectives on Science 19, no. 1
(January 19, 2011): 68-69.
20. Ibid: 66.



21. The Decimal part in the name means that any records can be further subdivided by tenths, virtually infinitely, according to an
evolving scheme of depth and specialization. For example, 1 is “Philosophy”, 16 is “Logic”, 161 is “Fundamentals of Logic”,
161.2 is “Statements”, 161.22 is “Type of Statements”, 161.225 is “Real and ideal judgements”, 161.225.2 is “Ideal
Judgements” and 161.225.22 is “Statements on equality, similarity and dissimilarity”.
22. “The UDC and FID: A Historical Perspective.” The Library Quarterly 37, no. 3 (July 1, 1967): 268-270.
23. TEMP: described in french by the word depouillement,
24. Otlet, Paul. Monde, essai d’universalisme: connaissance du monde, sentiment du monde, action organisée et plan du monde.
Editiones Mundaneum, 1935: XXI-XXII.
25. Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, The Art of Discovery 1685, Wiener: 51.
26. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6del_numbering
27. A fascinating list of all the algorithmic components of Google search is at https://moz.com/google-algorithm-change .



When I arrived in Brussels that autumn, I was still very young. I thought that as an au-pair
I would be helping out in the house, but instead I ended up working with the professor on
finishing his book. At the time I arrived, the writing was done but his handwriting was so
hard to decipher that the printer had a difficult time working with the manuscript. It became
my job to correct the typeset proofs but often there were words that neither the printer nor I
could decipher, so we had to ask. And the professor often had no time for us. So I did my
best to make the text as comprehensible as possible.
On the title page of the final proofs from the printer, the professor wrote me:

After five months of work behind the same table, here it is. Now it is your turn to sow the
good seed of documentation, of institution, and of Mundaneum, through the pre-book and the
spoken word[1]

Toen ik die herfst in Brussel arriveerde was ik nog heel jong. Ik dacht dat ik als au-pair in
de huishouding zou helpen, maar in plaats daarvan moest ik de professor helpen met het
afmaken van zijn boek. Toen ik aankwam was het schrijven al afgerond, maar de drukker
worstelde nog met het manuscript omdat het handschrift moeilijk te ontcijferen was. Het
werd mijn taak om de drukproeven te corrigeren. Er waren veel woorden die de drukker en
ik niet konden ontcijferen, dus dan moesten we het navragen. Maar vaak had de professor
geen tijd voor ons. Ik deed dan mijn best om de tekst zo leesbaar mogelijk te maken.
Op de titelpagina van de definitieve drukproef schreef de professor me:



Na vijf maanden gewerkt te hebben aan dezelfde tafel is hier het resultaat. Nu is het jouw
beurt om via het boek, het voor-boek, het woord, het goede zaad te zaaien van documentatie,
instituut en Mundaneum.[2]

She serves us coffee from a ceramic coffee pot and also a cake bought at the bakery next
door. It's all written in the files she reminds us repeatedly, and tells us about one day in the
sixties, when her husband returned home, telling her excitedly that he discovered the
Mundaneum at Chaussée de Louvain in Brussels. Ever since, he would return to the same
building, making friends with the friends of the Palais Mondial, those dedicated caretakers of
the immense paper heritage.
I haven't been there so often myself, she says. But I do remember there were cats, to keep the
mice away from the paper. And my husband loved cats. So in the eighties, when he was
finally in a position to save the archives, the cats had to be taken care of too." Hij wanted to
write the cats were written into the inventory.
We finish our coffee and she takes us behind a curtain that separates the salon from a small
office. She shows us four green binders that contain the meticulously filed papers of her late
husband pertaining to the Mundaneum. In the third is the Donation act that describes the
transfer of the archives from the Friends of the Palais Mondial to the Centre de Lecture
Public of the French community.
In the inventory, the cats are nowhere to be found.[3]

Ze schenkt ons koffie uit een keramieken koffiepot en serveert gebak dat ze bij de
naburige bakkerij kocht. Herhaaldelijk herinnert ze ons eraan dat 'het allemaal geschreven
staat in de documenten'. Ze vertelt ons dat in de jaren zestig, haar man op een dag
thuiskwam en opgewonden vertelde dat hij het Mundaneum ontdekt had op de Leuvense
Steenweg in Brussel. Sindsdien keerde hij daar regelmatig terug om de vrienden van het
Palais Mondial te ontmoeten: de toegewijde verzorgers van die immense papieren erfenis.
Ik ben er zelf niet zo vaak geweest, zegt ze. Maar ik herinner me dat er katten waren om de
muizen weg te houden van al het papier. En mijn man hield van katten. In de jaren tachtig,
toen hij eindelijk een positie had die hem in staat stelde om de archieven te redden, moest er
ook voor de katten worden gezorgd. Hij wilde de katten opnemen in de inventaris.
We drinken onze koffie op en ze neemt ons mee achter een gordijn dat de salon van een
klein kantoor scheidt. Ze toont ons vier groene mappen met de keurig geordende papieren
van haar voormalige echtgenoot over het Mundaneum. In de derde map bevindt zich de akte

die de overdracht van de archieven beschrijft van de Vrienden van het Palais Mondial aan
het Centre de Lecture Public van de Franse Gemeenschap (CLPCF).
In de inventaris is geen spoor van de katten te vinden.[4]

In a margarine box, between thousands of notes, tickets, postcards, letters, all folded to the
size of an index card, we find this:

Paul, leave me the key to mythe house, I forgot mine. Put it on your desk, in the small index
card box.[5]

In een grote margarinedoos, tussen duizenden bonnetjes, aantekeningen, briefkaarten, en
brieven, allemaal gevouwen op maat van een indexkaart, vinden we een bericht:

Paul, laat je de sleutel van mijnhet huis voor mij achter, ik ben de mijne vergeten. Stop hem in
het kleine indexkaartdoosje op je bureau.[6]




1. EN
Wilhelmina Coops came from The Netherlands to Brussels in 1932 to learn French. She was instrumental in transforming
Le Traité de Documentation into a printed book.
2. NL
Wilhelmina Coops kwam in 1932 uit Nederland naar Brussel om Frans te leren. Ze hielp het manuscript voor Le Traité de
Documentation omzetten naar een gedrukt boek.
3. EN
The act is dated April 4 1985. Madame Canonne is a librarian, widow of André Canonne († 1990). She is custodian of
the documents relating to the wanderings of The Mundaneum in Brussels.
4. NL
De akte is gedateerd op 4 april 1985. Madame Canonne is bibliothecaresse en weduwe van André Canonne († 1990).
Ze is de bewaarster van documenten die gerelateerd zijn aan de omzwervingen van het Mundaneum in Brussel.
5. EN
Cato van Nederhasselt, second wife of Paul Otlet, collaborated with her husband on many projects. Her family fortune kept
the Mundaneum running after other sources had dried up.
6. NL
Cato van Nederhasselt, de tweede vrouw van Paul Otlet, werkte met haar man aan vele projecten. Nadat alle andere
bronnen waren uitgeput hield haar familiefortuin het Mundaneum draaiende.

A Preemptive
of the


Six years ago, Google, an Alphabet company, launched a new project: The Google Art
Project. The official history, the one written by Google and distributed mainly through
tailored press releases and corporate news bits, tells us that it all started as “a 20% project
within Google in 2010 and had its first public showing in 2011. It was 17 museums,
coming together in a very interesting online platform, to allow users to essentially explore art
in a very new and different way."[1] While Google Books faced legal challenges and the
European Commission launched its antitrust case against Google in 2010, the Google Art
Project, not coincidentally, scaled up gradually, resulting in the Google Cultural Institute with
headquarters in Paris, “whose mission is to make the world's culture accessible online.”[2]
The Google Cultural Institute is strictly divided in Art Project, Historical Moments and
World Wonders, roughly corresponding to fine art, world history and material culture.
Technically, the Google Cultural Institute can be described as a database that powers a
repository of high-resolution images of fine art, objects, documents and ephemera, as well as
information about and from their ‘partners’ - the public museums, galleries and cultural
institutions that provide this cultural material - such as 3D tour views and street-view maps.
So far and counting, the Google Cultural Institute hosts 177 digital reproductions of selected
paintings in gigapixel resolution and 320 3D versions of different objects, together with
multiple thematic slide shows curated in collaboration with their partners or by their users.



According to their website, in their ‘Lab’ they develop the “new technology to help partners
publish their collections online and reach new audiences, as seen in the Google Art Project,
Historic Moments and World Wonders initiatives.” These services are offered – not by
chance – as a philanthropic service to public institutions that increasingly need to justify their
existence in face of cuts and other managerial demands of the austerity policies in Europe
and elsewhere.
The Google Cultural Institute “would be unlikely, even unthinkable, absent the chronic and
politically induced starvation of publicly funded cultural institutions even throughout the
wealthy countries”[3]. It is important to understand that what Google is really doing is
bankrolling the technical infrastructure and labour needed to turn culture into data. In this
way it can be easily managed and feed all kind of products needed in the neoliberal city to
promote and exploit these cultural ‘assets’, in order to compete with other urban centres in
the global stage, but also, to feed Google’s unstoppable accumulation of information.
The head of the Google Cultural Institute knows there are a lot of questions about their
activities but Alphabet chose to label legitimate critiques as misunderstandings: “This is our
biggest battle, this constant misunderstanding of why the Cultural Institute actually exists.”[4]
The Google Cultural Institute, much like many other cultural endeavours of Google like
Google Books and their Digital Revolution art exhibition, has been subject to a few but
much needed critiques, such as Powered by Google: Widening Access and Tightening
Corporate Control (Schiller & Yeo 2014), an in-depth account of the origins of this cultural
intervention and its role in the resurgence of welfare capitalism, “where people are referred to
corporations rather than states for such services as they receive; where corporate capital
routinely arrogates to itself the right to broker public discourse; and where history and art
remain saturated with the preferences and priorities of elite social classes.”[5]
Known as one, if not the first essay that dissects Google's use of information and the rhetoric
of democratization behind it to reorganize cultural public institutions as a “site of profitmaking”, Schiller & Yeo’s text is fundamental to understand the evolution of the Google
Cultural Institute within the historical context of digital capitalism, where the global
dependency in communication and information technologies is directly linked to the current
crisis of accumulation and where Google's archive fever “evinces a breath-taking cultural and
ideological range.”[6]

The Google Cultural Institute is a complex subject of interest since it reflects the colonial
impulses embedded in the scientific and economic desires that formed the very collections
which the Google Cultural Institute now mediates and accumulates in its database.

Who colonizes the colonizers? It is a very difficult issue which I have raised before in an
essay dedicated to the Google Cultural Institute, Alfred Russel Wallace and the colonial
impulse behind archive fevers from the 19th but also the 21st century. I have no answer yet.
But a critique of the Google Cultural Institute where their motivations are interpreted as
merely colonialist, would be misleading and counterproductive. It is not their goal to slave and
exploit whole populations and its resources in order to impose a new ideology and civilise
barbarians in the same sense and way that European countries did during the Colonization.
Additionally, it would be unfair and disrespectful to all those who still have to deal with the
endless effects of Colonization, that have exacerbated with the expansion of economic
The conflation of technology and science that has produced the knowledge to create such an
entity as Google and its derivatives, such as the Cultural Institute, together with the scale of
its impact on a society where information technology is the dominant form of technology,
makes technocolonialism a more accurate term to describe Google's cultural interventions
from my perspective.
Although technocolonization shares many traits and elements with the colonial project,
starting with the exploitation of materials needed to produce information and media
technologies – and the related conflicts that this produces –, information technologies still
differ from ships and canons. However, the commercial function of maritime technologies is
the same as the free – as in free trade – services deployed by Google or Facebook’s drones
beaming internet in Africa, although the networked aspect of information technologies is
significantly different at the infrastructure level.
There is no official definition of technocolonialism, but it is important to understand it as a
continuation of the idea of Enlightenment that gave birth to the impulse to collect, organise
and manage information in the 19th century. My use of this term aims to emphasize and
situate contemporary accumulation and management of information and data within a
technoscientific landscape driven by “profit above else” as a “logical extension of the surplus
value accumulated through colonialism and slavery.”[7]
Unlike in colonial times, in contemporary technocolonialism the important narrative is not the
supremacy of a specific human culture. Technological culture is the saviour. It doesn’t matter
if the culture is Muslim, French or Mayan, the goal is to have the best technologies to turn it
into data, rank it, produce content from it and create experiences that can be monetized.
It only makes sense that Google, a company with a mission of to organise the world’s
information for profit, found ideal partners in the very institutions that were previously in
charge of organising the world’s knowledge. But as I pointed out before, it is paradoxical that
the Google Cultural Institute is dedicated to collect information from museums created under
Colonialism in order to elevate a certain culture and way of seeing the world above others.
Today we know and are able to challenge the dominant narratives around cultural heritage,



because these institutions have an actual record in history and not only a story produced for
the ‘about’ section of a website, like in the case of the Google Cultural Institute.
“What museums should perhaps do is make visitors aware that this is not the only way of
seeing things. That the museum – the installation, the arrangement, the collection – has a
history, and that it also has an ideological baggage”[8]. But the Google Cultural Institute is
not a museum, it is a database with an interface that enables to browse cultural content.
Unlike the prestigious museums it collaborates with, it lacks a history situated in a specific
cultural discourse. It is about fine art, world wonders and historical moments in a general
sense. The Google Cultural Institute has a clear corporate and philanthropic mission but it
lacks a point of view and a defined position towards the cultural material that it handles. This
is not surprising since Google has always avoided to take a stand, it is all techno-determinism
and the noble mission of organising the world’s information to make the world better. But
“brokering and hoarding information are a dangerous form of techno-colonialism.”[8]
Looking for a cultural narrative beyond the Californian ideology, Alphabet's search engine
found in Paul Otlet and the Mundaneum the perfect cover to insert their philanthropic
services in the history of information science beyond Silicon Valley. After all, they
understand that “ownership over the historical narratives and their material correlates
becomes a tool for demonstrating and realizing economic claims”.[9]
After establishing a data centre in the Belgian city of Mons, home of the Mundaneum
archive center, Google lent its support to "the Mons 2015 adventure, in particular by
working with our longtime partners, the Mundaneum archive. More than a century ago, two
visionary Belgians envisioned the World Wide Web’s architecture of hyperlinks and
indexation of information, not on computers, but on paper cards. Their creation was called
the Mundaneum.”[10]

On the occasion of the 147th birthday of Paul Otlet, a Doodle in the homepage of the
Alphabet spelled the name of its company using the ‘drawers of the Mundaneum’ to form the
words G O O G L E: “Today’s Doodle pays tribute to Paul’s pioneering work on the

Mundaneum. The collection of knowledge stored in the Mundaneum’s drawers are the
foundational work for everything that happens at Google. In early drafts, you can watch the
concept come to life.”[11]

The dematerialisation of public collections using infrastructure and services bankrolled by
private actors like the GCI needs to be questioned and analyzed further in the context of
heterotopic institutions, to understand the new forms taken by the endless tension between
knowledge/power at the core of contemporary archivalism, where the architecture of the
interface replaces and acts on behalf of the museum, and the body of the visitor is reduced to
the fingers of a user capable of browsing endless cultural assets.
At a time when cultural institutions should be decolonised instead of googlified, it is vital to
discuss a project such as the Google Cultural Institute and its continuous expansion – which
is inversely proportional to the failure of the governments and the passivity of institutions
seduced by gadgets[12].
However, the dialogue is fragmented between limited academic accounts, corporate press
releases, isolated artistic interventions, specialised conferences and news reports. Femke
Snelting suggests that we must “find the patience to build a relation to these histories in ways
that make sense.” To do so, we need to excavate and assemble a better account of the
history of the Google Cultural Institute. Building upon Schiller & Yeo’s seminal text, the
following timeline is my contribution to this task and an attempt to put together the pieces, by
situating them in a broader economic and political context beyond the official history told by
the Google Cultural Institute. A closer inspection of the events reveals that the escalation of



Alphabet's cultural interventions often emerge after a legal challenge against their economic
hegemony in Europe was initiated.

A news report from the Wall Street Journal[13] as well as an AP report on Youtube[14] confirm
the new Google venture in the field of historical collections. The executive chairman of
Alphabet declared: “I can think of no better use of our time and our resources to make the
images and ideas from your civilization, from the very beginning of time, available to a billion
people worldwide.”
A detailed account and reflection of this visit, its background and agenda can be found in
Powered by Google: Widening Access and Tightening Corporate Control. (Schiller & Yeo

In relation to the Google Books dispute in Europe, Reuters reported in 2009 that France's
ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy “pledged hundreds of millions of euros toward a separate
digitization program, saying he would not permit France to be “stripped of our heritage to the
benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is.”[15]

Although the reactionary and nationalistic agenda of Sarkozy should not be celebrated, it is
important to note that the first open attack on Google’s cultural agenda came from the French
government. Four years later, the Google Cultural Institute establishes its headquarters in

The European Commission has decided to open an antitrust investigation into
allegations that Google Inc. has abused a dominant position in online search, in
violation of European Union rules (Article 102 TFEU). The opening of formal
proceedings follows complaints by search service providers about unfavourable
treatment of their services in Google's unpaid and sponsored search results coupled
with an alleged preferential placement of Google's own services. This initiation of
proceedings does not imply that the Commission has proof of any infringements. It
only signifies that the Commission will conduct an in-depth investigation of the case as
a matter of priority.

According to the Guardian[17], and other news reports, Google's cultural project is started by
passionate art “googlers”.

Referring to France as one of the most important centres for culture and technology, Google
CEO Eric Schmidt formally announces the creation of a centre "dedicated to technology,
especially noting the promotion of past, present and future European cultures."[18]

In February the new ‘product’ is officially presented. The introduction[19] emphasises that it
started as a 20% project, meaning a project that lacked corporate mandate.
According to the “Our Story”[20] section of the Google Cultural Institute, the history of the
Google Art Project starts with the integration of 140,000 assets from the Yad Vashem
World Holocaust Centre, followed by the inclusion of the Nelson Mandela Archives in the
Historical Moments section of the Google Cultural Institute.



Later in August, Eric Schmidt declares that education should bring art and science together
just like in “the glory days of the Victorian Era”.[21]

At the request of the French authorities, the European Union initiates an investigation against
Google, related to the breach of data privacy due to the new terms of use published by
Google on 1 March 2012.[22]

According to the Google Cultural Institute website, 151 partners join the Google Art
Project including France's Musée D’Orsay. The World Wonders section is launched
including partnerships with the likes of UNESCO. By October, the platform is rebranded
and re-launched including over 400+ partners.

On 10 December, the new French headquarters open in 8 rue de Londres. The French
Minister Aurélie Filippetti cancels her attendance as she doesn’t “wish to appear as a
guarantee for an operation that still raises a certain number of questions."[23]

HM Customs and Revenue Committee inquiry brands Google's tax operations in the UK
via Ireland as "devious, calculated and, in my view, unethical".[24]

The controversial ruling holds search engines responsible for the personal data that it handles
and under European Law the court ruled “that the operator is, in certain circumstances,
obliged to remove links to web pages that are published by third parties and contain
information relating to a person from the list of results displayed following a search made on

the basis of that person’s name. The Court makes it clear that such an obligation may also
exist in a case where that name or information is not erased beforehand or simultaneously
from those web pages, and even, as the case may be, when its publication in itself on those
pages is lawful.”[25]

Google sponsors the exhibition Digital Revolution[26] and commission artworks under the
brand “Dev-art: art made with code.[27]”. The exhibition later tours to the Tekniska Museet in

“Here creative experts and technology come together share ideas and build new ways to
experience art and culture.”[29]

A press release from Google[30] describes the new partnership with the Belgian city of Mons
as a result of their position as local employer and investor in the city, since one of their two
major data centres in Europe is located there.

The European Commission has sent a Statement of Objections to Google alleging the
company has abused its dominant position in the markets for general internet search
services in the European Economic Area (EEA) by systematically favouring its own
comparison shopping product in its general search results pages.”

Google rejects the accusations as “wrong as a matter of fact, law and economics”.[32]

The Commission will assess if, by entering into anticompetitive agreements and/or by
abusing a possible dominant position, Google has illegally hindered the development
and market access of rival mobile operating systems, mobile communication
applications and services in the European Economic Area (EEA). This investigation
is distinct and separate from the Commission investigation into Google's search

According to the ‘Our Story’ section of the Google Cultural Institute, the Street Art project
now has 10,000 assets. A new extension displays art from the Google Art Project in the
Chrome browser and “art lovers can wear art on their wrists via Android art”. By August,



the project has more than 850 partners using their tools, 4.7 million assets in its collection
and more than 1500 curated exhibitions.


“Alphabet Inc. (commonly known as Alphabet) is an American multinational conglomerate
created in 2015 as the parent company of Google and several other companies previously
owned by or tied to Google.”[35]

Google creates a doodle for their homepage on the occasion of the 147th birthday of Paul
Otlet[36] and produces the slide shows Towards the Information Age, Mapping Knowledge
and The 100th Anniversary of a Nobel Peace Prize, all hosted by the Google Cultural
“The Mundaneum and Google have worked closely together to curate 9 exclusive online
exhibitions for the Google Cultural Institute. The team behind the reopening of the

Mundaneum this year also worked with the Cultural Institute engineers to launch a dedicated
mobile app.”[37]

The British Museum announce a “unique partnership” where over 4,500 assets can be
“seen online in just a few clicks”. In the official press release, the director of the museum,
Neil McGregor, said “The world today has changed, the way we access information has
been revolutionised by digital technology. This enables us to gives the Enlightenment ideal
on which the Museum was founded a new reality. It is now possible to make our collection
accessible, explorable and enjoyable not just for those who physically visit, but to everybody
with a computer or a mobile device. ”[38]

Over 60 performing arts (dance, drama, music, opera) organizations and performers join the
assets collection of the Google Cultural Institute [39]

The Google Culture Institute has quietly changed the name of its platform to “Google Art &
Culture”. The website has been also restructured, and categories have been simplified into
“Arts”, “History” and “Wonders”. Its partners and projects are placed at the top of their
“Menu”. It is now possible to browse artists and mediums trough time and by color. The site



offers a daily digest of art and history, but also cityscapes, galleries and street art views are
only one click away.

An important aspect of this make-over is the way in which it reveals its own instability as a
cultural archive. Before the upgrade, the link http://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/assetviewer/text-as-set-cell-0?exhibitId=QQ-RRh0A would take you to "The origins of the
Internet in Europe”, the page dedicated to the Mundaneum and Paul Otlet. Now it takes
you to a 404 error page. No timestamp, no redirect. No archived copy recorded in the
Wayback Machine. The structure of the new link for this "exhibition" still hints at some sort
of beta state: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/exhibit/QQ-RRh0A . How
long can we rely on this cultural institute/beta link?
Should the “curator of the world”[40], as Amit Sood is described in media, take some
responsibility over the reliability of the structure in which Google Arts & Culture displays the
cultural material extracted from public institutions and, that unlike Google, need to do so by
mandate? Or should we all just take his word and look away: “I fell into this by mistake.”[41]?


1. Caines, Matthew. “Arts head: Amit Sood, director, Google Cultural Institute” The Guardian. Dec 3, 2013. http://
www.theguardian.com/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2013/dec/03/amit sood-google-culturalinstitute-art-project
2. Google Paris. Accessed Dec 22, 2016 http://www.google.se/about/careers/locations/paris/

3. Schiller, Dan & Yeo, Shinjoung. “Powered By Google: Widening Access And Tightening Corporate Control.” (In Aceti, D.
L. (Ed.). Red Art: New Utopias in Data Capitalism: Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Vol. 20, No. 1. London: Goldsmiths
University Press. 2014):48
4. Down, Maureen. “The Google Art Heist”. The New York Times. Sept 12, 2015 http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/
5. Schiller, Dan & Shinjoung Yeo. “Powered By Google: Widening Access And Tightening Corporate Control.”, 48
6. Schiller, Dan & Yeo, Shinjoung. “Powered By Google: Widening Access And Tightening Corporate Control.”, 48
7. Davis, Heather & Turpin, Etienne, eds. Art in the Antropocene (London: Open Humanities Press. 2015), 7
8. Bush, Randy. Psg.com On techno-colonialism. (blog) June 13, 2015. Accessed Dec 22, 2015 https://psg.com/ontechnocolonialism.html
9. Starzmann, Maria Theresia. “Cultural Imperialism and Heritage Politics in the Event of Armed Conflict: Prospects for an
‘Activist Archaeology’”. Archeologies. Vol. 4 No. 3 (2008):376
10. Echikson, William. Partnering in Belgium to create a capital of culture (blog) March 20, 2014. Accessed Dec 22, 2015
11. Google. Mundaneum co-founder Paul Otlet's 147th Birthday (blog) August 23, 2015. Accessed Dec 22, 2015 http://
12. eg. https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/thelab/#experiments
13. Lavallee, Andrew. “Google CEO: A New Iraq Means Business Opportunities.” Wall Street Journal. Nov 24, 2009 http://
14. Associated Press. Google Documents Iraqi Museum Treasures (on-line video November 24, 2009) https://
15. Jarry, Emmanuel. “France's Sarkozy takes on Google in books dispute.” Reuters. December 8, 2009. http://
16. European Commission. Antitrust: Commission probes allegations of antitrust violations by Google (Brussels 2010) http://
17. Caines, Matthew. “Arts head: Amit Sood, director, Google Cultural Institute” The Guardian. December 3, 2013. http://
www.theguardian.com/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2013/dec/03/amit sood google-culturalinstitute-art-project
18. Cyrus, Farivar. "Google to build R&D facility and 'European cultural center' in France.” Deutsche Welle. September 9,
2010. http://www.dw.com/en/google-to-build-rd-facility-and-european-cultural-center-in-france/a-5993560
19. Google Art Project. Art Project V1 - Launch Event at Tate Britain. (on-line video February 1, 2011) https://
20. Google Cultural Institute. Accessed Dec 18, 2015. https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/about/partners/
21. Robinson, James. “Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, condemns British education system” The Guardian. August 26, 2011
22. European Commission. Letter addressed to Google by the Article 29 Group (Brussels 2012) http://ec.europa.eu/justice/
23. Willsher, Kim. “Google Cultural Institute's Paris opening snubbed by French minister.” The Guardian. December 10, 2013
24. Bowers, Simon & Syal, Rajeev. “MP on Google tax avoidance scheme: 'I think that you do evil'”. The Guardian. May 16,
2013. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/may/16/google-told-by-mp you-do-do-evil
25. Court of Justice of the European Union. Press-release No 70/14 (Luxembourg, 2014) http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/
26. Barbican. “Digital Revolution.” Accessed December 15, 2015 https://www.barbican.org.uk/bie/upcoming-digital-revolution
27. Google. “Dev Art”. Accessed December 15, 2015 https://devart.withgoogle.com/
28. Tekniska Museet. “Digital Revolution.” Accessed December 15, 2015 http://www.tekniskamuseet.se/1/5554.html
29. Google Cultural Institute. Accessed December 15, 2015. https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/thelab/
30. Echikson,William. Partnering in Belgium to create a capital of culture (blog) March 20, 2014. Accessed Dec 22, 2015
31. European Commission. Antitrust: Commission sends Statement of Objections to Google on comparison shopping service;
opens separate formal investigation on Android. (Brussels 2015) http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-4780_en.htm
32. Yun Chee, Foo. “Google rejects 'unfounded' EU antitrust charges of market abuse” Reuters. (August 27, 2015) http://
33. European Commission. Antitrust: Commission sends Statement



34. Transparency International. Lobby meetings with EU policy-makers dominated by corporate interests (blog) June 24, 2015.
Accessed December 22, 2015. http://www.transparency.org/news/pressrelease/
35. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. s.v. “Alphabet Inc,” (accessed Jan 25, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alphabet_Inc
36. Google. Mundaneum co-founder Paul Otlet's 147th Birthday (blog) August 23, 2015. Accessed Dec 22, 2015 http://
37. Google. Mundaneum co-founder Paul Otlet's 147th Birthday
38. The British Museum. The British Museum’s unparalleled world collection at your fingertips. (blog) November 12, 2015.
Accessed December 22, 2015. https://www.britishmuseum.org/about_us/news_and_press/press_releases/2015/
39. Sood, Amit. Step on stage with the Google Cultural Institute (blog) December 1, 2015. Accessed December 22, 2015.
40. Sam Sundberg “Världsarvet enligt Google”. Svenska Dagbladet. March 27, 2016 http://www.svd.se/varldsarvet-enligtgoogle
41. TED. Amit Sood: Every piece of art you've ever wanted to see up close and searchable. (on-line video February 2016)



Il y a six ans, Google, une entreprise d'Alphabet a lancé un nouveau projet : le Google Art
Project. L'histoire officielle, celle écrite par Google et distribuée principalement à travers des
communiqués de presse sur mesure et de brèves informations commerciales, nous dit que
tout a commencé « en 2010, avec un projet ou Google intervenait à 20%, qui fut présenté
au public pour la première fois en 2011. Il s'agissait de 17 musées réunis dans une
plateforme en ligne très intéressante afin de permettre aux utilisateurs de découvrir l'art d'une
manière tout à fait nouvelle et différente. »[1] Tandis que Google Books faisait face à des
problèmes d'ordre légal et que la Commission européenne lançait son enquête antitrust
contre Google en 2010, le Google Art Project prenait, non pas par hasard, de l'ampleur.
Cela conduisit à la création du Google Art Institute dont le siège se trouve à Paris et « dont
la mission est de rendre la culture mondiale accessible en ligne ».[2]
Le Google Cultural Institute est clairement divisé en sections : Art Project, Historical
Moments et World Wonders. Cela correspond dans les grandes lignes à beaux-arts, histoire
du monde et matériel culturel. Techniquement, le Google Cultural Institute peut être décrit
comme une base de données qui alimente un dépositaire d'images haute résolution
représentant des objets d'art, des objets, des documents, des éphémères ainsi que
d'informations à propos, et provenant, de leurs « partenaires » - les musées publics, les



galeries et les institutions culturelles qui offrent ce matériel culturel -des visites en 3D et des
cartes faites à partir de "street view". Pour le moment, le Google Cultural Institute compte
177 reproductions numériques d'une sélection de peintures dans une résolution de l'ordre
des giga pixels et 320 différents objets en 3D ainsi que de multiples diapositives thématiques
choisies en collaboration avec leurs partenaires ou par leurs utilisateurs.
Selon leur site, dans leur « Lab », ils développent une « nouvelle technologie afin d'aider
leurs partenaires à publier leurs collections en ligne et à toucher de nouveaux publics, comme
l'ont fait les initiatives du Google Art Project, Historic Moments et Words Wonders. » Ce
n'est pas un hasard que ces services soient proposés comme une oeuvre philanthropique aux
institutions publiques qui sont de plus en plus amenées à justifier leur existence face aux
réductions budgétaires et aux autres exigences en matière de gestion des politiques
d'austérité en Europe et ailleurs. « Il est peu probable et même impensable que [le Google
Cultural Institute] fasse disparaitre la famine chronique des institutions culturelles de service
public causée par la politique et présente même dans les pays riches »[3]. Il est important de
comprendre que Google est réellement en train de financer l'infrastructure technique et le
travail nécessaire à la transformation de la culture en données. De cette manière, Google
s'assure que la culture peut être facilement gérée et nourrir toute sortes de produits
nécessaires à la ville néolibérale, afin de promouvoir et d'exploiter ces « biens » culturels, et
de soutenir la compétition avec d'autres centres urbains au niveau mondial, mais également
l'instatiable apétit d'informations de Google.
Le dirigeant du Google Cultural Institute est conscient qu'il existe un grand nombre
d'interrogations autour de leurs activités, cependant, Alphabet a choisi d'appeler les critiques
légitimes: des malentendus ; « Notre plus grand combat est ce malentendu permanent sur les
raisons de l'existence du Cultural Institute »[4] Le Google Cultural Institute, comme beaucoup
d'autres efforts culturels de Google, tels que Google Books et leur exposition artistique
Digital Revolution, a été le sujet de quelques critiques bien nécessaires, comme Powered by
Google: Widening Access and Tightening Corporate Control (Schiller & Yeo 2014); un
compte rendu détaillé des origines de cette intervention culturelle et de son rôle dans la
résurgence du capitalisme social: « là où les gens sont renvoyés aux corporations plutôt
qu'aux États pour des services qu'ils reçoivent ; là où le capital des entreprises a l'habitude
de se donner le droit de négocier le discours public ; et où l'histoire et l'art restent saturés par
les préférences et les priorités des classes de l'élite sociale. »[5]
Connu comme l'un, peut-être le seul essai d'analyse de l'utilisation des informations par
Google et de la rhétorique de démocratisation se trouvant en amont pour réorganiser les
institutions publiques culturelles en un « espace de profit », le texte de Schiller & Yeo est
fondamental pour la compréhension de l'évolution du Google Cultural Institute dans le
contexte historique du capitalisme numérique, où la dépendance mondiale aux technologies
de l'information est directement liée à la crise actuelle d'accumulation et, où la fièvre
d'archivage de Google « évince sa portée culturelle et idéologique à couper le souffle ».[6]


Le Google Cultural Institute est un sujet de débat intéressant puisqu'il reflète les pulsions
colonialistes ancrées dans les désirs scientifiques et économiques qui ont formé ces mêmes
collections que le Google Cultural Institute négocie et accumule dans sa base de données.
Qui colonise les colons ? C'est une problématique très difficile que j'ai soulevée
précédemment dans un essai dédié au Google Cultural Institute, Alfred Russel Wallace et
les pulsions colonialistes derrière les fièvres d'archivage du 19e et du 20e siècles. Je n'ai pas
encore de réponse. Pourtant, une critique du Google Cultural Institute dans laquelle ses
motivations sont interprétées comme simplement colonialistes serait trompeuse et contreproductive. Leur but n'est pas d'asservir et d'exploiter la population tout entière et ses
ressources afin d'imposer une nouvelle idéologie et de civiliser les barbares dans la même
optique que celle des pays européens durant la colonisation. De plus, cela serait injuste et
irrespectueux vis-à-vis de tous ceux qui subissent encore les effets permanents de la
colonisation, exacerbés par l'expansion de la mondialisation économique.
Selon moi, l'assemblage de la technologie et de la science qui a produit le savoir à l'origine
de la création d'entités telles que Google et de ses dérivés, comme le Cultural Institute; ainsi
que la portée de son impact sur une société où la technologie de l'information est la forme de
technologie dominante, font de "technocolonialisme" un terme plus précis pour décrire les
interventions culturelles de Google. Même si la technocolonilisation partage de nombreux
traits et éléments avec le projet colonial, comme l'exploitation des matériaux nécessaires à la
production d'informations et de technologies médiatiques - ainsi que les conflits qui en
découlent - les technologies de l'information sont tout de même différentes des navires et des
canons. Cependant, la fonction commerciale des technologies maritimes est identique aux
services libres - comme dans libre échange - déployés par les drones de Google ou Facebook
qui fournissent internet à l'Afrique, même si la mise en réseau des technologies de
l'information est largement différent en matière d'infrastructure.
Il n'existe pas de définition officielle du technocolonialisme, mais il est important de le
comprendre comme une continuité des idées des Lumières qui a été à l'origine du désir de
rassembler, d'organiser et de gérer les informations au 19e siècle. Mon utilisation de ce
terme a pour objectif de souligner et de situer l'accumulation contemporaine, ainsi que la
gestion de l'information et des données au sein d'un paysage scientifique dirigé par l'idée « du
profit avant tout » comme une « extension logique de la valeur du surplus accumulée à
travers le colonialisme et l'esclavage ».[7]
Contrairement à l'époque coloniale, dans le technocolonialisme contemporain, la narration
n'est pas la suprématie d'une culture humaine spécifique. La culture technologique est le
sauveur. Peu importe que vous soyez musulman, français ou maya, l'objectif est d'obtenir les
meilleures technologies pour transformer la vie en données, les classifier, produire un contenu
à partir de celles-ci et créer des expériences pouvant être monétisées.



En toute logique, pour Google, une entreprise dont la mission est d'organiser les informations
du monde en vue de générer un profit, les institutions qui étaient auparavant chargées de
l'organisation de la connaissance du monde constituent des partenaires idéaux. Cependant,
comme indiqué plus tôt, l'engagement du Google Cultural Institute à rassembler les
informations des musées créés durant la période coloniale afin d'élever une certaine culture et
une manière supérieure de voir le monde est paradoxal. Aujourd'hui, nous sommes au
courant et nous sommes capables de défier les narrations dominantes autour du patrimoine
culturel, car ces institutions ont un véritable récit de l'histoire qui ne se limite pas à la
production de la section « à propos » d'un site internet, comme celui du Google Cultural
Institute. « Ce que les musées devraient peut-être faire, c'est amener les visiteurs à prendre
conscience que ce n'est pas la seule manière de voir les choses. Que le musée, à savoir
l'installation, la disposition et la collection, possède une histoire et qu'il dispose également
d'un bagage idéologique »[8]. Cependant, le Google Cultural Institute n'est pas un musée,
c'est une base de données disposant d'une interface qui permet de parcourir le contenu
culturel. Contrairement aux prestigieux musées avec lesquels il collabore, il manque d'une
histoire située dans un discours culturel spécifique. Il s'agit d'objets d'art, de merveilles du
monde et de moments historiques au sens large. La mission du Google Cultural Institute est
clairement commerciale et philanthropique, mais celui-ci manque d'un point de vue et d'une
position définie vis-à-vis du matériel culturel qu'il traite. Ce n'est pas surprenant puisque
Google a toujours évité de prendre position, tout est question de technodéterminisme et de la
noble mission d'organiser les informations du monde afin de le rendre meilleur. Cependant,
« la négociation et le rassemblement d'informations sont une forme dangereuse de
technocolonialisme ».[8]
En cherchant une narration culturelle dépassant l'idéologie californienne, le moteur de
recherche d'Alphabet a trouvé dans Paul Otlet et le Mundaneum la couverture parfaite pour
intégrer ses services philanthropiques dans l'histoire de la science de l'information, au-delà de
la Silicon Valley. Après tout, ils comprennent que « la possession des narrations historiques
et de leurs corrélats matériels devient un outil de manifestation et de réalisation des
revendications économiques ».[9]
Après avoir établi un centre de données dans la ville belge de Mons, ville du Mundaneum,
Google a offert son soutien à « l'aventure Mons 2015, en particulier en travaillant avec nos
partenaires de longue date, les archives du Mundaneum. Plus d'un siècle auparavant, deux
visionnaires belges ont imaginé l'architecture du World Wide Web d'hyperliens et

d'indexation de l'information, non pas sur des ordinateurs, mais sur des cartes de papier.
Leur création était appelée Mundaneum. »[10]

À l'occasion du 147e anniversaire de Paul Otlet, un Doodle sur la page d'Alphabet épelait
le nom de son entreprise en utilisant « les tiroirs du Mundaneum » pour former le mot G O
O G L E : « Aujourd'hui, Doodle rend hommage au travail pionnier de Paul sur le
Mundaneum. La collection de connaissances emmagasinées dans les tiroirs du Mundaneum
constituent un travail fondamental pour tout ce qui se fait chez Google. Dès les premiers
essais, vous pouvez voir ce concept prendre vie. »[11]

La dématérialisation des collections publiques à l'aide d'une infrastructure et de services
financés par des acteurs privés, tels que le GCI, doit être questionnée et analysée plus en
profondeur par des institutions hétérotopes pour comprendre les nouvelles formes prises par
une tension infinie entre connaissance/pouvoir au cœur d'un archivage contemporain, où
l'architecture de l'interface remplace et agit au nom du musée et où le visiteur est réduit aux
doigts d'un utilisateur capable de parcourir un nombre infini de biens culturels. À l'époque
où les institutions culturelles devraient être décolonisées plutôt que googlifiées, il est capital
d'aborder la question d'un projet tel que le Google Cultural Institute et son expansion
continue et inversement proportionnelle à l'échec des gouvernements et à la passivité des
institutions séduites par les gadgets[12].
Cependant, le dialogue est fragmenté entre les comptes rendus académiques, les
communiqués de presse, les interventions artistiques isolées, les conférences spécialisées et
les bulletins d'informations. Selon Femke Snelting, nous devons « trouver la patience de
construire une relation à ces théories de manière cohérente ». Pour ce faire, nous devons
approfondir et assembler un meilleur compte rendu de l'histoire du Google Cultural Institute.
Construite à partir du texte phare de Schiller & Yeo, la ligne du temps suivante est ma
contribution à cette tâche et à une tentative d'assembler des morceaux en les situant dans un
contexte politique et économique plus large allant au-delà de l'histoire officielle racontée par



le Google Cultural Institute. Une inspection plus minutieuse des événements révèle que
l'escalade des interventions culturelles d'Alphabet se produit généralement après l'apparition
d'un défi juridique pour l'hégémonie économique en Europe.

Un bulletin d'informations du Wall Street Journal[13] ainsi qu'un rapport de l'AP Youtube[14]
confirment le nouveau projet de Google dans le domaine de collections historiques. Le
président exécutif d'Alphabet déclare : « je ne peux pas imaginer une meilleure manière
d'utiliser notre temps et nos ressources qu'en rendant disponibles les images et les idées de
notre civilisation, depuis son origine, pour un milliard de personnes à travers le monde. »
Un compte rendu détaillé de la réflexion de cette visite, son contexte et son programme se
trouvent dans Powered by Google: Widening Access and Tightening Corporate Control.
(Schiller & Yeo 2014)

Concernant le conflit impliquant Google Books en Europe, Reuters a déclaré qu'en 2009,
l'ancien président français, Nicolas Sarkozy « avait promis des centaines de millions d'euros à
un programme de numérisation distinct, disant qu'il ne permettrait pas à la France “d'être

dépouillée de son patrimoine au profit d'une grande entreprise, peu importe si celle-ci était
sympathique, grande ou américaine.” »[15]
Cependant, même si le programme réactionnaire et nationaliste de Nicolas Sarkozy ne doit
pas être félicité, il est important de noter que la première attaque ouverte à l'encontre du
programme culturel de Google est venue du gouvernement français. Quatre ans plus tard, le
Google Cultural Institute établissait son siège à Paris.

La Commission européenne a décidé d'ouvrir une enquête antitrust à partir des
allégations selon lesquelles Google Inc. aurait abusé de sa position dominante de
moteur de recherche, en violation avec le règlement de l'Union européenne (Article
102 TFUE). L'ouverture de procédures formelles fait suite aux plaintes déposées par
des fournisseurs de service de recherche relatives à un traitement défavorable de leurs
services dans les résultats de recherche gratuits et payants de Google, ainsi qu'au
placement préférentiel des propres services de Google. Le lancement des procédures ne
signifie pas que la Commission dispose d'une quelconque preuve d'infraction. Cela
signifie seulement que la Commission va mener une enquête poussée et prioritaire sur

D'après The Guardian[17], ainsi que d'autres bulletins d'informations, le projet culturel de
Google a été lancé par des « googleurs » passionnés d'art.

Faisant référence à la France comme à l'un des plus importants centres pour la culture et la
technologie, le PDG de Google, Eric Schmidt, a annoncé officiellement la création d'un
centre « dédié à la technologie, particulièrement en faveur de la promotion des cultures
européennes passées, présentes et futures ».[18]

En février, le nouveau « produit » a été officiellement présenté. La présentation[19] souligne
que l'idée a commencé avec un projet 20 %, un projet qui n'émanait donc pas d'un mandat



D'après la section « Our Story »[20] du Google Cultural Institute, l'histoire du Google Art
Project commence avec l'intégration de 140 000 pièces du Yad Vashem World Holocaust
Centre, suivie de l'intégration des archives de Nelson Mandela dans la section "Historical
Moments" du Google Cultural Institute.
Plus tard au mois d'août, Eric Schmidt déclara que l'éducation devrait rassembler l'art et la
science comme lors des « jours glorieux de l'époque victorienne ».[21]

À la demande des autorités françaises, l'Union européenne lance une enquête à l'encontre
de Google concernant une violation des données privées causée par les nouveaux termes
d'utilisation publiés par Google le 1er mars 2012.[22]

D'après le site du Google Cultural Institute, 151 partenaires ont rejoint le Google Art
Project, y compris le Musée d'Orsay en France. La section World of Wonders est lancée
avec des partenariats comme celui de l'UNESCO. Au mois d'octobre, la plateforme avait
changé d'image et était relancée avec plus de 400 partenaires.

Le 10 décembre, le nouveau siège français ouvre au numéro 8 rue de Londres. La ministre
française, Aurélie Filippetti, annule sa participation à l'événement, car elle « ne souhaite pas
apparaitre comme une garantie à une opération qui soulève encore un certain nombre de
questions ».[23]

L'enquêteur du HM Customs and Revenue Committee estime que les opérations fiscales de
Google au Royaume-Uni réalisées via l'Irlande sont « fourbes, calculées et, selon moi,
contraires à l'éthique ».[24]


La décision controversée tient les moteurs de recherche responsables des données
personnelles qu'ils gèrent. Conformément à la loi européenne, la Cour a statué « que
l'opérateur est, dans certaines circonstances, obligé de retirer des liens vers des sites internet
publiés par un parti tiers et contenant des informations liées à une personne et apparaissant
dans la liste des résultats suite à une recherche basée sur le nom de cette personne. La Cour
établit clairement qu'une telle obligation peut également exister dans un cas où le nom, ou
l'information, n'est pas effacé préalablement de ces pages internet, et même, comme cela peut
être le cas, lorsque leur publication elle-même est légale. »[25]

Google sponsorise l'exposition Digital Revolution[26] et les œuvres commissionnées sous le
nom « Dev-art: art made with code.[27] ». Le Tekniska Museet à Stockholm a ensuite
accueilli l'exposition.[28] « The Lab » du Google Cultural Institute ouvre « Ici, les experts
créatifs et la technologie se rassemblent pour partager des idées et construire de nouvelles
manières de profiter de l'art et de la culture. »[29]

Un communiqué de presse de Google[30] décrit le nouveau partenariat avec la ville belge de
Mons comme le résultat de leur position d'employeur local et d'investisseur dans la ville où
se situe l'un de leurs deux principaux centres de données en Europe.

La Commission européenne a envoyé une communication des griefs à Google, déclarant
que :
« l'entreprise avait abusé de sa position dominante sur les marchés des services
généraux de recherches internet dans l'espace économique européen en favorisant
systématiquement son propre produit de comparateur d'achats dans les pages de
résultats généraux de recherche. »

Google rejette les accusations, les jugeant « erronées d'un point de vue factuel, légal et
économique ».[32]




La Commission déterminera si, en concluant des accords anti-compétitifs et/ou en abusant
d'une possible position dominante, Google a :
illégalement entravé le développement et l'accès au marché de systèmes mobiles
d'exploitation, d'applications mobiles de communication et des services de ses rivaux
dans l'espace économique européen. Cette enquête est distincte et séparée du travail
d'investigation sur le commerce de la recherche de Google.

D'après la section « Our Story » du Google Cultural Institute, le projet Street Art contient à
présent 10 000 pièces. Une nouvelle extension affiche les oeuvres d'art du Google Art
Project dans le navigateur Chrome et « les amateurs d'art peuvent porter une œuvre au
poignet grâce à l'art Android ». Au mois d'août, le projet disposait de 850 partenaires
utilisant ses outils, de 4,7 millions de pièces dans sa collection et de plus de 1 500
expositions organisées.


« Alphabet Inc. (connu sous le nom d'Alphabet) est un conglomérat multinational américain
créé en 2015 pour être la société mère de Google et de plusieurs entreprises appartenant
auparavant à Google ou y étant liées. »[35]

Google crée un doodle pour sa page d'accueil à l'occasion du 147e anniversaire de Paul
Otlet[36] et des projections de diapositives Towards the Information Age, Mapping
Knowledge et The 100th Anniversary of a Nobel Peace Prize, toutes organisées par le
Google Cultural Institute.
« Le Mundaneum et Google ont étroitement collaboré pour organiser neuf expositions
en ligne exclusives pour le Google Cultural Institute. Cette année, l'équipe dans les
coulisses de la réouverture du Mundaneum a travaillé avec les ingénieurs du Cultural
Institute pour lancer une application mobile qui y est consacrée. »

Le British Museum annonce un « partenariat unique » à travers lequel plus de 4 500 pièces
pourront être « visionnées en ligne en seulement quelques clics ». Dans le communiqué de
presse officiel, le directeur du musée, Neil McGregor, a déclaré « le monde a changé
aujourd'hui, notre manière d'accéder à l'information a été révolutionnée par la technologie
numérique. Cela permet de donner une nouvelle réalité à l'idéal des Lumières sur lequel le
Museum a été fondé. Il est à présent possible d'accéder à notre collection, d'explorer et de
profiter non seulement pour ceux qui la visitent en personne, mais pour tous ceux qui
disposent d'un ordinateur ou d'un appareil mobile. »[38]

Plus de 60 organisations et interprètes d'art du spectacle (danse, théâtre, musique, opéra)
rejoignent la collection Google Cultural Institute[39]


1. Caines, Matthew. « Arts head: Amit Sood, director, Google Cultural Institute »The Guardian. 3 décembre 2013. http://
www.theguardian.com/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2013/dec/03/amit sood-google-culturalinstitute-art-project
2. Google Paris. Consulté le 22 décembre 2016 http://www.google.se/about/careers/locations/paris/



3. Schiller, Dan & Yeo, Shinjoung. « Powered By Google: Widening Access And Tightening Corporate Control. » (In Aceti, D.
L. (Éd.). Red Art: New Utopias in Data Capitalism: Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Vol. 20, No. 1. Londres : Goldsmiths
University Press. 2014): 48
4. Down, Maureen. « The Google Art Heist ». The New York Times. 12 septembre 2015 http://
5. Schiller, Dan & Shinjoung Yeo. « Powered By Google: Widening Access And Tightening Corporate Control. », 48
6. 6. Schiller, Dan & Yeo, Shinjoung. « Powered By Google: Widening Access And Tightening Corporate Control. », 48
7. Davis, Heather & Turpin, Etienne, eds. Art in the Antropocene (Londres : Open Humanities Press. 2015), 7
8. Bush, Randy. Psg.com On techno-colonialism. (blog) 13 juin 2015. Consulté le 22 décembre 2015 https://psg.com/ontechnocolonialism.html
9. Starzmann, Maria Theresia. « Cultural Imperialism and Heritage Politics in the Event of Armed Conflict: Prospects for an
‘Activist Archaeology’ ». Archeologies. Vol. 4 n° 3 (2008):376
10. Echikson,William. Partnering in Belgium to create a capital of culture (blog) 10 mars 2014. Consulté le 22 décembre 2015
11. Google. Mundaneum co-founder Paul Otlet's 147th Birthday (blog) 23 août, 2015. Consulté le 22 décembre 2015 http://
12. ex. https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/thelab/#experiments
13. 13. Lavallee, Andrew. « Google CEO: A New Iraq Means Business Opportunities. » Wall Street Journal. 24 novembre
2009 http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2009/11/24/google-ceo-a-new-iraq-means-business-opportunities/
14. 14. Associated Press. Google Documents Iraqi Museum Treasures (vidéo en ligne 24 novembre 2009) https://
15. Jarry, Emmanuel. « France's Sarkozy takes on Google in books dispute. » Reuters. 8 décembre 2009. http://
16. European Commission. Antitrust: Commission probes allegations of antitrust violations by Google (Bruxelles 2010) http://
17. Caines, Matthew. “Arts head: Amit Sood, director, Google Cultural Institute »The Guardian. 3 décembre 2013. http://
www.theguardian.com/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2013/dec/03/amit sood google-culturalinstitute-art-project
18. Cyrus, Farivar. « Google to build R&D facility and 'European cultural center' in France. » Deutsche Welle. 9 septembre
2010. http://www.dw.com/en/google-to-build-rd-facility-and-european-cultural-center-in-france/a-5993560
19. 19. Google Art Project. Art Project V1 - Launch Event at Tate Britain. (vidéo en ligne le 1er février 2011) https://
20. Google Cultural Institute. Consulté le 18 décembre 2015. https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/about/partners/
21. Robinson, James. « Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, condemns British education system » The Guardian. 26 août 2011
22. European Commission. Letter addressed to Google by the Article 29 Group (Bruxelles 2012) http://ec.europa.eu/justice/
23. Willsher, Kim. « Google Cultural Institute's Paris opening snubbed by French minister. » The Guardian. 10 décembre, 2013
24. 24. Bowers, Simon & Syal, Rajeev. « MP on Google tax avoidance scheme: 'I think that you do evil' ». The Guardian. 16
mai 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/may/16/google-told-by-mp you-do-do-evil
25. Court of Justice of the European Union. Press-release No 70/14 (Luxembourg, 2014) http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/
26. Barbican. « Digital Revolution. » Consulté le 15 décembre 2015 https://www.barbican.org.uk/bie/upcoming-digital-revolution
27. Google. « Dev Art ». Consulté le 15 décembre 2015 https://devart.withgoogle.com/
28. Tekniska Museet. « Digital Revolution. » Consulté le 15 décembre 2015 http://www.tekniskamuseet.se/1/5554.html
29. Google Cultural Institute. Consulté le 15 décembre 2015. https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/thelab/
30. Echikson,William. Partnering in Belgium to create a capital of culture (blog) 10 mars 2014. Consulté le 22 décembre 2015
31. European Commission. Antitrust: Commission sends Statement of Objections to Google on comparison shopping service;
opens separate formal investigation on Android. (Bruxelles 2015) http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-4780_en.htm
32. Yun Chee, Foo. « Google rejects 'unfounded' EU antitrust charges of market abuse » Reuters. (27 août 2015) http://
33. European Commission. Antitrust: Commission sends Statement

34. Transparency International. Lobby meetings with EU policy-makers dominated by corporate interests (blog) 24 juin 2015.
Consulté le mardi 22 décembre 2015. http://www.transparency.org/news/pressrelease/
35. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. s.v. “Alphabet Inc,” (consulté le 25 janvier 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
36. Google. Mundaneum co-founder Paul Otlet's 147th Birthday (blog) 23 août, 2015. Consulté le 22 décembre 2015 http://
37. Google. Mundaneum co-founder Paul Otlet's 147th Birthday
38. The British Museum. The British Museum’s unparalleled world collection at your fingertips. (blog) Novembre 12, 2015.
Consulté le mardi 22 décembre 2015. https://www.britishmuseum.org/about_us/news_and_press/press_releases/2015/
39. Sood, Amit. Step on stage with the Google Cultural Institute (blog) 1er décembre 2015. Consulté le mardi 22 décembre
2015. https://googleblog.blogspot.se/2015/12/step-on-stage-with-google-cultural.html



The following is a list of all disambiguation pages on Mondotheque.
A page is treated as a disambiguation page if it contains the tag __DISAMBIG__ (or an
equivalent alias).
Showing below up to 15 results in range #1 to #15.
View (previous 50 | next 50) (20 | 50 | 100 | 250 | 500)
1. Biblion may refer to:
◦ Biblion (category), a subcategory of the category: Index Traité de
◦ Biblion (Traité de documentation), term used by Paul
Otlet to define all categories of books and documents in a section of Traité de
◦ Biblion (unity), the smallest document or intellectual unit
2. Cultural Institute may refer to:
◦ A Cultural Institute (organisation) , such as The
Mundaneum Archive Center in Mons
◦ Cultural Institute (project), a critical interrogation of
cultural institutions in neo-liberal times, developed by amongst others
Geraldine Juárez
◦ The Google Cultural Institute, a project offering
"Technologies that make the world’s culture accessible to anyone, anywhere."
3. L'EVANGELISTE may refer to:
◦ Vint Cerf, so-called 'internet evangelist', or 'father of the internet',
◦ Jiddu Krishnamurti, priest at the 'Order of the Star', a theosophist
splinter group that Paul Otlet related to
◦ Sir Tim Berners Lee, 'open data evangelist', heading the World Wide
Web consortium (W3C)

4. L'UTOPISTE may refer to:
◦ Paul Otlet, documentalist, universalist, internationalist, indexalist. At
times considered as the 'father of information science', or 'visionary inventor of
the internet on paper'
◦ Le Corbusier, architect, universalist, internationalist. Worked with Paul
Otlet on plans for a City of knowledge
◦ Otto Neurath , philosopher of science, sociologist, political economist.
Hosted a branch of Mundaneum in The Hague
◦ Ted Nelson , technologist, philosopher, sociologist. Coined the terms
hypertext, hypermedia, transclusion, virtuality and intertwingularity
5. LA CAPITALE may refer to:
◦ Brussels, capital of Flanders and Europe
◦ Genève , world civic center
6. LA MANAGER may refer to:
◦ Delphine Jenart, assistant director at the Mundaneum Archive Center
in Mons.
◦ Bill Echikson, former public relations officer at Google, coordinating
communications for the European Union, and for all of Southern, Eastern
Europe, Middle East and Africa. Handled the company’s high profile
antitrust and other policy-related issues in Europe.
7. LA MÉGA-ENTREPRISE may refer to:
◦ Google inc, or Alphabet, sometimes referred to as "Crystal
Computing", "Project02", "Saturn" or "Green Box Computing"
◦ Carnegie Steel Company, supporter of the Mundaneum in Brussels
and the Peace Palace in The Hague
8. LA RÉGION may refer to:
◦ Wallonia (Belgium), or La Wallonie. Former mining area, homebase of former prime minister Elio di Rupo, location of two Google
datacenters and the Mundaneum Archive Center
◦ Groningen (The Netherlands), future location of a Google data
center in Eemshaven
◦ Hamina (Finland), location of a Google data center



9. LE BIOGRAPHE is used for persons that are instrumental in constructing the
narrative of Paul Otlet. It may refer to:
◦ André Canonne, librarian and director of the Centre de Lecture
publique de la Communauté française (CLPCF). Discovers the
Mundaneum in the 1960s. Publishes a facsimile edition of the Traité de
documentation (1989) and prepares the opening of Espace Mundaneum in
Brussels at Place Rogier (1990)
◦ Warden Boyd Rayward, librarian scientist, discovers the Mundaneum
in the 1970s. Writes the first biography of Paul Otlet in English: The
Universe of Information: the Work of Paul Otlet for Documentation and
international Organization (1975)
◦ Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten , comics-writers and
scenographers, discover the Mundaneum in the 1980s. The archivist in the
graphic novel Les Cités Obscures (1983) is modelled on Paul Otlet
◦ Françoise Levie, filmmaker, discovers the Mundaneum in the 1990s.
Author of the fictionalised biography The man who wanted to classify the
world (2002)
◦ Alex Wright, writer and journalist, discovers the Mundaneum in 2003.
Author of Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information
Age (2014)
10. LE DIRECTEUR may refer to:
◦ Harm Post, director of Groningen Sea Ports, future location of a Google
data center
◦ Andrew Carnegie, director of Carnegy Steel Company, sponsor of the
◦ André Canonne, director of the Centre de Lecture publique de la
Communauté française (CLPCF) and guardian of the Mundaneum. See
◦ Jean-Paul Deplus, president of the current Mundaneum association,
but often referred to as LE DIRECTEUR
◦ Amid Sood, director (later 'founder') of the Google Cultural Institute and
Google Art Project
◦ Steve Crossan, director (sometimes 'founder' or 'head') of the Google
Cultural Institute
11. LE POLITICIEN may refer to:
◦ Elio di Rupo, former prime minister of Belgium and mayor of Mons

◦ Henri Lafontaine, Belgium lawyer and statesman, working with Paul
Otlet to realise the Mundaneum
◦ Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France, negotiating deals with
12. LE ROI may refer to:
◦ Leopold II, reigned as King of the Belgians from 1865 until 1909.
Exploited Congo as a private colonial venture. Patron of the Mundaneum
◦ Albert II, reigned as King of the Belgians from 1993 until his
abdication in 2013. Visited LA MÉGA-ENTREPRISE in 2008
13. Monde may refer to:
◦ Monde (Univers) means world in French and is used in many
drawings and schemes by Paul Otlet. See for example: World + Brain and
◦ Monde (Publication), Essai d'universalisme. Last book published
by Paul Otlet (1935)
◦ Mondialisation , Term coined by Paul Otlet (1916)
14. Mundaneum may refer to:
◦ Mundaneum (Utopia) , a project designed by Paul Otlet and Henri
◦ Mundaneum (Archive Centre) , a cultural institution in Mons,
housing the archives of Paul Otlet and Henri Lafontaine since 1993
15. Urbanisme may refer to:
◦ Urban planning, a technical and political process concerned with the
use of land, protection and use of the environment, public welfare, and the
design of the urban environment, including air, water, and the infrastructure
passing into and out of urban areas such as transportation, communications,
and distribution networks.
◦ Urbanisme (Publication), a book by Le Corbusier (1925).
View (previous 50 | next 50) (20 | 50 | 100 | 250 | 500)




Mill to

Every second of every day, billions of people around the world are googling, mapping, liking,
tweeting, reading, writing, watching, communicating, and working over the Internet.
According to Cisco, global Internet traffic will surpass one zettabyte – nearly a trillion
gigabytes! – in 2016, which equates to 667 trillion feature-length films.[1] Internet traffic is
expected to double by 2019[2] as the internet ever increasingly weaves itself into the very
fabric of many people’s daily lives.
Internet search giant Google – since August, 2015 a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.[3] – is one
of the major conduits of our social activities on the Web. It processes over 3.3 billion
searches each and every day, 105 billon searches per month or 1.3 trillion per year,[4] and is
responsible for over 88% Internet search activity around the globe.[5] Predicating its business
on people’s everyday information activity – search – in 2015, Google generated $74.54
billion dollars,[6] equivalent to or more than the GDP of some countries. The vast majority of
Google’s revenue – $ 67.39 billion dollars[7] – from advertising on its various platforms
including Google search, YouTube, AdSense products, Chrome OS, Android etc.; the
company is rapidly expanding its business to other sectors like cloud services, health,
education, self-driving cars, internet of things, life sciences, and the like. Google’s lucrative
internet business does not only generate profits. As Google’s chief economist Hal Varian
…it also generates torrents of data about users’ tastes and habits, data that Google
then sifts and processes in order to predict future consumer behavior, find ways to
improve its products, and sell more ads. This is the heart and soul of Googlenomics.
It’s a system of constant self-analysis: a data-fueled feedback loop that defines not only
Google’s future but the future of anyone who does business online.



Google’s business model is emblematic of the “new economy” which is primarily built around
data and information. The “new economy” – the term popularized in the 1990s during the
first dot-com boom – is often distinguished by the mainstream discourse from the traditional
industrial economy that demands large-scale investment of physical capital and produces
material goods and instead emphasizes the unique nature of information and purports to be
less resource-intensive. Originating in the 1960s, post-industrial theorists asserted the
emergence of the “new” economy, claiming that the increase of highly-skilled information
workers, widespread application of information technologies, along with the decrease of
manual labor, would bring a new mode of production and fundamental changes in
exploitative capitalist social relations.[9]
Has the “new” economy challenged capitalist social relations and transcended the material
world? Google and other Internet companies have been investing heavily in industrial-scale
real estate around the world and continue to build large-scale physical infrastructure in the
way of data centers where the world’s bits and bytes are stored, processed and delivered.
The term “tube” or “cloud” or “weightless” often gives us a façade that our newly marketed
social and cultural activities over the Internet transcend the physical realm and occur in the
vapors of the Internet; far from this perception, however, every bit of information in the “new
economy” is transmitted through and located in physical space, on very real and very large
infrastructure encomapssing existing power structures from phone lines and fiber optics to
data centers to transnatonal underseas telecommunication cables.
There is much boosterism and celebration that the “new economy” holds the keys to
individual freedom, liberty and democratic participation and will free labor from exploitation;
however, the material/physical base that supports the economy and our everyday lives tells a
very different story. My analysis presents an integral piece of the physical infrastructure
behind the “new economy” and the space embedded in that infrastructure in order to
elucidate that the “new economy” does not occur in an abstract place but rather is manifested
in the concrete material world, one deeply embedded in capitalist development which
reproduces structural inequality on a global scale. Specifically, the analysis will focus on
Google’s growing large-scale data center infrastructure that is restructuring and reconfiguring
previously declining industrial cities and towns as new production places within the US and
around the world.
Today, data centers are found in nearly every sector of the economy: financial services,
media, high-tech, education, retail, medical, government etc. The study of the development of
data centers in each of these sectors could be separate projects in and of themselves;
however, for this project, I will only look at Google as a window into the “new” economy, the

company which has led the way in the internet sector in building out and linking up data
centers as it expands its territory of profit.[10]

The concepts of “spatial fix” by critical geographer David Harvey[11] and “digital capitalism”
by historian of communication and information Dan Schiller[12] are useful to contextualize and
place the emergence of large-scale data centers within capitalist development. Harvey
illustrates the notion of spatial fix to explicate and situate the geographical dynamics and crisis
tendency of capitalism with over-accumulation and under-consumption. Harvey’s spatial fix
has dual meanings. One meaning is that it is necessary for capital to have a fixed space –
physical infrastructure (transportation, communications, highways, power etc.) as well as a
built environment – in order to facilitate capital’s geographical expansion. The other meaning
is a fix or solution for capitalists’ crisis through geographical expansion and reorganization of
space as capital searches for new markets and temporarily relocates to more profitable space
– new accumulation sites and territories. This temporal spatial fix will lead capital to leave
behind existing physical infrastructure and built environments as it shifts to new temporal
fixed spaces in order to cultivate new markets.
Building on Harvey’s work, Schiller introduced the concept of digital capitalism in response
to the 1970’s crisis of capitalism in which information became that “spatial-temporal fix” or
“pole of growth.”[13] To renew capitalist crisis from the worst economic downturn of the
1970s, a massive amount of information and communication technologies were introduced
across the length and breadth of economic sectors as capitalism shifted to a more informationintensive economy – digital capitalism. Today digital capitalism grips every sector, as it has
expanded and extended beyond information industries and reorganized the entire economy
from manufacturing production to finance to science to education to arts and health and
impacts every iota of people’s social lives.[14] Current growth of large-scale data centers by
Internet companies and their reoccupation of industrial towns needs to be situated within the
context of the development of digital capitalism.

Large-scale data centers – sometimes called “server farms” in an oddly quaint allusion to the
pre-industrial agrarian society – are centralized facilities that primarily contain large numbers
of servers and computer equipment used for data processing, data storage, and high-speed
telecommunications. In a sense, data centers are similar to the capitalist factory system; but
instead of a linear process of input of raw materials to
output of material goods for mass consumption, they input
mass data in order to facilitate and expand the endless
cycle of commodification – an Ouroboros-like machine.
As the factory system enables the production of more


From X = Y:
In these proposals, Otlet's archival


goods at a lower cost through automation and control of labor to maximize profit, data centers
have been developed to process large quantities of bits and bytes as fast as possible and at as
low a cost as possible through automation and centralization. The data center is a hyperautomated digital factory system that enables the operation of hundreds of thousands of
servers through centralization in order to conduct business around the clock and around the
globe. Compared to traditional industrial factories that produce material goods and generally
employ entire towns if not cities, large-scale data centers each generally employ fewer than
100 full-time employees – most of these employees are either engineers or security guards.
In a way, data centers are the ultimate automated factory. Moreover, the owner of a
traditional factory needs to acquire/purchase/extract raw materials to produce commodities;
however, much of the raw data for a data center are freely drawn from the labor and
everyday activities of Internet users without a direct cost to the data center. The factory
system is to industrial capitalism what data centers are becoming to digital capitalism.

Today, there is a growing arms race among leading Internet companies – Google, Microsoft,
Amazon, Facebook, IBM – in building out large-scale data centers around the globe.[16]
Among these companies, Google has so far been leading in terms of scale and capital
investment. In 2014, the company spent $11 billion for real estate purchases, production
equipment, and data center construction,[17] compared to Amazon which spent $4.9 billion
and Facebook with $1.8 billion in the same year.[18]
Until 2002, Google rented only one collocation facility in Santa Clara, California to house
about 300 servers.[19] However, by 2003 the company had started to purchase entire
collocation buildings that were cheaply available due to overexpansion during the dot.com
era. Google soon began to design and build its own data centers containing thousands of
custom-built servers as Google expanded its services and global market and responded to
competitive pressures. Initially, Google was highly secretive about its data center locations
and related technologies; a former Google employee called this Google’s “Manhattan
project.” However, in 2012, Google began to open up its data centers. While this seems
like Google’s had a change of heart and wants to be more transparent about their data
centers to the public, it is in reality more about Google’s self-serving public relations
onslaught to show how its cloud infrastructure is superior to Google’s competitors and to
secure future cloud clients.[20]
As of 2016, Google has data centers in 14 locations around the globe – eight in Americas,
two in Asia and four in Europe – with an unknown number of collocated centers – ones in
which space, servers, and infrastructure are shared with other companies – in undisclosed
locations. The sheer size of Google’s data centers is reflected in its server chip consumption.
In all, Google supposedly accounts for 5% of all server chips sold in the world,[21] and it is
even affecting the price of chips as the company is one of biggest chip buyers. Google’s
recent allying with Qualcomm for its new chip has become a threat to Intel – Google has

been the largest customer of the world’s largest chip maker for quite some time.[22] According
to Steven Levy, Google admitted that, “it is the largest computing manufacturer in the world
– making its own servers requires it to build more units every year than the industry giants
HP, Dell, and Lenovo.”[23] Moreover, Google has been amassing cheap “dark fibre” – fibre
optic cables that were laid down during the 1990s dot.com boom by now-defunct telecom
firms betting on increased internet traffic[24] - constructing Google’s fibre optic cables in US
cities,[25] and investing in building massive undersea cables to maintain its dominance and
expand its markets by controlling Internet infrastructure.[26]
With its own customized servers and software, Google is building a massive data center
network infrastructure, delivering its service at unprecedented speeds around the clock and
around the world. According to one report, Google’s global network of data centers, with a
capacity to deliver 1-petabit-per-second bandwidth, is powerful enough to read all of the
scanned books in the Library of Congress in a fraction of a second.[27] New York Times
columnist Pascal Zachary once reported:
…I believe that the physical network is Google’s “secret sauce,” its premier competitive
advantage. While a brilliant lone wolf can conceive of a dazzling algorithm, only a
super wealthy and well-managed organization can run what is arguably the most
valuable computer network on the planet. Without the computer network, Google is

Where then is Google’s secret sauce physically located? Despite its massiveness, Google’s
data center infrastructure and locations have been invisible to millions of everyday Google
users around the globe – users assume that Google is ubiquitous, the largest cloud in the
‘net.’ However, this infrastructure is no longer unnoticed since the infrastructure needed to
support the “new economy” is beginning to occupy and transform our landscapes and
building a new fixed network of global digital production space.

While Google’s data traffic and exchange extends well beyond geographic boundaries, its
physical plants are fixed in places where digital goods and services are processed and
produced. For the production of material goods, access to cheap labor has long been one of
the primary criteria for companies to select their places of production; but for data centers, a
large quantity of cheap labor is not as important since they require only a small number of
employees. The common characteristics necessary for data center sites have so far been:
good fiber-optic infrastructure; cheap and reliable power sources for cooling and running
servers, geographical diversity for redundancy and speed, cheap land, and locations close to
target markets.[29] Today, if one finds geographical areas in the world with some combination
of these factors, there will likely be data centers there or in the planning stages for the near



Given these criteria, there has been an emerging trend of reconfiguration and conversion to
data centers of former industrial sites such as paper mills, printing plants, steel plants, textile
mills, auto plants, aluminum plants and coal plants. In the United States, and in particular rust
belt regions of the upper Northeast, Great Lakes and Midwest regions – previously hubs of
manufacturing industries and heart lands of both industrial capitalism and labor movements –
are turning (or attempting to turn) into hotspots for large-scale data centers for Internet
companies.[30] These cities are the remains of past crises of industrial capitalism as well as of
long labor struggles.
The reasons that former industrial sites in the US and other parts of the world are attractive
for data center conversion is that, starting in the 1970s, many factories had closed or moved
their operations overseas in search of ever-cheaper labor and concomitantly weak or
nonexistent labor laws, leaving behind solid physical plants and industrial infrastructures of
power, water and cooling systems once used to drive industrial machines and production lines
and now perfectly fit for data center development.[31] Especially, finding cheap energy is
crucial for companies like Google since data center energy costs are a major expenditure.
Moreover, many communities surrounding former industrial sites have struggled and become
distressed with increasing poverty, high unemployment and little labor power. Thus, under
the guise of “economic development,” many state and local governments have been eager to
lure data centers by offering lavish subsidies for IT companies. For at least the last five years,
state after state has legislated tax breaks for data centers and about a dozen states have
created customized incentives programs for data center operations.[32] State incentives range
from full or partial exemptions of sales/use taxes on equipment, construction materials, and in
some cases purchases of electricity and backup fuel.[33] This kind of corporate-centric
economic development is far from the construction of democratic cities that prioritize social
needs and collective interests, and reflects the environmental and long-term sustainability of
communities; but rather the goal is to, “create a good business climate and therefore to
optimize conditions for capital accumulation no matter what the consequences for
employment or social and environmental well-being.”[34]
Google’s first large-scale data center site is located in one of these struggling former industrial
towns. In 2006, Google opened its first data center in The Dalles – now nicknamed
Googleville – a town of a little over 15,000 located alongside the Columbia River and
about 80 miles east of Portland, Oregon. It is an ideal site in the sense that it is close to a
major metropolitan corridor (Seattle-Tacoma-Portland) to serve business interests and large
urban population centers; yet, cheap land, little organized labor, and the promise of cheap
electrical power from the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal governmental agency,
as well as a 15-year property tax exemption. In addition, The Dalles had already built a
fiber-optic loop as part of its economic development hoping to attract the IT industry.[35]
Not long ago, the residents of The Dalles and communities up and down the Columbia
River gorge relied on the aluminum industry, an industry which required massive amounts of

– in this case hydroelectric – power. Energy makes up 40 percent of the cost of aluminum
production[36] and was boosted by the war economies of World War II and the Korean war
as aluminum was used for various war products, especially aircraft. However, starting in
1980, aluminum smelter plants began to close and move out of the area, laid off their
workers and left their installed infrastructure behind.
Since then, The Dalles, like other industrial towns, has suffered from high unemployment,
poverty, aging population and budget-strapped schools, etc. Thus, the decision for Google to
build a data center the size of two football fields (68,680-square-foot storage buildings) in
order to take advantage of the preinstalled fiber optic infrastructure, relatively cheap
hydropower from the Dalles Dam, and tax benefits was presented as the new hope
for the
distressed town and a large employment opportunity for the town’s population.
There was much community excitement that Google’s arrival would mean an economic
revival for the struggling city and a better life for the poor , but no one could discuss about it
at the time of negotiations with Google because local officials involved in negotiations had all
signed nondisclosure agreements (NDAs);[38] they were required not to mention Google in
any way but were instead instructed to refer to the project as “Project 02.”[39] Google insisted
that the information it shared with representatives of The Dalles not be subject to public
records disclosures.[40] While public subsidies were a necessary precondition of building the
data center,[41] there were no transparency or open public debates on alternative visions of
development that reflects collective community interests.
Google’s highly anticipated data center in The Dalles opened in 2006, but it “opened” only
in the sense that it became operational. To this day, Google’s data center site is off-limits to
the community and is well-guarded, including multiple CCTV cameras which survey the
grounds around the clock. Google might boast of its corporate culture as “open” and “nonhierarchical” but this does not extend to the data centers within the community where Google
benefits as it extracts resources. Not only was the building process secretive, but access to the
data center itself is highly restricted. Data centers are well secured with several guards, gates
and checkpoints. Google’s data center has reshaped the landscape into a pseudo-militarized
zone as it is not far off from a top-secret military compound – access denied.
This kind of landscape is reproduced in other parts of the US as well. New data center hubs
have begun to emerge in other rural communities; one of them is in southwestern North
Carolina where the leading tech giants – Google, Facebook, Apple, Disney and American
Express – have built data centers in close proximity to each other. The cluster of data
centers is referred to as the “NC Data Center Corridor,”[42] a neologism used to market the
At one time, the southwestern part of North Carolina had heavy concentration of highly
labor-intensive textiles and furniture industries that exploited the region’s cheap labor supply
and where workers fought long and hard for better working conditions and wages. However,
over the last 25 years, factories have closed and slowly moved out of the area and been



relocated to Asia and Latin America.[43] As a result – and mirroring the situation in The
Dalles – the area has suffered a series of layoffs, chronically high unemployment rates and
poverty, but now is being rebranded as a center of the “new economy” geared toward
attracting high-tech industries. For many towns, abandoned manufacturing plants are no
longer an eyesore but rather are becoming major selling points to the IT industry. Rich
Miller, editor of Data Center Knowledge, stated, “one of the things that’s driving the
competitiveness of our area is the power capacity built for manufacturers in the past 50
In 2008, Google opened a $600 million data center in Lenoir, NC, a town in Caldwell
County (population 18,228[45]). Lenoir was once known as the furniture capital of the South
but lost 1,120 jobs in 2006.[46] More than 300,000 furniture jobs moved away from the
United States during 2000 as factories relocate to China for cheaper labor and operational
costs.[47] In order to lure Google, Caldwell County and the City of Lenoir gave Google a
100 percent waiver on business property taxes, an 80 percent waiver on real estate property
taxes over the next 30 years,[48] and various other incentives. Former NC Governor Mike
Easley announced that, “this company will provide hundreds of good-paying, knowledgebased jobs that North Carolina’s citizens want;”[49] yet, he addressed neither the cost of
attracting Google for taxpayers – including those laid-off factory workers – nor the
environmental impact of the data center. In 2013, Google expanded its operation in Lenoir
with an additional $600 million investment, and as of 2015, it has 250 employees in its
220-plus acre data center site.[50]
The company continues its crusade of giving “hope” to distressed communities and now
“saving” the environment from the old coal-fueled industrial economy. Google’s latest project
in the US is in Widows Creek, Alabama where the company is converting a coal burning
power plant commissioned in 1952 – which has been polluting the area for years – to its 14
th data center powered by renewable power. Shifting from coal to renewable energy seems to
demonstrate how Google has gone “green” and is being a different kind of corporation that
cares for the environment. However, this is a highly calculated business decision given that
relying on renewable energy is more economical over the long term than coal – which is
more volatile as commodity prices greatly fluctuate.[51] Google is gobbling up renewable
energy deals around the world to procure cheap energy and power its data centers.[52]
However, Google’s “green” public relations also camouflage environmental damages that are
brought by the data center’s enormous power consumption, e-waste from hardware, rare
earth mining and the environmental damage over the entire supply chain.[53]
The trend of reoccupation of industrial sites by data centers is not confined to the US.
Google’s Internet business operates across territories and more than 50% of its revenues
come from outside the US. As Google’s domestic search market share has stabilized at
around 60% share, the company has aggressively moved to build data centers around the
world for its global expansion. One of Google’s most ambitious data center projects outside
the US was in Hamina, Finland where Google converted a paper mill to a data center.

In 2008, Stora Enso, the Finnish paper maker, in which the Finnish Government held 16%
of the company’s shares and controlled 34% of the company, shut down its Summa paper
mill on the site close to the city of Hamina in Southeastern Finland despite workers’
resistance against the closure.[54] The company shed 985 jobs including 485 from the
Summa plant.[55] Shortly after closing the plant, Stora Enso sold the 53 year-old paper mill
site to Google for roughly $52 million which included 410 acres of land and the paper mill
and its infrastructure itself.
Whitewashing the workers’ struggles, the Helsinki Times reported that, “everyone was
excited about Google coming to Finland. The news that the Internet giant had bought the old
Stora Enso mill in Hamina for a data centre was great news for a community stunned by job
losses and a slowing economy.”[56] However, the local elites recognized that jobs created by
Google would not drastically affect the city’s unemployment rate or alleviate the economic
plight for many people in the community, so they justified their decision by arguing that
connecting Google’s logo to the city’s image would result in increased investments in the
area.[57] The facility had roughly 125 full-time employees when Google announced its
Hamina operation’s expansion in 2013.[58] The data center is monitored by Google’s
customary CCTV cameras and motion detectors; even Google staff only have access to the
server halls after passing biometric authentication using iris recognition scanners.[59]
Like Google’s other data centers, Google’s decision to build a data center in Hamina is not
merely because of favorable existing infrastructure or natural resources. The location of
Hamina as its first Nordic data center is vital and strategic in terms of extending Google’s
reach into geographically dispersed markets, speed and management of data traffic. Hamina
is located close to the border with Russia and the area has long been known for good
Internet connectivity via Scandinavian telecommunications giant TeliaSonera, whose services
and international connections run right through the area of Hamina and reach into Russia as
well as to Sweden and Western Europe.[60] Eastern Europe has a growing Internet market
and Russia is one of the few countries where Google does not dominate the search market.
Yandex, Russia’s native language search engine, controls the Russian search market with
over 60% share.[61] By locating its infrastructure in Hamina, Google is establishing its
strategic global digital production beach-head for both the Nordic and Russian markets.
As Google is trying to maintain its global dominance and expand its business, the company
has continued to build out its data center operations on European soil. Besides Finland,
Google has built data centers in Dublin, Ireland, and St. Ghislain and Mons in Belgium,
which respectively had expanded their operations after their initial construction. However,
the stories of each of these data centers is similar: aluminum smelting plant town The Dalles,
Oregon and Lenoir North Carolina in the US, paper mill town Hamina, Finland, coalmining town Ghislain–Mons, Belgium and a warehouse converted data center in Dublin,
Ireland. Each of these were once industrial production sites and/or sites for the extraction of
environmental resources turned into data centers creating temporal production spaces to
accelerate digital capitalism. Google’s latest venture in Europe is in a seaport town of



Eemshaven, Netherlands which hosts several power stations as well as the transatlantic fiberoptic cable which links the US and Europe.
To many struggling communities around the world, the building of Google’s large-scale data
centers has been presented by the company and by political elites as an opportunity to
participate in the “new economy” – as well as a veiled threat of being left behind from the
“new economy” – as if this would magically lead to the creation of prosperity and equality. In
reality, these cities and towns are being reorganized and reoccupied for corporate interests,
re-integrated into sites of capital accumulation and re-emerged as new networks of production
for capitalist development.

Is the current physical landscape that supports the “new economy” outside of capitalist social
relations? Does the process of the redevelopment of struggling former industrial cites by
building Google data centers under the slogan of participation in the “new economy” really
meet social needs, and express democratic values? The “new economy” is boasted about as if
it is radically different from past industrial capitalist development, the solution to myriad social
problems that hold the potential for growth outside of the capitalist realm; however, the “new
economy” operates deeply within the logic of capitalist development – constant technological
innovation, relocation and reconstruction of new physical production places to link
geographically dispersed markets, reduction of labor costs, removal of obstacles that hinder its
growth and continuous expansion. Google’s purely market-driven data centers illustrate that
the “new economy” built on data and information does not bypass physical infrastructures and
physical places for the production and distribution of digital commodities. Rather, it is firmly
anchored in the physical world and simply establishes new infrastructures on top of existing
industrial ones and a new network of production places to meet the needs of the processes of
digital commodities at the expense of environmental, labor and social well-being.
We celebrate the democratic possibilities of the “networked information economy” providing
for alternative space free from capitalist practices; however, it is vital to recognize that this
“new economy” in which we put our hopes is supported by, built on, and firmly planted in
our material world. The question that we need to ask ourselves is: given that our communities
and physical infrastructures continue to be configured to assist the reproduction of the social
relations of capitalism, how far can our “new economy” deliver on the democracy and social
justice for which we all strive?

1. James Titcomb, “World’s internet traffic to surpass one zettabyte in 2016,” Telegraph, February 4, 2016, http://
2. Ibid.

3. Cade Metz, “A new company called Alphabet now owns Google,” Wired, August 10, 2015. http://wired.com/2015/08/
4. Google hasn’t released new data since 2012, but the data extrapolate from based on Google annual growth date. See Danny
Sullivan, “Google Still Doing At Least 1 Trillion Searches Per Year,” Search Engine Land, January 16, 2015, http://
5. This is Google’s desktop search engine market as of January 2016. See “Worldwide desktop market share of leading search
engines from January 2010 to January 2016,” Statista, http://www.statista.com/statistics/216573/worldwide-market-shareof-search-engines/.
6. “Annual revenue of Alphabet from 2011 to 2015 (in billions of US dollars),” Statista, http://www.statista.com/
7. “Advertising revenue of Google from 2001 to 2015 (in billion U.S. dollars),” Statista, http://www.statista.com/
8. Seven Levy, “Secret of Googlenomics: Data-Fueled Recipe Brews Profitability,” Wired, May 22, 2009, http://
9. Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture In Social Forecasting (New York: Basic Books, 1974); Alvin
Toffler, The Third Wave (New York: Morrow, 1980).
10. The term “territory of profit” is borrowed from Gary Fields’ book titled Territories of Profit: Communications, Capitalist
Development, and the Innovative Enterprises of G. F. Swift and Dell Computer (Stanford University Press, 2003)
11. David Harvey, Spaces of capital: towards a critical geography (New York: Routledge, 2001)
12. Top of FormDan Schiller, Digital capitalism networking the global market system (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1999).
13. Dan Schiller, “Power Under Pressure: Digital Capitalism In Crisis,” International Journal of Communication 5 (2011): 924–
14. Dan Schiller, “Digital capitalism: stagnation and contention?” Open Democracy, October 13, 2015, https://
15. Ibid: 113-117.
16. Jason Hiner, “Why Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are racing to run your data center.” ZDNet, June 4, 2009, http://
17. Derrick Harris, “Google had its biggest quarter ever for data center spending. Again,” Gigaom, February 4, 2015, https://
18. Ibid.
19. Steven Levy, In the plex: how Google thinks, works, and shapes our lives )New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 182.
20. Steven Levy, “Google Throws Open Doors to Its Top-Secret Data Center,” Wired, October 17 2012, http://
21. Cade Metz, “Google’s Hardware Endgame? Making Its Very Own Chips,” Wired, February 12, 2016, http://
22. Ian King and Jack Clark, “Qualcomm's Fledgling Server-Chip Efforts,” Bloomberg Business, February 3, 2016, http://
23. Levy, In the Plex, 181.
24. In 2013, Wall Street Journal reported that Google controls more than 100,000 miles of routes around the world which was
considered bigger than US-based telecom company Sprint. See Drew FitzGerald and Spencer E. Ante, “Tech Firms Push to
Control Web's Pipes,” Wall Street Journal, December 13, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/
25. Google is offering its gigabit-speed fiber optic Internet service in 10 US cities. Since Internet service is a precondition of
Google’s myriad Internet businesses, Google’s strategy is to control the pipes rather than relying on telecom firms. See Mike
Wehner, “Google Fiber is succeeding and cable companies are starting to feel the pressure,” Business Insider, April 15, 2015,
Ethan Baron, “Google Fiber coming to San Francisco first,” San Jose Mercury News, February 26, 2016, http://
26. Tim Hornyak, “9 things you didn't know about Google's undersea cable,” Computerworld, July 14, 2015, http://
27. Jaikumar Vijayan, “Google Gives Glimpse Inside Its Massive Data Center Network,” eWeek, June 18, 2015, http://
28. Pascal Zachary, “Unsung Heroes Who Move Products Forward,” New York Times, September 30, 2007, http://



29. Tomas Freeman, Jones Lang, and Jason Warner, “What’s Important in the Data Center Location Decision,” Spring 2011,
30. “From rust belt to data center green?” Green Data Center News, February 10, 2011, http://www.greendatacenternews.org/
31. Rich Miller, “North Carolina Emerges as Data Center Hub,” Data Center Knowledge, November 7, 2010, http://
32. David Chernicoff, “US tax breaks, state by state,” Datacenter Dynamics, January 6, 2016, http://
www.datacenterdynamics.com/design-build/us-tax-breaks-state-by-state/95428.fullarticle; Case Study: Server Farms,” Good
Job First, http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/corporate-subsidy-watch/server-farms.
33. John Leino, “The role of incentives in Data Center Location Decisions,” Critical Environment Practice, February 28, 2011,
34. David, Harvey, Spaces of global capitalism (London: Verso. 2006), 25.
35. Marsha Spellman, “Broadband, and Google, Come to Rural Oregon,” Broadband Properties, December 2005, http://
36. Ross Courtney “The Goldendale aluminum plant -- The death of a way of life,” Yakima Herald-Republic,” April 9, 2011,
37. Ginger Strand, “Google’s addition to cheap electricity,” Harper Magazine, March 2008, https://web.archive.org/web/20080410194348/http://harpers.org/media/

38. Linda Rosencrance, “Top-secret Google data center almost completed,” Computerworld, June 16, 2006, http://
39. Bryon Beck, “Welcome to Googleville America’s newest information superhighway begins On Oregon’s Silicon Prairie,”
Willamette Week, June 4, 2008, http://wweek.com/portland/article-9089-welcome_to_googleville.html.
40. Rich Miller, “Google & Facebook: A Tale of Two Data Centers,” Data Center Knowledge, August 2, 2010, http://
41. Ibid.
42. Alex Barkinka, “From textiles to tech, the state’s newest crop,” Reese News Lab, April 13, 2011, http://
43. “Textile & Apparel Overview,” North Carolina in the Global Economy, http://www.ncglobaleconomy.com/textiles/
44. Rich Miller, “The Apple-Google Data Center Corridor,” Data Center knowledge, August 4, 2009, http://
45. “2010 Decennial Census from the US Census Bureau,” http://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/cf/1.0/en/place/Lenoir city,
46. North Carolina in the Global Economy. Retrieved from http://www.soc.duke.edu/NC_GlobalEconomy/furniture/
47. Frank Langfitt, Furniture Work Shifts From N.C. To South China. National Public Radio, December 1, 2009, http://
www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121576791&ft=1&f=121637143; Dan Morse, In North Carolina,
Furniture Makers Try to Stay Alive,” Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2004, http://www.wsj.com/articles/
SB107724173388134838; Robert Lacy, “Whither North Carolina Furniture Manufacturing,” Federal Reserve Bank of
Richmond, Working Paper Series, September 2004, https://www.richmondfed.org/~/media/richmondfedorg/publications/
48. Stephen Shankland, “Google gives itself leeway for N.C., data center,” Cnet, December 5, 2008, http://
news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-10114349-93.html; Bill Bradley, “Cities Keep Giving Out Money for Server Farms, See
Very Few Jobs in Return,” Next City, August 15, 2013, https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/cities-keep-giving-out-money-forserver-farms-see-few-jobs-in-return.
49. Katherine Noyes, “Google Taps North Carolina for New Datacenter,” E-Commerce Times, January 19, 2007, http://
50. Getahn Ward, “Google to invest in new Clarksville data center,” Tennessean, December 22, 2015, http://
51. Ingrid Burrington, “The Environmental Toll of a Netflix Binge,” Atlantic, December 16, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/
52. Mark Bergen, “After Gates, Google Splurges on Green With Largest Renewable Energy Buy for Server Farms,” Re/code,
December 3, 2015, http://recode.net/2015/12/03/after-gates-google-splurges-on-green-with-largest-renewable-energy-buyfor-server-farms/.

53. Burrington, “The Environmental Toll of a Netflix Binge.”; Richard Maxwell and Toby Miller, Greening the media (New
York: Oxford Univeristy Press, 2012)
54. “Finnish Paper Industry Uses Court Order to Block Government Protest,” IndustriAll Global Union, http://www.industriallunion.org/archive/icem/finnish-paper-industry-uses-court-order-to-block-government-protest.
55. Terhi Kinnunen and Tarmo Virki, “Stora to cut 985 jobs, close mills despite protests,” Reuter, January 17, 2008, http://
www.reuters.com/article/storaenso-idUSL1732158220080117; “Workers react to threat of closure of paper pulp mills,”
European Foundation, March 3, 2008, http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/observatories/eurwork/articles/workers-react-tothreat-of-closure-of-paper-pulp-mills.
56. David Cord, “Welcome to Finland,” The Helsinki Times, April 9, 2009, http://www.helsinkitimes.fi/helsinkitimes/2009apr/
57. Elina Kervinen, Google is busy turning the old Summa paper mill into a data centre. Helsingin Sanomat International Edition,
October 9, 2010, https://web.archive.org/web/20120610020753/http://www.hs.fi/english/article/Google+is+busy
58. “Google invests 450M in expansion of Hamina data centre,” Helsinki Times, November 4, 2013, http://
59. “Revealed: Google’s new mega data center in Finland,” Pingdon, September 15, 2010, http://
60. Ibid.
61. Shiv Mehta, “What's Google Strategy for the Russian Market?” Investopedia, July 28, 2015, http://www.investopedia.com/




This timeline starts in Brussels and is an attempt to situate some of the events
in the life, death and revival of the Mundaneum in relation to both local and
international events. By connecting several geographic locations at different
scales, this small research provokes cqrrelations in time and space that could help
formulate questions about the ways local events repeatedly mirror and
recompose global situations. Hopefully, it can also help to see which
contextual elements in the first iteration of the Mundaneum were different from
the current situation of our information economy.
The ambitious project of the Mundaneum was imagined by Paul Otlet with support of Henri
La Fontaine at the end of the 19th century. At that time colonialism was at its height,
bringing a steady stream of income to occidental countries which created a sense of security
that made everything seem possible. According to some of the most forward thinking persons
of the time it felt as if the intellectual and material benefits of rational thinking could
universally become the source of all goods. Far from any actual move towards independence,
the first tensions between colonial/commercial powers were starting to manifest themselves.
Already some conflicts erupted, mainly to defend commercial interests such as during the
Fashoda crisis and the Boers war. The sense of strength brought to colonial powers by the
large influx of money was however quickly tempered by World War I that was about to
shake up modern European society.
In this context Henri La Fontaine, energised by Paul Otlet's encompassing view of
classification systems and standards, strongly associates the Mundaneum project with an ideal
of world peace. This was a conscious process of thought; they believed that this universal
archive of all knowledge represented a resource for the promotion of education towards the

development of better social relations. While Otlet and La Fontaine were not directly
concerned with economical and colonial issues, their ideals were nevertheless fed by the
wealth of the epoch. The Mundaneum archives were furthermore established with a clear
intention, and a major effort was done to include documents that referred to often neglected
topics or that could be considered as alternative thinking, such as the well known archives of
the feminist movement in Belgium and information on anarchism and pacifism. In line with
the general dynamism caused by a growing wealth in Europe at the turn of the century, the
Mundaneum project seemed to be always growing in size and ambition. It also clearly
appears that the project was embedded in the international and 'politico-economical' context
of its time and in many aspects linked to a larger movement that engaged civil society towards
a proto-structure of networked society. Via the development of infrastructures for
communication and international regulations, Henri La Fontaine was part of several
international initiatives. For example he launched the 'Bureau International de la paix' as
early as 1907 and a few years after, in 1910, the 'International Union of Associations'.
Overall his interventions helped to root the process of archive collection in a larger network
of associations and regulatory structures. Otlet's view of archives and organisation extended
to all domains and La Fontaine asserted that general peace could be achieved through social
development by the means of education and access to knowledge. Their common view was
nurtured by an acute perception of their epoch, they observed and often contributed to most
of the major experiments that were triggered by the ongoing reflection about the new
organisation modalities of society.
The ever ambitious process of building the Mundaneum
From The Itinerant Archive (print):
archives took place in the context of a growing
Museology merged with the
internationalisation of society, while at the same time the
International Institute of Bibliography
social gap was increasing due to the expansion of
(IIB) which had its offices in the
same building. The ever-expanding
industrial society. Furthermore, the internationalisation of
index card catalog had already been
finances and relations did not only concern industrial
accessible to the public since 1914.
society, it also acted as a motivation to structure social
The project would be later known as
the World Palace or Mundaneum.
and political networks, among others via political
Here, Paul Otlet and Henri La
negotiations and the institution of civil society
Fontaine started to work on their
Encyclopaedia Universalis
organisations. Several broad structures dedicated to the
Mundaneum, an illustrated
regulation of international relations were created
encyclopaedia in the form of a mobile
simultaneous with the worldwide spreading of an
industrial economy. They aimed to formulate a world
view that would be based on international agreements
and communication systems regulated by governments and structured via civil society
organisations, rather than leaving everything to individual and commercial initiatives. Otlet
and La Fontaine spent a large part of their lives attempting to formulate a mondial society.
While La Fontaine clearly supported international networks of civil society organisations,
Otlet, according to Vincent Capdepuy[1], was the first person to use the French term
Mondialisation far ahead of his time, advocating what would become after World War II an
important movement that claimed to work for the development of an international regulatory



system. Otlet also mentioned that this 'Mondial' process was directly related to the necessity
of a new repartition and the regulation of natural goods (think: diamonds and gold ...), he
« Un droit nouveau doit remplacer alors le droit ancien pour préparer et organiser une
nouvelle répartition. La “question sociale” a posé le problème à l’intérieur ; “la question
internationale” pose le même problème à l’extérieur entre peuples. Notre époque a
poursuivi une certaine socialisation de biens. […] Il s’agit, si l’on peut employer cette
expression, de socialiser le droit international, comme on a socialisé le droit privé, et de
prendre à l’égard des richesses naturelles des mesures de “mondialisation”. » .

The approaches of La Fontaine and Otlet already bear certain differences, as one
(Lafontaine) emphasises an organisation based on local civil society structures which implies
direct participation, while the other (Otlet) focuses more on management and global
organisation managed by a regulatory framework. It is interesting to look at these early
concepts that were participating to a larger movement called 'the first mondialisation', and
understand how they differ from current forms of globalisation which equally involve private
and public instances and various infrastructures.
The project of Otlet and Lafontaine took place in an era of international agreements over
communication networks. It is known and often a subject of fascination that the global project
of the Mundaneum also involved the conception of a technical infrastructure and
communication systems that were conceived in between the two World Wars. Some of them
such as the Mondotheque were imagined as prospective possibilities, but others were already
implemented at the time and formed the basis of an international communication network,
consisting of postal services and telegraph networks. It is less acknowledged that the epoch
was also a time of international agreements between countries, structuring and normalising
international life; some of these structures still form the basis of our actual global economy,
but they are all challenged by private capitalist structures. The existing postal and telegraph
networks covered the entire planet, and agreements that regulated the price of the stamp
allowing for postal services to be used internationally, were recent. They certainly were the
first ones during where international agreements regulated commercial interests to the benefit
of individual communication. Henri Lafontaine directly participated in these processes by
asking for the postal franchise to be waived for the transport of documents between
international libraries, to the benefit of among others the Mundaneum. Lafontaine was also
an important promoter of larger international movements that involved civil society
organisations; he was the main responsible for the 'Union internationale des associations', that
acted as a network of information-sharing, setting up modalities for exchange to the general
benefit of civil society. Furthermore, concerns were raised to rethink social organisation that
was harmed by industrial economy and this issue was addressed in Brussels by the brand
new discipline of sociology. The 'Ecole de Bruxelles'[3] in which Otlet and La Fontaine both
took part was already very early on trying to formulate a legal discourse that could help
address social inequalities, and eventually come up with regulations that could help 'reengineer' social organisation.

The Mundaneum project differentiates itself from contemporary enterprises such as Google,
not only by its intentions, but also by its organisational context as it clearly inscribed itself in
an international regulatory framework that was dedicated to the promotion of local civil
society. How can we understand the similarities and differences between the development of
the Mundaneum project and the current knowledge economy? The timeline below attempts
to re-situate the different events related to the rise and fall of the Mundaneum in order to help
situate the differences between past and contemporary processes.





The International Union of telegraph STANDARD
, is set up it is an important element of the
organisation of a mondial communication
network and will further become the



International Telecommunication
Union (UTI) that is still active in regulating

and standardizing radio-communication.


Franco-Prussian war.




The ONU creates the General Postal
Union and aims to federate international
postal distribution.




General Conference on Weights and
Measures in Sèvres, France.




Triple Alliance,




Henri Lafontaine creates La Société Belge EVENT
de l'arbitrage et de la paix.



First colonial wars (Fachoda crisis, Boers war EVENT



Henri Lafontaine meets Paul Otlet.




Franco-Russian entente', preliminary to
the Triple entente that will be signed in




Henri Lafontaine publishes an essay Pour une PUBLICATION NATION
bibliographie de la paix.


renewed in 1902.



Otlet and Lafontaine start together the Office ASSOCIATION CITY
International de Bibliologie
Sociologique (OIBS).


Henri Lafontaine is elected senator of the
province of Hainaut and later senator of the
province of Liège-Brabant.



1895 2-4 First Conférence de Bibliographie at
September which it is decided to create the Institut
International de Bibliographie (IIB)
founded by Henri La Fontaine.


Congrès bibliographique
international in Paris.



Creation of the international Women's
suffrage alliance (IWSA) that will later
become the International Alliance of



Entente cordiale

between France and
England which defines their mutual zone of
colonial influence in Africa.




First Moroccan crisis.



1907 June Otlet and Lafontaine organise a Central


Office for International Associations
that will become the International Union
of Associations (IUA) at the first
Congrès mondial des associations
internationales in Brussels in May 1910.


Henri Lafontaine is elected president of the
Bureau international de la paix that
he previously initiated.

1908 July Congrès bibliographique
international in Brussels.





1910 May Official Creation of the International
union of associations (IUA). In 1914,
it federates 230 organizations, a little more
than half of them still exist. The IUA promotes
internationalist aspirations and desire for peace.



Le Congrès International de
Bibliographie et de Documentation


More than 600 people and institutions are
listed as IIB members or refer to their methods,
specifically the UDC.


Henri Lafontaine is awarded the Nobel Price EVENT
for Peace.



Germany declares war to France and invades



Lafontaine publishes The great solution:
magnissima charta while in exile in the United


deals with issues of international cooperation
between non-governmental organizations and
with the structure of universal documentation.

Opening of the Mundaneum or Palais
at the Cinquantenaire park.





1919 June The Traité de Versailles marks the end EVENT
of World War I and creation of the Societé
Des Nations (SDN) that will later become
the United Nations (UN).




Creation (within the IIB), of the Central
Classification Commission focusing on
development of the Universal Decimal
Classification (UDC).


The IIB becomes the International
Institute of documentation (IID) and
in 1938 and is named International
Federation of documentation (IDF).



Publication of Otlet's book Traité de



The Mundaneum is closed after a governmental MOVE
decision. A part of the archives are moved to
Rue Fétis 44, Brussels, home of Paul Otlet.


Invasion of Poland by Germany, start of World EVENT
September War II.






Some files from the Mundaneum collections
concerning international associations, are
transferred to Germany. They are assumed to
have propaganda value.



Death of Paul Otlet. He is buried in Etterbeek EVENT



The International Telecomunication
Union (UTI) is attached to the UN.



Two separate ITU committees, the






Consultive Committee for
International Telephony (CCIF) and the
Consultive Committee for
International Telegraphy (CCIT) are

joined to form the CCITT, an institute to create
standards, recommendations and models for


American Standard Code for
Information Interchange (ASCII)




The ARPANET project is initiated.




First meeting of the Internet Engineering
Task Force (IETF) , the US-located informal




Creation of The Internet Society, an
American association with international




Elio Di Rupo organises the transport of the
Mundaneum archives from Brussels to 76 rue
de Nimy in Mons.




Failure of the World Conference on





the first public version of the Internet STANDARD


organization that promotes open standards
along the lines of "rough consensus and running

International Telecommunications

(WCIT) to reach an international agreement
on Internet regulation.


• https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/la-premiere-guerre-mondiale
• http://www.telephonetribute.com/timeline.html
• https://www.reseau-canope.fr/savoirscdi/societe-de-linformation/le-monde-du-livreet-de-la-presse/histoire-du-livre-et-de-la-documentation/biographies/paul-otlet.html
• http://monoskop.org/Otlet
• http://archives.mundaneum.org/fr/historique

1. https://cybergeo.revues.org/24903%7CVincent Capdepuy, In the prism of the words. Globalization and the philological
2. Paul Otlet, 1916, Les Problèmes internationaux et la Guerre, les conditions et les facteurs de la vie internationale, Genève/
Paris, Kundig/Rousseau, p. 76.
3. http://www.philodroit.be/IMG/pdf/bf_-_le_droit_global_selon_ecole_de_bruxelles_-2014-3.pdf?lang=fr
4. http://www.itu.int/en/Pages/default.aspx
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Postal_Union



City City of

In Paul Otlet's words the Mundaneum is “an idea, an institution, a method, a
material corpus of works and collections, a building, a network.” It became a
lifelong project that he tried to establish together with Henri La Fontaine in
the beginning of the 20th century. The collaboration with Le Corbusier was
limited to the architectural draft of a centre of information, science, and
education, leading to the idea of a “World Civic Center” in Geneva.
Nevertheless the dialectical discourse between both Utopians did not restrict
itself to commissioned design, but reveals the relation between a specific
positivist conception of knowledge and architecture; the system of information
and the spatial distribution according to efficiency principles. A notion that lays
the foundation for what is now called the Smart City.

“We’re on the verge of a historic moment for cities”


“We are at the beginning of a historic transformation in cities. At a time when the
concerns about urban equity, costs, health and the environment are intensifying,
unprecedented technological change is going to enable cities to be more efficient,
responsive, flexible and resilient.”



In 1927 Le Corbusier participated in the
design competition for the headquarters of
the League of Nations, but his designs were
rejected. It was then that he first met his
later cher ami Paul Otlet. Both were already
familiar with each other’s ideas and writings,
as evidenced by their use of schemes, but
also through the epistemic assumptions that
underlie their world views.



Before meeting Le Corbusier, Otlet was
fascinated by the idea of urbanism as a
science, which systematically organizes all
elements of life in infrastructures of flows.
He was convinced to work with Van der
Swaelmen, who had already planned a
world city on the site of Tervuren near
Brussels in 1919.[4]



For Otlet it was the first time that two
notions from different practices came
together, namely an environment ordered
and structured according to principles of
rationalization and taylorization. On the one
hand, rationalization as an epistemic practice
that reduces all relationships to those of
definable means and ends. On the other
hand, taylorization as the possibility to
analyze and synthesize workflows according
to economic efficiency and productivity.
Nowadays, both principles are used
synonymously: if all modes of production are
reduced to labour, then its efficiency can be
rationally determined through means and

“By improving urban technology, it’s possible to significantly improve the lives of
billions of people around the world. […] we want to supercharge existing efforts in
areas such as housing, energy, transportation and government to solve real problems
that city-dwellers face every day.”

In the meantime, in 1922, Le Corbusier developed his theoretical model of the Plan Voisin,
which served as a blueprint for a vision of Paris with 3 million inhabitants. In the 1925
publication Urbanisme his main objective is to construct “a theoretically water-tight formula
to arrive at the fundamental principles of modern town planning.”[6] For Le Corbusier
“statistics are merciless things,” because they “show the past and foreshadow the future”[7],
therefore such a formula must be based on the objectivity of diagrams, data and maps.





Moreover, they “give us an exact picture of
our present state and also of former states;
[...] (through statistics) we are enabled to
penetrate the future and make those truths
our own which otherwise we could only
have guessed at.”[8] Based on the analysis of
statistical proofs he concluded that the
ancient city of Paris had to be demolished in
order to be replaced by a new one.
Nevertheless, he didn’t arrive at a concrete
formula but rather at a rough scheme.

A formula that includes every atomic entity
was instead developed by his later friend Otlet as an answer to the question he posed in
Monde, on whether the world can be expressed by a determined unifying entity. This is
Otlet’s dream: a “permanent and complete representation of the entire world,”[9] located in
one place.
Early on Otlet understood the active potential of Architecture and Urbanism as a dispositif, a
strategic apparatus, that places an individual in a specific environment and shapes his
understanding of the world.[10] A world that can be determined by ascertainable facts through
knowledge. He thought of his Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique
as an “architecture of ideas”, a manual to collect and organize the world's knowledge, hand in
hand with contemporary architectural developments. As new modernist forms and use of
materials propagated the abundance of decorative
From A bag but is language nothing
elements, Otlet believed in the possibility of language as
of words:
a model of 'raw data', reducing it to essential information
and unambiguous facts, while removing all inefficient
Tim Berners-Lee: [...] Make a
beautiful website, but first give us the
assets of ambiguity or subjectivity.
“Information, from which has been removed all dross and
foreign elements, will be set out in a quite analytical way.
It will be recorded on separate leaves or cards rather than
being confined in volumes,” which will allow the
standardized annotation of hypertext for the Universal
Decimal Classification (UDC).[11] Furthermore, the
“regulation through architecture and its tendency of a
total urbanism would help towards a better understanding
of the book Traité de documentation and it's right
functional and holistic desiderata.”[12] An abstraction
would enable Otlet to constitute the “equation of
urbanism” as a type of sociology (S): U = u(S), because
according to his definition, urbanism “is an art of

unadulterated data, we want the data.
We want unadulterated data. OK, we
have to ask for raw data now. And
I'm going to ask you to practice that,
OK? Can you say "raw"?
Audience: Raw.
Tim Berners-Lee: Can you say
Audience: Data.
TBL: Can you say "now"?
Audience: Now!
TBL: Alright, "raw data now"!

From La ville intelligente - Ville de la
Étant donné que les nouvelles formes
modernistes et l'utilisation de
matériaux propageaient l'abondance
d'éléments décoratifs, Paul Otlet
croyait en la possibilité du langage
comme modèle de « données brutes »,
le réduisant aux informations
essentielles et aux faits sans ambiguïté,

distributing public space in order to raise general human happiness; urbanization is the result
of all activities which a society employs in order to reach its proposed goal; [and] a material
expression of its organization.”[13] The scientific position, which determines all characteristic
values of a certain region by a systematic classification and observation, was developed by the
Scottish biologist and town planner Patrick Geddes, who Paul Otlet invited to present his
Town Planning Exhibition to an international audience at the 1913 world exhibition in
Gent.[14] What Geddes inevitably takes further is the positivist belief in a totality of science,
which he unfolds from the ideas of Auguste Comte, Frederic Le Play and Elisée Reclus in
order to reach a unified understanding of an urban development in a special context. This
position would allow to represent the complexity of an inhabited environment through data.[15]

The only person that Otlet considered capable of the architectural realization of the
Mundaneum was Le Corbusier, whom he approached for the first time in spring 1928. In
one of the first letters he addressed the need to link “the idea and the building, in all its
symbolic representation. […] Mundaneum opus maximum.” Aside from being a centre of
documentation, information, science and education, the complex should link the Union of
International Associations (UIA), which was founded by La Fontaine and Otlet in 1907,
and the League of Nations. “A material and moral representation of The greatest Society of
the nations (humanity);” an international city located on an extraterritorial area in Geneva.[16]
Despite their different backgrounds, they easily understood each other, since they “did
frequently use similar terms such as plan, analysis, classification, abstraction, standardization
and synthesis, not only to bring conceptual order into their disciplines and knowledge
organization, but also in human action.”[17] Moreover, the appearance of common terms in
their most significant publications is striking. Such as spirit, mankind, elements, work, system
and history, just to name a few. These circumstances led both Utopians to think the
Mundaneum as a system, rather than a singular central type of building; it was meant to
include as many resources in the development process as possible. Because the Mundaneum
is “an idea, an institution, a method, a material corpus of works and collections, a building, a
network,”[18] it had to be conceptualized as an “organic plan with the possibility to expand on
different scales with the multiplication of each part.”[19] The possibility of expansion and an
organic redistribution of elements adapted to new necessities and needs, is what guarantees
the system efficiency, namely by constantly integrating more resources. By designing and
standardizing forms of life up to the smallest element, modernism propagated a new form of
living which would ensure the utmost efficiency. Otlet supported and encouraged Le
Corbusier with his words: “The twentieth century is called upon to build a whole new
civilization. From efficiency to efficiency, from rationalization to rationalization, it must so raise
itself that it reaches total efficiency and rationalization. […] Architecture is one of the best
bases not only of reconstruction (the deforming and skimpy name given to the whole of postwar activities) but of intellectual and social construction to which our era should dare to lay
claim.”[20] Like the Wohnmaschine, in Corbusier’s famous housing project Unité d'habitation,



the distribution of elements is shaped according to man's needs. The premise which underlies
this notion is that man's needs and desires can be determined, normalized and standardized
following geometrical models of objectivity.
“making transportation more efficient and lowering the cost of living, reducing energy
usage and helping government operate more efficiently”

In the first working phase, from March to September 1928, the plans for the Mundaneum
seemed more a commissioned work than a collaboration. In the 3rd person singular, Otlet
submitted descriptions and organizational schemes which would represent the institutional
structures in a diagrammatic manner. In exchange, Le Corbusier drafted the architectural
plans and detailed descriptions, which led to the publication N° 128 Mundaneum, printed
by International Associations in Brussels.[22] Le Corbusier seemed a little less enthusiastic
about the Mundaneum project than Otlet, mainly because of his scepticism towards the
League of Nations, which he called a “misguided” and “pre-machinist creation.”[23] The
rejection of his proposal for the Palace for the League of Nations in 1927, expressed with
anger in a public announcement, might also play a role. However, the second phase, from
September 1928 to August 1929, was marked by a strong friendship evidenced by the rise
of the international debate after their first publications, letters starting with cher ami and their
agreement to advance the project to the next level by including more stakeholders and
developing the Cité mondiale. This led to the second publication by Paul Otlet, La Cité
mondiale in February 1929, which unexpectedly traumatized the diplomatic environment in
Geneva. Although both tried to organize personal meetings with key stakeholders, the project
didn't find support for its realization, especially after Switzerland had withdrawn its offer of
providing extraterritorial land for Cité mondiale. Instead, Le Corbusier focussed on his Ville
Radieuse concept, which was presented at the 3rd CIAM meeting in Brussels in 1930.[24]
He considered Cité mondiale as “a closed case”, and withdrew himself from the political
environment by considering himself without any political color, “since the groups that gather
around our ideas are, militaristic bourgeois, communists, monarchists, socialists, radicals,
League of Nations and fascists. When all colors are mixed, only white is the result. That
stands for prudence, neutrality, decantation and the human search for truth.”[25]

Le Corbusier considered himself and his work “apolitical” or “above politics”.[26] Otlet,
however, was more aware of the political force of his project. “Yet it is important to predict.
To know in order to predict and to predict in order to control, was Comte's positive
philosophy. Prediction doesn't cost a thing, was added by a master of contemporary urbanism
(Le Corbusier).”[27] Lobbying for the Cité mondiale project, That prediction doesn't cost
anything and is “preparing the ways for the coming years”, Le Corbusier wrote to Arthur

Fontaine and Albert Thomas from the International Labor Organization that prediction is
free and “preparing the ways for the coming years”.[28] Free because statistical data is always
available, but he didn't seem to consider that prediction is a form of governing. A similar
premise underlies the present domination of the smart city ideologies, where large amounts of
data are used to predict for the sake of efficiency. Although most of the actors behind these
ideas consider themselves apolitical, the governmental aspect is more than obvious. A form of
control and government, which is not only biopolitical but rather epistemic. The data is not
only used to standardize units for architecture, but also to determine categories of knowledge
that restrict life to the normality of what can be classified. What becomes clear in this
juxtaposition of Le Corbusier's and Paul Otlet's work is that the standardization of
architecture goes hand in hand with an epistemic standardization because it limits what can
be thought, experienced and lived to what is already there. This architecture has to be
considered as an “epistemic object”, which exemplifies the cultural logic of its time.[29] By its
presence it brings the abstract cultural logic underlying its conception into the everyday
experience, and becomes with material, form and function an actor that performs an epistemic
practice on its inhabitants and users. In this case: the conception that everything can be
known, represented and (pre)determined through data.



1. Paul Otlet, Monde: essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du Monde, Sentiment du Monde, Action organisee et Plan du Monde
, (Bruxelles: Editiones Mundeum 1935): 448.
2. Steve Lohr, Sidewalk Labs, a Start-Up Created by Google, Has Bold Aims to Improve City Living New, in York Times
11.06.15, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/11/technology/sidewalk-labs-a-start-up-created-by-google-has-bold-aims-toimprove-city-living.html?_r=0, quoted here is Dan Doctoroff, founder of Google Sidewalk Labs

3. Dan Doctoroff, 10.06.2015, http://www.sidewalkinc.com/relevant
4. Giuliano Gresleri and Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale: Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venezia: Marsilio,
1982): 128; See also: L. Van der Swaelmen, Préliminaires d'art civique (Leynde 1916): 164 – 299.
5. Larry Page, Press release, 10.06.2015, http://www.sidewalkinc.com/
6. Le Corbusier, “A Contemporary City” in The City of Tomorrow and its Planning, (New York: Dover Publications 1987):
7. ibid.: 105 & 126.
8. ibid.: 108.
9. Rayward, W Boyd, “Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868–1944) and Hypertext” in Journal of the American Society for
Information Science, (Volume 45, Issue 4, May 1994): 235.
10. The french term dispositif or translated apparatus, refers to Michel Foucault's description of a merely strategic function, “a
thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms regulatory decisions, laws,
administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions – in short, the said as much as
the unsaid.” This distinction allows to go beyond the mere object, and rather deconstruct all elements involved in the production
conditions and relate them to the distribution of power. See: Michel Foucault, “Confessions of the Flesh (1977) interview”, in
Power/Knowledge Selected Interviews and Other Writings, Colin Gordon (Ed.), (New York: Pantheon Books 1980): 194 –
11. Bernd Frohmann, “The role of facts in Paul Otlet’s modernist project of documentation”, in European Modernism and the
Information Society, Rayward, W.B. (Ed.), (London: Ashgate Publishers 2008): 79.
12. “La régularisation de l’architecture et sa tendance à l’urbanisme total aident à mieux comprendre le livre et ses propres
desiderata fonctionnels et intégraux.” See: Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation, (Bruxelles: Mundaneum, Palais Mondial,
1934): 329.
13. “L'urbanisme est l'art d'aménager l'espace collectif en vue d'accroîte le bonheur humain général; l'urbanisation est le résulat de
toute l'activité qu'une Société déploie pour arriver au but qu'elle se propose; l'expression matérielle (corporelle) de son
organisation.” ibid.: 205.
14. Thomas Pearce, Mettre des pierres autour des idées, Paul Otlet, de Cité Mondiale en de modernistische stedenbouw in de jaren
1930, (KU Leuven: PhD Thesis 2007): 39.
15. Volker Welter, Biopolis Patrick Geddes and the City of Life. (Cambridge, Mass: MIT 2003).
16. Letter from Paul Otlet to Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, Brussels 2nd April 1928. See: Giuliano Gresleri and Dario
Matteoni. La Città Mondiale: Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venezia: Marsilio, 1982): 221-223.
17. W. Boyd Rayward (Ed.), European Modernism and the Information Society. (London: Ashgate Publishers 2008): 129.
18. “Le Mundaneum est une Idée, une Institution, une Méthode, un Corps matériel de traveaux et collections, un Edifice, un
Réseau.” See: Paul Otlet, Monde: essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du Monde, Sentiment du Monde, Action organisee et
Plan du Monde, (Bruxelles: Editiones Mundeum 1935): 448.
19. Giuliano Gresleri and Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale: Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venezia: Marsilio,
1982): 223.
20. Le Corbusier, Radiant City, (New York: The Orion Press 1964): 27.
21. http://www.sidewalkinc.com/
22. Giuliano Gresleri and Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale: Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venezia: Marsilio,
1982): 128
23. ibid.: 232.
24. ibid.: 129.
25. ibid.: 255.
26. Eric Paul Mumford, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928-1960, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002): 20.
27. “Savoir, pour prévoir afin de pouvoir, a été la lumineuse formule de Comte. Prévoir ne coûte rien, a ajouté un maître de
l'urbanisme contemporain (Le Corbusier).” See: Paul Otlet, Monde: essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du Monde,
Sentiment du Monde, Action organisee et Plan du Monde, (Bruxelles: Editiones Mundeum 1935): 407.
28. Giuliano Gresleri and Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale: Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venezia: Marsilio,
1982): 241.
29. Considering architecture as an object of knowledge formation, the term “epistemic object” by the German philosopher Günter
Abel, helps bring forth the epistemic characteristic of architecture. Epistemic objects according to Abel are these, on which our
knowledge and empiric curiosity are focused. They are objects that perform an active contribution to what can be thought and
how it can be thought. Moreover because one cannot avoid architecture, it determines our boundaries (of thinking). See:
Günter Abel, Epistemische Objekte – was sind sie und was macht sie so wertvoll?, in: Hingst, Kai-Michael; Liatsi, Maria
(ed.), (Tübingen: Pragmata, 2008).



La ville
- Ville
de la

Selon les mots de Paul Otlet, le Mundaneum est « une idée, une institution,
une méthode, un corpus matériel de travaux et de collections, une construction,
un réseau. » Il est devenu le projet d'une vie qu'il a tenté de mettre sur pied
avec Henri La Fontaine au début du 20e siècle. La collaboration avec Le
Corbusier se limitait au projet architectural d'un centre d'informations, de
science et d'éducation qui conduira à l'idée d'un « World Civic Center », à
Genève. Cependant, le discours dialectique entre les deux utopistes ne s'est
pas limité à une réalisation commissionnée, il a révélé la relation entre une
conception positiviste spécifique de la connaissance et l'architecture ; le
système de l'information et la distribution spatiale d'après des principes
d'efficacité. Une notion qui a apporté la base de ce qu'on appelle aujourd'hui
la Ville intelligente.


« Nous sommes à l'aube d'un moment historique pour les villes » « Nous sommes à
l'aube d'une transformation historique des villes À une époque où les préoccupations
pour l'égalité urbaine, les coûts, la santé et l'environnement augmentent, un
changement technologique sans précédent va permettre aux villes d'être plus efficaces,
réactives, flexibles et résistantes. »





En 1927, Le Corbusier a participé à une
compétition de design pour le siège de la
Ligue des nations. Cependant, ses
propositions furent rejetées. C'est à ce
moment qu'il a rencontré, pour la première
fois, son cher ami Paul Otlet. Tous deux
connaissaient déjà les idées et les écrits de
l'autre, comme le montre leur utilisation des
plans, mais également les suppositions
épistémiques à la base de leur vues sur le
monde. Avant de rencontrer Le Corbusier,
Paul Otlet était fasciné par l'idée d'un
urbanisme scientifique qui organise
systématiquement tous les éléments de la vie
par des infrastructures de flux. Il avait été
convaincu de travailler avec Van der
Saelmen, qui avait déjà prévu une ville
monde sur le site de Tervuren, près de
Bruxelles, en 1919.[4]

Pour Paul Otlet, c'était la première fois que
deux notions de pratiques différentes se
rassemblaient, à savoir un environnement
ordonné et structuré d'après des principes de
rationalisation et de taylorisme. D'un côté, la
rationalisation: une pratique épistémique qui
réduit toutes les relations à des moyens et
des fins définissables. D'un autre, le
taylorisme: une possibilité d'analyse et de
synthèse des flux de travail fonctionnant
selon les règles de l'efficacité économique et
productive. De nos jours, les deux principes
sont considérés comme des synonymes : si
tous les modes de production sont réduits au
travail, alors l'efficacité peut être rationnellement déterminée à par les moyens et les fins.
« En améliorant la technologie urbaine, il est possible d'améliorer de manière
significative la vie de milliards de gens dans le monde. […] nous voulons encourager
les efforts existants dans des domaines comme l'hébergement, l'énergie, le transport et le
gouvernement afin de résoudre des problèmes réels auxquels les citadins font face au
quotidien. »

Pendant ce temps, en 1922, Le Corbusier avait développé son modèle théorique du Plan
Voisin qui a servi de projet pour une vision de Paris avec trois millions d'habitants. Dans la
publication de 1925 d'Urbanisme, son objectif principal est la construction « d'un édifice
théoretique rigoureux, à formuler des principes fondamentaux d'urbanisme moderne. »[6] Pour
Le Corbusier, « la statistique est implacable », car « la statistique montre le passé et esquisse
l’avenir »[7], dès lors, une telle formule doit être basée sur l'objectivité des diagrammes, des
données et des cartes.



De plus, « la statisique donne la situation
exacte de l’heure présente, mais aussi les
états antérieurs ; [...] (à travers les
statistiques) nous pouvons pénétrer dans
l’avenir et aquérir des certitudes anticipées ».
À partir de l'analyse des preuves
statistiques, il conclut que la vieille ville de
Paris devait être démolie afin d'être
remplacée par une nouvelle. Cependant, il
n'est pas arrivé à une formule concrète, mais
à un plan approximatif.

À la place, une formule comprenant chaque
entité atomique fut développée par son ami
Paul Otlet en réponse à la question qu'il
publia dans Monde pour savoir si le monde
pouvait être exprimé par une entité
unificatrice déterminée. Voici le rêve de
Paul Otlet : une « représentation
permanente et complète du monde entier »[9]
dans un même endroit.

Paul Otlet comprit rapidement le potentiel
actif de l'architecture et de l'urbanisme en
tant que dispositif stratégique qui place un
individu dans un environnement spécifique
et façonne sa compréhension du monde.[10]
Un monde qui peut être déterminé par des faits vérifiables à travers la connaissance. Il a
pensé son Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique comme une
« architecture des idées », un manuel pour collecter et organiser la connaissance du monde
en l'association avec les développements architecturaux contemporains.

Étant donné que les nouvelles formes modernistes et
l'utilisation de matériaux propageaient l'abondance
d'éléments décoratifs, Paul Otlet croyait en la possibilité
du langage comme modèle de « données brutes », le
réduisant aux informations essentielles et aux faits sans
ambiguïté, tout en se débarrassant de tous les éléments
inefficaces et subjectifs.

From A bag but is language nothing
of words:
Tim Berners-Lee: [...] Make a
beautiful website, but first give us the
unadulterated data, we want the data.
We want unadulterated data. OK, we
have to ask for raw data now. And
I'm going to ask you to practice that,
OK? Can you say "raw"?

« Des informations, dont tout déchet et élément étrangers
Audience: Raw.
ont été supprimés, seront présentées d'une manière assez
analytique. Elles seront encodées sur différentes feuilles
Tim Berners-Lee: Can you say
ou cartes plutôt que confinées dans des volumes, » ce qui
permettra l'annotation standardisée de l'hypertexte pour
Audience: Data.
la classification décimale universelle ( CDU ).[11] De plus,
TBL: Can you say "now"?
la « régulation à travers l'architecture et sa tendance à un
urbanisme total favoriseront une meilleure compréhension Audience: Now!
du livre Traité de documentation ainsi que du désidérata
TBL: Alright, "raw data now"!
fonctionnel et holistique adéquat. »[12] Une abstraction
permettrait à Paul Otlet de constituer « l'équation de
l'urbanisme » comme un type de sociologie : U = u(S),
car selon sa définition, l'urbanisme « L'urbanisme est l'art
From The Smart City - City of
d'aménager l'espace collectif en vue d'accroître le
As new modernist forms and use of
bonheur humain général ; l'urbanisation est le résultat de
materials propagated the abundance
toute l'activité qu'une Société déploie pour arriver au but
of decorative elements, Otlet believed
qu'elle se propose ; l'expression matérielle (corporelle)
in the possibility of language as a
model of 'raw data', reducing it to
de son organisation. »[13] La position scientifique qui
essential information and
détermine toutes les valeurs caractéristiques d'une
unambiguous facts, while removing all
certaine région par une classification et une observation
inefficient assets of ambiguity or
systémiques a été avancée par le biologiste écossais et
planificateur de villes, Patrick Geddes, qui fut invité par
Paul Otlet pour l'exposition universelle de 1913 à Gand
afin de présenter à un public international sa Town Planning Exhibition.[14] Patrick Geddes
allait inévitablement plus loin dans sa croyance positiviste en une totalité de la science, une
croyance qui découle des idées d'Auguste Compte, de Frederic Le Play et d'Elisée Reclus,
pour atteindre une compréhension unifiée du développement urbain dans un contexte
spécifique. Cette position permettrait de représenter à travers des données la complexité d'un
environnement habité.[15]

La seule personne que Paul Otlet estimait capable de réaliser l'architecture du Mundaneum
était Le Corbusier, qu'il approcha pour la première fois au printemps 1928. Dans une de



ses premières lettres, il évoqua le besoin de lier « l'idée et la construction, dans toute sa
représentation symbolique. […] Mundaneum opus maximum.” En plus d'être un centre de
documentation, d'informations, de science et d'éducation, le complexe devrait lier l'Union des
associations internationales (UAI), fondée par La Fontaine et Otlet en 1907, et la Ligue
des nations. « Une représentation morale et matérielle de The greatest Society of the nations
(humanité) ; » une ville internationale située dans une zone extraterritoriale à Genève.[16]
Malgré les différents milieux dont ils étaient issus, ils pouvaient facilement se comprendre
puisqu'ils « utilisaient fréquemment des termes similaires comme plan, analyse, classification,
abstraction, standardisation et synthèse, non seulement pour un ordre conceptuel dans leurs
disciplines et l'organisation de leur connaissance, mais également dans l'action humaine. »[17]
De plus, l'apparence des termes dans leurs publications les plus importantes est frappante.
Pour n'en nommer que quelques-uns : esprit, humanité, travail, système et histoire. Ces
circonstances ont conduit les deux utopistes à penser le Mundaneum comme un système
plutôt que comme un type de construction central singulier ; le processus de développement
cherchait à inclure autant de ressources que possible. Puisque « Le Mundaneum est une
Idée, une Institution, une Méthode, un Corps matériel de travaux et collections, un Édifice,
un Réseau. »[18] il devait être conceptualisé comme un « plan organique avec possibilité
d'expansion à différentes échelles grâce à la multiplication de chaque partie. »[19] La
possibilité d'expansion et la redistribution organique des éléments adaptées à de nouvelles
nécessités et besoins garantit l'efficacité du système, à savoir en intégrant plus de ressources
en permanence. En concevant et normalisant des formes de vie, même pour le plus petit
élément, le modernisme a propagé une nouvelle forme de vie qui garantirait l'efficacité
optimale. Paul Otlet a soutenu et encouragé Le Corbusier avec ces mots : « Le vingtième
siècle est appelé à construire une toute nouvelle civilisation. De l'efficacité à l'efficacité, de la
rationalisation à la rationalisation, il doit s'élever et atteindre l'efficacité et la rationalisation
totales. […] L'architecture est l'une des meilleures bases, non seulement de la reconstruction
(le nom étriqué et déformant donné à toutes les activités d'après-guerre), mais à la
construction intellectuelle et sociale à laquelle notre ère devrait oser prétendre. »[20] Comme la
Wohnmaschine, dans le célèbre projet d'habitation du Corbusier, Unité d'habitation, la
distribution des éléments est établie en fonction des besoins de l'homme. Le principe qui sous
tend cette notion est l'idée que les besoins et les désirs de l'homme peuvent être déterminés,
normalisés et standardisés selon des modèles géométriques d'objectivité.
« rendre le transport plus efficace et diminuer le coût de la vie, la consommation
d'énergie et aider le gouvernement à fonctionner plus efficacement »

Dans la première phase de travail, de mars à septembre 1928, les plans du Mundaneum
ressemblaient plus à un travail commissionné qu'à une collaboration. À la troisième personne
du singulier, Paul Otlet a soumis des descriptions et des projets organisationnels qui
représenteraient les structures institutionnelles de manière schématique. En échange, Le
Corbusier a réalisé le brouillon des plans architecturaux et les descriptions détaillées, ce qui

conduisit à la publication du N° 128 Mundaneum, imprimée par Associations
Internationales à Bruxelles.[22] Le Corbusier semblait un peu moins enthousiaste que Paul
Otlet concernant le Mundaneum, principalement à cause de son scepticisme vis-à-vis de la
Ligue des nations dont il disait qu'elle était « fourvoyée » et « une création prémachiniste ».[23]
Le rejet de sa proposition pour le palais de la Ligue des nations en 1927, exprimé avec
colère dans une déclaration publique, jouait peut-être également un rôle. Cependant, la
seconde phase, de septembre 1928 à août 1929, fut marquée par une amitié solide dont
témoigne l'amplification du débat international après leurs premières publications, des lettres
commençant par « cher ami », leur accord concernant l'avancement du projet au prochain
niveau avec l'intégration d'actionnaires et le développement de la Cité mondiale. Cela
conduisit à la seconde publication de Paul Otlet, la Cité mondiale, en février 1929, qui
traumatisa de manière inattendue l'environnement diplomatique de Genève. Même si tous
deux tentèrent d'organiser des entretiens personnels avec des acteurs clés, le projet ne trouva
pas de soutien pour sa réalisation, d'autant moins après le retrait de la proposition de la
Suisse de fournir un territoire extraterritorial pour la Cité mondiale. À la place, Le Corbusier
s'est concentré sur son concept de la Ville Radieuse qui fut présenté lors du 3e CIAM à
Bruxelles, en 1930.[24] Il considérait la Cité mondiale comme « une affaire classée » et s'était
retiré de l'environnement politique en considérant qu'il n'avait aucune couleur politique
« puisque les groupes qui se rassemblent autour de nos idées sont des bourgeois militaristes,
des communistes, des monarchistes, des socialistes, des radicaux, la Ligue des nations et des
fascistes. Lorsque toutes les couleurs sont mélangées, seul le blanc ressort. Il représente la
prudence, la neutralité, la décantation et la recherche humaine de la vérité. »[25]

Le Corbusier considérait son travail et lui-même comme étant « apolitiques » ou « au-dessus
de la politique ».[26] Cependant, Paul Otlet était plus conscient de la force politique de ce
projet. « Savoir, pour prévoir afin de pouvoir, a été la lumineuse formule de Comte. Prévoir
ne coûte rien, a ajouté un maitre de l'urbanisme contemporain (Le Corbusier). »[27] En faisant
le lobby du projet de la Cité mondiale, cette prévision ne coûte rien et « prépare les années à
venir », Le Corbusier écrivit à Arthur Fontaine et Albert Thomas depuis l'Organisation
internationale de travail que la prévision était gratuite et « préparait les années à venir ».[28]
Gratuite, car les données statistiques sont toujours disponibles, cependant, il ne semblait pas
considérer la prévision comme une forme de pouvoir. Une prémisse similaire est à l'origine
de la domination actuelle des idéologies de la ville intelligente où de grandes quantités de
données sont utilisées pour prévoir au nom de l'efficacité. Même si la plupart des acteurs
derrière ces idées se considèrent apolitiques, l'aspect gouvernemental est plus qu'évident.
Une forme de contrôle et de gouvernement n'est pas seulement biopolitique, mais plutôt
épistémique. Les données sont non seulement utilisées pour standardiser les unités pour
l'architecture, mais également pour déterminer les catégories de connaissance qui restreignent
la vie à la normalité dans laquelle elle peut être classée. Dans cette juxtaposition du travail de
Le Corbusier et Paul Otlet, il devient clair que la standardisation de l'architecture va de pair



avec une standardisation épistémique, car elle limite ce qui peut être pensé, ressenti et vécu à
ce qui existe déjà. Cette architecture doit être considérée comme un « objet épistémique »
qui illustre la logique culturelle de son époque.[29] Par sa présence, elle apporte la logique
culturelle abstraite sous-jacente à sa conception dans l'expérience quotidienne et devient, au
côté de la matière, de la forme et de la fonction, un acteur qui accomplit une pratique
épistémique sur ses habitants et ses usagers. Dans ce cas : la conception selon laquelle tout
peut être connu, représenté et (pré)déterminé à travers les données.


1. Paul Otlet, Monde : essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du Monde, Sentiment du Monde, Action organisée et Plan du
Monde, (Bruxelles : Editiones Mundeum 1935) : 448.



2. Steve Lohr, Sidewalk Labs, a Start-Up Created by Google, Has Bold Aims to Improve City Living New, dans le York Times
11/06/15, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/11/technology/sidewalk-labs-a-start-up-created-by-google-has-bold-aims-toimprove-city-living.html?_r=0, citation de Dan Doctoroff, fondateur de Google Sidewalk Labs
3. Dan Doctoroff, 10/06/2015, http://www.sidewalkinc.com/relevant
4. Giuliano Gresleri et Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale : Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venise : Marsilio,
1982) : 128 ; Voir aussi : L. Van der Swaelmen, Préliminaires d'art civique (Leynde 1916) : 164 - 299.
5. Larry Page, Communiqué de presse, 10/06/2015, http://www.sidewalkinc.com/
6. Le Corbusier, « Une Ville Contemporaine » dans Urbanisme, (Paris : Les Éditions G. Crès & Cie 1924) : 158.
7. ibid. : 115 et 97.
8. ibid. : 100.
9. Rayward, W Boyd, « Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868–1944) and Hypertext » dans le Journal of the American Society
for Information Science, (Volume 45, Numéro 4, mai 1994) : 235.
10. Le terme français « dispositif » fait référence à la description de Michel Foucault d'une fonction simplement stratégique, « un
ensemble réellement hétérogène constitué de discours, d'institutions, de formes architecturales, de décisions régulatrices, de lois,
de mesures administratives, de déclarations scientifiques, philosophiques, morales et de propositions philanthropiques. En
résumé, ce qui est dit comme ce qui ne l'est pas. » La distinction permet d'aller plus loin que le simple objet, et de déconstruire
tous les éléments impliqués dans les conditions de production et de les lier à la distribution des pouvoirs. Voir : Michel Foucault,
« Confessions of the Flesh (1977) interview », dans Power/Knowledge Selected Interviews and Other Writings, Colin
Gordon (Éd.), (New York : Pantheon Books 1980) : 194 - 200.
11. Bernd Frohmann, « The role of facts in Paul Otlet’s modernist project of documentation », dans European Modernism and the
Information Society, Rayward, W.B. (Éd.), (Londres : Ashgate Publishers 2008) : 79.
12. « La régularisation de l’architecture et sa tendance à l’urbanisme total aident à mieux comprendre le livre et ses propres
désiderata fonctionnels et intégraux. » Voir : Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation, (Bruxelles : Mundaneum, Palais Mondial,
1934) : 329.
13. ibid. : 205.
14. Thomas Pearce, Mettre des pierres autour des idées, Paul Otlet, de Cité Mondiale en de modernistische stedenbouw in de
jaren 1930, (KU Leuven : PhD Thesis 2007) : 39.
15. Volker Welter, Biopolis Patrick Geddes and the City of Life. (Cambridge, Mass : MIT 2003).
16. Lettre de Paul Otlet à Le Corbusier et Pierre Jeanneret, Bruxelles, 2 avril 1928. Voir : Giuliano Gresleri et Dario Matteoni.
La Città Mondiale : Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venise : Marsilio, 1982) : 221-223.
17. W. Boyd Rayward (Éd.), European Modernism and the Information Society. (Londres : Ashgate Publishers 2008) : 129.
18. Voir : Paul Otlet, Monde : essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du Monde, Sentiment du Monde, Action organisée et Plan du
Monde, (Bruxelles : Editiones Mundeum 1935) : 448.
19. Giuliano Gresleri et Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale : Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venise : Marsilio,
1982) : 223.
20. Le Corbusier, Radiant City, (New York : The Orion Press 1964) : 27.
21. http://www.sidewalkinc.com/
22. Giuliano Gresleri et Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale : Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venise : Marsilio,
1982) : 128
23. ibid. : 232.
24. ibid. : 129.
25. ibid. : 255.
26. Eric Paul Mumford, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928-1960, (Cambridge : MIT Press, 2002) : 20.
27. Voir : Paul Otlet, Monde : essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du Monde, Sentiment du Monde, Action organisée et Plan du
Monde, (Bruxelles : Editiones Mundeum 1935) : 407.
28. Giuliano Gresleri et Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale : Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venise : Marsilio,
1982) : 241.
29. En considérant l'architecture comme un objet de formation du savoir, le terme « objet épistémique » du philosophe Günter Abel
aide à produire la caractéristique épistémique de l'architecture. D'après Günter Abel, les objets épistémiques sont ceux sur
lesquels notre connaissance et notre curiosité empirique sont concentrés. Ce sont des objets ont une contribution active en ce qui
concerne ce qui peut être pensé et la manière dont cela peut être pensé. De plus, puisque personne ne peut éviter l'architecture,
elle détermine nos limites (de pensée). Voir : Günter Abel, Epistemische Objekte – was sind sie und was macht sie so
wertvoll?, dans : Hingst, Kai-Michael; Liatsi, Maria (éd.), (Tübingen : Pragmata, 2008).

The project of the Mundaneum and its many protagonists is undoubtedly
linked to the context of early 19th century Brussels. King Leopold II , in an
attempt to awaken his countries' desire for greatness, let a steady stream of
capital flow into the city from his private colonies in Congo. Located on the
crossroad between France, Germany, The Netherlands and The United
Kingdom, the Belgium capital formed a fertile ground for ambitious institutional
projects with international ambitions, such as the Mundaneum. Its tragic
demise was unfortunately equally at home in Brussels. Already in Otlet's
lifetime, the project fell prey to the dis-interest of its former patrons, not
surprising after World War I had shaken their confidence in the beneficial
outcomes of a global knowledge infrastructure. A complex entanglement of disinterested management and provincial politics sent the numerous boxes and
folders on a long trajectory through Brussels, until they finally slipped out of
the city. It is telling that the Capital of Europe has been unable to hold on to its
pertinent past.



This tour is a kind of itinerant monument to the Mundaneum in Brussels. It
takes you along the many temporary locations of the archives, guided by the
words of care-takers, reporters and biographers that have crossed it's path.
Following the increasingly dispersed and dwindling collection through the city
and centuries, you won't come across any material trace of its passage. You
might discover many unknown corners of Brussels though.

Outre le Répertoire bibliographique universel et un Musée de la presse qui
comptera jusqu’à 200.000 spécimens de journaux du monde entier, on y trouvera
quelque 50 salles, sorte de musée de l’humanité technique et scientifique. Cette
décennie représente l’âge d’or pour le Mundaneum, même si le gros de ses
collections fut constitué entre 1895 et 1914, avant l’existence du Palais Mondial.
L’accroissement des collections ne se fera, par la suite, plus jamais dans les mêmes
En 1920, le Musée international et les institutions créées par Paul Otlet et Henri
La Fontaine occupent une centaine de salles. L’ensemble sera désormais appelé
Palais Mondial ou Mundaneum. Dans les années 1920, Paul Otlet et Henri La
Fontaine mettront également sur pied l’Encyclopedia Universalis Mundaneum,
encyclopédie illustrée composée de tableaux sur planches mobiles.

Start at Parc du Cinquantenaire 11,
Brussels in front of the entrance of
what is now Autoworld.

In 1919, significantly delayed by World War I, the Musée international finally opened. The
project had been conceptualised by Paul Otlet and Henri Lafontaine already ten years
earlier and was meant to be a mix between a documentation center, conference venue and
educational display. It occupied the left wing of the magnificent buildings erected in the Parc
Cinquantenaire for the Grand Concours International des Sciences et de l'industrie.
Museology merged with the International Institute of
From House, City, World, Nation,
Bibliography (IIB) which had its offices in the same
building. The ever-expanding index card catalog had
The ever ambitious process of
already been accessible to the public since 1914. The
building the Mundaneum archives
took place in the context of a growing
project would be later known as the World Palace or
internationalisation of society, while at
Mundaneum. Here, Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine
the same time the social gap was
started to work on their Encyclopaedia Universalis
increasing due to the expansion of
Mundaneum, an illustrated encyclopaedia in the form of a industrial society. Furthermore, the
internationalisation of finances and
mobile exhibition.
relations did not only concern
Walk under
the colonnade
to your
right, and
you will
recognise the
former entrance

industrial society, it also acted as a
motivation to structure social and
political networks, among others via
political negotiations and the
institution of civil society organisations.

of Le Palais Mondial.

Only a few years after its delayed opening, the ambitious project started to lose support from
the Belgium government, who preferred to use the vast exhibition spaces for commercial
activities. In 1922 and 1924, Le Palais Mondial was temporarily closed to make space for
an international rubber fair.




Si dans de telles conditions le Palais Mondial devait définitivement rester fermé, il
semble bien qu’il n’y aurait plus place dans notre Civilisation pour une institution
d’un caractère universel, inspirée de l’idéal indiqué en ces mots à son entrée : Par
la Liberté, l’Égalité et la Fraternité mondiales − dans la Foi, l’Espérance et la
Charité humaines − vers le Travail, le Progrès et la Paix de tous !
Cato, my wife, has been absolutely devoted to my work. Her savings and jewels
testify to it; her invaded house testify to it; her collaboration testifies to it; her wish
to see it finished after me testifies to it; her modest little fortune has served for the
constitution of my work and of my thought.

Walk under the Arc de Triumph and exit
the Jubelfeestpark on your left. On
Avenue des Nerviens turn left into
Sint Geertruidestraat. Turn left onto
Kolonel Van Gelestraat and right onto
Rue Louis Hap. Turn left onto
Oudergemselaan and right onto Rue
Fetis 44.

In 1934, the ministry of public works decided to close the Mundaneum in order to make
place for an extension of the Royal Museum of Art and History. An outraged Otlet posted in
front of the closed entrance with his colleagues, but to no avail. The official address of the
Mundaneum was 'temporarily' transferred to the house at Rue Fétis 44 where he lived with
his second wife, Cato Van Nederhasselt.



Part of the archives were moved Rue Fétis, but many boxes and most of the card-indexes
remained stored in the Cinquantenaire building. Paul Otlet continued a vigorous program of
lectures and meetings in other places, including at home.


The upper galleries ... are one big pile of rubbish, one inspector noted in his report.
It is an impossible mess, and high time for this all to be cleared away. The Nazis
evidently struggled to make sense of the curious spectacle before them. The
institute and its goals cannot be clearly defined. It is some sort of ... 'museum for
the whole world,' displayed through the most embarrassing and cheap and
primitive methods.
Distributed in two large workrooms, in corridors, under stairs, and in attic rooms
and a glass-roofed dissecting theatre at the top of the building, this residue
gradually fell prey to the dust and damp darkness of the building in its lower
regions, and to weather and pigeons admitted through broken panes of glass in the
roof in the upper rooms. On the ground floor of the building was a dimly lit, small,

steeply-raked lecture theatre. On either side of its dais loomed busts of the
Derrière les vitres sales, j’aperçus un amoncellement de livres, de liasses de papiers
contenus par des ficelles, des dossiers dressés sur des étagères de fortune. Des
feuilles volantes échappées des cartons s’amoncelaient dans les angles de l’immense
pièce, du papier pelure froissé se mêlait au gravat et à la poussière. Des récipients
de fortune avaient été placés entre les caisses et servaient à récolter l’eau de pluie.
Un pigeon avait réussi à pénétrer à l’intérieur et se cognait inlassablement contre
l’immense baie vitrée qui fermait le bâtiment.
Annually in this room in the years after Otlet's death until the late 1960's, the
busts garlanded with floral wreaths for the occasion, Otlet and La Fontaine's
colleagues and disciples, Les Amis du Palais Mondial, met in a ceremony of
remembrance. And it was Otlet, theorist and visionary, who held their
imaginations most in beneficial thrall as they continued to work after his death, just
as they had in those last days of his life, among the mouldering, discorded
collections of the Mundaneum, themselves gradually overtaken by age, their
numbers dwindling.

Exit the Fétisstraat onto Chaussee de
Wavre, turn right and follow into the
Vijverstraat. Turn right on Rue Gray,
cross Jourdan plein into Parc Leopold.
Right at the entrance is the building
of l’Institut d’Anatomie Raoul

In 1941, the Nazi-Germans occupying Belgium wanted to use the spaces in the Palais du
Cinquantenaire but they were still used to store the collections of the Mundaneum. They
decided to move the archives to Parc Léopold except for a mass of periodicals, which were
simply destroyed. A vast quantity of files related to international associations were assumed to
have propaganda value for the German war effort. This part of the archive was transferred
back to Berlin and apparently re-appeared in the Stanford archives (?) many years later.
They must have been taken there by American soldiers after World War II.
Until the 1970's, the Mundaneum (or what was left of it) remained in the decaying building
in Parc Léopold. Georges Lorphèvre and André Colet continued to carry on the work of the
Mundaneum with the help of a few now elderly Amis du Palais Mondial, members of the
association with the same name that was founded in 1921. It is here that the Belgian
librarian André Canonne, the Australian scholar Warden Boyd Rayward and the Belgian
documentary-maker Françoise Levie came across the Mundaneum archives for the very first




A natural affinity exists between Google's modern project of making the world’s
information accessble and the Mundaneum project of two early 20th century
Belgians. Otlet and La Fontaine imagined organizing all the world's information on paper cards. While their dream was discarded, the Internet brought it back to
reality and it's little wonder that many now describe the Mundaneum as the paper
Google. Together, we are showing the way to marry our paper past with our
digital future.

Exit the park onto Steenweg op
Etterbeek and walk left to number

In 2009, Google Belgium opened its offices at the Chaussée d'Etterbeek 180. It is only a
short walk away from the last location that Paul Otlet has been able to work on the
Mundaneum project.
Celebrating the discovery of its "European roots", the company has insisted on the
connection between the project of Paul Otlet, and their own mission to organize the world's
information and make it universally accessible and useful. To celebrate the desired
connection to the Forefather of documentation, the building is said to have a Mundaneum
meeting room. In the lobby, you can find a vitrine with one of the drawers filled with UDCindex cards, on loan from the Mundaneum archive center in Mons.


When I am no more, my documentary instrument (my papers) should be kept
together, and, in order that their links should become more apparent, should be
sorted, fixed in successive order by a consecutive numbering of all the cards (like
the pages of a book).
Je le répète, mes papiers forment un tout. Chaque partie s’y rattache pour
constituer une oeuvre unique. Mes archives sont un "Mundus Mundaneum", un



outil conçu pour la connaissance du monde. Conservez-les; faites pour elles ce que
moi j’aurais fait. Ne les détruisez pas !

O P T I O N A L : Continue on Chaussée
d'Etterbeek toward Belliardstraat.
Turn left until you reach Rue de
Trèves. Turn right onto Luxemburgplein
and take bus 95 direction Wiener.

Paul Otlet dies in 1944 when he is 76 years old. His grave at the cemetary of Ixelles is
decorated with a globe and the inscription "Il ne fut rien sinon Mundanéen" (He was nothing
if not Mundanéen).
Exit the cemetary and walk toward
Avenue de la Couronne. At the
roundabout, turn left onto
Boondaalsesteenweg. Turn left onto
Boulevard Géneral Jacques and take
tram 25 direction Rogier.

Halfway your tram-journey you pass Square Vergote (Stop: Georges Henri), where Henri
Lafontaine and Mathilde Lhoest used to live. Statesman and Nobel-prize winner Henri
Lafontaine worked closely with Otlet and supported his projects throughout his life.
Get off at the stop Coteaux and follow
Rogierstraat until number 67.


C'est à ce moment que le conseil d'administration, pour sauver les activités
(expositions, prêts gratuits, visites, congrès, exposés, etc.) vendit quelques pièces. Il
n'y a donc pas eu de vol de documents, contrairement à ce que certains affirment,
garantit de Louvroy.
In fact, not one of the thousands of objects contained in the hundred galleries of the
Cinquantenaire has survived into the present, not a single maquette, not a single
telegraph machine, not a single flag, though there are many photographs of the
exhibition rooms.
Mais je me souviens avoir vu à Bruxelles des meubles d'Otlet dans des caves
inondées. On dit aussi que des pans entiers de collections ont fait le bonheur des
amateurs sur les brocantes. Sans compter que le papier se conserve mal et que des
dépôts mal surveillés ont pollué des documents aujourd'hui irrécupérables.

This part of the walk takes about 45"
and will take you from the Ixelles
neighbourhood through Sint-Joost to
Schaerbeek; from high to low Brussels.

Continue on Steenweg op Etterbeek,
cross Rue Belliard and continue onto
Jean Reyplein. Take a left onto
Chaussée d'Etterbeek. If you prefer,
you can take a train at Bruxelles



Schumann Station to North Station, or
continue following Etterbeekse
steenweg onto Square Marie-Louise.
Continue straight onto
Gutenbergsquare, Rue Bonneels which
becomes Braemtstraat at some point.
Cross Chausséee de Louvain and turn
left onto Oogststraat. Continue onto
Place Houwaert and Dwarsstraat.
Continue onto Chaussée de Haecht and
follow onto Kruidtuinstraat. Take a
slight right onto Rue Verte, turn left
onto Kwatrechtstraat and under the
North Station railroad tracks. Turn
right onto Rue du Progrès.
Rogierstraat is the first street on
your left.

In 1972, we find Les Amis du Mundaneum back at Chaussée de Louvain 969.
Apparently, the City of Brussels has moved the Mundaneum out of Parc Léopold into a
parking garage, 'a building rented by the ministry of Finances', 'in the direction of the SaintJosse-ten-Node station'.[15]. 10 years later, the collection is moved to the back-house of a
building at Avenue Rogier 67.
As a young librarian, Andre Canonne visits the collection at this address until he is in a
position to move the collection elsewhere.


On peut donc croire sauvées les collections du "Mundaneum" et a bon droit
espérer la fin de leur interminable errance. Au moment ou nous écrivons ces lignes,
des travaux d’aménagement d'un "Espace Mundaneum" sont en voie
d’achèvement au cour de Bruxelles.
L'acte fut signé par le ministre Philippe Monfils, président de l'exécutif. Son
prédécesseur, Philippe Moureaux, n'était pas du même avis. Il avait même acheté
pour 8 millions un immeuble de la rue Saint-Josse pour y installer le musée. Il
fallait en effet sauver les collections, enfouies dans l'arrière-cour d'une maison de
repos de l'avenue Rogier! (...) L'étage moins deux, propriété de la commune de
Saint-Josse, fut cédé par un bail emphytéotique de 30 ans à la Communauté, avec
un loyer de 800.000 F par mois. (...) Mais le Mundaneum est aussi en passe de
devenir une mystérieuse affaire en forme de pyramide. A l'étage moins un, la
commune de Saint-Josse et la société française «Les Pyramides» négocient la
construction d'un Centre de congrès (il remplace celui d'un piano-bar luxueux)
d'ampleur. Le montant de l'investissement est évalué à 150 millions (...) Et puis,
ce musée fantôme n'est pas fermé pour tout le monde. Il ouvre ses portes! Pas pour
y accueillir des visiteurs. On organise des soirées dansantes, des banquets dans la
grande salle. Deux partenaires (dont un traiteur) ont signé des contrats avec
l'ASBL Centre de lecture publique de la communauté française. Contrats
reconfirmés il y a quinze jours et courant pendant 3 ans encore!
Mais curieusement, les collections sont toujours avenue Rogier, malgré l'achat
d'un local rue Saint-Josse par la Communauté française, et malgré le transfert
officiel (jamais réalisé) au «musée» du niveau - 2 de la place Rogier. Les seules
choses qu'il contient sont les caisses de livres rétrocédées par la Bibliothèque
Royale qui ne savait qu'en faire.



Follow Avenue Rogier. Turn left onto
Brabantstraat until you cross under
the railroad tracks. Place Rogier is
on your right hand, marked by a large
overhead construction of a tilted
white dish.

In 1985, Andre Canonne convinced Les Amis du Palais Mondial to transfer the
responsability for the collection and mission of the association to la Centre de lecture
publique de la Communauté française based in Liege, the organisation that he now has
become the director of. It was agreed that the Mundaneum should stay in Brussels; the
documents mention a future location at the Rue Saint Josse 49, a building apparently
acquired for that purpose by the Communauté française.
Five years later, plans have changed. In 1990, the archives are being moved from their
temporary storage in Avenue Rogier and the Royal Library of Belgium to a new location in
Place Rogier -2. Under the guidance of André Canonne a "Mundaneum space" will be
opened in the center of Brussels, right above the Metro station Rogier. Unfortunately,
Canonne dies just weeks after the move has begun, and the Brussels' Espace Mundaneum
never opens its doors.
In the following three years, the collection remains in the same location but apparently
without much supervision. Journalists report that doors were left unlocked and that Metro
passengers could help themselves to handfuls of documents. The collection has in the mean
time attracted the attention of Elio di Rupo, at that time minister of education at la
Communauté française. It marks the beginning of the end of The Mundaneum as an itinerant
archive in Brussels.

You can end the tour here, or add two optional destinations:


O P T I O N A L :

(from Place Rogier, 20") Follow
Kruidtuinlaan onto Boulevard Baudouin
and onto Antwerpselaan, down in the
direction of the canal. At the
Sainctelette bridge, cross the canal
and take a slight left into Rue
Adolphe Lavallée. Turn left onto
Piersstraat. Alternatively, at Rogier
you can take a Metro to Ribaucourt
station, and walk from there.

At number 101 we find Imprimerie Van Keerberghen, the printer that produced and
distributed Le Traité de Documentation . In 1934, Otlet did not have enough money to pay
for the full print-run of the book and therefore the edition remained with Van Keerberghen
who would distribute the copies himself through mailorders. The plaque on the door dates
from the period that the Traité was printed. So far we have not been able to confirm whether
this family-business is still in operation.




O P T I O N A L :

(from Rue Piers, ca. 30") Follow Rue
Piers and turn left into
Merchtemsesteenweg and follow until
Chaussée de Gand, turn left. Turn
right onto Ransfortstraat and cross
Chaussée de Ninove. Turn left to
follow the canal onto Mariemontkaai
and left at Rue de Manchester to cross
the water. Continue onto
Liverpoolstraat, cross Chaussee de
Mons and continue onto Dokter De

Meersmanstraat until you meet Rue

(from Place Rogier, ca. 30") Follow
Boulevard du Jardin Botanique and turn
left onto Adolphe Maxlaan and Place De
Brouckère. Continue onto Anspachlaan,
turn right onto Rue du Marché aux
Poulets. Turn left onto
Visverkopersstraat and continue onto
Rue Van Artevelde. Continue straight
onto Anderlechtschesteenweg, continue
onto Chaussée de Mons. Turn left onto
Otletstraat. Alternatively you can
take tram 51 or 81 to Porte

Although it seems that this dreary street is named to honor Paul Otlet, it already
mysteriously appears on a map dated 1894 when Otlet was not even 26 years old [19] and
again on a map from 1910, when the Mundaneum had not yet opened it's doors.[20]





Bernard Anselme, le nouveau ministre-président de la Communauté française,
négocia le transfert à Mons, au grand dam de politiques bruxellois furieux de voir
cette prestigieuse collection quitter la capitale. (...) Cornaqué par Charles Picqué et
Elio Di Rupo, le transfert à Mons n'a pas mis fin aux ennuis du Mundaneum.
On créa en Hainaut une nouvelle ASBL chargée d'assurer le relais. C'était sans
compter avec l'ASBL Célès, héritage indépendant du CLPCF, évoqué plus haut,
que la Communauté avait fini par dissoudre. Cette association s'est toujours
considérée comme propriétaire des collections, au point de s'opposer régulièrement
à leur exploitation publique. Les faits lui ont donné raison: au début du mois de

mai, le Célès a obtenu du ministère de la Culture que cinquante millions lui soient
versés en contrepartie du droit de propriété.
The reestablishment of the Mundaneum in Mons as a museum and archive is in
my view a major event in the intellectual life of Belgium. Its opening attracted
considerable international interest at the time.
Le long des murs, 260 meubles-fichiers témoignaient de la démesure du projet.
Certains tiroirs, ouverts, étaient éclairés de l’intérieur, ce qui leur donnait une
impression de relief, de 3D. Un immense globe terrestre, tournant lentement sur
lui-même, occupait le centre de l’espace. Sous une voie lactée peinte à même le
plafond, les voix de Paul Otlet et d’Henri La Fontaine, interprétés par des
comédiens, s’élevaient au fur et à mesure que l’on s’approchait de tel ou tel
L’Otletaneum, c’est à dire les archives et papiers personnels ayant appartenu à
Paul Otlet, représentait un fonds important, peu connu, mal répertorié, que l’on
pouvait cependant quantifier à la place qu’il occupait sur les étagères des réserves
situées à l’arrière du musée. Il y avait là 100 à 150 mètres de rayonnages, dont
une partie infime avait fait l’objet d’un classement. Le reste, c’est à dire une
soixantaine de boîtes à bananes‚ était inexploré. Sans compter l’entrepôt de
Cuesmes où le travail de recensement pouvait être estimé, me disait-il, à une
centaine d’années...
Après des multiples déménagements, un travail laborieux de sauvegarde entamé
par les successeurs, ce patrimoine unique ne finit pas de révéler ses richesses et ses
surprises. Au-delà de cette démarche originale entamée dans un esprit
philanthropique, le centre d’archives propose des collections documentaires à valeur
historique, ainsi que des archives spécialisées.

In 1993, after some armwrestling between different local fractions of the Parti Socialiste, the
collections of the Mundaneum are moved from Place Rogier to former departement store
L'independance in Mons, 40 kilometres from Brussels and home to Elio Di Rupo. Benoît
Peeters and François Schuiten design a theatrical scenography that includes a gigantic globe
and walls decorated with what is if left of the wooden card catalogs. The center opens in
1998 under the direction of librarian Jean-François Füeg .
In 2015, Mons is elected Capital of Europe with the slogan "Mons, where culture meets
technology". The Mundaneum archive center plays a central role in the media-campaigns
and activities leading up to the festive year. In that same period, the center undergoes a largescale renovation to finally brings the archive facilities up to date. A new reading room is
named after André Canonne, the conference room is called Utopia. The mise-en-scène of
Otlet's messy office is removed, but otherwise the scenography remains largely unchanged.




Jean-Paul Deplus, échevin (adjoint) à la culture de la ville, affiche ses ambitions.
« Ce lieu est une illustration saisissante de ce que des utopistes visionnaires ont
apporté à la civilisation. Ils ont inventé Google avant la lettre. Non seulement ils
l’ont fait avec les seuls outils dont ils disposaient, c’est-à- dire de l’encre et du

papier, mais leur imagination était si féconde que l’on a retrouvé les dessins et
croquis de ce qui préfigure Internet un siècle plus tard. » Et Jean-Pol Baras
d’ajouter «Et qui vient de s’installer à Mons ? Un “data center” de Google ...
Drôle de hasard, non ? »
Dans une ambiance où tous les partenaires du «projet Saint-Ghislain» de Google
savouraient en silence la confirmation du jour, les anecdotes sur la discrétion
imposée durant 18 mois n’ont pas manqué. Outre l’utilisation d’un nom de code,
Crystal Computing, qui a valu un jour à Elio Di Rupo d’être interrogé sur
l’éventuelle arrivée d’une cristallerie en Wallonie («J’ai fait diversion comme j’ai
pu !», se souvient-il), un accord de confidentialité liait Google, l’Awex et l’Idea,
notamment. «A plusieurs reprises, on a eu chaud, parce qu’il était prévu qu’au
moindre couac sur ce point, Google arrêtait tout»
Beaucoup de show, peu d’emplois: Pour son data center belge, le géant des
moteurs de recherche a décroché l’un des plus beaux terrains industriels de
Wallonie. Résultat : à peine 40 emplois directs et pas un euro d’impôts. Reste que
la Région ne voit pas les choses sous cet angle. En janvier, a appris Le Vif/
L’Express, le ministre de l’Economie Jean-Claude Marcourt (PS) a notifié à
Google le refus d’une aide à l’expansion économique de 10 millions d’euros.
Motif : cette aide était conditionnée à la création de 110 emplois directs, loin d’être
atteints. Est-ce la raison pour laquelle aucun ministre wallon n’était présent le 10
avril aux côtés d’Elio Di Rupo ? Au cabinet Marcourt, on assure que les relations
avec l’entreprise américaine sont au beau fixe : « C’est le ministre qui a permis ce
nouvel investissement de Google, en négociant avec son fournisseur d’électricité
(NDLR : Electrabel) une réduction de son énorme facture.

In 2005, Elio di Rupo succeeds in bringing a company "Crystal Computing" to the region,
code name for Google inc. who plans to build a data-center at Saint Ghislain, a prime
industrial site close to Mons. Promising 'a thousand jobs', the presence of Google becomes a
way for Di Rupo to demonstrate that the Marshall Plan for Wallonia, an attempt to "step up
the efforts taken to put Wallonia back on the track to prosperity" is attaining its goals. The
first data-center opens in 2007 and is followed by a second one opening in 2015. The
direct impact on employment in the region is estimated to be somewhere between 110[29] and
120 jobs.[30]




1. Paul Otlet (1868-1944) Fondateur du mouvement bibliogique international Par Jacques Hellemans (Bibliothèque de
l’Université libre de Bruxelles, Premier Attaché)
2. Jacques Hellemans. Paul Otlet (1868-1944) Fondateur du mouvement bibliogique international
3. Paul Otlet. Document II in: Traité de documentation (1934)
4. Paul Otlet. Diary (1938), Quoted in: W. Boyd Rayward. The Universe of Information : The Work of Paul Otlet for
Documentation and International Organisation (1975)
5. Alex Wright. Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age (2014)
6. Warden Boyd Rayward. Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge (2010)
7. Françoise Levie. L'homme qui voulait classer le monde: Paul Otlet et le Mundaneum (2010)
8. Warden Boyd Rayward. Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge (2010)
9. William Echikson. A flower of computer history blooms in Belgium (2013) http://googlepolicyeurope.blogspot.be/2013/02/
10. Testament Paul Otlet, 1942.01.18*, No. 67, Otletaneum. Quoted in: W. Boyd Rayward. The Universe of Information :
The Work of Paul Otlet for Documentation and International Organisation (1975)
11. Paul Otlet cited in Françoise Levie, Filmer Paul Otlet, Cahiers de la documentation – Bladen voor documentatie – 2012/2
12. Le Soir, 27 juillet 1991
13. Warden Boyd Rayward. Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge (2010)
14. Le Soir, 17 juin 1998
15. http://www.reflexcity.net/bruxelles/photo/72ca206b2bf2e1ea73dae1c7380f57e3
16. André Canonne. Introduction to the 1989 facsimile edition of Le Traité de documentation File:TDD ed1989 preface.pdf
17. Le Soir, 24 juillet 1991
18. Le Soir, 27 juillet 1991
19. http://www.reflexcity.net/bruxelles/plans/4-cram-fin-xixe.html
20. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b84598749/f1.item.zoom
21. Le Soir, 17 juin 1998
22. Warden Boyd Rayward. Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge (2010)
23. Françoise Levie, Filmer Paul Otlet, Cahiers de la documentation – Bladen voor documentatie – 2012/2
24. Françoise Levie, L'Homme qui voulait classer le monde: Paul Otlet et le Mundaneum, Impressions Nouvelles, Bruxelles,
25. Stéphanie Manfroid, Les réalités d’une aventure documentaire, Cahiers de la documentation – Bladen voor documentatie –
26. Jean-Michel Djian, Le Mundaneum, Google de papier, Le Monde Magazine, 19 december 2009
27. Libre Belgique (27 april 2007)
28. Le Vif, April 2013
29. Le Vif, April 2013

30. http://www.rtbf.be/info/regions/detail_google-va-investir-300-millions-a-saint-ghislain?id=7968392




"A pyramid is a structure whose outer surfaces are triangular and converge to
a single point at the top"

A slew of pyramids can be found in all of Paul Otlet's drawers. Knowledge
schemes and diagrams, drawings and drafts, designs, prototypes and
architectural plans (including works by Le Corbusier and Maurice Heymans)
employ the pyramid to provide structure, hierarchy, precise path and finally
access to the world's synthesized knowledge. At specific temporal crosssections, these plans were criticized for their proximity to occultism or
monumentalism. Today their rich esoteric symbolism is still readily apparent
and gives reason to search for possible spiritual or mystical underpinnings of
the Mundaneum.
Paul Otlet (1926):
“Une immense pyramide est à construire. Au sommet y travaillent Penseurs,
Sociologues et grands Artistes. Le sommet doit rejoindre la base où s’agitent les
masses, mais la base aussi doit être disposée de manière qu’elle puisse rejoindre le





Paul Otlet, Species
Inscription: "Il ne fut rien
sinon Mundanéen"
Mundaneum, Mons.
Personal papers of Paul
Otlet (MDN). Fonds
Encyclopaedia Universalis
Mundaneum (EUM),
document No. 8506.

La Pyramide des

Qui scit ubi scientia
Tomb at the grave of Paul
Bibliographies. In: Paul habenti est proximus.
Otlet, Traité de
Who knows where
documentation: le livre sur science is, is about to have
le livre, théorie et pratique it. The librarian is helped
(Bruxelles: Editiones
by collaborators:
Mundaneum, 1934),
rédacteurs, copistes, gens
de service.



Design for the
Sketch for La
An axonometric view of Plan of the Mundaneum Perspective of the
Mundaneum, Section and Mondotheque. Paul Otlet, the Mundaneum gives the by M.C. Heymans
Mundaneum by M.C.
facades by Le Corbusier 1935?
effect of an aerial
photograph of an
archeological site —
Egyptian, Babylonian,
Assyrian, ancient
American (Mayan and
Aztec) or Peruvian. These
historical reminiscences are
striking. Remember the
important building works
of the Mayas, who were
the zenith of ancient
American civilization.
These well-known ruins
(Uxmal, Chichen-Itza,
Palenque on the Yucatan
peninsula, and Copan in
Guatemala) represent a
“metaphysical architecture”
of special cities of religious
cults and burial grounds,
cities of rulers and priests;
pyramids, cathedrals of the
sun, moon and stars; holy
places of individual gods;
graduating pyramids and
terraced palaces with
architectural objects
conceived in basic




Paul Otlet, Cellula
Mundaneum (1936).
Mundaneum, Mons.
Personal papers of Paul
Otlet (MDN). Fonds
Affiches (AFF).

As soon as all forms of life Sketch for Mundaneum
are categorized, classified World City. Le
and determined,
Corbusier, 1929
individuals will become
numeric "dividuals" in sets,
subsets or classes.


Atlas Bruxelles –
Urbaneum - Belganeum Mundaneum. Page de
garde du chapitre 991 de
l'Atlas de Bruxelles.


The universe (which
others call the Library) is
composed of an indefinite
and perhaps infinite
number of triangular
galleries, with vast air
shafts between, surrounded
by very low railings. From
any of the triangles one
can see, interminably, the
upper and lower floors.
The distribution of the
galleries is invariable.



The ship wherein Theseus
and the youth of Athens
returned had thirty oars,
and was preserved by the
Athenians down even to
the time of Demetrius
Phalereus, for they took
away the old planks as
they decayed, putting in
new and stronger timber in
their place, insomuch that
this ship became a
standing example among
the philosophers, for the
logical question of things
that grow; one side holding
that the ship remained the
same, and the other
contending that it was not
the same.




Universal Decimal
Classification: hierarchy

World City by Le
Corbusier & Jeanneret

Paul Otlet personal
papers. Picture taken
during a Mondotheque
visit of the Mundaneum
archives, 11 September

The face of the earth
Alimentation. — La base
would be much altered if de notre alimentation
repose en principe sur un
brick architecture were
trépied. 1° Protides
ousted everywhere by
glass architecture. It would (viandes, azotes). 2°
be as if the earth were
Glycides (légumineux,
hydrates de carbone). 3°
adorned with sparkling
jewels and enamels. Such Lipides (graisses). Mais il
glory is unimagmable. We faut encore pour présider
should then have a
au cycle de la vie et en
paradise on earth, and no assurer la régularité, des
need to watch in longing vitamines : c’est à elles
qu’est due la croissance
expectation for the
paradise in heaven.
des jeunes, l’équilibre
nutritif des adultes et une
certaine jeunesse chez les




Traité de documentation - Inverted pyramid and floor Architectural vision of the Section by Stanislas
La pyramide des
plan by Stanislas Jasinski Mundaneum by M.C.

Le Corbusier, Musée
Mondial (1929), FLC,
doc nr. 24510

Le reseau Mundaneum.
From Paul Otlet,
Encylcopaedia Universalis


Paul Otlet, Mundaneum.
Documentatio Partes.
MDN, EUM, doc nr.
8506, scan nr.



Metro Place Rogier in

Paul Otlet, Atlas Monde
(1936). MDN, AFF,
scan nr.
Mundaneum_049 (sic!)


The “Sacrarium,” is
See Cross-readings,
Place Rogier, Brussels
something like a temple of Rayward, Warden Boyd around 2005
ethics, philosophy, and
(who translated and
religion. A great globe,
adapted), Mundaneum:
modeled and colored, in a Archives of Knowledge,
scale 1 = 1,000,000 with Urbana-Campaign, Ill. :
the planetarium inside, is Graduate School of
Library and Information
situated in front of the
museum building.
Science, University of
Illinois at UrbanaChampaign, 2010.
Original: Charlotte
Dubray et al.,
Mundaneum: Les
Archives de la
Connaissance, Bruxelles:
Les Impressions
Nouvelles, 2008. (p. 37)

Paul Otlet, Le Monde en son ensemble
(1936). Mundaneum, Mons. MDN,
AFF, scan nr.


Place Rogier, Brussels
with sign "Pyramides"



Toute la Documentation. Logo
A late sketch from 1937 of the Mundaneum
showing all the complexity
of the pyramid of
documentation. An
evolutionary element
works its way up, and in
the conclusive level one
can read a synthesis:
"Homo Loquens, Homo
Scribens, Societas


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramid
2. Paul Otlet, L’Éducation et les Instituts du Palais Mondial (Mundaneum). Bruxelles: Union des Associations Internationales,
1926, p. 10. ("A great pyramid should be constructed. At the top are to be found Thinkers, Sociologists and great Artists. But
the top must be joined to the base where the masses are found, and the bases must have control of a path to the top.")
3. Wouter Van Acker. "Architectural Metaphors of Knowledge: The Mundaneum Designs of Maurice Heymans, Paul Otlet,
and Le Corbusier." Library Trends 61, no. 2 (2012): 371-396. http://muse.jhu.edu/
4. Photo: Roel de Groof http://www.zita.be/foto/roel-de-groof/allerlei/graf-paul-otlet/
5. Wouter Van Acker, 'Opening the Shrine of the Mundaneum The Positivist Spirit in the Architecture of Le Corbusier and his
Belgian “Idolators,”' in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 30, Open, edited
by Alexandra Brown and Andrew Leach (Gold Coast,Qld: SAHANZ, 2013), vol. 2, p. 792.
6. Wouter Van Acker. "Architectural Metaphors of Knowledge: The Mundaneum Designs of Maurice Heymans, Paul Otlet,
and Le Corbusier." Library Trends 61, no. 2 (2012): 371-396.
7. Wouter Van Acker. "Architectural Metaphors of Knowledge: The Mundaneum Designs of Maurice Heymans, Paul Otlet,
and Le Corbusier." Library Trends 61, no. 2 (2012): 371-396.
8. Wouter Van Acker. "Architectural Metaphors of Knowledge: The Mundaneum Designs of Maurice Heymans, Paul Otlet,
and Le Corbusier." Library Trends 61, no. 2 (2012): 371-396. http://muse.jhu.edu/
9. Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique (Bruxelles: Editiones Mundaneum, 1934), 420.
10. http://www.fondationlecorbusier.fr
11. http://www.numeriques.be
12. http://www.numeriques.be

13. Rayward, Warden Boyd, The Universe of Information: the Work of Paul Otlet for Documentation and international
Organization, FID Publication 520, Moscow, International Federation for Documentation by the All-Union Institute for
Scientific and Technical Information (Viniti), 1975. (p. 352)
14. The Man Who Wanted to Classify the World
15. Rayward, Warden Boyd (who translated and adapted), Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge, Urbana-Campaign, Ill. :
Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2010, p. 35. Original:
Charlotte Dubray et al., Mundaneum: Les Archives de la Connaissance, Bruxelles: Les Impressions Nouvelles, 2008.
16. Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique (Bruxelles: Editiones Mundaneum, 1934).
17. Wouter Van Acker, 'Opening the Shrine of the Mundaneum The Positivist Spirit in the Architecture of Le Corbusier and his
Belgian “Idolators,”' in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 30, Open, edited
by Alexandra Brown and Andrew Leach (Gold Coast,Qld: SAHANZ, 2013), vol. 2, p. 804.
18. Wouter Van Acker, 'Opening the Shrine of the Mundaneum The Positivist Spirit in the Architecture of Le Corbusier and his
Belgian “Idolators,”' in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 30, Open, edited
by Alexandra Brown and Andrew Leach (Gold Coast,Qld: SAHANZ, 2013), vol. 2, p. 803.
19. Wouter Van Acker, 'Opening the Shrine of the Mundaneum The Positivist Spirit in the Architecture of Le Corbusier and his
Belgian “Idolators,”' in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 30, Open, edited
by Alexandra Brown and Andrew Leach (Gold Coast,Qld: SAHANZ, 2013), vol. 2, p. 804.
20. From Van Acker, Wouter, “Internationalist Utopias of Visual Education. The Graphic and Scenographic Transformation of
the Universal Encyclopaedia in the Work of Paul Otlet, Patrick Geddes, and Otto Neurath,” in Perspectives on Science,
Vol.19, nr.1, 2011, p. 72. http://staging01.muse.jhu.edu/journals/perspectives_on_science/v019/19.1.van-acker.html
21. https://ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/15431/Rayward_215_WEB.pdf?sequence=2
22. http://www.sonuma.com/archive/la-conservation-des-archives-du-mundaneum
23. Mundaneum Archives, Mons



This page documents some of the contraptions at work in the Mondotheque
wiki. The name "transclusionism" refers to the term "transclusion" coined by
utopian systems humanist Ted Nelson and used in Mediawiki to refer to
inclusion of the same piece of text in between different pages.

To create transclusions between different texts, you need to select a section of text that will
form a connection between the pages, based on a common subject:
• Think of a category that is the common ground for the link. For example if two texts
refer to a similar issue or specific concept (eg. 'rawdata'), formulate it without
spaces or using underscores (eg. 'raw_data', not 'raw data' );
• Edit the two or more pages which you want to link, adding {{RT|rawdata}}
before the text section, and end=rawdata /> at the end (take care of the closing '/>' );
• All text sections in other wiki pages that are marked up through the same common
ground, will be transcluded in the margin of the text.

For example, this is how a transclusion from a labelled section of the Xanadu article appears:

From Xanadu:
Every document can contain links of
any type including virtual copies
("transclusions") to any other
document in the system accessible to

its owner.


code is used by the 'Labeled Section Transclusion' extension, which
looks for the tagged sections in a text, to transclude them into another text based on the
assigned labels.
The {{RT|rawdata}} instead, creates the side links by transcluding the
Template:RT page, substituting the word rawdata in its internal code, in place of
{{{1}}}. This is the commented content of Template:RT:
# Puts the trancluded sections in its own div:

# Searches semantically for all the pages in the
# requested category, puts them in an
[[Category:{{{1}}}]]|format=array | name=results
# Starts a loop, going from 0 to the amount of pages
# in the array:
{{#loop: looper
| 0
| {{#arraysize: results}}
# If the pagename of the current element of the array
# is the same as the page calling the loop, it will skip
# the page:
| {{#ifeq: {{FULLPAGENAME:
{{#arrayindex: results | {{#var:looper}} }}
# Otherwise it searches through the current page in the
# loop, for all the occurrences of labeled sections:
{{#arrayindex: results | {{#var:looper}} }}
| {{{1}}}
# Adds a link to the current page in loop:
([[{{#arrayindex: results | {{#var:looper}} }}]])
# Adds some space after the page:



# End of pagename if statement:
# End of loop:
# Closes div:

# Adds the page to the label category:

Currently, on top of MediaWiki and SemanticMediaWiki, the following extensions needed
to be installed for the contraption to work:
• Labeled Section Transclusion to be able to select specific sections of the texts and make
connections between them;
• Parser Functions to be able to operate statements like
in the wiki pseudo-language;
• Arrays to create lists of objects, for example as a result of semantic queries;
• Loops to loop between the arrays above;
• Variables as it's needed by some of the above.

Cross-readings. Not a bibliography.
• Paul Otlet, L’afrique aux noirs, Bruxelles: Ferdinand Larcier,
• Paul Otlet, L’Éducation et les Instituts du Palais Mondial
(Mundaneum). Bruxelles: Union des Associations
Internationales, 1926.
• Paul Otlet, Cité mondiale. Geneva: World civic center:
Mundaneum. Bruxelles: Union des Associations
Internationales, 1929.
• Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation, Bruxelles, Mundaneum,
Palais Mondial, 1934.
• Paul Otlet, Monde: essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du
Monde, Sentiment du Monde, Action organisee et Plan du
Monde, Bruxelles: Editiones Mundeum 1935. See also:
• Paul Otlet, Plan belgique; essai d'un plan général, économique,
social, culturel. Plan d'urbanisation national. Liaison avec le
plan mondial. Conditions. Problèmes. Solutions. Réformes,
Bruxelles: Éditiones Mundaneum, 1935.


Or, reading the readers that explored and contextualized the work of Otlet in recent times.
• Jacques Gillen, Stéphanie Manfroid, and Raphaèle Cornille
(eds.), Paul Otlet, fondateur du Mundaneum (1868-1944).



Architecte du savoir, Artisan de paix, Mons: Éditions Les
Impressions Nouvelles, 2010.
• Françoise Levie, L’homme qui voulait classer le monde. Paul
Otlet et le Mundaneum, Bruxelles: Les Impressions Nouvelles,
• Warden Boyd Rayward, The Universe of Information: the
Work of Paul Otlet for Documentation and international
Organization, FID Publication 520, Moscow: International
Federation for Documentation by the All-Union Institute for
Scientific and Technical Information (Viniti), 1975.
• Warden Boyd Rayward, Universum informastsii Zhizn' i
deiatl' nost' Polia Otle, Trans. R.S. Giliarevesky, Moscow:
VINITI, 1976.
• Warden Boyd Rayward (ed.), International Organization and
Dissemination of Knowledge: Selected Essays of Paul Otlet,
Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1990.
• Warden Boyd Rayward, El Universo de la Documentacion: la
obra de Paul Otlet sobra documentacion y organizacion
internacional, Trans. Pilar Arnau Rived, Madrid: Mundanau,
• Warden Boyd Raywar, "Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet
(1868-1944) and Hypertext." Journal of the American
Society for Information Science (1986-1998) 45, no. 4 (05,
1994): 235-251.
• Warden Boyd Rayward (who translated and adapted),
Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge, Urbana-Campaign, Ill. :
Graduate School of Library and Information Science,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2010. Original:
Charlotte Dubray et al., Mundaneum: Les Archives de la
Connaissance, Bruxelles: Les Impressions Nouvelles, 2008.
• Wouter Van Acker,[http://staging01.muse.jhu.edu/journals/
“Internationalist Utopias of Visual Education. The Graphic
and Scenographic Transformation of the Universal
Encyclopaedia in the Work of Paul Otlet, Patrick Geddes,

and Otto Neurath” in Perspectives on Science, Vol.19, nr.1,
2011, p. 32-80.
• Wouter Van Acker, “Universalism as Utopia. A Historical
Study of the Schemes and Schemas of Paul Otlet
(1868-1944)”, Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University
Press, Zelzate, 2011.
• Theater Adhoc, The humor and tragedy of completeness,


Constructing a posthumous pre-history of contemporary networking technologies.
• Christophe Lejeune, Ce que l’annuaire fait à Internet Sociologie des épreuves documentaires, in Cahiers dela
documentation – Bladen voor documentatie – 2006/3.
• Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell, Divining a Digital Future,
Chicago: MIT Press 2011.
• John Johnston, The Allure of Machinic Life: Cybernetics,
Artificial Life, and the New AI, Chicago: MIT Press 2008.
• Charles van den Heuvel Building society, constructing
knowledge, weaving the web, in Boyd Rayward [ed.]
European Modernism and the Information Society, London:
Ashgate Publishers 2008, chapter 7 pp. 127-153.
• Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler, Ora Lassila, The Semantic
Web, in Scientific American - SCI AMER , vol. 284, no. 5,
pp. 34-43, 2001.
• Alex Wright, Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth
of the Information Age, Oxford University Press, 2014.
• Popova, Maria, “The Birth of the Information Age: How Paul
Otlet’s Vision for Cataloging and Connecting Humanity
Shaped Our World”, Brain Pickings, 2014.
• Heuvel, Charles van den, “Building Society, Constructing
Knowledge, Weaving the Web”. in European Modernism and



the Information Society – Informing the Present,
Understanding the Past, Aldershot, 2008, pp. 127–153.


The recurring tensions between the world and its systematic representation.
• ShinJoung Yeo, James R. Jacobs, Diversity matters?
Rethinking diversity in libraries, Radical Reference
Countepoise 9 (2) Spring, 2006. p. 5-8.
• Thomas Hapke, Wilhelm Ostwald's Combinatorics as a Link
between In-formation and Form, in Library Trends, Volume
61, Number 2, Fall 2012.
• Nancy Cartwright, Jordi Cat, Lola Fleck, Thomas E. Uebel,
Otto Neurath: Philosophy Between Science and Politics.
Cambridge University Press, 2008.
• Nathan Ensmenger, The Computer Boys Take Over:
Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical
Expertise. MIT Press, 2010.
• Ronald E. Day, The Modern Invention of Information:
Discourse, History, and Power, Southern Illinois University
Press, 2001.
• Markus Krajewski, Peter Krapp Paper Machines: About
Cards & Catalogs, 1548-1929 The MIT Press
• Eric de Groller A Study of general categories applicable to
classification and coding in documentation; Documentation and
terminology of science; 1962.
• Marlene Manoff, "Theories of the archive from across the
disciplines," in portal: Libraries and the Academy, Vol. 4, No.
1 (2004), pp. 9–25.
• Charles van den Heuvel, W. Boyd Rayward, Facing
Interfaces: Paul Otlet's Visualizations of Data Integration.

Journal of the American society for information science and
technology (2011).


Standing on the hands of Internet giants.
• Rene Koenig, Miriam Rasch (eds), Society of the Query
Reader: Reflections on Web Search, Amsterdam: Institute of
Network Cultures, 2014.
• Matthew Fuller, Andrew Goffey, Evil Media. Cambridge,
Mass., United States: MIT Press, 2012.
• Steve Levy In The Plex. Simon & Schuster, 2011.
• Dan Schiller, ShinJoung Yeo, Powered By Google: Widening
Access and Tightening Corporate Control in: Red Art: New
Utopias in Data Capitalism, Leonardo Electronic Almanac,
Volume 20 Issue 1 (2015).
• Invisible Committee, Fuck Off Google, 2014.
• Dave Eggers, The Circle. Knopf, 2014.
• Matteo Pasquinelli, Google’s PageRank Algorithm: A
Diagram of the Cognitive Capitalism and the Rentier of the
Common Intellect. In: Konrad Becker, Felix Stalder
(eds), Deep Search, London: Transaction Publishers: 2009.
• Joris van Hoboken, Search Engine Freedom: On the
Implications of the Right to Freedom of Expression for the



Legal Governance of Web Search Engines. Kluwer Law
International, 2012.
• Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Control and Freedom: Power and
Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics. The MIT Press, 2008.
• Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Googlization of Everything (And
Why We Should Worry). University of California Press.
• William Miller, Living With Google. In: Journal of Library
Administration Volume 47, Issue 1-2, 2008.
• Lawrence Page, Sergey Brin The Anatomy of a Large-Scale
Hypertextual Web Search Engine. Computer Networks, vol.
30 (1998), pp. 107-117.
• Ken Auletta Googled: The end of the world as we know it.
Penguin Press, 2009.


How classification systems, and the dream of their universal application actually operate.
• Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation, Bruxelles, Mundaneum,
Palais Mondial, 1934. (for alphabet hierarchy, see page 71)
• Paul Otlet, L’afrique aux noirs, Bruxelles: Ferdinand Larcier,
• Judy Wajcman, Feminism Confronts Technology, University
Park, Pa: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991.
• Judge, Anthony, “Union of International Associations – Virtual
Organization – Paul Otlet's 100-year Hypertext
Conundrum?”, 2001.
• Ducheyne, Steffen, “Paul Otlet's Theory of Knowledge and
Linguistic Objectivism”, in Knowledge Organization, no 32,
2005, pp. 110–116.


Writings on how Otlet's knowledge site was successively imagined and visualized on grand
architectural scales.
• Catherine Courtiau, "La cité internationale 1927-1931," in
Transnational Associations, 5/1987: 255-266.
• Giuliano Gresleri and Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale:
Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. Venezia: Marsilio,
• Isabelle Rieusset-Lemarie, "P. Otlet's Mundaneum and the
International Perspective in the History of Documentation and
Information science," in Journal of the American Society for
Information Science (1986-1998)48.4 (Apr 1997):
• Le Corbusier, Vers une Architecture, Paris: les éditions G.
Crès, 1923.
• Transnational Associations, "Otlet et Le Corbusier" 1927-31,
INGO Development Projects: Quantity or Quality, Issue No:
5, 1987.
• Wouter Van Acker. "Hubris or utopia? Megalomania and
imagination in the work of Paul Otlet," in Cahiers de la
documentation – Bladen voor documentatie – 2012/2,
• Wouter Van Acker. "Architectural Metaphors of Knowledge:
The Mundaneum Designs of Maurice Heymans, Paul Otlet,
and Le Corbusier." Library Trends 61, no. 2 (2012):
• Van Acker, Wouter, Somsen, Geert, “A Tale of Two World
Capitals – the Internationalisms of Pieter Eijkman and Paul
Otlet”, in Revue Belge de Philologie et d'Histoire/Belgisch
Tijdschrift voor Filologie en Geschiedenis, Vol. 90, nr.4,
• Wouter Van Acker, "Opening the Shrine of the Mundaneum
The Positivist Spirit in the Architecture of Le Corbusier and his
Belgian “Idolators”, in Proceedings of the Society of



Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 30,
Open, edited by Alexandra Brown and Andrew Leach (Gold
Coast,Qld: SAHANZ, 2013), vol. 2, 791-805.
• Anthony Vidler, “The Space of History: Modern Museums
from Patrick Geddes to Le Corbusier,” in The Architecture of
the Museum: Symbolic Structures, Urban Contexts, ed.
Michaela Giebelhausen (Manchester; New York: Manchester
University Press, 2003).
• Volker Welter. "Biopolis Patrick Geddes and the City of
Life." Cambridge, Mass: MIT, 2003.
• Alfred Willis, “The Exoteric and Esoteric Functions of Le
Corbusier’s Mundaneum,” Modulus/University of Virginia
School of Architecture Review 12, no. 21 (1980).


It includes both century-old sources and more recent ones on the parallel or entangled
movements around the Mundaneum time.
• Hendrik Christian Andersen and Ernest M. Hébrard.
Création d'un Centre mondial de communication. Paris, 1913.
• Julie Carlier, "Moving beyond Boundaries: An Entangled
History of Feminism in Belgium, 1890–1914," Ph.D.
dissertation, Universiteit Gent, 2010. (esp. 439-458.)
• Bambi Ceuppens, Congo made in Flanders?: koloniale
Vlaamse visies op "blank" en "zwart" in Belgisch Congo.
[Gent]: Academia Press, 2004.
• Conseil International des Femmes (International Council of
Women), Office Central de Documentation pour les Questions
Concernant la Femme. Rapport. Bruxelles : Office Central de
Documentation Féminine, 1909.
• Sandi E. Cooper, Patriotic pacifism waging war on war in
Europe, 1815-1914. New York: Oxford University Press,
• Sylvie Fayet-Scribe, "Women Professionals in Documentation
in France during the 1930s," Libraries & the Cultural Record

Vol. 44, No. 2, Women Pioneers in the Information Sciences
Part I, 1900-1950 (2009), pp. 201-219. (translated by
Michael Buckland)
• François Garas, Mes temples. Paris: Michalon, 1907.
• Madeleine Herren, Hintertüren zur Macht: Internationalismus
und modernisierungsorientierte Aussenpolitik in Belgien, der
Schweiz und den USA 1865-1914. München: Oldenbourg,
• Robert Hoozee and Mary Anne Stevens, Impressionism to
Symbolism: The Belgian Avant-Garde 1880-1900, London:
Royal Academy of Arts, 1994.
• Markus Krajewski, Die Brücke: A German contemporary of
the Institut International de Bibliographie. In: Cahiers de la
documentation / Bladen voor documentatie 66.2 (Juin,
Numéro Spécial 2012), 25–31.
• Daniel Laqua, "Transnational intellectual cooperation, the
League of Nations, and the problem of order," in Journal of
Global History (2011) 6, pp. 223–247.
• Lewis Pyenson and Christophe Verbruggen, "Ego and the
International: The Modernist Circle of George Sarton," Isis,
Vol. 100, No. 1 (March 2009), pp. 60-78.
• Elisée Reclus, Nouvelle géographie universelle; la terre et les
hommes, Paris, Hachette et cie., 1876-94.
• Edouard Schuré, Les grands initiés: esquisse de l'histoire
secrète des religions, 1889.
• Rayward, Warden Boyd (ed.), European Modernism and the
Information Society: Informing the Present, Understanding the
Past. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate, 2008.
• Van Acker, Wouter, “Internationalist Utopias of Visual
Education. The Graphic and Scenographic Transformation of
the Universal Encyclopaedia in the Work of Paul Otlet,



Patrick Geddes, and Otto Neurath”, in Perspectives on
Science, Vol.19, nr.1, 2011, p. 32-80.
• Nader Vossoughian, "The Language of the World Museum:
Otto Neurath, Paul Otlet, Le Corbusier", Transnational
Associations 1-2 (January-June 2003), Brussels, pp 82-93.
• Alfred Willis, “The Exoteric and Esoteric Functions of Le
Corbusier’s Mundaneum,” Modulus/University of Virginia
School of Architecture Review 12, no. 21 (1980).

• Mondotheque editorial team/redactie team/équipe éditoriale: André Castro,
Sînziana Păltineanu, Dennis Pohl, Dick Reckard, Natacha
Roussel, Femke Snelting, Alexia de Visscher
• Copy-editing/tekstredactie/édition EN: Sophie Burm (Amateur Librarian, The
Smart City - City of Knowledge, X=Y, A Book of the Web), Liz Soltan (An
experimental transcript)
• Translations EN-FR/vertalingen EN-FR/traductions EN-FR: Eva Lena
Vermeersch (Amateur Librarian, A Pre-emptive History of the Google Cultural
Institute, The Smart City - City of Knowledge), Natacha Roussel (LES
UTOPISTES and their common logos, Introduction), Donatella
• Translations EN-NL/vertalingen EN-FR/traductions EN-NL: Femke
Snelting, Peter Westenberg
• Transcriptions/transcripties/transcriptions: Lola Durt, Femke Snelting,
Tom van den Wijngaert
• Design and development/ontwerp en ontwikkeling/graphisme et développement:
Alexia de Visscher, André Castro
• Fonts/lettertypes/polices: NotCourierSans, Cheltenham, Traité facsimile
• Tools/gereedschappen/outils: Semantic Mediawiki, etherpad,
Weasyprint, html5lib, mwclient, phantomjs, gnu make ...
• Source-files/bronbestanden/code source: https://gitlab.com/Mondotheque/
RadiatedBook + http://www.mondotheque.be
• Published by/een publicatie van/publié par: Constant (2016)
• Printed at/druk/imprimé par: Online-Druck.biz
• License/licentie/licence: Texts and images developed by Mondotheque are available
under a Free Art License 1.3 (C) Copyleft Attitude, 2007. You may copy,
distribute and modify them according to the terms of the Free Art License: http://
artlibre.org Texts and images by Paul Otlet and Henri Lafontaine are in the Public
Domain. Other materials copyright by the authors/Teksten en afbeeldingen
ontwikkeld door Mondotheque zijn beschikbaar onder een Free Art License 1.3 (C)
Copyleft Attitude, 2007. U kunt ze dus kopiëren, verspreiden en wijzigen volgens de
voorwaarden van de Free Art License: http://artlibre.org Teksten en beelden van
Paul Otlet en Henri Lafontaine zijn in het publieke domein. Andere materialen:
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tactics in Dockray, Pasquinelli, Smith & Waldorf 2010

Dockray, Pasquinelli, Smith & Waldorf
There is Nothing Less Passive than the Act of Fleeing

# There is Nothing Less Passive than the Act of Fleeing

[The Public School](/web/20170523052416/http://journalment.org/author/public-

What follows is a condensed and edited version of a text for a panel that was
presented at UCIRA’s _Future Tense: Alternative Arts and Economies in the
University_  conference held in San Diego, California on November 18, 2010.
The panel shared the same name as a 13-day itinerant seminar in Berlin
organized by Dockray, Waldorf, and Fiona Whitton earlier that year, in July.
The seminar began with an excerpt from Tiqqun’s _Introduction to Civil War_ ,
which was co-translated into English by Smith; and later read a chapter from
Pasquinelli’s _Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons_. Both authors have
also participated in meetings at The Public School in Los Angeles and Berlin.
Both the panel and the seminar developed out of longer conversations at The
Public School in Los Angeles, which began in late 2007 under Telic Arts
Exchange. The Public School is a school with no curriculum, where classes are
proposed and organized by the public.

## The Education Factory

The University as I understand it, has been a threshold between youth and the
labor market. Or it has been a threshold between a general education and a
more specialized one. In its more progressive form, it’s been a zone of
transition into an expanding middle class. But does this form still exist? I’m
inclined to think just the opposite, that the University is becoming a mean
for filtering people out of the middle class via student loan debt, which now
exceeds credit card debt. The point of the questions for me is simply what is
the point of the University? What are we fighting for or defending?

The next question might be, do students work? The University is a crucial site
in the reproduction of class relations; we know that students are consumers;
we know the student is a future worker who will be compelled to work, and work
in a specific way, because she/he is crushed by debt contracted during her/his
tenure as a student; we know that students work while attending school, and
that for many students school and work eerily begin to resemble one another.
But asking whether students work is to ask something more specific: do
students produce value and, therefore surplus-value? If we can assume, for the
moment, that students are a factor in the “knowledge production” that takes
place in the University, is this production of knowledge also the production
of value? We confront, maybe, a paradox: all social activity has become
“productive”—captured, absorbed—at the very moment value becomes unmeasurable.

What does this have to do with students, and their work? The thesis of the
social factory was supplemented by the assumption that knowledge had become a
central mode in the production of value in post-Fordist environments. Wouldn’t
this mean that the university could become an increasingly important
flashpoint in social struggles, now that it has become not simply the site of
the reproduction of the capital relation, but involved in the immediate
production process, directly productive of value? Would we have to understand
students themselves as, if not knowledge producers, an irreplaceable moment or
function within that process? None of this remains clear. The question is not
only a sociological one, it is also a political one. The strategy of
reconceptualizing students as workers is rooted in the classical Marxist
identification of revolt with the point of production, that is, exploitation.
To declare all social activity to be productive is another way of saying that
social war can be triggered at any site within society, even among the
precarious, the unemployed, and students.

_Knowledge is tied to struggle. To truly know is to hate truly. This is why
the working class can know and possess everything of capital, as it is enemy
to itself as capital._
—Tronti, 1966

That form of “hate” mentioned by Tronti is suggesting something interesting
form of political passion and a new modus operandi. The relation between hate
and knowledge, suggested by Tronti, is the opposite of the cynical detachment
of the new social figure of the entrepreneur-artist but it’s a joyful hate of
our condition. In order to educate ourselves we should hate our very own
environment and social network in which we were educated—the university. The
position of the artist in their work and the performance of themselves (often
no different) can take are manyfold. There are histories for all of these
postures that can be referenced and adopted. They are all acceptable tactics
as long as we keep doing and churning out more. But where does this get us,
both within the confines of the arts and the larger social structure? We are
taught that the artist is always working, thinking, observing. We have learned
the tricks of communication, performance and adaptability. We can go anywhere,
react to anything, respond in a thoughtful and creative way to all problems.
And we do this because while there is opportunity, we should take it. “We
shouldn’t complain, others have it much worse.” But it doesn’t mean that we
shouldn’t imagine something else. To begin thinking this way, it means a
refusal to deliver an event, to perform on demand. Maybe we need a kind of
inflexibility, of obstruction, of non-conductivity. After all, what exactly
are we producing and performing for? Can we try to think about these talents
of performance, of communication? If so, could this be the basis for an
intimacy, a friendship… another institution?

## Alternative pedagogical models

Let’s consider briefly the desire for “new pedagogical models” and “new forms
of knowledge production”. When articulated by the University, this simply
means new forms of instruction and new forms of research. Liberal faculty and
neoliberal politicians or administrators find themselves joined in this hunt
for future models and forms. On the one hand, faculty imagines that these new
techniques can provide space for continuing the good. On the other hand,
investors, politicians, and administrators look for any means to make the
University profitable; use unpaid labour, eliminate non-productive physical
spaces, and create new markets. Symptomatically, there is very little
resistance to this search for new forms and new models for the simple reason
that there is a consensus that the University should and will continue.

It’s also important to note that many of the so-called new forms and new
models being considered lie beyond the walls and payroll of the institution,
therefore both low-cost and low-risk. It is now a familiar story: the
institution attempts to renew itself by importing its own critique. The Public
School is not a new model and it’s not going to save the University. It is not
even a critique of the University any more or less than it is a critique of
the field of art or of capitalist society. It is not “the next university”
because it is a practice of leaving the University to the side. It would be a
mistake to think that this means isolation or total detachment.

Today, the forms of university governance cannot allow themselves to uproot
self-education. To the contrary, self-education constitutes a vital sap for
the survival of the institutional ruins, snatched up and rendered valuable in
the form of revenue. Governance is the trap, hasty and flexible, of the
common. Instead of countering us frontally, the enemy follows us. We must
immediately reject any weak interpretation of the theme of autonomous
institutions, according to which the institution is a self-governed structure
that lives between the folds of capitalism, without excessively bothering it.
The institutionalisation of self-education doesn’t mean being recognized as
one actor among many within the education market, but the capacity to organize
living knowledge’s autonomy and resistance.

One of the most important “new pedagogical models” that emerged over the past
year in the struggles around the implosion of the “public” university are the
occupations that took place in the Fall of 2009. Unlike other forms of action,
which tend to follow the timetable and cadence of the administration, to the
point of mirroring it, these actions had their own temporality, their own
initiative, their own internal logic. They were not at all concerned with
saving a university that was already in ruins, but rather with creating a
space at the heart of the University within which something else, some future,
could be risked, elaborated, prefigured. Everything had to be improvised, from
moment to moment, and in these improvisations new knowledges were developed
and shared. This improvisation was demanded by the aleatory quality of the
types of relations that emerged within these spaces, relations no longer
regulated by the social alibis that assigns everyone her/his place. When
students occupy university buildings—here in California, in NYC, in Puerto
Rico, in Europe and the UK, everywhere—they do so not because they want to
save their universities. They do so because they know the university for what
it is, as something to be at once seized and abandoned. They know that they
can only rely on and learn from one another.

## The Common and The Public

What is really so disconcerting about this antinomy between the logic of the
common and the logic of the social or the public? For Jacotot, it means the
development of a communist politics that is neither reformist nor seditious2.
It proposes the formation of common spaces at a distance from—if not outside
of—the public sphere and its communicative reason: “whoever forsakes the
workings of the social machine has the opportunity to make the electrical
energy of the emancipation machine.”

What does it mean to forsake the social machine? That is the major political
question facing us today. Such a forsaking would require that our political
energies organize themselves around spaces of experimentation at a distance
not only from the university and what is likely its slow-motion, or sudden,
collapse, but also from an entire imaginary inherited from the workers
movement: the task of a future social emancipation and vectors and forms of
struggle such a task implies. Perhaps what is required is not to put off
equality for the future, but presuppose the common, to affirm that commons as
a fact, a given, which must nevertheless be verified, created, not by a social
body, not by a collective force, but a power of the common, now.

School is not University. Neither is it Academy or College or even Institute.
We are all familiar with the common meaning of the word: it is a place for
learning. In another sense, it also refers to organized education in general,
which is made most clear by the decision to leave, to “drop out of school”.
Alongside these two stable, almost architectural definitions, the word
gestures to composition and movement—the school of bodies, moving
independently, together; the school only exists as long as that collective
movement does. The school takes shape in this oscillation between form and
formlessness, not through the act of constructing a wall but by the process of
realizing its boundary through practice.

Perhaps this is a way to think of how to develop what Felix Guattari called
“the associative sector” in 1982: “everything that isn’t the state, or private
capital, or even cooperatives”3. At first gloss, the associative sector is
only a name for the remainder, the already outside; but, in the language of a
school, it is a constellation of relationships, affinities, new
subjectivities, and movements, flickering into existence through life and use,
An “engaged withdrawal” that simultaneously creates an exit and institutes in
the act of passing through. Which itself might bring us back to school, to the
Greek etymology of school, skhole, “a holding back”, a “keeping clear” of
space for reflective distance. On the one hand, perhaps this reflective space
simply allows theoretical knowledge to shape or affect performative action;
but on the other hand, the production of this “clearing” is not given,
certainly not now and certainly not by the institutions that claim to give it.
Reflective space is not the precondition for performative action. On the
contrary; performative action is the precondition for reflective space—or,
more appropriately, space and action must be coproduced.

Is the University even worth “saving”? We are right to respond with
indignation, or better, with an array of tactics—some procedural, some more
“direct”—against these incursions, which always seem to authorize themselves
by appeals to economic austerity, budget shortfalls, and tightened belts.
Perhaps what is being destroyed in this process is the very notion of the
public sphere itself, a notion that. It is easy to succumb to the illusion
that the only possible result of this destruction of the figure of the public
is privatization. But what if the figure of the public was to be set off
against not only the private and property relations, but against a figure of
the “common” as well? What if, in other words, the notion of the public has
always been an unstable, mediating term between privatization and
communization, and what if the withering of this mediation left these two
process openly at odds with each other? Perhaps, then, it is not simply a
question of saving a university and, more broadly, a public space that is
already withering away; maybe our energies and our intelligence, our
collective or common intellectual forces, should be devoted to organizing and
articulating just this sort of counter-transition, at a distance from the
public and the private.

## Authorship and new forms of knowledge

For decades we have spoken about the “death of the author”. The most sustained
critiques of authorship have been made from the spheres of art and education,
but not coincidentally, these spheres have the most invested in the notion.
Credit and accreditation are the mechanisms for attaching symbolic capital to
individuals via degrees and other lines on CVs. The curriculum vitæ is an
inverted credit report, evidence of underpaid work, kept orderly with an
expectation of some future return.

All of this work, this self-documentation, this fidelity between ourselves and
our papers, is for what, for whom? And what is the consequence of a world
where every person is armed with their vitæ, other than “the war of all
against all?” It’s that sensation that there are no teams but everyone has got
their own jersey.

The idea behind the project The Public School is to teach each other in a very
horizontal way. No curriculum, no hierarchy. But is The Public School able to
produce new knowledge and new content by itself? Can the The Public School
become a sort of autonomous collective author? Or, is The Public School just
about exchanges and social networking?

In the recent history of university struggles, some collectives started to
refresh the idea of coresearch; a form of knowledge that can produce new
subjectivities by researching. New subjectivities that produce new knowledge
and new knowledge that produces new subjectivities If knowledge comes only
from conflict, knowledge goes back to conflict in order to produce new
autonomy and subjectivities.

### The Public School

Sean Dockray, Matteo Pasquinelli, Jason Smith and Caleb Waldorf are founding
members of and collaborators at The Public School. Initiated in 2007 under
Telic Arts Exchange (literally in the basement) in Los Angeles, The Public
School is a school with no curriculum. At the moment, it operates as follows:
first, classes are proposed by the public; then, people have the opportunity
to sign up for the classes; finally, when enough people have expressed
interest, the school finds a teacher and offers the class to those who signed
up. The Public School is not accredited, it does not give out degrees, and it
has no affiliation with the public school system. It is a framework that
supports autodidactic activities, operating under the assumption that
everything is in everything. The Public School currently exists in Los
Angeles, New York, Berlin, Brussels, Helsinki, Philadelphia, Durham, San Juan,
and is still expanding.

tactics in Fuller & Dockray 2011

Fuller & Dockray
In the Paradise of Too Many Books An Interview with Sean Dockray

# In the Paradise of Too Many Books: An Interview with Sean Dockray

By Matthew Fuller, 4 May 2011

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If the appetite to read comes with reading, then open text archive Aaaaarg.org
is a great place to stimulate and sate your hunger. Here, Matthew Fuller talks
to long-term observer Sean Dockray about the behaviour of text and
bibliophiles in a text-circulation network

Sean Dockray is an artist and a member of the organising group for the LA
branch of The Public School, a geographically distributed and online platform
for the self-organisation of learning.1 Since its initiation by Telic Arts, an
organisation which Sean directs, The Public School has also been taken up as a
model in a number of cities in the USA and Europe.2

We met to discuss the growing phenomenon of text-sharing. Aaaaarg.org has
developed over the last few years as a crucial site for the sharing and
discussion of texts drawn from cultural theory, politics, philosophy, art and
related areas. Part of this discussion is about the circulation of texts,
scanned and uploaded to other sites that it provides links to. Since
participants in The Public School often draw from the uploads to form readers
or anthologies for specific classes or events series, this project provides a
useful perspective from which to talk about the nature of text in the present

**Sean Dockray** **:** People usually talk about three key actors in
discussions about publishing, which all play fairly understandable roles:
readers; publishers; and authors.

**Matthew Fuller:** Perhaps it could be said that Aaaaarg.org suggests some
other actors that are necessary for a real culture of text; firstly that books
also have some specific kind of activity to themselves, even if in many cases
it is only a latent quality, of storage, of lying in wait and, secondly, that
within the site, there is also this other kind of work done, that of the
public reception and digestion, the response to the texts, their milieu, which
involves other texts, but also systems and organisations, and platforms, such
as Aaaaarg.


Image: A young Roland Barthes, with space on his bookshelf

**SD:** Where even the three actors aren't stable! The people that are using
the site are fulfilling some role that usually the publisher has been doing or
ought to be doing, like marketing or circulation.

**MF:** Well it needn't be seen as promotion necessarily. There's also this
kind of secondary work with critics, reviewers and so on - which we can say is
also taken on by universities, for instance, and reading groups, magazines,
reviews - that gives an additional life to the text or brings it particular
kinds of attention, certain kind of readerliness.

**SD:** Situates it within certain discourses, makes it intelligible in a way,
in a different way.

**MF:** Yes, exactly, there's this other category of life to the book, which
is that of the kind of milieu or the organisational structure in which it
circulates and the different kind of networks of reference that it implies and
generates. Then there's also the book itself, which has some kind of agency,
or at least resilience and salience, when you think about how certain books
have different life cycles of appearance and disappearance.

**SD:** Well, in a contemporary sense, you have something like _Nights of
Labour_ , by Ranci _è_ re - which is probably going to be republished or
reprinted imminently - but has been sort of invisible, out of print, until, by
surprise, it becomes much more visible within the art world or something.

**MF:** And it's also been interesting to see how the art world plays a role
in the reverberations of text which isn't the same as that in cultural theory
or philosophy. Certainly _Nights of Labour_ , something that is very close to
the role that cultural studies plays in the UK, but which (cultural studies)
has no real equivalent in France, so then, geographically and linguistically,
and therefore also in a certain sense conceptually, the life of a book
exhibits these weird delays and lags and accelerations, so that's a good
example. I'm interested in what role Aaaaarg plays in that kind of
proliferation, the kind of things that books do, where they go and how they
become manifest. So I think one of the things Aaaaarg does is to make books
active in different ways, to bring out a different kind of potential in

**SD:** Yes, the debate has tended so far to get stuck in those three actors
because people tend to end up picking a pair and placing them in opposition to
one another, especially around intellectual property. The discussion is very
simplistic and ends up in that way, where it's the authors against readers, or
authors against their publishers, with the publishers often introducing
scarcity, where the authors don't want it to be - that's a common argument.
There's this situation where the record industry is suing its own audience.
That's typically the field now.

**MF:** So within that kind of discourse of these three figures, have there
been cases where you think it's valid that there needs to be some form of
scarcity in order for a publishing project to exist?

**SD:** It's obviously not for me to say that there does or doesn't need to be
scarcity but the scarcity that I think we're talking about functions in a
really specific way: it's usually within academic publishing, the book or
journal is being distributed to a few libraries and maybe 500 copies of it are
being printed, and then the price is something anywhere from $60 to $500, and
there's just sort of an assumption that the audience is very well defined and
stable and able to cope with that.

**MF:** Yeah, which recognises that the audiences may be stable as an
institutional form, but not that over time the individual parts of say that
library user population change in their relationship to the institution. If
you're a student for a few years and then you no longer have access, you lose
contact with that intellectual community...

**SD:** Then people just kind of have to cling to that intellectual community.
So when scarcity functions like that, I can't think of any reason why that
_needs_ to happen. Obviously it needs to happen in the sense that there's a
relatively stable balance that wants to perpetuate itself, but what you're
asking is something else.

**MF:** Well there are contexts where the publisher isn't within that academic
system of very high costs, sustained by volunteer labour by academics, the
classic peer review system, but if you think of more of a trade publisher like
a left or a movement or underground publisher, whose books are being
circulated on Aaaaarg...

**SD:** They're in a much more precarious position obviously than a university
press whose economics are quite different, and with the volunteer labour or
the authors are being subsidised by salary - you have to look at the entire
system rather than just the publication. But in a situation where the
publisher is much more precarious and relying on sales and a swing in one
direction or another makes them unable to pay the rent on a storage facility,
one can definitely see why some sort of predictability is helpful and

**MF:** So that leads me to wonder whether there are models of publishing that
are emerging that work with online distribution, or with the kind of thing
that Aaaaarg does specifically. Are there particular kinds of publishing
initiatives that really work well in this kind of context where free digital
circulation is understood as an a priori, or is it always in this kind of
parasitic or cyclical relationship?

**SD:** I have no idea how well they work actually; I don't know how well,
say, Australian publisher re.press, works for example. 3 I like a lot of what
they publish, it's given visibility when re.press distributes it and that's a
lot of what a publisher's role seems to be (and what Aaaaarg does as well).
But are you asking how well it works in terms of economics?

**MF:** Well, just whether there's new forms of publishing emerging that work
well in this context that cut out some of the problems ?

**SD:** Well, there's also the blog. Certain academic discourses, philosophy
being one, that are carried out on blogs really work to a certain extent, in
that there is an immediacy to ideas, their reception and response. But there's
other problems, such as the way in which, over time, the posts quickly get
forgotten. In this sense, a publication, a book, is kind of nice. It
crystallises and stays around.

**MF:** That's what I'm thinking, that the book is a particular kind of thing
which has it's own quality as a form of media. I also wonder whether there
might be intermediate texts, unfinished texts, draft texts that might
circulate via Aaaaarg for instance or other systems. That, at least to me,
would be kind of unsatisfactory but might have some other kind of life and
readership to it. You know, as you say, the blog is a collection of relatively
occasional texts, or texts that are a work in progress, but something like
Aaaaarg perhaps depends upon texts that are finished, that are absolutely the
crystallisation of a particular thought.


Image: The Tree of Knowledge as imagined by Hans Sebald Beham in his 1543
engraving _Adam and Eve_

**SD:** Aaaaarg is definitely not a futuristic model. I mean, it occurs at a
specific time, which is while we're living in a situation where books exist
effectively as a limited edition. They can travel the world and reach certain
places, and yet the readership is greatly outpacing the spread and
availability of the books themselves. So there's a disjunction there, and
that's obviously why Aaaaarg is so popular. Because often there are maybe no
copies of a certain book within 400 miles of a person that's looking for it,
but then they can find it on that website, so while we're in that situation it

**MF:** So it's partly based on a kind of asymmetry, that's spatial, that's
about the territories of publishers and distributors, and also a kind of
asymmetry of economics?

**SD:** Yeah, yeah. But others too. I remember when I was affiliated with a
university and I had JSTOR access and all these things and then I left my job
and then at some point not too long after that my proxy access expired and I
no longer had access to those articles which now would cost $30 a pop just to
even preview. That's obviously another asymmetry, even though, geographically
speaking, I'm in an identical position, just that my subject position has
shifted from affiliated to unaffiliated.

**MF:** There's also this interesting way in which Aaaaarg has gained
different constituencies globally, you can see the kind of shift in the texts
being put up. It seems to me anyway there are more texts coming from non-
western authors. This kind of asymmetry generates a flux. We're getting new
alliances between texts and you can see new bibliographies emerge.

**SD:** Yeah, the original community was very American and European and
gradually people were signing up at other places in order to have access to a
lot of these texts that didn't reach their libraries or their book stores or
whatever. But then there is a danger of US and European thought becoming
central. A globalisation where a certain mode of thought ends up just erasing
what's going on already in the cities where people are signing up, that's a
horrible possible future.

**MF:** But that's already something that's _not_ happening in some ways?

**SD:** Exactly, that's what seems to be happening now. It goes on to
translations that are being put up and then texts that are coming from outside
of the set of US and western authors and so, in a way, it flows back in the
other direction. This hasn't always been so visible, maybe it will begin to
happen some more. But think of the way people can list different texts
together as ‘issues' - a way that you can make arbitrary groupings - and
they're very subjective, you can make an issue named anything and just lump a
bunch of texts in there. But because, with each text, you can see what other
issues people have also put it in, it creates a trace of its use. You can see
that sometimes the issues are named after the reading groups, people are using
the issues format as a collecting tool, they might gather all Portuguese
translations, or The Public School uses them for classes. At other times it's
just one person organising their dissertation research but you see the wildly
different ways that one individual text can be used.

**MF:** So the issue creates a new form of paratext to the text, acting as a
kind of meta-index, they're a new form of publication themselves. To publish a
bibliography that actively links to the text itself is pretty cool. That also
makes me think within the structures of Aaaaarg it seems that certain parts of
the library are almost at breaking point - for instance the alphabetical

**SD:** Which is funny because it hasn't always been that alphabetical
structure either, it used to just be everything on one page, and then at some
point it was just taking too long for the page to load up A-Z. And today A is
as long as the entire index used to be, so yeah these questions of density and
scale are there but they've always been dealt with in a very ad hoc kind of
way, dealing with problems as they come. I'm sure that will happen. There
hasn't always been a search and, in a way, the issues, along with
alphabetising, became ways of creating more manageable lists, but even now the
list of issues is gigantic. These are problems of scale.

**MF:** So I guess there's also this kind of question that emerges in the
debate on reading habits and reading practices, this question of the breadth
of reading that people are engaging in. Do you see anything emerging in
Aaaaarg that suggests a new consistency of handling reading material? Is there
a specific quality, say, of the issues? For instance, some of them seem quite
focused, and others are very broad. They may provide insights into how new
forms of relationships to intellectual material may be emerging that we don't
quite yet know how to handle or recognise. This may be related to the lament
for the classic disciplinary road of deep reading of specific materials with a
relatively focused footprint whereas, it is argued, the net is encouraging a
much wider kind of sampling of materials with not necessarily so much depth.

**SD:** It's partially driven by people simply being in the system, in the
same way that the library structures our relationship to text, the net does it
in another way. One comment I've heard is that there's too much stuff on
Aaaaarg, which wasn't always the case. It used to be that I read every single
thing that was posted because it was slow enough and the things were short
enough that my response was, ‘Oh something new, great!' and I would read it.
But now, obviously that is totally impossible, there's too much; but in a way
that's just the state of things. It does seem like certain tactics of making
sense of things, of keeping things away and letting things in and queuing
things for reading later become just a necessary part of even navigating. It's
just the terrain at the moment, but this is only one instance. Even when I was
at the university and going to libraries, I ended up with huge stacks of books
and I'd just buy books that I was never going to read just to have them
available in my library, so I don't think feeling overwhelmed by books is
particularly new, just maybe the scale of it is. In terms of how people
actually conduct themselves and deal with that reality, it's difficult to say.
I think the issues are one of the few places where you would see any sort of
visible answers on Aaaaarg, otherwise it's totally anecdotal. At The Public
School we have organised classes in relationship to some of the issues, and
then we use the classes to also figure out what texts we are going to be
reading in the future, to make new issues and new classes. So it becomes an
organising group, reading and working its way through subject matter and
material, then revisiting that library and seeing what needs to be there.

**MF:** I want to follow that kind of strand of habits of accumulation,
sorting, deferring and so on. I wonder, what is a kind of characteristic or
unusual reading behavior? For instance are there people who download the
entire list? Or do you see people being relatively selective? How does the
mania of the net, with this constant churning of data, map over to forms of

**SD:** Well, in Aaaaarg it's again very specific. Anecdotally again, I have
heard from people how much they download and sometimes they're very selective,
they just see something that's interesting and download it, other times they
download everything and occasionally I hear about this mania of mirroring the
whole site. What I mean about being specific to Aaaaarg is that a lot of the
mania isn't driven by just the need to have everything; it's driven by the
acknowledgement that the source is going to disappear at some point. That
sense of impending disappearance is always there, so I think that drives a lot
of people to download everything because, you know, it's happened a couple
times where it's just gone down or moved or something like that.

**MF:** It's true, it feels like something that is there even for a few weeks
or a few months. By a sheer fluke it could last another year, who knows.

**SD:** It's a different kind of mania, and usually we get lost in this
thinking that people need to possess everything but there is this weird
preservation instinct that people have, which is slightly different. The
dominant sensibility of Aaaaarg at the beginning was the highly partial and
subjective nature to the contents and that is something I would want to
preserve, which is why I never thought it to be particularly exciting to have
lots of high quality metadata - it doesn't have the publication date, it
doesn't have all the great metadata that say Amazon might provide. The system
is pretty dismal in that way, but I don't mind that so much. I read something
on the Internet which said it was like being in the porn section of a video
store with all black text on white labels, it was an absolutely beautiful way
of describing it. Originally Aaaaarg was about trading just those particular
moments in a text that really struck you as important, that you wanted other
people to read so it would be very short, definitely partial, it wasn't a
completist project, although some people maybe treat it in that way now. They
treat it as a thing that wants to devour everything. That's definitely not the
way that I have seen it.

**MF:** And it's so idiosyncratic I mean, you know it's certainly possible
that it could be read in a canonical mode, you can see that there's that
tendency there, of the core of Adorno or Agamben, to take the a's for
instance. But of the more contemporary stuff it's very varied, that's what's
nice about it as well. Alongside all the stuff that has a very long-term
existence, like historical books that may be over a hundred years old, what
turns up there is often unexpected, but certainly not random or


Image: French art historian André Malraux lays out his _Musée Imaginaire_ ,

**SD:** It's interesting to think a little bit about what people choose to
upload, because it's not easy to upload something. It takes a good deal of
time to scan a book. I mean obviously some things are uploaded which are, have
always been, digital. (I wrote something about this recently about the scan
and the export - the scan being something that comes out of a labour in
relationship to an object, to the book, and the export is something where the
whole life of the text has sort of been digital from production to circulation
and reception). I happen to think of Aaaaarg in the realm of the scan and the
bootleg. When someone actually scans something they're potentially spending
hours because they're doing the work on the book they're doing something with
software, they're uploading.

**MF:** Aaaarg hasn't introduced file quality thresholds either.

**SD:** No, definitely not. Where would that go?

**MF:** You could say with PDFs they have to be searchable texts?

**SD:** I'm sure a lot of people would prefer that. Even I would prefer it a
lot of the time. But again there is the idiosyncratic nature of what appears,
and there is also the idiosyncratic nature of the technical quality and
sometimes it's clear that the person that uploads something just has no real
experience of scanning anything. It's kind of an inevitable outcome. There are
movie sharing sites that are really good about quality control both in the
metadata and what gets up; but I think that if you follow that to the end,
then basically you arrive at the exported version being the Platonic text, the
impossible, perfect, clear, searchable, small - totally eliminating any trace
of what is interesting, the hand of reading and scanning, and this is what you
see with a lot of the texts on Aaaaarg. You see the hand of the person who's
read that book in the past, you see the hand of the person who scanned it.
Literally, their hand is in the scan. This attention to the labour of both
reading and redistributing, it's important to still have that.

**MF:** You could also find that in different ways for instance with a pdf, a
pdf that was bought directly as an ebook that's digitally watermarked will
have traces of the purchaser coded in there. So then there's also this work of
stripping out that data which will become a new kind of labour. So it doesn't
have this kind of humanistic refrain, the actual hand, the touch of the
labour. This is perhaps more interesting, the work of the code that strips it
out, so it's also kind of recognising that code as part of the milieu.

**SD:** Yeah, that is a good point, although I don't know that it's more
interesting labour.

**MF:** On a related note, The Public School as a model is interesting in that
it's kind of a convention, it has a set of rules, an infrastructure, a
website, it has a very modular being. Participants operate with a simple
organisational grammar which allows them to say ‘I want to learn this' or ‘I
want to teach this' and to draw in others on that basis. There's lots of
proposals for classes, some of them don't get taken up, but it's a process and
a set of resources which allow this aggregation of interest to occur. I just
wonder how you saw that kind of ethos of modularity in a way, as a set of
minimum rules or set of minimum capacities that allow a particular set of
things occur?

**SD:** This may not respond directly to what you were just talking about, but
there's various points of entry to the school and also having something that
people feel they can take on as their own and I think the minimal structure
invites quite a lot of projection as to what that means and what's possible
with it. If it's not doing what you want it to do or you think, ‘I'm not sure
what it is', there's the sense that you can somehow redirect it.

**MF:** It's also interesting that projection itself can become a technical
feature so in a way the work of the imagination is done also through this kind
of tuning of the software structure. The governance that was handled by the
technical infrastructure actually elicits this kind of projection, elicits the
imagination in an interesting way.

**SD:** Yeah, yeah, I totally agree and, not to put too much emphasis on the
software, although I think that there's good reason to look at both the
software and the conceptual diagram of the school itself, but really in a way
it would grind to a halt if it weren't for the very traditional labour of
people - like an organising committee. In LA there's usually around eight of
us (now Jordan Biren, Solomon Bothwell, Vladada Gallegos, Liz Glynn, Naoko
Miyano, Caleb Waldorf, and me) who are deeply involved in making that
translation of these wishes - thrown onto the website that somehow attract the
other people - into actual classes.

**MF:** What does the committee do?

**SD:** Even that's hard to describe and that's what makes it hard to set up.
It's always very particular to even a single idea, to a single class proposal.
In general it'd be things like scheduling, finding an instructor if an
instructor is what's required for that class. Sometimes it's more about
finding someone who will facilitate, other times it's rounding up materials.
But it could be helping an open proposal take some specific form. Sometimes
it's scanning things and putting them on Aaaaarg. Sometimes, there will be a
proposal - I proposed a class in the very, very beginning on messianic time, I
wanted to take a class on it - and it didn't happen until more than a year and
a half later.

**MF:** Well that's messianic time for you.

**SD:** That and the internet. But other times it will be only a week later.
You know we did one on the Egyptian revolution and its historical context,
something which demanded a very quick turnaround. Sometimes the committee is
going to classes and there will be a new conflict that arises within a class,
that they then redirect into the website for a future proposal, which becomes
another class: a point of friction where it's not just like next, and next,
and next, but rather it's a knot that people can't quite untie, something that
you want to spend more time with, but you may want to move on to other things
immediately, so instead you postpone that to the next class. A lot of The
Public School works like that: it's finding momentum then following it. A lot
of our classes are quite short, but we try and string them together. The
committee are the ones that orchestrate that. In terms of governance, it is
run collectively, although with the committee, every few months people drop
off and new people come on. There are some people who've been on for years.
Other people who stay on just for that point of time that feels right for
them. Usually, people come on to the committee because they come to a lot of
classes, they start to take an interest in the project and before they know it
they're administering it.

**Matthew Fuller's <[m.fuller@gold.ac.uk](mailto:m.fuller@gold.ac.uk)> most
recent book, _Elephant and Castle_ , is forthcoming from Autonomedia. **

**He is collated at**



2 [http://telic.info/ ](http://telic.info/)


tactics in Graziano 2018

Pirate Care: How do we imagine the health care for the future we want?

Pirate Care - How do we imagine the health care for the future we want?

Oct 5, 2018 · 19 min read

by Valeria Graziano

A recent trend to reimagine the systems of care for the future is based on many of the principles of self-organization. From the passive figure of the patient — an aptly named subject, patiently awaiting aid from medical staff and carers — researchers and policymakers are moving towards a model defined as people-powered health — where care is discussed as transforming from a top-down service to a network of coordinated actors.

At the same time, for large numbers of people, to self-organize around their own healthcare needs is not a matter of predilection, but increasingly one of necessity. In Greece, where the measures imposed by the Troika decimated public services, a growing number of grassroots clinics set up by the Solidarity Movement have been providing medical attention to those without a private insurance. In Italy, initiatives such as the Ambulatorio Medico Popolare in Milan offer free consultations to migrants and other vulnerable citizens.

The new characteristic in all of these cases is the fact that they frame what they do in clearly political terms, rejecting or sidestepping the more neutral ways in which the third sector and the NGOs have long presented care practices as apolitical, as ways to help out that should never ask questions bigger than the problems they set out to confront, and as standing beyond left and right (often for the sake of not alienating potential donors and funders).

Rather, the current trends towards self-organization in health care are very vocal and clear in their messages: the care system is in crisis, and we need to learn from what we know already. One thing we know is that the market or the financialization of assets cannot be the solution (do you remember when just a few years ago Occupy was buying back healthcare debts from financial speculators, thus saving thousands Americans from dire economic circumstances? Or that scene from Michael Moore’s Sicko, the documentary where a guy has to choose which finger to have amputated because he does not have enough cash for saving both?).

Another thing we also know is that we cannot simply hold on to past models of managing the public sector, as most national healthcare systems were built for the needs of the last century. Administrations have been struggling to adapt to the changing nature of health conditions (moving from a predominance of epidemic to chronic diseases) and the different needs of today’s populations. And finally, we most definitely know that to go back to even more conservative ideas that frame care as a private issue that should fall on the shoulders of family members (and most often, of female relatives) or hired servants (also gendered and racialised) is not the best we can come up with.

Among the many initiatives that are rethinking how we organize the provision of health and care in ways that are accessible, fair, and efficient, there are a number of actors — mostly small organizations — who are experimenting with the opportunities introduced by digital technologies. While many charities and NGOs remain largely ignorant of the opportunities offered by technology, these new actors are developing DIY devices, wearables, 3D-printed bespoke components, apps and smart objects to intervene in areas otherwise neglected by the bigger players in the care system. These practices are presenting a new mode of operating that I want to call ‘pirate care’.
Pirate Care

Piracy and Care are not always immediately relatable notions. The figure of the pirate in popular and media cultures is often associated with cunning intelligence and masculine modes of action, of people running servers which are allowing people to illegally download music or movie files. One of the very first organizations that articulated the stakes of sharing knowledge was actually named Piratbyrån. “When you pirate mp3s, you are downloading communism” was a popular motto at the time. And yet, bringing the idea of a pirate ethics into resonance with contemporary modes of care invites a different consideration for practices that propose a paradigm change and therefore inevitably position themselves in tricky positions vis-à-vis the law and the status quo. I have been noticing for a while now that another kind of contemporary pirate is coming to the fore in our messy society in the midst of many crises. This new kind of pirate could be best captured by another image: this time it is a woman, standing on the dock of a boat sailing through the Caribbean sea towards the Mexican Gulf, about to deliver abortion pills to other women for whom this option is illegal in their country.

Women on Waves, founded in 1999, engages in its abortion-on-boat missions every couple of years. They are mostly symbolic actions, as they are rather expensive operations, and yet they are potent means for stirring public debate and have often been met with hostility — even military fleets. So far, they have visited seven countries so far, including Mexico, Guatemala and, more recently, Ireland and Poland, where feminists movements have been mobilizing in huge numbers to reclaim reproductive rights.

According to official statistics, more than 47,000 women die every year from complications resulting from illegal, unsafe abortion procedures, a service used by over 21 million women who do not have another choice. As Leticia Zenevich, spokesperson of Women on Waves, told HuffPost: “The fact that women need to leave the state sovereignty to retain their own sovereignty ― it makes clear states are deliberately stopping women from accessing their human right to health.” Besides the boat campaigns, the organization also runs Women on Web, an online medical abortion service active since 2005. The service is active in 17 languages, and it is helping more than 100,000 women per year to get information and access abortion pills. More recently, Women on Waves also begun experimenting with the use of drones to deliver the pills in countries impacted by restrictive laws (such as Poland in 2015 and Northern Ireland in 2016).

Women on Waves are the perfect figure to begin to illustrate my idea of ‘pirate care’. By this term I want to bring attention to an emergent phenomenon in the contemporary world, where more and more often initiatives that want to bring support and care to the most vulnerable subjects in the most unstable situations, increasingly have to do so by operating in that grey zone that exists between the gaps left open by various rules, laws and technologies. Some thrive in this shadow area, carefully avoiding calling attention to themselves for fear of attracting ferocious polemics and the trolling that inevitably accompanies them. In other cases, care practices that were previously considered the norm have now been pushed towards illegality.

Consider for instance the situation highlighted by the Docs Not Cops campaign that started in the UK four years ago, when the government had just introduced its ‘hostile environment’ policy with the aim to make everyday life as hard as possible for migrants with an irregular status. Suddenly, medical staff in hospitals and other care facilities were supposed to carry out document checks before being allowed to offer any assistance. Their mobilization denounced the policy as an abuse of mandate on the part of the Home Office and a threat to public health, given that it effectively discouraged patients to seek help for fear of retaliations. Another sadly famous example of this trend of pushing many acts of care towards illegality would the straitjacketing and criminalization of migrant rescuing NGOs in the Mediterranean on the part of various European countries, a policy led by Italian government. Yet another example would be the increasing number of municipal decrees that make it a crime to offer food, money or shelter to the homeless in many cities in North America and Europe.
Hacker Ethics

This scenario reminds us of the tragic story of Antigone and the age-old question of what to do when the relationship between what the law says and one what feels it is just becomes fraught with tensions and contradictions. Here, the second meaning of ‘pirate care’ becomes apparent as it points to the way in which a number of initiatives have been responding to the current crisis by mobilizing tactics and ethics as first developed within the hacker movement.

As described by Steven Levy in Hackers, the general principles of a hacker ethic include sharing, openness, decentralization, free access to knowledge and tools, and an effort of contributing to society’s democratic wellbeing. To which we could add, following Richard Stallman, founder of the free software movement, that “bureaucracy should not be allowed to get in the way of doing anything useful.” While here Stallman was reflecting on the experience of the M.I.T. AI Lab in 1971, his critique of bureaucracy captures well a specific trait of the techno-political nexus that is also shaping the present moment: as more technologies come to mediate everyday interactions, they are also reshaping the very structure of the institutions and organizations we inhabit, so that our lives are increasingly formatted to meet the requirements of an unprecedented number of standardised procedures, compulsory protocols, and legal obligations.

According to anthropologists David Graeber, we are living in an era of “total bureaucratization”. But while contemporary populism often presents bureaucracy as a problem of the public sector, implicitly suggesting “the market” to be the solution, Graeber’s study highlights how historically all so-called “free markets” have actually been made possible through the strict enforcement of state regulations. Since the birth of the modern corporation in 19th century America, “bureaucratic techniques (performance reviews, focus groups, time allocation surveys …) developed in financial and corporate circles came to invade the rest of society — education, science, government — and eventually, to pervade almost every aspect of everyday life.”
The forceps and the speculum

And thus, in resonance with the tradition of hacker ethics, a number of ‘pirate care’ practices are intervening in reshaping what looking after our collective health will look like in the future. CADUS, for example, is a Berlin based NGO which has recently set up a Crisis Response Makerspace to build open and affordable medical equipment specifically designed to bring assistance in extreme crisis zones where not many other organizations would venture, such as Syria and Northern Iraq. After donating their first mobile hospital to the Kurdish Red Crescent last year, CADUS is now working to develop a second version, in a container this time, able to be deployed in conflict zones deprived of any infrastructure, and a civil airdrop system to deliver food and medical equipment as fast as possible. The fact that CADUS adopted the formula of the makerspace to invent open emergency solutions that no private company would be interested in developing is not a coincidence, but emerges from a precise vision of how healthcare innovations should be produced and disseminated, and not only for extreme situations.

“Open source is the only way for medicine” — says Marcus Baw of Open Health Hub — as “medical software now is medicine”. Baw has been involved in another example of ‘pirate care’ in the UK, founding a number of initiatives to promote the adoption of open standards, open source code, and open governance in Health IT. The NHS spends about £500 million each time it refreshes Windows licenses, and aside from avoiding the high costs, an open source GP clinical system would be the only way to address the pressing ethical issue facing contemporary medicine: as software and technology become more and more part of the practice of medicine itself, they need to be subject to peer-review and scrutiny to assess their clinical safety. Moreover, that if such solutions are found to be effective and safe lives, it is the duty of all healthcare practitioners to share their knowledge with the rest of humanity, as per the Hippocratic Oath. To illustrate what happens when medical innovations are kept secret, Baw shares the story of the Chamberlen family of obstetricians, who kept the invention of the obstetric forceps, a family trade secret for over 150 years, using the tool only to treat their elite clientele of royals and aristocracy. As a result, thousands of mothers and babies likely died in preventable circumstances.

It is perhaps significant that such a sad historical example of the consequences ofclosed medicine must come from the field of gynaecology, one of the most politically charged areas of medical specialization to this day. So much so that last year another collective of ‘pirate carers’ named GynePunk developed a biolab toolkit for emergency gynaecological care, to allow those excluded from the reproductive healthcare — undocumented migrants, trans and queer women, drug users and sex workers — to perform basic checks on their own bodily fluids. Their prototypes include a centrifuge, a microscope and an incubator that can be cheaply realised by repurposing components of everyday items such as DVD players and computer fans, or by digital fabrication. In 2015, GynePunk also developed a 3D-printable speculum and — who knows? — perhaps their next project might include a pair of forceps…

As the ‘pirate care’ approach keeps proliferating more and more, its tools and modes of organizing is keeping alive a horizon in which healthcare is not de facto reduced to a privilege.

PS. This article was written before the announcement of the launch of Mediterranea, which we believe to be another important example of pirate care. #piratecare #abbiamounanave

tactics in Graziano, Mars & Medak 2019

Graziano, Mars & Medak
Learning from #Syllabus






The syllabus is the manifesto of the 21st century.
—Sean Dockray and Benjamin Forster1
#Syllabus Struggles
In August 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old boy living in Ferguson, Missouri,
was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson. Soon after, as the civil protests denouncing police brutality and institutional racism began to mount across the United
States, Dr. Marcia Chatelain, Associate Professor of History and African American
Studies at Georgetown University, launched an online call urging other academics
and teachers ‘to devote the first day of classes to a conversation about Ferguson’ and ‘to recommend texts, collaborate on conversation starters, and inspire
dialogue about some aspect of the Ferguson crisis.’2 Chatelain did so using the
hashtag #FergusonSyllabus.
Also in August 2014, using the hashtag #gamergate, groups of users on 4Chan,
8Chan, Twitter, and Reddit instigated a misogynistic harassment campaign against
game developers Zoë Quinn and Brianna Wu, media critic Anita Sarkeesian, as well as
a number of other female and feminist game producers, journalists, and critics. In the
following weeks, The New Inquiry editors and contributors compiled a reading list and
issued a call for suggestions for their ‘TNI Syllabus: Gaming and Feminism’.3
In June 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United
States. In the weeks that followed, he became the presumptive Republican nominee,
and The Chronicle of Higher Education introduced the syllabus ‘Trump 101’.4 Historians N.D.B. Connolly and Keisha N. Blain found ‘Trump 101’ inadequate, ‘a mock college syllabus […] suffer[ing] from a number of egregious omissions and inaccuracies’,
failing to include ‘contributions of scholars of color and address the critical subjects
of Trump’s racism, sexism, and xenophobia’. They assembled ‘Trump Syllabus 2.0’.5
Soon after, in response to a video in which Trump engaged in ‘an extremely lewd
conversation about women’ with TV host Billy Bush, Laura Ciolkowski put together a
‘Rape Culture Syllabus’.6


Sean Dockray, Benjamin Forster, and Public Office, ‘README.md’, Hyperreadings, 15 February
2018, https://samiz-dat.github.io/hyperreadings/.
Marcia Chatelain, ‘Teaching the #FergusonSyllabus’, Dissent Magazine, 28 November 2014,
‘TNI Syllabus: Gaming and Feminism’, The New Inquiry, 2 September 2014, https://thenewinquiry.
‘Trump 101’, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 June 2016, https://www.chronicle.com/article/
N.D.B. Connolly and Keisha N. Blain, ‘Trump Syllabus 2.0’, Public Books, 28 June 2016, https://
Laura Ciolkowski, ‘Rape Culture Syllabus’, Public Books, 15 October 2016, https://www.



In April 2016, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe established the Sacred Stone
Camp and started the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the construction of
which threatened the only water supply at the Standing Rock Reservation. The protest at the site of the pipeline became the largest gathering of native Americans in
the last 100 years and they earned significant international support for their ReZpect
Our Water campaign. As the struggle between protestors and the armed forces unfolded, a group of Indigenous scholars, activists, and supporters of the struggles of
First Nations people and persons of color, gathered under the name the NYC Stands
for Standing Rock Committee, put together #StandingRockSyllabus.7
The list of online syllabi created in response to political struggles has continued to
grow, and at present includes many more examples:
All Monuments Must Fall Syllabus
Puerto Rico Syllabus (#PRSyllabus)
Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves
Syllabus: Women and Gender Non-Conforming People Writing about Tech
What To Do Instead of Calling the Police: A Guide, A Syllabus, A Conversation, A
It would be hard to compile a comprehensive list of all the online syllabi that have
been created by social justice movements in the last five years, especially, but not
exclusively, those initiated in North America in the context of feminist and anti-racist
activism. In what is now a widely spread phenomenon, these political struggles use
social networks and resort to the hashtag template ‘#___Syllabus’ to issue calls for
the bottom-up aggregation of resources necessary for political analysis and pedagogy
centering on their concerns. For this reason, we’ll call this phenomenon ‘#Syllabus’.
During the same years that saw the spread of the #Syllabus phenomenon, university
course syllabi have also been transitioning online, often in a top-down process initiated
by academic institutions, which has seen the syllabus become a contested document
in the midst of increasing casualization of teaching labor, expansion of copyright protections, and technology-driven marketization of education.
In what follows, we retrace the development of the online syllabus in both of these
contexts, to investigate the politics enmeshed in this new media object. Our argument


‘#StandingRockSyllabus’, NYC Stands with Standing Rock, 11 October 2016, https://



is that, on the one hand, #Syllabus names the problem of contemporary political culture as pedagogical in nature, while, on the other hand, it also exposes academicized
critical pedagogy and intellectuality as insufficiently political in their relation to lived
social reality. Situating our own stakes as both activists and academics in the present
debate, we explore some ways in which the radical politics of #Syllabus could be supported to grow and develop as an articulation of solidarity between amateur librarians
and radical educators.
#Syllabus in Historical Context: Social Movements and Self-Education
When Professor Chatelain launched her call for #FergusonSyllabus, she was mainly
addressing a community of fellow educators:
I knew Ferguson would be a challenge for teachers: When schools opened across
the country, how were they going to talk about what happened? My idea was simple, but has resonated across the country: Reach out to the educators who use
Twitter. Ask them to commit to talking about Ferguson on the first day of classes.
Suggest a book, an article, a film, a song, a piece of artwork, or an assignment that
speaks to some aspect of Ferguson. Use the hashtag: #FergusonSyllabus.8
Her call had a much greater resonance than she had originally anticipated as it reached
beyond the limits of the academic community. #FergusonSyllabus had both a significant impact in shaping the analysis and the response to the shooting of Michael
Brown, and in inspiring the many other #Syllabus calls that soon followed.
The #Syllabus phenomenon comprises different approaches and modes of operating. In some cases, the material is clearly claimed as the creation of a single individual, as in the case of #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus, which is prefaced on the project’s
landing page by a warning to readers that ‘material compiled in this syllabus should
not be duplicated without proper citation and attribution.’9 A very different position on
intellectual property has been embraced by other #Syllabus interventions that have
chosen a more commoning stance. #StandingRockSyllabus, for instance, is introduced as a crowd-sourced process and as a useful ‘tool to access research usually
kept behind paywalls.’10
The different workflows, modes of engagements, and positioning in relation to
intellectual property make #Syllabus readable as symptomatic of the multiplicity
that composes social justice movements. There is something old school—quite
literally—about the idea of calling a list of online resources a ‘syllabus’; a certain
quaintness, evoking thoughts of teachers and homework. This is worthy of investigation especially if contrasted with the attention dedicated to other online cultural
phenomena such as memes or fake news. Could it be that the online syllabus offers



Marcia Chatelain, ‘How to Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson’, The Atlantic, 25
August 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/08/how-to-teach-kids-aboutwhats-happening-in-ferguson/379049/.
Frank Leon Roberts, ‘Black Lives Matter: Race, Resistance, and Populist Protest’, 2016, http://
‘#StandingRockSyllabus’, NYC Stands with Standing Rock, 11 October 2016, https://



a useful, fresh format precisely for the characteristics that foreground its connections to older pedagogical traditions and techniques, predating digital cultures?
#Syllabus can indeed be analyzed as falling within a long lineage of pedagogical tools
created by social movements to support processes of political subjectivation and the
building of collective consciousness. Activists and militant organizers have time and
again created and used various textual media objects—such as handouts, pamphlets,
cookbooks, readers, or manifestos—to facilitate a shared political analysis and foment
mass political mobilization.
In the context of the US, anti-racist movements have historically placed great emphasis on critical pedagogy and self-education. In 1964, the Council of Federated Organizations (an alliance of civil rights initiatives) and the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC), created a network of 41 temporary alternative
schools in Mississippi. Recently, the Freedom Library Project, a campaign born out
of #FergusonSyllabus to finance under-resourced pedagogical initiatives, openly
referenced this as a source of inspiration. The Freedom Summer Project of 1964
brought hundreds of activists, students, and scholars (many of whom were white)
from the north of the country to teach topics and issues that the discriminatory
state schools would not offer to black students. In the words of an SNCC report,
Freedom Schools were established following the belief that ‘education—facts to
use and freedom to use them—is the basis of democracy’,11 a conviction echoed
by the ethos of contemporary #Syllabus initiatives.
Bob Moses, a civil rights movement leader who was the head of the literary skills initiative in Mississippi, recalls the movement’s interest, at the time, in teaching methods
that used the very production of teaching materials as a pedagogical tool:
I had gotten hold of a text and was using it with some adults […] and noticed that
they couldn’t handle it because the pictures weren’t suited to what they knew […]
That got me into thinking about developing something closer to what people were
doing. What I was interested in was the idea of training SNCC workers to develop
material with the people we were working with.12
It is significant that for him the actual use of the materials the group created was much
less important than the process of producing the teaching materials together. This focus
on what could be named as a ‘pedagogy of teaching’, or perhaps more accurately ‘the
pedagogy of preparing teaching materials’, is also a relevant mechanism at play in the
current #Syllabus initiatives, as their crowdsourcing encourages different kinds of people
to contribute what they feel might be relevant resources for the broader movement.
Alongside the crucial import of radical black organizing, another relevant genealogy in
which to place #Syllabus would be the international feminist movement and, in particular, the strategies developed in the 70s campaign Wages for Housework, spearheaded


Daniel Perlstein, ‘Teaching Freedom: SNCC and the Creation of the Mississippi Freedom Schools’,
History of Education Quarterly 30.3 (Autumn 1990): 302.
Perlstein, ‘Teaching Freedom’: 306.



by Selma James and Silvia Federici. The Wages for Housework campaign drove home
the point that unwaged reproductive labor provides a foundation for capitalist exploitation. They wanted to encourage women to denaturalize and question the accepted
division of labor into remunerated work outside the house and labor of love within
the confines of domesticity, discussing taboo topics such as ‘prostitution as socialized housework’ and ‘forced sterilization’ as issues impacting poor, often racialized,
women. The organizing efforts of Wages for Housework held political pedagogy at their
core. They understood that that pedagogy required:
having literature and other materials available to explain our goals, all written in a
language that women can understand. We also need different types of documents,
some more theoretical, others circulating information about struggles. It is important
that we have documents for women who have never had any political experience.
This is why our priority is to write a popular pamphlet that we can distribute massively and for free—because women have no money.13
The obstacles faced by the Wages for Housework campaign were many, beginning
with the issue of how to reach a dispersed constituency of isolated housewives
and how to keep the revolutionary message at the core of their claims accessible
to different groups. In order to tackle these challenges, the organizers developed
a number of innovative communication tactics and pedagogical tools, including
strategies to gain mainstream media coverage, pamphlets and leaflets translated
into different languages,14 a storefront shop in Brooklyn, and promotional tables at
local events.
Freedom Schools and the Wages for Housework campaign are only two amongst
the many examples of the critical pedagogies developed within social movements.
The #Syllabus phenomenon clearly stands in the lineage of this history, yet we should
also highlight its specificity in relation to the contemporary political context in which it
emerged. The #Syllabus acknowledges that since the 70s—and also due to students’
participation in protests and their display of solidarity with other political movements—
subjects such as Marxist critical theory, women studies, gender studies, and African
American studies, together with some of the principles first developed in critical pedagogy, have become integrated into the educational system. The fact that many initiators of #Syllabus initiatives are women and Black academics speaks to this historical
shift as an achievement of that period of struggles. However, the very necessity felt by
these educators to kick-start their #Syllabus campaigns outside the confines of academia simultaneously reveals the difficulties they encounter within the current privatized and exclusionary educational complex.


Silvia Federici and Arlen Austin (eds) The New York Wages for Housework Committee 1972-1977:
History, Theory and Documents. New York: Autonomedia, 2017: 37.
Some of the flyers and pamphlets were digitized by MayDay Rooms, ‘a safe haven for historical
material linked to social movements, experimental culture and the radical expression of
marginalised figures and groups’ in London, and can be found in their online archive: ‘Wages
for Housework: Pamphlets – Flyers – Photographs’, MayDay Rooms, http://maydayrooms.org/



#Syllabus as a Media Object
Besides its contextualization within the historical legacy of previous grassroots mobilizations, it is also necessary to discuss #Syllabus as a new media object in its own
right, in order to fully grasp its relevance for the future politics of knowledge production and transmission.
If we were to describe this object, a #Syllabus would be an ordered list of links to
scholarly texts, news reports, and audiovisual media, mostly aggregated through a
participatory and iterative process, and created in response to political events indicative of larger conditions of structural oppression. Still, as we have seen, #Syllabus
as a media object doesn’t follow a strict format. It varies based on the initial vision
of their initiators, political causes, and social composition of the relevant struggle.
Nor does it follow the format of traditional academic syllabi. While a list of learning
resources is at the heart of any syllabus, a boilerplate university syllabus typically
also includes objectives, a timetable, attendance, coursework, examination, and an
outline of the grading system used for the given course. Relieved of these institutional
requirements, the #Syllabus typically includes only a reading list and a hashtag. The
reading list provides resources for understanding what is relevant to the here and
now, while the hashtag provides a way to disseminate across social networks the call
to both collectively edit and teach what is relevant to the here and now. Both the list
and the hashtag are specificities and formal features of the contemporary (internet)
culture and therefore merit further exploration in relation to the social dynamics at
play in #Syllabus initiatives.
The different phases of the internet’s development approached the problem of the
discoverability of relevant information in different ways. In the early days, the Gopher
protocol organized information into a hierarchical file tree. With the rise of World Wide
Web (WWW), Yahoo tried to employ experts to classify and catalog the internet into
a directory of links. That seemed to be a successful approach for a while, but then
Google (founded in 1998) came along and started to use a webgraph of links to rank
the importance of web pages relative to a given search query.
In 2005, Clay Shirky wrote the essay ‘Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links and
Tags’,15 developed from his earlier talk ‘Folksonomies and Tags: The Rise of User-Developed Classification’. Shirky used Yahoo’s attempt to categorize the WWW to argue
against any attempt to classify a vast heterogenous body of information into a single
hierarchical categorical system. In his words: ‘[Yahoo] missed [...] that, if you’ve got
enough links, you don’t need the hierarchy anymore. There is no shelf. There is no file
system. The links alone are enough.’ Those words resonated with many. By following
simple formatting rules, we, the internet users, whom Time magazine named Person of
the Year in 2006, proved that it is possible to collectively write the largest encyclopedia
ever. But, even beyond that, and as per Shirky’s argument, if enough of us organized
our own snippets of the vast body of the internet, we could replace old canons, hierarchies, and ontologies with folksonomies, social bookmarks, and (hash)tags.


Clay Shirky, ‘Ontology Is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags’, 2005, http://shirky.com/writings/



Very few who lived through those times would have thought that only a few years later
most user-driven services would be acquired by a small number of successful companies and then be shut down. Or, that Google would decide not to include the biggest
hashtag-driven platform, Twitter, into its search index and that the search results on
its first page would only come from a handful of usual suspects: media conglomerates, Wikipedia, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, Reddit, Quora. Or, that Twitter would
become the main channel for the racist, misogynist, fascist escapades of the President
of United States.
This internet folk naivety—stoked by an equally enthusiastic, venture-capital-backed
startup culture—was not just naivety. This was also a period of massive experimental
use of these emerging platforms. Therefore, this history would merit to be properly
revisited and researched. In this text, however, we can only hint to this history: to contextualize how the hashtag as a formalization initially emerged, and how with time the
user-driven web lost some of its potential. Nonetheless, hashtags today still succeed in
propagating political mobilizations in the network environment. Some will say that this
propagation is nothing but a reflection of the internet as a propaganda machine, and
there’s no denying that hashtags do serve a propaganda function. However, it equally
matters that hashtags retain the capacity to shape coordination and self-organization,
and they are therefore a reflection of the internet as an organization machine.
As mentioned, #Syllabus as a media object is an ordered list of links to resources.
In the long history of knowledge retrieval systems and attempts to help users find
relevant information from big archives, the list on the internet continues in the tradition of the index card catalog in libraries, of charts in the music industry, or mixtapes
and playlists in popular culture, helping people tell their stories of what is relevant and
what isn’t through an ordered sequence of items. The list (as a format) together with
the hashtag find themselves in the list (pun intended) of the most iconic media objects
of the internet. In the network media environment, being smart in creating new lists
became the way to displace old lists of relevance, the way to dismantle canons, the
way to unlearn. The way to become relevant.
The Academic Syllabus Migrates Online
#Syllabus interventions are a challenge issued by political struggles to educators as
they expose a fundamental contradiction in the operations of academia. While critical pedagogies of yesteryear’s social movements have become integrated into the
education system, the radical lessons that these pedagogies teach students don’t
easily reconcile with their experience: professional practice courses, the rethoric of
employability and compulsory internships, where what they learn is merely instrumental, leaves them wondering how on earth they are to apply their Marxism or feminism
to their everyday lives?
Cognitive dissonance is at the basis of degrees in the liberal arts. And to make things
worse, the marketization of higher education, the growing fees and the privatization
of research has placed universities in a position where they increasingly struggle to
provide institutional space for critical interventions in social reality. As universities become more dependent on the ‘customer satisfaction’ of their students for survival, they
steer away from heated political topics or from supporting faculty members who might
decide to engage with them. Borrowing the words of Stefano Harney and Fred Moten,



‘policy posits curriculum against study’,16 creating the paradoxical situation wherein
today’s universities are places in which it is possible to do almost everything except
study. What Harney and Moten propose instead is the re-appropriation of the diffuse
capacity of knowledge generation that stems from the collective processes of selforganization and commoning. As Moten puts it: ‘When I think about the way we use the
term ‘study,’ I think we are committed to the idea that study is what you do with other
people.’17 And it is this practice of sharing a common repertoire—what Moten and
Harney call ‘rehearsal’18—that is crucially constitutive of a crowdsourced #Syllabus.
This contradiction and the tensions it brings to contemporary neoliberal academia can
be symptomatically observed in the recent evolution of the traditional academic syllabus. As a double consequence of (some) critical pedagogies becoming incorporated
into the teaching process and universities striving to reduce their liability risks, academic syllabi have become increasingly complex and extensive documents. They are
now understood as both a ‘social contract’ between the teachers and their students,
and ‘terms of service’19 between the institution providing educational services and the
students increasingly framed as sovereign consumers making choices in the market of
educational services. The growing official import of the syllabus has had the effect that
educators have started to reflect on how the syllabus translates the power dynamics
into their classroom. For instance, the critical pedagogue Adam Heidebrink-Bruno has
demanded that the syllabus be re-conceived as a manifesto20—a document making
these concerns explicit. And indeed, many academics have started to experiment with
the form and purpose of the syllabus, opening it up to a process of co-conceptualization with their students, or proposing ‘the other syllabus’21 to disrupt asymmetries.
At the same time, universities are unsurprisingly moving their syllabi online. A migration
that can be read as indicative of three larger structural shifts in academia.
First, the push to make syllabi available online, initiated in the US, reinforces the differential effects of reputation economy. It is the Ivy League universities and their professorial star system that can harness the syllabus to advertise the originality of their
scholarship, while the underfunded public universities and junior academics are burdened with teaching the required essentials. This practice is tied up with the replication
in academia of the different valorization between what is considered to be the labor of
production (research) and that of social reproduction (teaching). The low esteem (and
corresponding lower rewards and remuneration) for the kinds of intellectual labors that
can be considered labors of care—editing journals, reviewing papers or marking, for
instance—fits perfectly well with the gendered legacies of the academic institution.

Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, New York:
Autonomedia, 2013, p. 81.
17 Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, p. 110.
18 Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, p. 110.
19 Angela Jenks, ‘It’s In The Syllabus’, Teaching Tools, Cultural Anthropology website, 30 June 2016,
20 Adam Heidebrink-Bruno, ‘Syllabus as Manifesto: A Critical Approach to Classroom Culture’,
Hybrid Pedagogy, 28 August 2014, http://hybridpedagogy.org/syllabus-manifesto-criticalapproach-classroom-culture/.
21 Lucy E. Bailey, ‘The “Other” Syllabus: Rendering Teaching Politics Visible in the Graduate
Pedagogy Seminar’, Feminist Teacher 20.2 (2010): 139–56.



Second, with the withdrawal of resources to pay precarious and casualized academics during their ‘prep’ time (that is, the time in which they can develop new
course material, including assembling new lists of references, updating their courses as well as the methodologies through which they might deliver these), syllabi
now assume an ambivalent role between the tendencies for collectivization and
individualization of insecurity. The reading lists contained in syllabi are not covered
by copyrights; they are like playlists or recipes, which historically had the effect of
encouraging educators to exchange lesson plans and make their course outlines
freely available as a valuable knowledge common. Yet, in the current climate where
universities compete against each other, the authorial function is being extended
to these materials too. Recently, US universities have been leading a trend towards
the interpretation of the syllabus as copyrightable material, an interpretation that
opened up, as would be expected, a number of debates over who is a syllabus’
rightful owner, whether the academics themselves or their employers. If the latter interpretation were to prevail, this would enable universities to easily replace
academics while retaining their contributions to the pedagogical offer. The fruits of
a teacher’s labor could thus be turned into instruments of their own deskilling and
casualization: why would universities pay someone to write a course when they can
recycle someone else’s syllabus and get a PhD student or a precarious post doc to
teach the same class at a fraction of the price?
This tendency to introduce a logic of property therefore spurs competitive individualism and erasure of contributions from others. Thus, crowdsourcing the syllabus
in the context of growing precarization of labor risks remaining a partial process,
as it might heighten the anxieties of those educators who do not enjoy the security
of a stable job and who are therefore the most susceptible to the false promises of
copyright enforcement and authorship understood as a competitive, small entrepreneurial activity. However, when inserted in the context of live, broader political
struggles, the opening up of the syllabus could and should be an encouragement
to go in the opposite direction, providing a ground to legitimize the collective nature
of the educational process and to make all academic resources available without
copyright restrictions, while devising ways to secure the proper attribution and the
just remuneration of everyone’s labor.
The introduction of the logic of property is hard to challenge as it is furthered by commercial academic publishers. Oligopolists, such as Elsevier, are not only notorious for
using copyright protections to extract usurious profits from the mostly free labor of
those who write, peer review, and edit academic journals,22 but they are now developing all sorts of metadata, metrics, and workflow systems that are increasingly becoming central for teaching and research. In addition to their publishing business, Elsevier
has expanded its ‘research intelligence’ offering, which now encompasses a whole
range of digital services, including the Scopus citation database; Mendeley reference
manager; the research performance analytics tools SciVal and Research Metrics; the
centralized research management system Pure; the institutional repository and pub-

22 Vincent Larivière, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon, ‘The Oligopoly of Academic
Publishers in the Digital Era’, PLoS ONE 10.6 (10 June 2015),https://journals.plos.org/plosone/



lishing platform Bepress; and, last but not least, grant discovery and funding flow tools
Funding Institutional and Elsevier Funding Solutions. Given how central digital services
are becoming in today’s universities, whoever owns these platforms is the university.
Third, the migration online of the academic syllabus falls into larger efforts by universities to ‘disrupt’ the educational system through digital technologies. The introduction
of virtual learning environments has led to lesson plans, slides, notes, and syllabi becoming items to be deposited with the institution. The doors of public higher education are being opened to commercial qualification providers by means of the rise in
metrics-based management, digital platforming of university services, and transformation of students into consumers empowered to make ‘real-time’ decisions on how to
spend their student debt.23 Such neoliberalization masquerading behind digitization
is nowhere more evident than in the hype that was generated around Massive Open
Online Courses (MOOCs), exactly at the height of the last economic crisis.
MOOCs developed gradually from the Massachusetts Institute of Techology’s (MIT) initial experiments with opening up its teaching materials to the public through the OpenCourseWare project in 2001. By 2011, MOOCs were saluted as a full-on democratization of access to ‘Ivy-League-caliber education [for] the world’s poor.’24 And yet, their
promise quickly deflated following extremely low completion rates (as low as 5%).25
Believing that in fifty years there will be no more than 10 institutions globally delivering
higher education,26 by the end of 2013 Sebastian Thrun (Google’s celebrated roboticist
who in 2012 founded the for-profit MOOC platform Udacity), had to admit that Udacity
offered a ‘lousy product’ that proved to be a total failure with ‘students from difficult
neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in
their lives.’27 Critic Aaron Bady has thus rightfully argued that:
[MOOCs] demonstrate what the technology is not good at: accreditation and mass
education. The MOOC rewards self-directed learners who have the resources and
privilege that allow them to pursue learning for its own sake [...] MOOCs are also a
really poor way to make educational resources available to underserved and underprivileged communities, which has been the historical mission of public education.28
Indeed, the ‘historical mission of public education’ was always and remains to this
day highly contested terrain—the very idea of a public good being under attack by
dominant managerial techniques that try to redefine it, driving what Randy Martin

23 Ben Williamson, ‘Number Crunching: Transforming Higher Education into “Performance Data”’,
Medium, 16 August 2018, https://medium.com/ussbriefs/number-crunching-transforming-highereducation-into-performance-data-9c23debc4cf7.
24 Max Chafkin, ‘Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather Of Free Online Education, Changes Course’,
FastCompany, 14 November 2013, https://www.fastcompany.com/3021473/udacity-sebastianthrun-uphill-climb/.
25 ‘The Rise (and Fall?) Of the MOOC’, Oxbridge Essays, 14 November 2017, https://www.
26 Steven Leckart, ‘The Stanford Education Experiment Could Change Higher Learning Forever’,
Wired, 20 March 2012, https://www.wired.com/2012/03/ff_aiclass/.
27 Chafkin, ‘Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun’.
28 Aaron Bady, ‘The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform’, Liberal Education 99.4 (Fall 2013),



aptly called the ‘financialization of daily life.’29 The failure of MOOCs finally points to a
broader question, also impacting the vicissitudes of #Syllabus: Where will actual study
practices find refuge in the social, once the social is made directly productive for capital at all times? Where will study actually ‘take place’, in the literal sense of the phrase,
claiming the resources that it needs for co-creation in terms of time, labor, and love?
Learning from #Syllabus
What have we learned from the #Syllabus phenomenon?
The syllabus is the manifesto of 21st century.
Political struggles against structural discrimination, oppression, and violence in the
present are continuing the legacy of critical pedagogies of earlier social movements
that coupled the process of political subjectivation with that of collective education.
By creating effective pedagogical tools, movements have brought educators and students into the fold of their struggles. In the context of our new network environment,
political struggles have produced a new media object: #Syllabus, a crowdsourced list
of resources—historic and present—relevant to a cause. By doing so, these struggles
adapt, resist, and live in and against the networks dominated by techno-capital, with
all of the difficulties and contradictions that entails.
What have we learned from the academic syllabus migrating online?
In the contemporary university, critical pedagogy is clashing head-on with the digitization of higher education. Education that should empower and research that should
emancipate are increasingly left out in the cold due to the data-driven marketization
of academia, short-cutting the goals of teaching and research to satisfy the fluctuating demands of labor market and financial speculation. Resistance against the capture of data, research workflows, and scholarship by means of digitization is a key
struggle for the future of mass intellectuality beyond exclusions of class, disability,
gender, and race.
What have we learned from #Syllabus as a media object?
As old formats transform into new media objects, the digital network environment defines the conditions in which these new media objects try to adjust, resist, and live. A
right intuition can intervene and change the landscape—not necessarily for the good,
particularly if the imperatives of capital accumulation and social control prevail. We
thus need to re-appropriate the process of production and distribution of #Syllabus
as a media object in its totality. We need to build tools to collectively control the workflows that are becoming the infrastructures on top of which we collaboratively produce
knowledge that is vital for us to adjust, resist, and live. In order to successfully intervene in the world, every aspect of production and distribution of these new media objects becomes relevant. Every single aspect counts. The order of items in a list counts.
The timestamp of every version of the list counts. The name of every contributor to

29 Randy Martin, Financialization Of Daily Life, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.



every version of the list counts. Furthermore, the workflow to keep track of all of these
aspects is another complex media object—a software tool of its own—with its own order and its own versions. It is a recursive process of creating an autonomous ecology.
#Syllabus can be conceived as a recursive process of versioning lists, pointing to textual, audiovisual, or other resources. With all of the linked resources publicly accessible to all; with all versions of the lists editable by all; with all of the edits attributable to
their contributors; with all versions, all linked resources, all attributions preservable by
all, just such an autonomous ecology can be made for #Syllabus. In fact, Sean Dockray, Benjamin Forster, and Public Office have already proposed such a methodology in
their Hyperreadings, a forkable readme.md plaintext document on GitHub. They write:
A text that by its nature points to other texts, the syllabus is already a relational
document acknowledging its own position within a living field of knowledge. It is
decidedly not self-contained, however it often circulates as if it were.
If a syllabus circulated as a HyperReadings document, then it could point directly to the texts and other media that it aggregates. But just as easily as it circulates, a HyperReadings syllabus could be forked into new versions: the syllabus
is changed because there is a new essay out, or because of a political disagreement, or because following the syllabus produced new suggestions. These forks
become a family tree where one can follow branches and trace epistemological
It is in line with this vision, which we share with the HyperReadings crew, and in line
with our analysis, that we, as amateur librarians, activists, and educators, make our
promise beyond the limits of this text.
The workflow that we are bootstrapping here will keep in mind every aspect of the media object syllabus (order, timestamp, contributor, version changes), allowing diversity
via forking and branching, and making sure that every reference listed in a syllabus
will find its reference in a catalog which will lead to the actual material, in digital form,
needed for the syllabus.
Against the enclosures of copyright, we will continue building shadow libraries and
archives of struggles, providing access to resources needed for the collective processes of education.
Against the corporate platforming of workflows and metadata, we will work with social
movements, political initiatives, educators, and researchers to aggregate, annotate,
version, and preserve lists of resources.
Against the extractivism of academia, we will take care of the material conditions that
are needed for such collective thinking to take place, both on- and offline.

30 Sean Dockray, Benjamin Forster, and Public Office, ‘README.md’, Hyperreadings, 15 February
2018, https://samiz-dat.github.io/hyperreadings/.



Bady, Aaron. ‘The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform’, Liberal Education 99.4 (Fall 2013), https://
Bailey, Lucy E. ‘The “Other” Syllabus: Rendering Teaching Politics Visible in the Graduate Pedagogy
Seminar’, Feminist Teacher 20.2 (2010): 139–56.
Chafkin, Max. ‘Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather Of Free Online Education, Changes Course’,
FastCompany, 14 November 2013, https://www.fastcompany.com/3021473/udacity-sebastianthrun-uphill-climb/.
Chatelain, Marcia. ‘How to Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson’, The Atlantic, 25 August
2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/08/how-to-teach-kids-about-whatshappening-in-ferguson/379049/.
_____. ‘Teaching the #FergusonSyllabus’, Dissent Magazine, 28 November 2014, https://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/teaching-ferguson-syllabus/.
Ciolkowski, Laura. ‘Rape Culture Syllabus’, Public Books, 15 October 2016, https://www.publicbooks.
Connolly, N.D.B. and Keisha N. Blain. ‘Trump Syllabus 2.0’, Public Books, 28 June 2016, https://www.
Dockray, Sean, Benjamin Forster, and Public Office. ‘README.md’, HyperReadings, 15 February 2018,
Federici, Silvia, and Arlen Austin (eds) The New York Wages for Housework Committee 1972-1977: History, Theory, Documents, New York: Autonomedia, 2017.
Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, New York:
Autonomedia, 2013.
Heidebrink-Bruno, Adam. ‘Syllabus as Manifesto: A Critical Approach to Classroom Culture’, Hybrid
Pedagogy, 28 August 2014, http://hybridpedagogy.org/syllabus-manifesto-critical-approach-classroom-culture/.
Jenks, Angela. ‘It’s In The Syllabus’, Teaching Tools, Cultural Anthropology website, 30 June 2016,
Larivière, Vincent, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon, ‘The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era’, PLoS ONE 10.6 (10 June 2015), https://journals.plos.org/plosone/
Leckart, Steven. ‘The Stanford Education Experiment Could Change Higher Learning Forever’, Wired,
20 March 2012, https://www.wired.com/2012/03/ff_aiclass/.
Martin, Randy. Financialization Of Daily Life, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.
Perlstein, Daniel. ‘Teaching Freedom: SNCC and the Creation of the Mississippi Freedom Schools’,
History of Education Quarterly 30.3 (Autumn 1990).
Roberts, Frank Leon. ‘Black Lives Matter: Race, Resistance, and Populist Protest’, 2016, http://www.
‘#StandingRockSyllabus’, NYC Stands with Standing Rock, 11 October 2016, https://nycstandswithstandingrock.wordpress.com/standingrocksyllabus/.
Shirky, Clay. ‘Ontology Is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags’, 2005, http://shirky.com/writings/
‘The Rise (and Fall?) Of the MOOC’, Oxbridge Essays, 14 November 2017, https://www.oxbridgeessays.
‘TNI Syllabus: Gaming and Feminism’, The New Inquiry, 2 September 2014, https://thenewinquiry.com/
‘Trump 101’, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 June 2016, https://www.chronicle.com/article/
‘Wages for Housework: Pamphlets – Flyers – Photographs,’ MayDay Rooms, http://maydayrooms.org/
Williamson, Ben. ‘Number Crunching: Transforming Higher Education into “Performance Data”’,
Medium, 16 August 2018, https://medium.com/ussbriefs/number-crunching-transforming-highereducation-into-performance-data-9c23debc4cf7/.

tactics in Kelty, Bodo & Allen 2018

Kelty, Bodo & Allen
Guerrilla Open Access

of the

Edited by

Open Access



Published by Post Office Press,
Rope Press and Memory of the
World. Coventry, 2018.
© Memory of the World, papers by
respective Authors.
Freely available at:
This is an open access pamphlet,
licensed under a Creative
Commons Attribution-ShareAlike
4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Read more about the license at:
Figures and other media included
with this pamphlet may be under
different copyright restrictions.
Design by: Mihai Toma, Nick White
and Sean Worley
Printed by: Rope Press,

This pamphlet is published in a series
of 7 as part of the Radical Open
Access II – The Ethics of Care
conference, which took place June
26-27 at Coventry University. More
information about this conference
and about the contributors to this
pamphlet can be found at:
This pamphlet was made possible due
to generous funding from the arts
and humanities research studio, The
Post Office, a project of Coventry
University’s Centre for Postdigital
Cultures and due to the combined
efforts of authors, editors, designers
and printers.

Table of Contents

Guerrilla Open Access:
Terms Of Struggle
Memory of the World
Page 4

Recursive Publics and Open Access
Christopher Kelty
Page 6

Own Nothing
Balazs Bodo
Page 16

What if We Aren't the Only
Guerrillas Out There?
Laurie Allen
Page 26

Terms Of

In the 1990s, the Internet offered a horizon from which to imagine what society
could become, promising autonomy and self-organization next to redistribution of
wealth and collectivized means of production. While the former was in line with the
dominant ideology of freedom, the latter ran contrary to the expanding enclosures
in capitalist globalization. This antagonism has led to epochal copyfights, where free
software and piracy kept the promise of radical commoning alive.
Free software, as Christopher Kelty writes in this pamphlet, provided a model ‘of a
shared, collective, process of making software, hardware and infrastructures that
cannot be appropriated by others’. Well into the 2000s, it served as an inspiration
for global free culture and open access movements who were speculating that
distributed infrastructures of knowledge production could be built, as the Internet
was, on top of free software.
For a moment, the hybrid world of ad-financed Internet giants—sharing code,
advocating open standards and interoperability—and users empowered by these
services, convinced almost everyone that a new reading/writing culture was
possible. Not long after the crash of 2008, these disruptors, now wary monopolists,
began to ingest smaller disruptors and close off their platforms. There was still
free software somewhere underneath, but without the ‘original sense of shared,
collective, process’. So, as Kelty suggests, it was hard to imagine that for-profit
academic publishers wouldn't try the same with open access.
Heeding Aaron Swartz’s call to civil disobedience, Guerrilla Open Access has
emerged out of the outrage over digitally-enabled enclosure of knowledge that
has allowed these for-profit academic publishers to appropriate extreme profits
that stand in stark contrast to the cuts, precarity, student debt and asymmetries
of access in education. Shadow libraries stood in for the access denied to public
libraries, drastically reducing global asymmetries in the process.


This radicalization of access has changed how publications
travel across time and space. Digital archiving, cataloging and
sharing is transforming what we once considered as private
libraries. Amateur librarianship is becoming public shadow
librarianship. Hybrid use, as poetically unpacked in Balazs
Bodo's reflection on his own personal library, is now entangling
print and digital in novel ways. And, as he warns, the terrain
of antagonism is shifting. While for-profit publishers are
seemingly conceding to Guerrilla Open Access, they are
opening new territories: platforms centralizing data, metrics
and workflows, subsuming academic autonomy into new
processes of value extraction.
The 2010s brought us hope and then realization how little
digital networks could help revolutionary movements. The
redistribution toward the wealthy, assisted by digitization, has
eroded institutions of solidarity. The embrace of privilege—
marked by misogyny, racism and xenophobia—this has catalyzed
is nowhere more evident than in the climate denialism of the
Trump administration. Guerrilla archiving of US government
climate change datasets, as recounted by Laurie Allen,
indicates that more technological innovation simply won't do
away with the 'post-truth' and that our institutions might be in
need of revision, replacement and repair.
As the contributions to this pamphlet indicate, the terms
of struggle have shifted: not only do we have to continue
defending our shadow libraries, but we need to take back the
autonomy of knowledge production and rebuild institutional
grounds of solidarity.

Memory of the World


Publics and
Open Access


Ten years ago, I published a book calledTwo Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free
Software (Kelty 2008).1 Duke University Press and my editor Ken Wissoker were
enthusiastically accommodating of my demands to make the book freely and openly
available. They also played along with my desire to release the 'source code' of the
book (i.e. HTML files of the chapters), and to compare the data on readers of the
open version to print customers. It was a moment of exploration for both scholarly
presses and for me. At the time, few authors were doing this other than Yochai Benkler
(2007) and Cory Doctorow2, both activists and advocates for free software and open
access (OA), much as I have been. We all shared, I think, a certain fanaticism of the
convert that came from recognizing free software as an historically new, and radically
different mode of organizing economic and political activity. Two Bits gave me a way
to talk not only about free software, but about OA and the politics of the university
(Kelty et al. 2008; Kelty 2014). Ten years later, I admit to a certain pessimism at the
way things have turned out. The promise of free software has foundered, though not
disappeared, and the question of what it means to achieve the goals of OA has been
swamped by concerns about costs, arcane details of repositories and versioning, and
ritual offerings to the metrics God.
When I wrote Two Bits, it was obvious to me that the collectives who built free
software were essential to the very structure and operation of a standardized
Internet. Today, free software and 'open source' refer to dramatically different
constellations of practice and people. Free software gathers around itself those
committed to the original sense of a shared, collective, process of making software,
hardware and infrastructures that cannot be appropriated by others. In political
terms, I have always identified free software with a very specific, updated, version
of classical Millian liberalism. It sustains a belief in the capacity for collective action
and rational thought as aids to establishing a flourishing human livelihood. Yet it
also preserves an outdated blind faith in the automatic functioning of meritorious
speech, that the best ideas will inevitably rise to the top. It is an updated classical
liberalism that saw in software and networks a new place to resist the tyranny of the
conventional and the taken for granted.


Christopher Kelty

By contrast, open source has come to mean something quite different: an ecosystem
controlled by an oligopoly of firms which maintains a shared pool of components and
frameworks that lower the costs of education, training, and software creation in the
service of establishing winner-take-all platforms. These are built on open source, but
they do not carry the principles of freedom or openness all the way through to the
platforms themselves.3 What open source has become is now almost the opposite of
free software—it is authoritarian, plutocratic, and nepotistic, everything liberalism
wanted to resist. For example, precarious labor and platforms such as Uber or Task
Rabbit are built upon and rely on the fruits of the labor of 'open source', but the
platforms that result do not follow the same principles—they are not open or free
in any meaningful sense—to say nothing of the Uber drivers or task rabbits who live
by the platforms.
Does OA face the same problem? In part, my desire to 'free the source' of my book
grew out of the unfinished business of digitizing the scholarly record. It is an irony
that much of the work that went into designing the Internet at its outset in the
1980s, such as gopher, WAIS, and the HTML of CERN, was conducted in the name
of the digital transformation of the library. But by 2007, these aims were swamped
by attempts to transform the Internet into a giant factory of data extraction. Even
in 2006-7 it was clear that this unfinished business of digitizing the scholarly record
was going to become a problem—both because it was being overshadowed by other
concerns, and because of the danger it would eventually be subjected to the very
platformization underway in other realms.
Because if the platform capitalism of today has ended up being parasitic on the
free software that enabled it, then why would this not also be true of scholarship
more generally? Are we not witnessing a transition to a world where scholarship
is directed—in its very content and organization—towards the profitability of the
platforms that ostensibly serve it?4 Is it not possible that the platforms created to
'serve science'—Elsevier's increasing acquisition of tools to control the entire lifecycle of research, or ResearchGate's ambition to become the single source for all
academics to network and share research—that these platforms might actually end up
warping the very content of scholarly production in the service of their profitability?
To put this even more clearly: OA has come to exist and scholarship is more available
and more widely distributed than ever before. But, scholars now have less control,
and have taken less responsibility for the means of production of scientific research,
its circulation, and perhaps even the content of that science.

Recursive Publics and Open Access


The Method of Modulation
When I wrote Two Bits I organized the argument around the idea of modulation:
free software is simply one assemblage of technologies, practices, and people
aimed at resolving certain problems regarding the relationship between knowledge
(or software tools related to knowledge) and power (Hacking 2004; Rabinow
2003). Free software as such was and still is changing as each of its elements
evolve or are recombined. Because OA derives some of its practices directly from
free software, it is possible to observe how these different elements have been
worked over in the recent past, as well as how new and surprising elements are
combined with OA to transform it. Looking back on the elements I identified as
central to free software, one can ask: how is OA different, and what new elements
are modulating it into something possibly unrecognizable?

Sharing source code
Shareable source code was a concrete and necessary achievement for free
software to be possible. Similarly, the necessary ability to circulate digital texts
is a significant achievement—but such texts are shareable in a much different way.
For source code, computable streams of text are everything—anything else is a
'blob' like an image, a video or any binary file. But scholarly texts are blobs: Word or
Portable Document Format (PDF) files. What's more, while software programmers
may love 'source code', academics generally hate it—anything less than the final,
typeset version is considered unfinished (see e.g. the endless disputes over
'author's final versions' plaguing OA).5 Finality is important. Modifiability of a text,
especially in the humanities and social sciences, is acceptable only when it is an
experiment of some kind.
In a sense, the source code of science is not a code at all, but a more abstract set
of relations between concepts, theories, tools, methods, and the disciplines and
networks of people who operate with them, critique them, extend them and try to
maintain control over them even as they are shared within these communities.

avoid the waste of 'reinventing the wheel' and of pathological
competition, allowing instead modular, reusable parts that
could be modified and recombined to build better things in an
upward spiral of innovation. The 1980s ideas of modularity,
modifiability, abstraction barriers, interchangeable units
have been essential to the creation of digital infrastructures.
To propose an 'open science' thus modulates this definition—
and the idea works in some sciences better than others.
Aside from the obviously different commercial contexts,
philosophers and literary theorists just don't think about
openness this way—theories and arguments may be used
as building blocks, but they are not modular in quite the
same way. Only the free circulation of the work, whether
for recombination or for reference and critique, remains a
sine qua non of the theory of openness proposed there. It
is opposed to a system where it is explicit that only certain
people have access to the texts (whether that be through
limitations of secrecy, or limitations on intellectual property,
or an implicit elitism).

Writing and using copyright licenses
Of all the components of free software that I analyzed, this
is the one practice that remains the least transformed—OA
texts use the same CC licenses pioneered in 2001, which
were a direct descendant of free software licenses.

For free software to make sense as a solution, those involved first had to
characterize the problem it solved—and they did so by identifying a pathology in
the worlds of corporate capitalism and engineering in the 1980s: that computer
corporations were closed organizations who re-invented basic tools and
infrastructures in a race to dominate a market. An 'open system,' by contrast, would

A novel modulation of these licenses is the OA policies (the
embrace of OA in Brazil for instance, or the spread of OA
Policies starting with Harvard and the University of California,
and extending to the EU Mandate from 2008 forward). Today
the ability to control the circulation of a text with IP rights is
far less economically central to the strategies of publishers
than it was in 2007, even if they persist in attempting to do
so. At the same time, funders, states, and universities have all
adopted patchwork policies intended to both sustain green
OA, and push publishers to innovate their own business
models in gold and hybrid OA. While green OA is a significant
success on paper, the actual use of it to circulate work pales


Recursive Publics and Open Access

Defining openness

Christopher Kelty


in comparison to the commercial control of circulation on the
one hand, and the increasing success of shadow libraries on
the other. Repositories have sprung up in every shape and
form, but they remain largely ad hoc, poorly coordinated, and
underfunded solutions to the problem of OA.

Coordinating collaborations
The collective activity of free software is ultimately the
most significant of its achievements—marrying a form of
intensive small-scale interaction amongst programmers,
with sophisticated software for managing complex objects
(version control and GitHub-like sites). There has been
constant innovation in these tools for controlling, measuring,
testing, and maintaining software.
By contrast, the collective activity of scholarship is still
largely a pre-modern affair. It is coordinated largely by the
idea of 'writing an article together' and not by working
to maintain some larger map of what a research topic,
community, or discipline has explored—what has worked and
what has not.
This focus on the coordination of collaboration seemed to
me to be one of the key advantages of free software, but it
has turned out to be almost totally absent from the practice
or discussion of OA. Collaboration and the recombination of
elements of scholarly practice obviously happens, but it does
not depend on OA in any systematic way: there is only the
counterfactual that without it, many different kinds of people
are excluded from collaboration or even simple participation
in, scholarship, something that most active scholars are
willfully ignorant of.

Fomenting a movement
I demoted the idea of a social movement to merely one
component of the success of free software, rather than let
it be—as most social scientists would have it—the principal
container for free software. They are not the whole story.


Christopher Kelty

Is there an OA movement? Yes and no. Librarians remain
the most activist and organized. The handful of academics
who care about it have shifted to caring about it in primarily
a bureaucratic sense, forsaking the cross-organizational
aspects of a movement in favor of activism within universities
(to which I plead guilty). But this transformation forsakes
the need for addressing the collective, collaborative
responsibility for scholarship in favor of letting individual
academics, departments, and disciplines be the focus for
such debates.
By contrast, the publishing industry works with a
phantasmatic idea of both an OA 'movement' and of the actual
practices of scholarship—they too defer, in speech if not in
practice, to the academics themselves, but at the same time
must create tools, innovate processes, establish procedures,
acquire tools and companies and so on in an effort to capture
these phantasms and to prevent academics from collectively
doing so on their own.
And what new components? The five above were central to
free software, but OA has other components that are arguably
more important to its organization and transformation.

Money, i.e. library budgets
Central to almost all of the politics and debates about OA
is the political economy of publication. From the 'bundles'
debates of the 1990s to the gold/green debates of the 2010s,
the sole source of money for publication long ago shifted into
the library budget. The relationship that library budgets
have to other parts of the political economy of research
(funding for research itself, debates about tenured/nontenured, adjunct and other temporary salary structures) has
shifted as a result of the demand for OA, leading libraries
to re-conceptualize themselves as potential publishers, and
publishers to re-conceptualize themselves as serving 'life
cycles' or 'pipeline' of research, not just its dissemination.

Recursive Publics and Open Access


More than anything, OA is promoted as a way to continue
to feed the metrics God. OA means more citations, more
easily computable data, and more visible uses and re-uses of
publications (as well as 'open data' itself, when conceived of
as product and not measure). The innovations in the world
of metrics—from the quiet expansion of the platforms of the
publishers, to the invention of 'alt metrics', to the enthusiasm
of 'open science' for metrics-driven scientific methods—forms
a core feature of what 'OA' is today, in a way that was not true
of free software before it, where metrics concerning users,
downloads, commits, or lines of code were always after-thefact measures of quality, and not constitutive ones.
Other components of this sort might be proposed, but the
main point is to resist to clutch OA as if it were the beating
heart of a social transformation in science, as if it were a
thing that must exist, rather than a configuration of elements
at a moment in time. OA was a solution—but it is too easy to
lose sight of the problem.
Open Access without Recursive Publics
When we no longer have any commons, but only platforms,
will we still have knowledge as we know it? This is a question
at the heart of research in the philosophy and sociology
of knowledge—not just a concern for activism or social
movements. If knowledge is socially produced and maintained,
then the nature of the social bond surely matters to the
nature of that knowledge. This is not so different than asking
whether we will still have labor or work, as we have long known
it, in an age of precarity? What is the knowledge equivalent of
precarity (i.e. not just the existence of precarious knowledge
workers, but a kind of precarious knowledge as such)?

knowledge and power is shifting dramatically, because the costs—and the stakes—
of producing high quality, authoritative knowledge have also shifted. It is not so
powerful any longer; science does not speak truth to power because truth is no
longer so obviously important to power.
Although this is a pessimistic portrait, it may also be a sign of something yet to
come. Free software as a community, has been and still sometimes is critiqued as
being an exclusionary space of white male sociality (Nafus 2012; Massanari 2016;
Ford and Wajcman 2017; Reagle 2013). I think this critique is true, but it is less a
problem of identity than it is a pathology of a certain form of liberalism: a form that
demands that merit consists only in the content of the things we say (whether in
a political argument, a scientific paper, or a piece of code), and not in the ways we
say them, or who is encouraged to say them and who is encouraged to remain silent
(Dunbar-Hester 2014).
One might, as a result, choose to throw out liberalism altogether as a broken
philosophy of governance and liberation. But it might also be an opportunity to
focus much more specifically on a particular problem of liberalism, one that the
discourse of OA also relies on to a large extent. Perhaps it is not the case that
merit derives solely from the content of utterances freely and openly circulated,
but also from the ways in which they are uttered, and the dignity of the people
who utter them. An OA (or a free software) that embraced that principle would
demand that we pay attention to different problems: how are our platforms,
infrastructures, tools organized and built to support not just the circulation of
putatively true statements, but the ability to say them in situated and particular
ways, with respect for the dignity of who is saying them, and with the freedom to
explore the limits of that kind of liberalism, should we be so lucky to achieve it.

Do we not already see the evidence of this in the 'posttruth' of fake news, or the deliberate refusal by those in
power to countenance evidence, truth, or established
systems of argument and debate? The relationship between


Christopher Kelty

Recursive Publics and Open Access



¹ https://twobits.net/download/index.html

Benkler, Yochai. 2007. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets
and Freedom. Yale University Press.
Dunbar-Hester, Christina. 2014. Low Power to the People: Pirates, Protest, and Politics in
FM Radio Activism. MIT Press.
Ford, Heather, and Judy Wajcman. 2017. “‘Anyone Can Edit’, Not Everyone Does:
Wikipedia’s Infrastructure and the Gender Gap”. Social Studies of Science 47 (4):
511–527. doi:10.1177/0306312717692172.
Hacking, I. 2004. Historical Ontology. Harvard University Press.
Kelty, Christopher M. 2014. “Beyond Copyright and Technology: What Open Access Can
Tell Us About Precarity, Authority, Innovation, and Automation in the University
Today”. Cultural Anthropology 29 (2): 203–215. doi:10.14506/ca29.2.02.
——— . 2008. Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham, N.C.: Duke
University Press.
Kelty, Christopher M., et al. 2008. “Anthropology In/of Circulation: a Discussion”. Cultural
Anthropology 23 (3).
Massanari, Adrienne. 2016. “#gamergate and the Fappening: How Reddit’s Algorithm,
Governance, and Culture Support Toxic Technocultures”. New Media & Society 19 (3):
329–346. doi:10.1177/1461444815608807.
Nafus, Dawn. 2012. “‘Patches don’t have gender’: What is not open in open source
software”. New Media & Society 14, no. 4: 669–683. Visited on 04/01/2014. http://
Rabinow, Paul. 2003. Anthropos Today: Reflections on Modern Equipment. Princeton
University Press.
Reagle, Joseph. 2013. “"Free As in Sexist?" Free Culture and the Gender Gap”. First
Monday 18 (1). doi:10.5210/fm.v18i1.4291.

² https://craphound.com/

³ For example, Platform Cooperativism

See for example the figure from ’Rent
Seeking by Elsevier,’ by Alejandro Posada
and George Chen (http://knowledgegap.
org/index.php/sub-projects/rent-seekingand-financialization-of-the-academicpublishing-industr preliminary-findings/)

See Sherpa/Romeo


Christopher Kelty

Recursive Publics and Open Access



the contexts we were fleeing from. We made a choice to leave
behind the history, the discourses, the problems and the pain
that accumulated in the books of our library. I knew exactly
what it was I didn’t want to teach to my children once we moved.
So we did not move the books. We pretended that we would
never have to think about what this decision really meant. Up
until today. This year we needed to empty the study with the
shelves. So I’m standing in our library now, the dust covering
my face, my hands, my clothes. In the middle of the floor there
are three big crates and one small box. The small box swallows
what we’ll ultimately take with us, the books I want to show to
my son when he gets older, in case he still wants to read. One of
the big crates will be taken away by the antiquarian. The other
will be given to the school library next door. The third is the
wastebasket, where everything else will ultimately go.


Flow My Tears
My tears cut deep grooves into the dust on my face. Drip, drip,
drop, they hit the floor and disappear among the torn pages
scattered on the floor.
This year it dawned on us that we cannot postpone it any longer:
our personal library has to go. Our family moved countries
more than half a decade ago, we switched cultures, languages,
and chose another future. But the past, in the form of a few
thousand books in our personal library, was still neatly stacked
in our old apartment, patiently waiting, books that we bought
and enjoyed — and forgot; books that we bought and never
opened; books that we inherited from long-dead parents and
half-forgotten friends. Some of them were important. Others
were relevant at one point but no longer, yet they still reminded
us who we once were.
When we moved, we took no more than two suitcases of personal
belongings. The books were left behind. The library was like
a sick child or an ailing parent, it hung over our heads like an
unspoken threat, a curse. It was clear that sooner or later
something had to be done about it, but none of the options
available offered any consolation. It made no sense to move
three thousand books to the other side of this continent. We
decided to emigrate, and not to take our past with us, abandon


Balazs Bodo

Drip, drip, drip, my tears flow as I throw the books into this
last crate, drip, drip, drop. Sometimes I look at my partner,
working next to me, and I can see on her face that she is going
through the same emotions. I sometimes catch the sight of
her trembling hand, hesitating for a split second where a book
should ultimately go, whether we could, whether we should
save that particular one, because… But we either save them all
or we are as ruthless as all those millions of people throughout
history, who had an hour to pack their two suitcases before they
needed to leave. Do we truly need this book? Is this a book we’ll
want to read? Is this book an inseparable part of our identity?
Did we miss this book at all in the last five years? Is this a text
I want to preserve for the future, for potential grandchildren
who may not speak my mother tongue at all? What is the function
of the book? What is the function of this particular book in my
life? Why am I hesitating throwing it out? Why should I hesitate
at all? Drop, drop, drop, a decision has been made. Drop, drop,
drop, books are falling to the bottom of the crates.
We are killers, gutting our library. We are like the half-drown
sailor, who got entangled in the ropes, and went down with the
ship, and who now frantically tries to cut himself free from the
detritus that prevents him to reach the freedom of the surface,
the sunlight and the air.

Own Nothing


advantages of a fully digital book future. What I see now is the emergence of a strange
and shapeshifting-hybrid of diverse physical and electronic objects and practices,
where the relative strengths and weaknesses of these different formats nicely
complement each other.
This dawned on me after we had moved into an apartment without a bookshelf. I grew
up in a flat that housed my parents’ extensive book collection. I knew the books by their
cover and from time to time something made me want to take it from the shelf, open
it and read it. This is how I discovered many of my favorite books and writers. With
the e-reader, and some of the best shadow libraries at hand, I felt the same at first. I
felt liberated. I could experiment without cost or risk, I could start—or stop—a book,
I didn’t have to consider the cost of buying and storing a book that was ultimately
not meant for me. I could enjoy the books without having to carry the burden and
responsibility of ownership.

Own Nothing, Have Everything
Do you remember Napster’s slogan after it went legit, trying to transform itself into
a legal music service around 2005? ‘Own nothing, have everything’ – that was the
headline that was supposed to sell legal streaming music. How stupid, I thought. How
could you possibly think that lack of ownership would be a good selling point? What
does it even mean to ‘have everything’ without ownership? And why on earth would
not everyone want to own the most important constituents of their own self, their
own identity? The things I read, the things I sing, make me who I am. Why wouldn’t I
want to own these things?
How revolutionary this idea had been I reflected as I watched the local homeless folks
filling up their sacks with the remains of my library. How happy I would be if I could
have all this stuff I had just thrown away without actually having to own any of it. The
proliferation of digital texts led me to believe that we won’t be needing dead wood
libraries at all, at least no more than we need vinyl to listen to, or collect music. There
might be geeks, collectors, specialists, who for one reason or another still prefer the
physical form to the digital, but for the rest of us convenience, price, searchability, and
all the other digital goodies give enough reason not to collect stuff that collects dust.

Did you notice how deleting an epub file gives you a different feeling than throwing
out a book? You don’t have to feel guilty, you don’t have to feel anything at all.
So I was reading, reading, reading like never before. But at that time my son was too
young to read, so I didn’t have to think about him, or anyone else besides myself. But
as he was growing, it slowly dawned on me: without these physical books how will I be
able to give him the same chance of serendipity, and of discovery, enchantment, and
immersion that I got in my father’s library? And even later, what will I give him as his
heritage? Son, look into this folder of PDFs: this is my legacy, your heritage, explore,
enjoy, take pride in it?
Collections of anything, whether they are art, books, objects, people, are inseparable
from the person who assembled that collection, and when that person is gone, the
collection dies, as does the most important inroad to it: the will that created this
particular order of things has passed away. But the heavy and unavoidable physicality
of a book collection forces all those left behind to make an effort to approach, to
force their way into, and try to navigate that garden of forking paths that is someone
else’s library. Even if you ultimately get rid of everything, you have to introduce
yourself to every book, and let every book introduce itself to you, so you know what
you’re throwing out. Even if you’ll ultimately kill, you will need to look into the eyes of
all your victims.
With a digital collection that’s, of course, not the case.

I was wrong to think that. I now realize that the future is not fully digital, it is more
a physical-digital hybrid, in which the printed book is not simply an endangered
species protected by a few devoted eccentrics who refuse to embrace the obvious

The e-book is ephemeral. It has little past and even less chance to preserve the
fingerprints of its owners over time. It is impersonal, efficient, fast, abundant, like


Own Nothing

Balazs Bodo


fast food or plastic, it flows through the hand like sand. It lacks the embodiment, the
materiality which would give it a life in a temporal dimension. If you want to network the
dead and the unborn, as is the ambition of every book, then you need to print and bind,
and create heavy objects that are expensive, inefficient and a burden. This burden
subsiding in the object is the bridge that creates the intergenerational dimension,
that forces you to think of the value of a book.
Own nothing, have nothing. Own everything, and your children will hate you when
you die.
I have to say, I’m struggling to find a new balance here. I started to buy books again,
usually books that I’d already read from a stolen copy on-screen. I know what I want
to buy, I know what is worth preserving. I know what I want to show to my son, what
I want to pass on, what I would like to take care of over time. Before, book buying for
me was an investment into a stranger. Now that thrill is gone forever. I measure up
the merchandise well beforehand, I build an intimate relationship, we make love again
and again, before moving in together.
It is certainly a new kind of relationship with the books I bought since I got my e-reader.
I still have to come to terms with the fact that the books I bought this way are rarely
opened, as I already know them, and their role is not to be read, but to be together.
What do I buy, and what do I get? Temporal, existential security? The chance of
serendipity, if not for me, then for the people around me? The reassuring materiality
of the intimacy I built with these texts through another medium?
All of these and maybe more. But in any case, I sense that this library, the physical
embodiment of a physical-electronic hybrid collection with its unopened books and
overflowing e-reader memory cards, is very different from the library I had, and the
library I’m getting rid of at this very moment. The library that I inherited, the library
that grew organically from the detritus of the everyday, the library that accumulated
books similar to how the books accumulated dust, as is the natural way of things, this
library was full of unknowns, it was a library of potentiality, of opportunities, of trips
waiting to happen. This new, hybrid library is a collection of things that I’m familiar with.
I intimately know every piece, they hold little surprise, they offer few discoveries — at
least for me. The exploration, the discovery, the serendipity, the pre-screening takes
place on the e-reader, among the ephemeral, disposable PDFs and epubs.

We Won
This new hybrid model is based on the cheap availability of digital books. In my case, the
free availability of pirated copies available through shadow libraries. These libraries
don’t have everything on offer, but they have books in an order of magnitude larger
than I’ll ever have the time and chance to read, so they offer enough, enough for me
to fill up hard drives with books I want to read, or at least skim, to try, to taste. As if I
moved into an infinite bookstore or library, where I can be as promiscuous, explorative,
nomadic as I always wanted to be. I can flirt with books, I can have a quickie, or I can
leave them behind without shedding a single tear.
I don’t know how this hybrid library, and this analogue-digital hybrid practice of reading
and collecting would work without the shadow libraries which make everything freely
accessible. I rely on their supply to test texts, and feed and grow my print library.
E-books are cheaper than their print versions, but they still cost money, carry a
risk, a cost of experimentation. Book-streaming, the flat-rate, the all-you-can-eat
format of accessing books is at the moment only available to audiobooks, but rarely
for e-books. I wonder why.
Did you notice that there are no major book piracy lawsuits?

Have everything, and own a few.


Balazs Bodo

Own Nothing


Of course there is the lawsuit against Sci-Hub and Library Genesis in New York, and
there is another one in Canada against aaaaarg, causing major nuisance to those who
have been named in these cases. But this is almost negligible compared to the high
profile wars the music and audiovisual industries waged against Napster, Grokster,
Kazaa, megaupload and their likes. It is as if book publishers have completely given up on
trying to fight piracy in the courts, and have launched a few lawsuits only to maintain
the appearance that they still care about their digital copyrights. I wonder why.
I know the academic publishing industry slightly better than the mainstream popular
fiction market, and I have the feeling that in the former copyright-based business
models are slowly being replaced by something else. We see no major anti-piracy
efforts from publishers, not because piracy is non-existent — on the contrary, it is
global, and it is big — but because the publishers most probably realized that in the
long run the copyright-based exclusivity model is unsustainable. The copyright wars
of the last two decades taught them that law cannot put an end to piracy. As the
Sci-Hub case demonstrates, you can win all you want in a New York court, but this
has little real-world effect as long as the conditions that attract the users to the
shadow libraries remain.
Exclusivity-based publishing business models are under assault from other sides as
well. Mandated open access in the US and in the EU means that there is a quickly
growing body of new research for the access of which publishers cannot charge
money anymore. LibGen and Sci-Hub make it harder to charge for the back catalogue.
Their sheer existence teaches millions on what uncurtailed open access really is, and
makes it easier for university libraries to negotiate with publishers, as they don’t have
to worry about their patrons being left without any access at all.
The good news is that radical open access may well be happening. It is a less and less
radical idea to have things freely accessible. One has to be less and less radical to
achieve the openness that has been long overdue. Maybe it is not yet obvious today
and the victory is not yet universal, maybe it’ll take some extra years, maybe it won’t
ever be evenly distributed, but it is obvious that this genie, these millions of books on
everything from malaria treatments to critical theory, cannot be erased, and open
access will not be undone, and the future will be free of access barriers.

We Are Not Winning at All
But did we really win? If publishers are happy to let go of access control and copyright,
it means that they’ve found something that is even more profitable than selling
back to us academics the content that we have produced. And this more profitable
something is of course data. Did you notice where all the investment in academic
publishing went in the last decade? Did you notice SSRN, Mendeley, Academia.edu,
ScienceDirect, research platforms, citation software, manuscript repositories, library
systems being bought up by the academic publishing industry? All these platforms
and technologies operate on and support open access content, while they generate
data on the creation, distribution, and use of knowledge; on individuals, researchers,
students, and faculty; on institutions, departments, and programs. They produce data
on the performance, on the success and the failure of the whole domain of research
and education. This is the data that is being privatized, enclosed, packaged, and sold
back to us.

Drip, drip, drop, its only nostalgia. My heart is light, as I don’t have to worry about
gutting the library. Soon it won’t matter at all.

Taylorism reached academia. In the name of efficiency, austerity, and transparency,
our daily activities are measured, profiled, packaged, and sold to the highest bidder.
But in this process of quantification, knowledge on ourselves is lost for us, unless we
pay. We still have some patchy datasets on what we do, on who we are, we still have
this blurred reflection in the data-mirrors that we still do control. But this path of
self-enlightenment is quickly waning as less and less data sources about us are freely
available to us.


Own Nothing

Who is downloading books and articles? Everyone. Radical open access? We won,
if you like.

Balazs Bodo


I strongly believe that information on the self is the foundation
of self-determination. We need to have data on how we operate,
on what we do in order to know who we are. This is what is being
privatized away from the academic community, this is being
taken away from us.
Radical open access. Not of content, but of the data about
ourselves. This is the next challenge. We will digitize every page,
by hand if we must, that process cannot be stopped anymore.
No outside power can stop it and take that from us. Drip, drip,
drop, this is what I console myself with, as another handful of
books land among the waste.
But the data we lose now will not be so easy to reclaim.


Balazs Bodo

Own Nothing


What if
We Aren't
the Only

My goal in this paper is to tell the story
of a grass-roots project called Data
Refuge (http://www.datarefuge.org)
that I helped to co-found shortly after,
and in response to, the Trump election
in the USA. Trump’s reputation as
anti-science, and the promise that his
administration would elevate people into
positions of power with a track record
of distorting, hiding, or obscuring the
scientific evidence of climate change
caused widespread concern that
valuable federal data was now in danger.
The Data Refuge project grew from the
work of Professor Bethany Wiggin and
the graduate students within the Penn
Program in Environmental Humanities
(PPEH), notably Patricia Kim, and was
formed in collaboration with the Penn
Libraries, where I work. In this paper, I
will discuss the Data Refuge project, and
call attention to a few of the challenges
inherent in the effort, especially as
they overlap with the goals of this
collective. I am not a scholar. Instead,
I am a librarian, and my perspective as
a practicing informational professional
informs the way I approach this paper,
which weaves together the practical
and technical work of ‘saving data’ with
the theoretical, systemic, and ethical
issues that frame and inform what we
have done.

I work as the head of a relatively small and new department within the libraries
of the University of Pennsylvania, in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the
US. I was hired to lead the Digital Scholarship department in the spring of 2016,
and most of the seven (soon to be eight) people within Digital Scholarship joined
the library since then in newly created positions. Our group includes a mapping
and spatial data librarian and three people focused explicitly on supporting the
creation of new Digital Humanities scholarship. There are also two people in the
department who provide services connected with digital scholarly open access
publishing, including the maintenance of the Penn Libraries’ repository of open
access scholarship, and one Data Curation and Management Librarian. This
Data Librarian, Margaret Janz, started working with us in September 2016, and
features heavily into the story I’m about to tell about our work helping to build Data
Refuge. While Margaret and I were the main people in our department involved in
the project, it is useful to understand the work we did as connected more broadly
to the intersection of activities—from multimodal, digital, humanities creation to
open access publishing across disciplines—represented in our department in Penn.
At the start of Data Refuge, Professor Wiggin and her students had already been
exploring the ways that data about the environment can empower communities
through their art, activism, and research, especially along the lower Schuylkill
River in Philadelphia. They were especially attuned to the ways that missing data,
or data that is not collected or communicated, can be a source of disempowerment.
After the Trump election, PPEH graduate students raised the concern that the
political commitments of the new administration would result in the disappearance
of environmental and climate data that is vital to work in cities and communities
around the world. When they raised this concern with the library, together we cofounded Data Refuge. It is notable to point out that, while the Penn Libraries is a
large and relatively well-resourced research library in the United States, it did not
have any automatic way to ingest and steward the data that Professor Wiggin and
her students were concerned about. Our system of acquiring, storing, describing
and sharing publications did not account for, and could not easily handle, the
evident need to take in large quantities of public data from the open web and make
them available and citable by future scholars. Indeed, no large research library
was positioned to respond to this problem in a systematic way, though there was
general agreement that the community would like to help.
The collaborative, grass-roots movement that formed Data Refuge included many
librarians, archivists, and information professionals, but it was clear from the
beginning that my own profession did not have in place a system for stewarding
these vital information resources, or for treating them as ‘publications’ of the


Laurie Allen

What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?


federal government. This fact was widely understood by various members of our
profession, notably by government document librarians, who had been calling
attention to this lack of infrastructure for years. As Government Information
Librarian Shari Laster described in a blog post in November of 2016, government
documents librarians have often felt like they are ‘under siege’ not from political
forces, but from the inattention to government documents afforded by our systems
and infrastructure. Describing the challenges facing the profession in light of the
2016 election, she commented: “Government documents collections in print are
being discarded, while few institutions are putting strategies in place for collecting
government information in digital formats. These strategies are not expanding in
tandem with the explosive proliferation of these sources, and certainly not in pace
with the changing demands for access from public users, researchers, students,
and more.” (Laster 2016) Beyond government documents librarians, our project
joined efforts that were ongoing in a huge range of communities, including: open
data and open science activists; archival experts working on methods of preserving
born-digital content; cultural historians; federal data producers and the archivists
and data scientists they work with; and, of course, scientists.

the scientific record to fight back, in a concrete way, against
an anti-fact establishment. By downloading data and moving
it into the Internet Archive and the Data Refuge repository,
volunteers were actively claiming the importance of accurate
records in maintaining or creating a just society.

This distributed approach to the work of downloading and saving the data
encouraged people to see how they were invested in environmental and scientific
data, and to consider how our government records should be considered the
property of all of us. Attending Data Rescue events was a way for people who value

Of course, access to data need not rely on its inclusion in
a particular repository. As is demonstrated so well in other
contexts, technological methods of sharing files can make
the digital repositories of libraries and archives seem like a
redundant holdover from the past. However, as I will argue
further in this paper, the data that was at risk in Data Refuge
differed in important ways from the contents of what Bodó
refers to as ‘shadow libraries’ (Bodó 2015). For opening
access to copies of journals articles, shadow libraries work
perfectly. However, the value of these shadow libraries relies
on the existence of the widely agreed upon trusted versions.
If in doubt about whether a copy is trustworthy, scholars
can turn to more mainstream copies, if necessary. This was
not the situation we faced building Data Refuge. Instead, we
were often dealing with the sole public, authoritative copy
of a federal dataset and had to assume that, if it were taken
down, there would be no way to check the authenticity of
other copies. The data was not easily pulled out of systems
as the data and the software that contained them were often
inextricably linked. We were dealing with unique, tremendously
valuable, but often difficult-to-untangle datasets rather than
neatly packaged publications. The workflow we established
was designed to privilege authenticity and trustworthiness
over either the speed of the copying or the easy usability of
the resulting data. 2 This extra care around authenticity was
necessary because of the politicized nature of environmental
data that made many people so worried about its removal
after the election. It was important that our project
supported the strongest possible scientific arguments that
could be made with the data we were ‘saving’. That meant
that our copies of the data needed to be citable in scientific
scholarly papers, and that those citations needed to be
able to withstand hostile political forces who claim that the
science of human-caused climate change is ‘uncertain’. It


What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?

Born from the collaboration between Environmental Humanists and Librarians,
Data Refuge was always an effort both at storytelling and at storing data. During
the first six months of 2017, volunteers across the US (and elsewhere) organized
more than 50 Data Rescue events, with participants numbering in the thousands.
At each event, a group of volunteers used tools created by our collaborators at
the Environmental and Data Governance Initiative (EDGI) (https://envirodatagov.
org/) to support the End of Term Harvest (http://eotarchive.cdlib.org/) project
by identifying seeds from federal websites for web archiving in the Internet
Archive. Simultaneously, more technically advanced volunteers wrote scripts to
pull data out of complex data systems, and packaged that data for longer term
storage in a repository we maintained at datarefuge.org. Still other volunteers
held teach-ins, built profiles of data storytellers, and otherwise engaged in
safeguarding environmental and climate data through community action (see
http://www.ppehlab.org/datarefugepaths). The repository at datarefuge.org that
houses the more difficult data sources has been stewarded by myself and Margaret
Janz through our work at Penn Libraries, but it exists outside the library’s main
technical infrastructure.1

Laurie Allen


was easy to imagine in the Autumn of 2016, and even easier
to imagine now, that hostile actors might wish to muddy the
science of climate change by releasing fake data designed
to cast doubt on the science of climate change. For that
reasons, I believe that the unique facts we were seeking
to safeguard in the Data Refuge bear less similarity to the
contents of shadow libraries than they do to news reports
in our current distributed and destabilized mass media
environment. Referring to the ease of publishing ideas on the
open web, Zeynep Tufecki wrote in a recent column, “And
sure, it is a golden age of free speech—if you can believe your
lying eyes. Is that footage you’re watching real? Was it really
filmed where and when it says it was? Is it being shared by altright trolls or a swarm of Russian bots? Was it maybe even
generated with the help of artificial intelligence? (Yes, there
are systems that can create increasingly convincing fake
videos.)” (Tufekci 2018). This was the state we were trying to
avoid when it comes to scientific data, fearing that we might
have the only copy of a given dataset without solid proof that
our copy matched the original.
If US federal websites cease functioning as reliable stewards
of trustworthy scientific data, reproducing their data
without a new model of quality control risks producing the
very censorship that our efforts are supposed to avoid,
and further undermining faith in science. Said another way,
if volunteers duplicated federal data all over the Internet
without a trusted system for ensuring the authenticity of
that data, then as soon as the originals were removed, a sea of
fake copies could easily render the original invisible, and they
would be just as effectively censored. “The most effective
forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and
attention, not muzzling speech itself.” (Tufekci 2018).
These concerns about the risks of open access to data should
not be understood as capitulation to the current marketdriven approach to scholarly publishing, nor as a call for
continuation of the status quo. Instead, I hope to encourage
continuation of the creative approaches to scholarship
represented in this collective. I also hope the issues raised in


Laurie Allen

Data Refuge will serve as a call to take greater responsibility for the systems into
which scholarship flows and the structures of power and assumptions of trust (by
whom, of whom) that scholarship relies on.
While plenty of participants in the Data Refuge community posited scalable
technological approaches to help people trust data, none emerged that were
strong enough to risk further undermining faith in science that a malicious attack
might cause. Instead of focusing on technical solutions that rely on the existing
systems staying roughly as they are, I would like to focus on developing networks
that explore different models of trust in institutions, and that honor the values
of marginalized and indigenous people. For example, in a recent paper, Stacie
Williams and Jarrett Drake describe the detailed decisions they made to establish
and become deserving of trust in supporting the creation of an Archive of Police
Violence in Cleveland (Williams and Drake 2017). The work of Michelle Caswell and
her collaborators on exploring post-custodial archives, and on engaging in radical
empathy in the archives provide great models of the kind of work that I believe is
necessary to establish new models of trust that might help inform new modes of
sharing and relying on community information (Caswell and Cifor 2016).
Beyond seeking new ways to build trust, it has become clear that new methods
are needed to help filter and contextualize publications. Our current reliance
on a few for-profit companies to filter and rank what we see of the information
landscape has proved to be tremendously harmful for the dissemination of facts,
and has been especially dangerous to marginalized communities (Noble 2018).
While the world of scholarly humanities publishing is doing somewhat better than
open data or mass media, there is still a risk that without new forms of filtering and
establishing quality and trustworthiness, good ideas and important scholarship will
be lost in the rankings of search engines and the algorithms of social media. We
need new, large scale systems to help people filter and rank the information on the
open web. In our current situation, according to media theorist dana boyd, “[t]he
onus is on the public to interpret what they see. To self-investigate. Since we live
in a neoliberal society that prioritizes individual agency, we double down on media
literacy as the ‘solution’ to misinformation. It’s up to each of us as individuals to
decide for ourselves whether or not what we’re getting is true.” (boyd 2018)
In closing, I’ll return to the notion of Guerrilla warfare that brought this panel
together. While some of our collaborators and some in the press did use the term
‘Guerrilla archiving’ to describe the data rescue efforts (Currie and Paris 2017),
I generally did not. The work we did was indeed designed to take advantage of
tactics that allow a small number of actors to resist giant state power. However,

What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?


if anything, the most direct target of these guerrilla actions in my mind was not
the Trump administration. Instead, the action was designed to prompt responses
by the institutions where many of us work and by communities of scholars and
activists who make up these institutions. It was designed to get as many people as
possible working to address the complex issues raised by the two interconnected
challenges that the Data Refuge project threw into relief. The first challenge,
of course, is the need for new scientific, artistic, scholarly and narrative ways of
contending with the reality of global, human-made climate change. And the second
challenge, as I’ve argued in this paper, is that our systems of establishing and
signaling trustworthiness, quality, reliability and stability of information are in dire
need of creative intervention as well. It is not just publishing but all of our systems
for discovering, sharing, acquiring, describing and storing that scholarship that
need support, maintenance, repair, and perhaps in some cases, replacement. And
this work will rely on scholars, as well as expert information practitioners from a
range of fields (Caswell 2016).

¹ At the time of this writing, we are working
on un-packing and repackaging the data
within Data Refuge for eventual inclusion
in various Research Library Repositories.

Ideally, of course, all federally produced
datasets would be published in neatly
packaged and more easily preservable
containers, along with enough technical
checks to ensure their validity (hashes,
checksums, etc.) and each agency would
create a periodical published inventory of
datasets. But the situation we encountered
with Data Refuge did not start us in
anything like that situation, despite the
hugely successful and important work of
the employees who created and maintained
data.gov. For a fuller view of this workflow,
see my talk at CSVConf 2017 (Allen 2017).


Closing note: The workflow established and used at Data Rescue events was
designed to tackle this set of difficult issues, but needed refinement, and was retired
in mid-2017. The Data Refuge project continues, led by Professor Wiggin and her
colleagues and students at PPEH, who are “building a storybank to document
how data lives in the world – and how it connects people, places, and non-human
species.” (“DataRefuge” n.d.) In addition, the set of issues raised by Data Refuge
continue to inform my work and the work of many of our collaborators.


Laurie Allen

What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?


Allen, Laurie. 2017. “Contexts and Institutions.” Paper presented at csv,conf,v3, Portland,
Oregon, May 3rd 2017. Accessed May 20, 2018. https://youtu.be/V2gwi0CRYto.
Bodo, Balazs. 2015. “Libraries in the Post - Scarcity Era.” In Copyrighting Creativity:
Creative Values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property,
edited by Porsdam. Routledge.
boyd, danah. 2018. “You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You?” Data & Society: Points.
March 9, 2018. https://points.datasociety.net/you-think-you-want-media-literacy-doyou-7cad6af18ec2.
Caswell, Michelle. 2016. “‘The Archive’ Is Not an Archives: On Acknowledging the
Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies.” Reconstruction: Studies in
Contemporary Culture 16:1 (2016) (special issue “Archives on Fire”),
Caswell, Michelle, and Marika Cifor. 2016. “From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical
Empathy in the Archives.” Archivaria 82 (0): 23–43.
Currie, Morgan, and Britt Paris. 2017. “How the ‘Guerrilla Archivists’ Saved History – and
Are Doing It Again under Trump.” The Conversation (blog). February 21, 2017.
“DataRefuge.” n.d. PPEH Lab. Accessed May 21, 2018.
“DataRescue Paths.” n.d. PPEH Lab. Accessed May 20, 2018.
“End of Term Web Archive: U.S. Government Websites.” n.d. Accessed May 20, 2018.
“Environmental Data and Governance Initiative.” n.d. EDGI. Accessed May 19, 2018.
Laster, Shari. 2016. “After the Election: Libraries, Librarians, and the Government - Free
Government Information (FGI).” Free Government Information (FGI). November 23,
2016. https://freegovinfo.info/node/11451.
Noble, Safiya Umoja. 2018. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce
Racism. New York: NYU Press.
Tufekci, Zeynep. 2018. “It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech.”
WIRED. Accessed May 20, 2018.
“Welcome - Data Refuge.” n.d. Accessed May 20, 2018. https://www.datarefuge.org/.
Williams, Stacie M, and Jarrett Drake. 2017. “Power to the People: Documenting Police
Violence in Cleveland.” Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1 (2).


Laurie Allen


tactics in Mars & Medak 2019

Mars & Medak
Against Innovation

Against Innovation: Compromised institutional agency and acts of custodianship
Marcell Mars and Tomislav Medak

In this essay we reflect on the historic crisis of the university and the public library as two
modern institutions tasked with providing universal access to knowledge and education.
This crisis, precipitated by pushes to marketization, technological innovation and
financialization in universities and libraries, has prompted the emergence of shadow
libraries as collective disobedient practices of maintenance and custodianship. In their
illegal acts of reversing property into commons, commodification into care, we detect a
radical gesture comparable to that of the historical avant-garde. To better understand how
the university and the public library ended up in this crisis, we re-trace their development
starting with the capitalist modernization around the turn of the 20th century, a period of
accelerated technological innovation that also birthed historical avant-garde. Drawing on
Perry Anderson’s ‘Modernity and Revolution’, we interpret that uniquely creative period
as a period of ambivalence toward an ‘unpredictable political future’ that was open to
diverging routes of social development. We situate the later re-emergence of avant-garde
practices in the 1960s as an attempt to subvert the separations that a mature capitalism
imposes on social reality. In the present, we claim, the radicality equivalent to the avantgarde is to divest from the disruptive dynamic of innovation and focus on the repair,
maintenance and care of the broken social world left in techno-capitalism’s wake.
Comparably, the university and the public library should be able to claim the radical
those gesture of slowdown and custodianship too, against the imperative of innovation
imposed on them by policymakers and managers.

Custodians.online, the first letter
On 30 November, 2015 a number of us shadow librarians who advocate, build
and maintain ‘shadow libraries’, i.e. online infrastructures allowing users to
digitise, share and debate digital texts and collections, published a letter
article | 345

ephemera: theory & politics in organization

(Custodians.online, 2015) in support of two of the largest user-created
repositories of pirated textbooks and articles on the Internet – Library Genesis
and Science Hub. Library Genesis and Science Hub’s web domain names were
taken down after a New York court issued an injunction following a copyright
infringement suit filed by the largest commercial academic publisher in the
world – Reed Elsevier. It is a familiar trajectory that a shared digital resource,
once it grows in relevance and size, gets taken down after a court decision.
Shadow libraries are no exception.
The world of higher education and science is structured by uneven development.
The world’s top-ranked universities are concentrated in a dozen rich countries
(Times Higher Education, 2017), commanding most of the global investment
into higher education and research. The oligopoly of commercial academic
publishers is headquartered in no more than half of those. The excessive rise of
subscription fees has made it prohibitively expensive even for the richest
university libraries of the Global North to provide access to all the journals they
would need to (Sample, 2012), drawing protest from academics all over the world
against the outrageously high price tag that Reed Elsevier puts on their work
(‘The Cost of Knowledge’, 2012). Against this concentration of economic might
and exclusivity to access, stands the fact that the rest of the world has little access
to the top-ranked research universities (Baty, 2017; Henning, 2017) and that the
poor universities are left with no option but to tacitly encourage their students to
use shadow libraries (Liang, 2012). The editorial director of global rankings at the
Times Higher Education Phil Baty minces no words when he bluntly states ‘that
money talks in global higher education seems … to be self-evident’ (Baty, 2017).
Uneven economic development reinforces global uneven development in higher
education and science – and vice versa. It is in the face of this combined
economic and educational unevenness, that Library Genesis and Science Hub,
two repositories for a decommodified access to otherwise paywalled resources,
attain a particular import for students, academics and researchers worldwide.
And it is in the face of combined economic and educational unevenness, that
Library Genesis and Science Hub continue to brave the court decisions,
continuously changing their domain names, securing ways of access beyond the
World Wide Web and ensuring robust redundancy of the materials in their
The Custodians.online letter highlights two circumstances in this antagonism
that cut to the core of the contradictions of reproduction within academia in the
present. The first is the contrast between the extraction of extreme profits from
academia through inflated subscription prices and the increasingly precarious
conditions of studying, teaching and researching:

346 | article

Marcell Mars and Tomislav Medak

Against innovation

Consider Elsevier, the largest scholarly publisher, whose 37% profit margin stands
in sharp contrast to the rising fees, expanding student loan debt and poverty-level
wages for adjunct faculty. Elsevier owns some of the largest databases of academic
material, which are licensed at prices so scandalously high that even Harvard, the
richest university of the global north, has complained that it cannot afford them
any longer. (Custodians.online, 2015: n.p.)

The enormous profits accruing to an oligopoly of academic publishers are a
result of a business model premised on harvesting and enclosing the scholarly
writing, peer reviewing and editing is done mostly for free by academics who are
often-times struggling to make their ends meet in the higher education
environment (Larivière et al., 2015).
The second circumstance is that shadow libraries invert the property relation of
copyright that allows publishers to exclude all those students, teachers and
researchers who don’t have institutional access to scholarly writing and yet need
that access for their education and research, their work and their livelihood in
conditions of heightened precarity:
This is the other side of 37% profit margins: our knowledge commons grows in
the fault lines of a broken system. We are all custodians of knowledge, custodians
of the same infrastructures that we depend on for producing knowledge,
custodians of our fertile but fragile commons. To be a custodian is, de facto, to
download, to share, to read, to write, to review, to edit, to digitize, to archive, to
maintain libraries, to make them accessible. It is to be of use to, not to make
property of, our knowledge commons.) (Custodians.online, 2015)

Shadow libraries thus perform an inversion that replaces the ability of ownership
to exclude, with the practice of custodianship (notion implying both the labor of
preservation of cultural artifacts and the most menial and invisible labor of daily
maintenance and cleaning of physical structures) that makes one useful to a
resource held in common and the infrastructures that sustain it.
These two circumstances – antagonism between value extraction and precarity
and antagonism between exclusive property and collective custodianship – signal
a deeper-running crisis of two institutions of higher education and research that
are caught in a joint predicament: the university and the library. This crisis is a
reflection of the impossible challenges placed on them by the capitalist
development, with its global division of labor and its looming threat of massive
technological unemployment, and the response of national policymakers to those
challenges: Are they able to create a labor force that will be able to position itself
in the global labor market with ever fewer jobs to go around? Can they do it with
less money? Can they shift the cost, risk and responsibility for social challenges
to individual students and patrons, who are now facing the prospect of their
investment in education never working out? Under these circumstances, the
article | 347

imperative is that these institutions have to re-invent themselves, that they have
to innovate in order to keep up with the disruptive course and accelerated the
pace of change.

Custodianship and repair
In what follows we will argue against submitting to this imperative of innovation.
Starting from the conditions from which shadow libraries emerge, as laid out in
the first Custodians.online letter, we claim that the historical trajectory of the
university and the library demands that they now embrace a position of
disobedience. They need to go back to their universalizing mission of providing
access to knowledge and education unconditionally to all members of society.
That universalism is a powerful political gesture. An infinite demand (Critchley,
2007) whereby they seek to abolish exclusions and affirm the legacy of the radical
equality they have built as part of the history of emancipatory struggles and
advances since the revolutions of 1789 and 1848. At the core of this legacy is a
promise that the capacity of members of society to collectively contest and claim
rights so as to become free, equal and solidaric is underwritten by a capacity to
have informed opinion, attain knowledge and produce a pedagogy of their own.
The library and the university stand in a historical trajectory of revolutions, a
series of historical discontinuities. The French Revolution seized the holdings of
the aristocracy and the Church, and brought a deluge of books to the Blibliotèque
Nationale and the municipal libraries across France (Harris, 1999). The Chartism
might have failed in its political campaign in 1848, but was successful in setting
up the reading rooms and emancipating the working class education from moral
inculcation imposed on them by the ruling classes (Johnson, 2014). The tension
between continuity and discontinuity that comes with disruptive changes was
written into their history long before the present imperative of innovation. And
yet, if these institutions are social infrastructures that have ever since sustained
the production of knowledge and pedagogy by re-producing the organizational
and material conditions of their production, they warn us against taking that
imperative of innovation at face value.
The entrepreneurial language of innovation is the vernacular of global technocapitalism in the present. Radical disruption is celebrated for its ability to depose
old monopolies and birth new ones, to create new markets and its first movers to
replace old ones (Bower and Christensen, 1996). It is a formalization reducing
the complexity of the world to the capital’s dynamic of creative destruction
(Schumpeter, 2013), a variant of an old and still hegemonic productivism that
understands social development as primarily a function of radical advances in
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technological productivity (Mumford, 1967). According to this view, what counts
is that spurts of technological innovation are driven by cycles of financial capital
facing slumping profits in production (Perez, 2011).
However, once the effect of gains from new technologies starts to slump, once
the technologist’s dream of improving the world hits the hard place of venture
capital monetization and capitalist competition, once the fog of hyped-up
technological boom clears, that which is supposedly left behind comes the fore.
There’s then the sunken fixed capital that is no longer productive enough.
There’s then technical infrastructures and social institutions that were there
before the innovation and still remain there once its effect tapers off, removed
from view in the productivist mindset, and yet invisibly sustaining that activity of
innovation and any other activity in the social world we inhabit (Hughes, 1993).
What remains then is the maintenance of stagnant infrastructures, the work of
repair to broken structures and of care for resources that we collectively depend
As a number of scholars who have turned their attention to the matters of repair,
maintenance and care suggest, it is the sedimented material infrastructures of
the everyday and their breakdown that in fact condition and drive much of the
innovation process (Graham and Thrift, 2007; Jackson, 2014). As the renowned
historian of technology Thomas Hughes suggested (Hughes, 1993),
technological changes largely address the critical problems of existing
technologies. Earlier still, in the 1980s, David Noble convincingly argued that the
development of forces of production is a function of the class conflict (Noble,
2011). This turns the temporal logic of innovation on its head. Not the creative
destruction of a techno-optimist kind, but the malfunctioning of technological
infrastructures and the antagonisms of social structures are the elementary
pattern of learning and change in our increasingly technological world. As
Stephen Graham and Nigel Thrift argued (2007), once the smooth running
production, consumption and communication patterns in the contemporary
capitalist technosphere start to collapse, the collective coping strategies have to
rise to the challenge. Industrial disasters, breakdowns of infrastructures and
natural catastrophes have taught us that much.
In an age where a global division of labor is producing a growing precarity for
ever larger segments of the world’s working population and the planetary
systems are about to tip into non-linear changes, a truly radical gesture is that
which takes as its focus the repair of the effects of productivism. Approaching the
library and the university through the optic of social infrastructure allows us to
glimpse a radicality that their supposed inertia, complexity and stability make

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possible. This slowdown enables the processes of learning and the construction
of collective responses to the double crisis of growth and the environment.
In a social world in which precarity is differently experienced between different
groups, these institutions can accommodate that heterogeneity and diminish
their insecurities, helping the society effectively support structural change. They
are a commons in the non-substantive sense that Lauren Berlant (2016)
proposes, a ‘transitional form’ that doesn’t elide social antagonisms and that lets
different social positions loosely converge, in order to become ‘a powerful vehicle
for troubling troubled times’ (Berlant, 2016: 394-395).
The trajectory of radical gestures, discontinuities by re-invention, and creative
destruction of the old have been historically a hallmark of the avant-gardes. In
what follows, we will revisit the history of the avant-gardes, claiming that,
throughout their periodic iterations, the avant-gardes returned and mutated
always in response to the dominant processes and crises of the capitalist
development of their time. While primarily an artistic and intellectual
phenomenon, the avant-gardes emerged from both an adversarial and a coconstitutive relation to the institutions of higher education and knowledge
production. By revisiting three epochal moments along the trajectory of the
avant-gardes – 1917, 1967 and 2017 – we now wish to establish how the
structural context for radical disruption and radical transformation were
historically changing, bringing us to the present conjuncture where the library
and the university can reclaim the legacy of the avant-gardes by seemingly doing
its exact opposite: refusing innovation.

1917 – Industrial modernization,
revolutionary subjectivity




In his text on ‘Modernity and Revolution’ Perry Anderson (1984) provides an
unexpected, yet the cogent explanation of the immense explosion of artistic
creativity in the short span of time between the late nineteenth and early
twentieth century that is commonly periodized as modernism (or avant-garde,
which he uses sparsely yet interchangeably). Rather than collapsing these wildly
diverging movements and geographic variations of artistic practices into a
monolithic formation, he defines modernism as a broad field of singular
responses resulting from the larger socio-political conjuncture of industrial
modernity. The very different and sometimes antithetical currents of symbolism,
constructivism, futurism, expressionism or suprematism that emerge in
modernism’s fold were defined by three coordinates: 1) an opposition to the
academicism in the art of the ancien régime, which modernist art tendencies both
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draw from and position themselves against, 2) a transformative use of
technologies and means of communication that were still in their promising
infancy and not fully integrated into the exigencies of capitalist accumulation and
3) a fundamental ambivalence vis-à-vis the future social formation – capitalism or
socialism, state or soviet – that the process of modernization would eventually
lead to. As Anderson summarizes:
European modernism in the first years of this century thus flowered in the space
between a still usable classical past, a still indeterminate technical present, and a
still unpredictable political future. Or, put another way, it arose at the intersection
between a semi-aristocratic ruling order, a semi-industrialized capitalist economy,
and a semi-emergent, or -insurgent, labour movement. (Anderson, 1984: 150)

Thus these different modernisms emerged operating within the coordinates of
their historical present, – committed to a substantive subversion of tradition or to
an acceleration of social development. In his influential theory of the avant-garde,
Peter Bürger (1984) roots its development in the critique of autonomy the art
seemingly achieved with the rise of capitalist modernity between the eighteenth
and late nineteenth century. The emergence of bourgeois society allowed artists
to attain autonomy in a triple sense: art was no longer bounded to the
representational hierarchies of the feudal system; it was now produced
individually and by individual fiat of the artist; and it was produced for individual
appreciation, universally, by all members of society. Starting from the ideal of
aesthetic autonomy enshrined in the works of Kant and Schiller, art eventually
severed its links from the boundedness of social reality and made this freedom
into its subject matter. As the markets for literary and fine artworks were
emerging, artists were gaining material independence from feudal patronage, the
institutions of bourgeois art were being established, and ‘[a]estheticism had made
the distance from the praxis of life the content of works’ (Bürger, 1984: 49)
While capitalism was becoming the dominant reality, the freedom of art was
working to suppress the incursion of that reality in art. It was that distance,
between art and life, that historical avant-gardes would undertake to eliminate
when they took aim at bourgeois art. With the ‘pathos of historical
progressiveness on their side’ (Bürger, 1984: 50), the early avant-gardes were
thus out to relate and transform art and life in one go.
Early industrial capitalism unleashed an enormous social transformation
through the formalization and rationalization of processes, the coordination and
homogenization of everyday life, and the introduction of permanent innovation.
Thus emerged modern bureaucracy, mass society and technological revolutions.
Progress became the telos of social development. Productive forces and global
expansion of capitalist relations made the humanity and the world into a new

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horizon of both charitable and profitable endeavors, emancipatory and imperial.
The world became a project (Krajewski, 2014).
The avant-gardes around the turn of the 20th century integrated and critically
inflected these transformations. In the spirit of the October Revolution, its
revolutionary subjectivity approached social reality as eminently transformable.
And yet, a recurrent concern of artists was with the practical challenges and
innovations of accelerated modernization: how to control, coordinate and socially
integrate the immense expansionary forces of early industrialization. This was an
invitation to insert one’s own radical visions into life and create new forms of
standardization and rationality that would bring society out of its pre-industrial
backwardness. Central to the avant-garde was abolishing the old and creating the
new, while overcoming the separation of art and social practice. Unleashing
imaginary and constructive forces in a reality that has become rational, collective
and universal: that was its utopian promise; that was its radical innovation. Yet,
paradoxically, it is only once there is the new that the previously existing social
world can be formalized and totalized as the old and the traditional. As Boris
Groys (2014) insisted, the new can be only established once it stands in a relation
to the archive and the museum. This tendency was probably nowhere more in
evidence than, as Sven Spieker documents in his book ‘The big archive – Art
from bureaucracy’ (2008), in the obsession of Soviet constructivists and
suprematists with the archival ordering of the flood of information that the
emergent bureaucratic administration and industrial management were creating
on an unprecedented scale.
The libraries and the universities followed a similar path. As the world became a
project, the aggregation and organization of all knowledge about the world
became a new frontier. The pioneers of library science, Paul Otlet and Melvil
Dewey, consummating the work of centuries of librarianship, assembled index
card catalogs of everything and devised classificatory systems that were powerful
formalizations of the increasingly complex world. These index card catalogs were
a ‘precursor of computing: universal paper machine’, (Krajewski, 2011), predating the ‘universal Turing machine’ and its hardware implementations by
Konrad Zuse and John von Neumann by almost half a century. Knowledge thus
became universal and universalizable: while libraries were transforming into
universal information infrastructures, they were also transforming into places of
popular reading culture and popular pedagogy. Libraries thus were gaining
centrality in the dissemination of knowledge and culture, as the reading culture
was becoming a massive and general phenomenon. Moreover, during the second
part of the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth century, the working
class would struggle to transform not only libraries, but also universities, into
public institutions providing free access to culture and really useful knowledge
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necessary for the self-development and self-organization of the masses (Johnson,
While universities across the modernizing Europe, US and USSR would see their
opening to the masses only in the coming decades later, they shyly started to
welcome the working class and women. And yet, universities and schools were
intense places of experimentation and advancement. The Moscow design school
VKhUTEMAS, for instance, carried over the constructivists concerns into the
practicalities of the everyday, constructing socialist objects for a new collective
life, novyi byt, in the spirit of ‘Imagine no possessions’ (2005), as Christina Kiaer
has punned in the title of her book. But more importantly, the activities of
universities were driven by the promise that there are no limits to scientific
discovery and that a Leibnitzian dream of universal formalization of language
can be achieved through advances in mathematics and logic.

1967 – Mature capitalism, spectacle, resistant subjectivity
In this periodization, the central contention is that the radical gesture of
destruction of the old and creation of the new that was characteristic of the avantgarde has mutated as the historic coordinates of its emergence have mutated too.
Over the last century the avant-garde has divested from the radical gestures and
has assumed a relation to the transformation of social reality that is much more
complicated than its erstwhile cohort in disruptive change – technological
innovation – continues to offer. If technological modernization and the avantgarde were traveling companions at the turn of the twentieth century, after the
WWII they gradually parted their ways. While the avant-garde rather critically
inflects what capitalist modernity is doing at a particular moment of its
development, technological innovation remained in the same productivist pattern
of disruption and expansion. That technological innovation would remain
beholden to the cyclical nature of capitalist accumulation is, however, no mere
ideological blind-spot. Machinery and technology, as Karl Marx insists in The
Grundrisse, is after all ‘the most adequate form of capital’ (1857) and thus vital to
its dynamic. Hence it comes as no surprise that the trajectory of the avant-garde
is not only a continued substantive subversion of the ever new separations that
capitalist system produces in the social reality, but also a growing critical distance
to technology’s operation within its development.
Thus we skip forward half a century. The year is 1967. Industrial development is
at its apex. The despotism of mass production and its attendant consumerist
culture rules over the social landscape. After the WWII, the working class has
achieved great advances in welfare. The ‘control crisis’ (Beniger, 1989), resulting
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from an enormous expansion of production, distribution and communication in
the 19th century, and necessitating the emergence of the capacity for
coordination of complex processes in the form of modern bureaucracy and
information technology, persists. As the post-WWII golden period of gains in
productivity, prosperity and growth draws to a close, automation and
computerization start to make their way from the war room to the shop floor.
Growing labor power at home and decolonization abroad make the leading
capitalist economies increasingly struggle to keep profits rates at levels of the
previous two decades. Socialist economies struggle to overcome the initial
disadvantages of belated modernization and instill the discipline over labor in
order to compete in the dual world-system. It is still a couple of years before the
first oil crisis will break out and the neo-liberal retrenchment begin.
The revolutionary subjectivity of 1917 is now replaced by resistant militancy.
Facing the monotony of continuous-flow production and the prospect of bullshit
jobs in service industries that start to expand through the surplus of labor time
created by technological advances (Graeber, 2013), the workers perfect the
ingenuity in shirking the intensity and dullness of work. The consumerist culture
instills boredom (Vaneigem, 2012), the social division of labor produces
gendered exploitation at home (James, 2012), the paternalistic welfare provision
results in loss of autonomy (Oliver, 1990).
Sensibility is shaped by mass media whose form and content are structured by
the necessity of creating aggregate demand for the ever greater mass of
commodities and thus the commodity spectacle comes to mediate social
relations. In 1967 Guy Debord’s ‘The society of the spectacle’ is published. The
book analyses the totalizing capture of Western capitalist society by commodity
fetishism, which appears as objectively given. Commodities and their mediatized
simulacra become the unifying medium of social integration that obscures
separations within the society. So, as the crisis of 1970s approaches, the avantgarde makes its return. It operates now within the coordinates of the mature
capitalist conjuncture. Thus re-semantization, détournement and manipulation
become the representational equivalent of simulating busyness at work, playing
the game of hide-and-seek with the capitalist spectacle and turning the spectacle
onto itself. While the capitalist development avails itself of media and computers
to transform the reality into the simulated and the virtual, the avant-garde’s
subversive twist becomes to take the simulated and the virtual as reality and reappropriate them for playful transformations. Critical distance is no longer
possible under the centripetal impact of images (Foster, 1996), there’s no
revolutionary outside from which to assail the system, just one to escape from.

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Thus, the exodus and autonomy from the dominant trajectory of social
development rather than the revolutionary transformation of the social totality
become the prevailing mode of emancipatory agency. Autonomy through forms
of communitarian experimentation attempts to overcome the separation of life
and work, home and workplace, reproduction and production and their
concealment in the spectacle by means of micro-political experiments.
The university – in the meanwhile transformed into an institution of mass
education, accessible to all social strata – suddenly catapults itself center-stage,
placing the entire post-WWII political edifice with its authoritarian, repressive
and neo-imperial structure into question, as students make radical demands of
solidarity and liberation. The waves of radical political movements in which
students play a central role spread across the world: the US, Czechoslovakia,
France, Western Germany, Yugoslavia, Pakistan, and so on. The institution
becomes a site from which and against which mass civil rights, anti-imperial,
anti-nuclear, environmental, feminist and various other new left movements
It is in the context of exodus and autonomy that new formalizations and
paradigms of organizing knowledge emerge. Distributed, yet connected. Built
from bottom up, yet powerful enough to map, reduce and abstract all prior
formalizations. Take, for instance, Ted Nelson’s Project Xanadu that introduced
to the world the notion of hypertext and hyperlinking. Pre-dating the World Wide
Web by a good 25 years, Xanadu implemented the idea that a body of written
texts can be understood as a network of two-way references. With the advent of
computer networks, whose early adopters were academic communities, that
formalization materialized in real infrastructure, paving the way for a new
instantiation of the idea that the entire world of knowledge can be aggregated,
linked and made accessible to the entire world. As Fred Turner documents in
‘From counterculture to cyberculture’ (2010), the links between autonomyseeking dropouts and early cyberculture in the US were intimate.
Countercultural ideals of personal liberation at a distance from the society
converged with the developments of personal computers and computer networks
to pave the way for early Internet communities and Silicon Valley
No less characteristic of the period were new formalizations and paradigms of
technologically-mediated subjectivity. The tension between the virtual and the
real, autonomy and simulation of autonomy, was not only present in the avantgarde’s playful takes on mass media. By the end of the 1950s, the development of
computer hardware reached a stage where it was running fast enough to cheat
human perception in the same way moving images on film and television did. In
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the computer world, that illusion was time-sharing. Before the illusion could
work, the concept of an individual computer user had to be introduced (Hu,
2015). The mainframe computer systems such as IBM 360/370 were fast enough
to run a software-simulated (‘virtual’) clone of the system for every user (Pugh et
al., 1991). This allowed users to access the mainframe not sequentially one after
the other, but at the same time – sharing the process-cycles among themselves.
Every user was made to feel as if they were running their own separate (‘real’)
computer. The computer experience thus became personal and subjectivities
individuated. This interplay of simulation and reality became common in the late
1960s. Fifty years later this interplay would become essential for the massive
deployment of cloud computing, where all computer users leave traces of their
activity in the cloud, but only few can tell what is virtual (i.e. simulated) and what
is real (i.e. ‘bare machine’).
The libraries followed the same double trajectory of universities. In the 1960s,
the library field started to call into question the merit of objectivity and neutrality
that librarianship embraced in the 1920s with its induction into the status of
science. In the context of social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s, librarians
started to question ‘The Myth of Library Neutrality’ (Branum, 2008). With the
transition to a knowledge economy and transformation of the information into a
commodity, librarians could no longer ignore that the neutrality had the effect of
perpetuating the implicit structural exclusions of class, gender and race and that
they were the gatekeepers of epistemic and material privilege (Jansen, 1989;
Iverson 1999). The egalitarian politics written into the de-commodification and
enabling the social mission of public libraries started to trump neutrality. Thus
libraries came to acknowledge their commitment to the marginalized, their
pedagogies and their struggles.
At the same time, library science expanded and became enmeshed with
information science. The capacity to aggregate, organize and classify huge bodies
of information, to view it as an interlinked network of references indexed in a
card catalog, sat well with the developments in the computer world. In return, the
expansion of access to knowledge that the new computer networks promised fell
in line with the promise of public libraries.

2017 – Crisis in the present, financialization, compromised subjectivity
We arrive in the present. The effects of neo-liberal restructuring, the global
division of labor and supply-chain economy are petering out. Global capitalism
struggles to maintain growth, while at the same time failing to slow down
accelerating consumption of energy and matter. It thus arrives at a double crisis
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– a crisis of growth and a crisis of planetary boundaries. Against the profit
squeeze of 1970s, fixes were applied in the form of the relocation of production,
the breaking-up of organized labor and the integration of free markets across the
world. Yet those fixes have not stopped the long downturn of the capitalist system
that pinnacled in the crisis of 2008 (Brenner, 2006). Currently capital prefers to
sit on US$ 13.4 trillion of negative yielding bonds rather than risk investing into
production (Wigglesworth and Platt, 2016). Financialization is driving the efforts
to quickly boost and capture value where long-term investment makes little
sense. The finance capital privileges the short-term value maximization through
economic rents over long-term investment into growth. Its logic dominates all
aspects of the economy and the everyday (Brown, 2015). When it is betting on
long-term changes in production, capital is rather picky and chooses to bet on
technologies that are the harbingers of future automation. Those technologies
might be the death knell of the social expectation of full employment, creating a
reserve army of labor that will be pushed to various forms of casualized work,
work on demand and workfare. The brave new world of the gig-economy awaits.
The accelerated transformation of the labor market has made adaptation through
education and re-skilling difficult. Stable employment is mostly available in
sectors where highly specialized technological skills are required. Yet those
sectors need far less workers than the mass-manufacture required. Re-skilling is
only made more difficult by the fact that austerity policies are reducing the
universal provision of social support needed to allow workers to adapt to these
changes: workfare, the housing crisis, cuts in education and arts have converged
to make it so. The growing precarity of employment is doing away with the
separation between working time and free time. The temporal decomposition is
accompanied by the decomposition of workplace and living space. Fewer and
fewer jobs have a defined time and place in which they are performed (Huws,
2016) and while these processes are general, the conditions of precarity diverge
greatly from profession to profession, from individual to individual.
At the same time, we are living through record global warming, the seventh great
extinction and the destabilization of Earth’s biophysical systems. Globally, we’re
overshooting Earth’s regenerative capacities by a factor of 1.6 (Latouche, 2009),
some countries such as the US and the Gulf by a factor of 5 (Global Footprint
Network, 2013). And the environmental inequalities within countries are greater
than those between the countries (Piketty and Chancel, 2015). Unless by some
wonder almost non-existent negative emissions technologies do materialize
(Anderson and Peters, 2016), we are on a path of global destabilization of socioenvironmental metabolisms that no rate of technological change can realistically
mitigate (Loftus et al., 2015). Betting on settling on Mars is equally plausible.

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So, if the avant-garde has at the beginning of the 20th century responded to the
mutations of early modernization, in the 1960s to the integrated spectacle of the
mature capitalism, where is the avant-garde in the present?
Before we try to address the question, we need to return to our two public
institutions of mass education and research – the university and the library.
Where is their equalizing capacity in a historical conjuncture marked by the
rising levels of inequality? In the accelerating ‘race against the machine’
(Brynjolfsson and McAfee, 2012), with the advances in big data, AI and
robotization threatening to obliterate almost half of the jobs in advanced
economies (Frey and Osborne, 2013; McKinsey Global Institute, 2018), the
university is no longer able to fulfill the promise that it can provide both the
breadth and the specialization that are required to stave off the effect of a
runaway technological unemployment. It is no surprise that it can’t, because this
is ultimately a political question of changing the present direction of
technological and social development, and not a question of institutional
Yet while the university’s performance becomes increasingly scrutinized on the
basis of what its work is contributing to the stalling economy and challenges of
the labor market, on the inside it continues to be entrenched in defending
hierarchies. The uncertainty created by assessment-tied funding puts academics
on the defensive and wary of experimentation and resistance. Imperatives of
obsessive administrative reporting, performance metrics and short-term
competition for grant-based funding have, in Stefan Collini’s words, led to a ‘a
cumulative reduction in the autonomy, status and influence of academics’, where
‘[s]ystemic underfunding plus competition and punitive performancemanagement is seen as lean efficiency and proper accountability’ (Collini, 2017:
ch.2). Assessment-tied activities produce a false semblance of academic progress
by creating impact indicators that are frequently incidental to the research, while
at the same time demanding enormous amount of wasted effort that goes into
unsuccessful application proposals (Collini, 2017). Rankings based on
comparative performance metrics then allow university managers in the
monetized higher education systems such as UK to pitch to prospective students
how best to invest the debt they will incur in the future, in order to pay for the
growing tuition fees and cost of study, making the prospect of higher education
altogether less plausible for the majority in the long run (Bailey and Freedman,
Given that universities are not able to easily provide evidence that they are
contributing to the stalling economy, they are asked by the funders to innovate
instead. To paraphrase Marx, ‘innovate innovate that is their Moses and the
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prophets’. Innovation, a popular catch-all word with the government and
institutional administrators, gleaned from the entrepreneurial language of
techno-capitalism, to denote interventions, measures and adaptations in the
functioning of all kind of processes that promise to bring disruptive, almost
punitive radical changes to the failures to respond to the disruptive challenges
unleashed by that very same techno-capitalism.
For instance, higher education policy makers such as former UK universities
minister David Willets, advocate that the universities themselves should use their
competitive advantage, embrace the entrepreneurial opportunity in the global
academic marketplace and transform themselves into startups. Universities have
to become the ‘equivalent of higher education Google or Amazon’ (Gill, 2015). As
Gary Hall reports in his ‘Uberfication of the university’ (2016), a survey UK vicechancellors has detected a number of areas where universities under their
command should become more disruptively innovative:
Among them are “uses of student data analytics for personalized services” (the
number one innovation priority for 90 percent of vice-chancellors); “uses of
technology to transform learning experiences” (massive open online courses
[MOOCs]; mobile virtual learning environments [VLEs]; “anytime-anywhere
learning” (leading to the demise of lectures and timetables); and “student-driven
flexible study modes” (“multiple entry points” into programs, bringing about an
end to the traditional academic year). (Hall, 2016: n.p.)

Universities in the UK are thus pushed to constantly create trendy programs,
‘publish or perish’, perform and assess, hire and fire, find new sources of
funders, find students, find interest of parents, vie for public attention, produce
evidence of immediate impact. All we can expect from such attempts to
transform universities into Googles and Amazons, is that we will end up with an
oligopoly of a few prestige brands franchised all around the world – if the
strategy proves ‘successful’, or – if not – just with a world in which universities
go on faking disruptive innovations while waiting for some miracle to happen
and redeem them in the eyes of neoliberal policy makers.
These are all short-term strategies modeled on the quick extraction of value that
Wendy Brown calls the ‘financialization of everything’ (Brown, 2015: 70).
However, the best in the game of such quick rent-seeking are, as always, those
universities that carry the most prestige, have the most assets and need to be
least afraid for their future, whereas the rest are simply struggling in the prospect
of reduced funding.
Those universities in ‘peripheral’ countries, which rarely show up anywhere near
the top of the global rankings, are in a particularly disadvantaged situation. As
Danijela Dolenec has calculated:
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[T]he whole region [of Western Balkans] invests approximately EUR 495 million in
research and development per year, which is equivalent of one (second-largest) US
university. Current levels of investment cannot have a meaningful impact on the
current model of economic development ... (Dolenec, 2016: 34)

So, these universities don’t have much capacity to capture value in the global
marketplace. In fact, their work in educating masses matters less to their
economies, as these economies are largely based on selling cheap low-skilled
labor. So, their public funders leave them in their underfunded torpor to
improvise their way through education and research processes. It is these
institutions that depend the most on the Library Genesis and Science Hubs of
this world. If we look at the download data of Library Genesis, as has Balasz Bodó
(2015), we can discern a clear pattern that the users in the rich economies use
these shadow libraries to find publications that are not available in the digital
form or are pay-walled, while the users in the developing economies use them to
find publications they don’t have access to in print to start with.
As for libraries, in the shift to the digital they were denied the right to provide
access that has now radically expanded (Sullivan, 2012), so they are losing their
central position in the dissemination and access to knowledge. The decades of
retrenchment in social security, unemployment support, social housing, arts and
education have made libraries, with their resources open to broad communities,
into a stand-in for failing welfare institutions (Mattern, 2014). But with the onset
of 2008 crisis, libraries have been subjected to brutal cuts, affecting their ability
to stay open, service their communities and in particular the marginalized
groups and children (Kean, 2017). Just as universities, libraries have thus seen
their capacity to address structural exclusions of marginalized groups and
provide support to those affected by precarity compromised.
Libraries thus find themselves struggling to provide legitimation for the support
they receive. So they re-invent and re-brand themselves as ‘third places’ of
socialization for the elderly and the youth (Engel-Johnson, 2017), spaces where
the unemployed can find assistance with their job applications and the socially
marginalized a public location with no economic pressures. All these functions,
however, are not something that public libraries didn’t do before, along with
what was their primary function – providing universal access to all written
knowledge, in which they are however nowadays – in the digital economy –
severely limited.
All that innovation that universities and libraries are undertaking seems to be
little innovation at all. It is rather a game of hide and seek, behind which these
institutions are struggling to maintain their substantive mission and operation.
So, what are we to make of this position of compromised institutional agency? In
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a situation where progressive social agency no longer seems to be within the
remit of these institutions? The fact is that with the growing crisis of precarity
and social reproduction, where fewer and fewer have time from casualized work
to study, convenience to do so at home and financial prospects to incur a debt by
enrolling in a university, these institutions should, could and sometimes do
provide sustaining social arrangements and resources – not only to academics,
students and patrons, but also to a general public – that can reduce economic
imperatives and diminish insecurities. While doing this they also create
institutional preconditions that, unlike business-cycle driven institutions, can
support the structural repair that the present double crisis demands.
If the historical avant-garde was birthing of the new, nowadays repeating its
radicalism would seem to imply cutting through the fog of innovation. Its
radicalism would be to inhabit the non-new. The non-new that persists and in the
background sustains the broken social and technological world that the technocapitalist innovation wants to disrupt and transcend. Bullshit jobs and simulating
busyness at work are correlative of the fact that free time and the abundance of
social wealth created by growing productivity have paradoxically resulted in
underemployment and inequality. We’re at a juncture: accelerated crisis of
capitalism, accelerated climate change, accelerated erosion of political systems
are trajectories that leave little space for repair. The full surrender of
technological development into the hands of the market forces leaves even less.
The avant-garde radicalism nowadays is standing with the social institutions that
permit, speaking with Lauren Berlant, the ‘loose convergence’ of social
heterogeneity needed to construct ‘transitional form[s]’ (2016: 394). Unlike the
solutionism of techno-communities (Morozov, 2013) that tend to reduce
uncertainty of situations and conflict of values, social institutions permit
negotiating conflict and complexity in the situations of crisis that Gary Ravetz
calls postnormal – situations ‘where facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes
high and decisions urgent’ (Ravetz, 2003: 75). On that view, libraries and
universities as social infrastructures, provide a chance for retardation and
slowdown, and a capacity for collective disobedience. Against the radicalizing
exclusions of property and labor market, they can lower insecurities and
disobediently demand universal access to knowledge and education, a mass
intellectuality and autonomous critical pedagogy that increasingly seems a thing
of the past. Against the imposition to translate quality into metrics and capture
short-term values through assessment, they can resist the game of simulation.
While the playful simulation of reality was a thing in 1967, in 2017 it is no
longer. Libraries and universities can stop faking ‘innovativity’, ‘efficiency’ and

article | 361

Custodians.online, the second letter
On 30 November, 2016 a second missive was published by Custodians.online
(2016). On the twentieth anniversary of UbuWeb, ‘the single-most important
archive of avant-garde and outsider art’ on the Internet, the drafters of the letter
followed up on their initial call to acts of care for the infrastructure of our shared
knowledge commons that the first letter ended with. The second letter was a gift
card to Ubu, announcing that it had received two mirrors, i.e. exact copies of the
Ubu website accessible from servers in two different locations – one in Iceland,
supported by a cultural activist community, and another one in Switzerland,
supported by a major art school – whose maintenance should ensure that Ubu
remains accessible even if its primary server is taken down.
McKenzie Wark in their text on UbuWeb poignantly observes that shadow
libraries are:
tactics for intervening in three kinds of practices, those of the art-world, of
publishing and of scholarship. They respond to the current institutional, technical
and political-economic constraints of all three. As it says in the Communist
Manifesto, the forces for social change are those that ask the property question.
While détournement was a sufficient answer to that question in the era of the
culture industries, they try to formulate, in their modest way, a suitable tactic for
answering the property question in the era of the vulture industries. (Wark, 2015:

As we claimed, the avant-garde radicalism can be recuperated for the present
through the gestures of disobedience, deceleration and demands for
inclusiveness. Ubu already hints toward such recuperation on three coordinates:
1) practiced opposition to the regime of intellectual property, 2) transformative
use of old technologies, and 3) a promise of universal access to knowledge and
education, helping to foster mass intellectuality and critical pedagogy.
The first Custodians.online letter was drafted to voice the need for a collective
disobedience. Standing up openly in public for the illegal acts of piracy, which
are, however, made legitimate by the fact that students, academics and
researchers across the world massively contribute and resort to pirate repositories
of scholarly texts, holds the potential to overturn the noxious pattern of court
cases that have consistently lead to such resources being shut down.
However, the acts of disobedience need not be made explicit in the language of
radicalism. For a public institution, disobedience can also be doing what should
not be done: long-term commitment to maintenance – for instance, of a mirror –
while dealing institutionally with all the conflicts and challenges that doing this
publicly entails.
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The second Custodians.online letter was drafted to suggest that opportunity:
In a world of money-crazed start-ups and surveillance capitalism, copyright
madness and abuse, Ubu represents an island of culture. It shows what a single
person, with dedication and focus, can achieve. There are lessons to be drawn
from this:

1) Keep it simple and avoid constant technology updates. Ubu is plain
HTML, written in a text-editor.
2) Even a website should function offline. One should be able to take the
hard disk and run. Avoid the cloud – computers of people you don’t
know and who don’t care about you.
3) Don’t ask for permission. You would have to wait forever, turning
yourself into an accountant and a lawyer.
4) Don’t promise anything. Do it the way you like it.
5) You don’t need search engines. Rely on word-of-mouth and direct
linking to slowly build your public. You don’t need complicated
protocols, digital currencies or other proxies. You need people who
6) Everything is temporary, even after 20 years. Servers crash, disks die,
life changes and shit happens. Care and redundancy is the only path to
longevity. Care and redundancy is the reason why we decided to run
mirrors. We care and we want this resource to exist… should shit
happen, this multiplicity of locations and institutions might come in
handy. We will see. Find your Ubu. It’s time to mirror each other in
solidarity. (Custodians.online, 2016)

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the authors
Marcell Mars is a research associate at the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry
University (UK). Mars is one of the founders of Multimedia Institute/MAMA in Zagreb.
His research ‘Ruling Class Studies’, started at the Jan van Eyck Academy (2011),
examines state-of-the-art digital innovation, adaptation, and intelligence created by
corporations such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, and eBay. He is a doctoral student at
Digital Cultures Research Lab at Leuphana University, writing a thesis on ‘Foreshadowed
Libraries’. Together with Tomislav Medak he founded Memory of the World/Public
Library, for which he develops and maintains software infrastructure.
Email: ki.be@rkom.uni.st
Tomislav Medak is a doctoral student at the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry
University. Medak is a member of the theory and publishing team of the Multimedia
Institute/MAMA in Zagreb, as well as an amateur librarian for the Memory of the
World/Public Library project. His research focuses on technologies, capitalist
development, and postcapitalist transition, particularly on economies of intellectual
property and unevenness of technoscience. He authored two short volumes: ‘The Hard
Matter of Abstraction—A Guidebook to Domination by Abstraction’ and ‘Shit Tech for A
Shitty World’. Together with Marcell Mars he co-edited ‘Public Library’ and ‘Guerrilla
Open Access’.
Email: tom@mi2.hr

tactics in Mars & Medak 2019

Mars & Medak
System of a Takedown

System of a Takedown: Control and De-­commodification in the Circuits of Academic Publishing
Marcell Mars and Tomislav Medak

Since 2012 the Public Library/Memory of the World1 project has
been developing and publicly supporting scenarios for massive
disobedience against the current regulation of production and
circulation of knowledge and culture in the digital realm. While
the significance of that year may not be immediately apparent to
everyone, across the peripheries of an unevenly developed world
of higher education and research it produced a resonating void.
The takedown of the book-­sharing site Library.nu in early 2012
gave rise to an anxiety that the equalizing effect that its piracy
had created—­the fact that access to the most recent and relevant
scholarship was no longer a privilege of rich academic institutions
in a few countries of the world (or, for that matter, the exclusive
preserve of academia to begin with)—­would simply disappear into
thin air. While alternatives within these peripheries quickly filled
the gap, it was only through an unlikely set of circumstances that
they were able to do so, let alone continue to exist in light of the
legal persecution they now also face.


The starting point for the Public Library/Memory of the World
project was a simple consideration: the public library is the institutional form that societies have devised in order to make knowledge
and culture accessible to all their members regardless of social or
economic status. There’s a political consensus that this principle of
access is fundamental to the purpose of a modern society. Yet, as
digital networks have radically expanded the access to literature
and scientific research, public libraries were largely denied the
ability to extend to digital “objects” the kind of de-­commodified
access they provide in the world of print. For instance, libraries
frequently don’t have the right to purchase e-­books for lending and
preservation. If they do, they are limited by how many times—­
twenty-­six in the case of one publisher—­and under what conditions
they can lend them before not only the license but the “object”
itself is revoked. In the case of academic journals, it is even worse:
as they move to predominantly digital models of distribution,
libraries can provide access to and “preserve” them only for as
long as they pay extortionate prices for ongoing subscriptions. By
building tools for organizing and sharing electronic libraries, creating digitization workflows, and making books available online, the
Public Library/Memory of the World project is aimed at helping to
fill the space that remains denied to real-­world public libraries. It is
obviously not alone in this effort. There are many other platforms,
some more public, some more secretive, working to help people
share books. And the practice of sharing is massive.

Capitalism and Schizophrenia
New media remediate old media. Media pay homage to their
(mediatic) predecessors, which themselves pay homage to their
own (mediatic) predecessors. Computer graphics remediate film,
which remediates photography, which remediates painting, and so
on (McLuhan 1965, 8; Bolter and Grusin 1999). Attempts to understand new media technologies always settle on a set of metaphors

(of the old and familiar), in order to approximate what is similar,
and yet at the same time name the new. Every such metaphor has
its semiotic distance, decay, or inverse-­square law that draws the
limit how far the metaphor can go in its explanation of the phenomenon to which it is applied. The intellectual work in the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction thus received an unfortunate metaphor:
intellectual property. A metaphor modeled on the scarce and
exclusive character of property over land. As the Age of Mechanical
Reproduction became more and more the Age of Discrete and
Digital Reproduction, another metaphor emerged, one that reveals
the quandary left after decades of decay resulting from the increasing distanciation of intellectual property from the intellectual work
it seeks to regulate, and that metaphor is: schizophrenia.
Technologies compete with each other—­the discrete and the
digital thus competes with the mechanical—­and the aftermath of
these clashes can be dramatic. People lose their jobs, companies
go bankrupt, disciplines lose their departments, and computer
users lose their old files. More often than not, clashes between
competing technologies create antagonisms between different
social groups. Their voices are (sometimes) heard, and society tries
to balance their interests.
If the institutional remedies cannot resolve the social antagonism,
the law is called on to mediate. Yet in the present, the legal system
only reproduces the schizoid impasse where the metaphor of property over land is applied to works of intellect that have in practical
terms become universally accessible in the digital world. Court
cases do not result in a restoration of balance but rather in the
confirmation of entrenched interests. It is, however, not necessary
that courts act in such a one-­sided manner. As Cornelia Vismann
(2011) reminds us in her analysis of the ancient roots of legal mediation, the juridical process has two facets: first, a theatrical aspect
that has common roots with the Greek dramatic theatre and its
social function as a translator of a matter of conflict into a case for
weighted juridical debate; second, an agonistic aspect not unlike a
sporting competition where a winner has to be decided, one that



leads to judgment and sanction. In the matter of copyright versus
access, however, the fact that courts cannot look past the metaphor of intellectual property, which reduces any understanding of
our contemporary technosocial condition to an analogy with the
scarcity-­based language of property over land, has meant that they
have failed to adjudicate a matter of conflict between the equalizing effects of universal access to knowledge and the guarantees of
rightful remuneration for intellectual labor into a meaningful social
resolution. Rather they have primarily reasserted the agonistic
aspect by supporting exclusively the commercial interests of large
copyright industries that structure and deepen that conflict at the
societal level.
This is not surprising. As many other elements of contemporary
law, the legal norms of copyright were articulated and codified
through the centuries-­long development of the capitalist state
and world-system. The legal system is, as Nicos Poulantzas (2008,
25–­26) suggests, genetically structured by capitalist development.
And yet at the same time it is semi-­autonomous; the development
of its norms and institutional aspects is largely endogenous and
partly responsive to the specific needs of other social subsystems.
Still, if the law and the courts are the codified and lived rationality
of a social formation, then the choice of intellectual property as a
metaphor in capitalist society comes as no surprise, as its principal
objective is to institute a formal political-­economic framework for
the commodification of intellectual labor that produces knowledge
and culture. There can be no balance, only subsumption and
accumulation. Capitalism and schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia abounds wherever the discrete and the digital
breaking barriers to access meets capitalism. One can only wonder
how the conflicting interests of different divisions get disputed
and negotiated in successful corporate giants like Sony Group
where Sony Pictures Entertainment,2 Sony Music Entertainment3
and Sony Computer Entertainment coexist under the same roof
with the Sony Electronics division, which invented the Walkman
back in 1979 and went on to manufacture devices and gadgets like

home (and professional) audio and video players/recorders (VHS,
Betamax, TV, HiFi, cassette, CD/DVD, mp3, mobile phones, etc.),
storage devices, personal computers, and game consoles. In the
famous 1984 Betamax case (“Sony Corp. of America v. Universal
City Studios, Inc.,” Wikipedia 2015), Universal Studios and the Walt
Disney Company sued Sony for aiding copyright infringement with
their Betamax video recorders. Sony won. The court decision in
favor of fair use rather than copyright infringement laid the legal
ground for home recording technology as the foundation of future
analog, and subsequently digital, content sharing.
Five years later, Sony bought its first major Hollywood studio:
Columbia Pictures. In 2004 Sony Music Entertainment merged with
Bertelsmann Music Group to create Sony BMG. However, things
changed as Sony became the content producer and we entered the
age of the discrete and the digital. Another five years later, in 2009,
Sony BMG sued Joel Tenenbaum for downloading and then sharing
thirty-­one songs. The jury awarded US$675,000 to the music
companies (US$22,000 per song). This is known as “the second
file-­sharing case.” “The first file-­sharing case” was 2007’s Capitol Records, Inc. v. Thomas-­Rasset, which concerned the downloading of
twenty-­four songs. In the second file-­sharing case, the jury awarded
music companies US$1,920,000 in statutory damages (US$80,000
per song). The defendant, Jammie Thomas, was a Native American
mother of four from Brainerd, Minnesota, who worked at the time
as a natural resources coordinator for the Mille Lacs Band of the
Native American Ojibwe people. The conflict between access and
copyright took a clear social relief.
Encouraged by the court decisions in the years that followed, the
movie and music industries have started to publicly claim staggering numbers in annual losses: US$58 billion and 370,000 lost jobs
in the United States alone. The purported losses in sales were,
however, at least seven times bigger than the actual losses and,
if the jobs figures had been true, after only one year there would
have been no one left working in the content industry (Reid 2012).
Capitalism and schizophrenia.



If there is a reason to make an exception from the landed logic of
property being imposed onto the world of the intellect, a reason
to which few would object, it would be for access for educational
purposes. Universities in particular give an institutional form to
the premise that equal access to knowledge is a prerequisite for
building a society where all people are equal.
In this noble endeavor to make universal access to knowledge
central to social development, some universities stand out more
than the others. Consider, for example, the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT). The Free Culture and Open Access movements
have never hidden their origins, inspiration, and model in the
success of the Free Software Movement, which was founded in
1984 by Richard Stallman while he was working at the MIT Artificial
Intelligence lab. It was at the MIT Museum that the “Hall of Hacks”
was set up to proudly display the roots of hacking culture. Hacking
culture at MIT takes many shapes and forms. MIT hackers famously
put a fire truck (2006) and a campus police car (1994) onto the
roof of the Great Dome of the campus’s Building 10; they landed
(and then exploded) a weather balloon onto the pitch of Harvard
Stadium during a Harvard–­Yale football game; turned the quote
that “getting an education from MIT is like taking a drink from a Fire
Hose” into a literal fire hydrant serving as a drinking fountain in
front of the largest lecture hall on campus; and many, many other
“hacks” (Peterson 2011).
The World Wide Web Consortium was founded at MIT in 1993.
Presently its mission states as its goal “to enable human communication, commerce, and opportunities to share knowledge,”
on the principles of “Web for All” and the corresponding, more
technologically focused “Web on Everything.” Similarly, MIT began
its OpenCourseWare project in 2002 in order “to publish all of
[MIT’s] course materials online and make them widely available to
everyone” (n.d.). The One Laptop Per Child project was created in
2005 in order to help children “learn, share, create, and collaborate” (2010). Recently the MIT Media Lab (2017) has even started its
own Disobedience Award, which “will go to a living person or group

engaged in what we believe is extraordinary disobedience for
the benefit of society . . . seeking both expected and unexpected
nominees.” When it comes to the governance of access to MIT’s
own resources, it is well known that anyone who is registered and
connected to the “open campus” wireless network, either by being
physically present or via VPN, can search JSTOR, Google Scholar,
and other databases in order to access otherwise paywalled journals from major publishers such as Reed Elsevier, Wiley-­Blackwell,
Springer, Taylor and Francis, or Sage.
The MIT Press has also published numerous books that we love
and without which we would have never developed the Public
Library/Memory of the World project to the stage where it is now.
For instance, only after reading Markus Krajewski’s Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogs, 1548–­1929 (2011) and learning how
conceptually close librarians came to the universal Turing machine
with the invention of the index card catalog did we center the
Public Library/Memory of the World around the idea of the catalog.
Eric von Hippel’s Democratizing Innovation (2005) taught us how end
users could become empowered to innovate and accordingly we
have built our public library as a distributed network of amateur
librarians acting as peers sharing their catalogs and books. Sven
Spieker’s The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (2008) showed us the
exciting hybrid meta-­space between psychoanalysis, media theory,
and conceptual art one could encounter by visiting the world of
catalogs and archives. Understanding capitalism and schizophrenia would have been hard without Semiotext(e)’s translations of
Deleuze and Guattari, and remaining on the utopian path would
have been impossible if not for our reading of Cybernetic Revolutionaries (Medina 2011), Imagine No Possessions (Kiaer 2005), or Art
Power (Groys 2008).

Our Road into Schizophrenia, Commodity
Paradox, Political Strategy
Our vision for the Public Library/Memory of the World resonated
with many people. After the project initially gained a large number



of users, and was presented in numerous prominent artistic
venues such as Museum Reina Sofía, Transmediale, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Calvert22, 98weeks, and many more, it was no
small honor when Eric Kluitenberg and David Garcia invited us to
write about the project for an anthology on tactical media that was
to be published by the MIT Press. Tactical media is exactly where
we would situate ourselves on the map. Building on Michel de
Certeau’s concept of tactics as agency of the weak operating in the
terrain of strategic power, the tactical media (Tactical Media Files
2017) emerged in the political and technological conjuncture of the
1990s. Falling into the “art-­into-­life” lineage of historic avant-­gardes,
Situationism, DIY culture, techno-­hippiedom, and media piracy, it
constituted a heterogeneous field of practices and a manifestly
international movement that combined experimental media and
political activism into interventions that contested the post–­Cold
War world of global capitalism and preemptive warfare on a hybrid
terrain of media, institutions, and mass movements. Practices of
tactical media ranged from ephemeral media pranks, hoaxes, and
hacktivism to reappropriations of media apparatuses, institutional
settings, and political venues. We see our work as following in
that lineage of recuperation of the means of communication from
their capture by personal and impersonal structures of political or
economic power.
Yet the contract for our contribution that the MIT Press sent us in
early 2015 was an instant reminder of the current state of affairs
in academic publishing: in return for our contribution and transfer
of our copyrights, we would receive no compensation: no right to
wage and no right to further distribute our work.
Only weeks later our work would land us fully into schizophrenia:
the Public Library/Memory of the World received two takedown
notices from the MIT Press for books that could be found in its
back then relatively small yet easily discoverable online collection
located at https://library.memoryoftheworld.org, including a notice
for one of the books that had served as an inspiration to us: Art
Power. First, no wage and, now, no access. A true paradox of the

present-­day system of knowledge production: products of our
labor are commodities, yet the labor-­power producing them is
denied the same status. While the project’s vision resonates with
many, including the MIT Press, it has to be shut down. Capitalism
and schizophrenia.4
Or, maybe, not. Maybe we don’t have to go down that impasse.
Starting from the two structural circumstances imposed on us by
the MIT Press—­the denial of wage and the denial of access—­we
can begin to analyze why copyright infringement is not merely, as
the industry and the courts would have it, a matter of illegality. But
rather a matter of legitimate action.
Over the past three decades a deep transformation, induced by
the factors of technological change and economic restructuring,
has been unfolding at different scales, changing the way works
of culture and knowledge are produced and distributed across
an unevenly developed world. As new technologies are adopted,
generalized, and adapted to the realities of the accumulation
process—­a process we could see unfolding with the commodification of the internet over the past fifteen years—­the core and
the periphery adopt different strategies of opposition to the
inequalities and exclusions these technologies start to reproduce.
The core, with its emancipatory and countercultural narratives,
pursues strategies that develop legal, economic, or technological
alternatives. However, these strategies frequently fail to secure
broader transformative effects as the competitive forces of the
market appropriate, marginalize, or make obsolete the alternatives
they advocate. Such seems to have been the destiny of much of the
free software, open access, and free culture alternatives that have
developed over this period.
In contrast, the periphery, in order to advance, relies on strategies
of “stealing” that bypass socioeconomic barriers by refusing to
submit to the harmonized regulation that sets the frame for global
economic exchange. The piracy of intellectual property or industrial
secrets thus creates a shadow system of exchange resisting the



asymmetries of development in the world economy. However, its
illegality serves as a pretext for the governments and companies of
the core to devise and impose further controls over the technosocial systems that facilitate these exchanges.
Both strategies develop specific politics—­a politics of reform, on
the one hand, and a politics of obfuscation and resistance, on the
other—­yet both are defensive politics that affirm the limitations
of what remains inside and what remains outside of the politically
The copyright industry giants of the past and the IT industry giants
of the present are thus currently sorting it out to whose greater
benefit will this new round of commodification work out. For those
who find themselves outside of the the camps of these two factions
of capital, there’s a window of opportunity, however, to reconceive
the mode of production of literature and science that has been
with us since the beginning of the print trade and the dawn of capitalism. It’s a matter of change, at the tail end of which ultimately
lies a dilemma: whether we’re going to live in a more equal or a
more unjust, a more commonised or a more commodified world.

Authorship, Law, and Legitimacy
Before we can talk of such structural transformation, the normative
question we expect to be asked is whether something that is considered a matter of law and juridical decision can be made a matter
of politics and political process. Let’s see.
Copyright has a fundamentally economic function—­to unambiguously establish individualized property in the products of creative
labor. A clear indication of this economic function is the substantive requirement of originality that the work is expected to have
in order to be copyrightable. Legal interpretations set a very low
standard on what counts as original, as their function is no more
than to demarcate one creative contribution from another. Once
a legal title is unambiguously assigned, there is a person holding

property with whose consent the contracting, commodification,
and marketing of the work can proceed.5 In that respect copyright
is not that different from the requirement of formal freedom that
is granted to a laborer to contract out their own labor-­power as a
commodity to capital, giving capital authorization to extract maximum productivity and appropriate the products of the laborer’s
labor.6 Copyright might be just a more efficient mechanism of
exploitation as it unfolds through selling of produced commodities
and not labor power. Art market obscures and mediates the
capital-­labor relation
When we talk today of illegal copying, we primarily mean an
infringement of the legal rights of authors and publishers. There’s an
immediate assumption that the infringing practice of illegal copying
and distribution falls under the domain of juridical sanction, that it is
a matter of law. Yet if we look to the history of copyright, the illegality
of copying was a political matter long before it became a legal one.
Publisher’s rights, author’s rights, and mechanisms of reputation—­
the three elements that are fundamental to the present-­day
copyright system—­all have their historic roots in the context of
absolutism and early capitalism in seventeenth-­and eighteenth-­
century Europe. Before publishers and authors were given a
temporary monopoly over the exploitation of their publications
instituted in the form of copyright, they were operating in a system
where they were forced to obtain a privilege to print books from
royal censors. The first printing privileges granted to publishers, in
early seventeenth-­century Great Britain,7 came with the responsibility of publishers to control what was being published and
disseminated in a growing body of printed matter that started to
reach the public in the aftermath of the invention of print and the
rise of the reading culture. The illegality in these early days of print
referred either to printing books without the permission of the
censor or printing books that were already published by another
printer in the territory where the censor held authority. The transition from the privilege tied to the publisher to the privilege tied to
the natural person of the author would unfold only later.



In the United Kingdom this transition occurred as the guild of
printers, Stationers’ Company, failed to secure the extension of its
printing monopoly and thus, in order to continue with its business,
decided to advocate the introduction of copyright for the authors
instead. This resulted in the passing of the Copyright Act of 1709,
also known as the Statute of Anne (Rose 2010). The censoring
authority and enterprising publishers now proceeded in lockstep to
isolate the author as the central figure in the regulation of literary
and scientific production. Not only did the author receive exclusive
rights to the work, the author was also made—­as Foucault has
famously analyzed (Foucault 1980, 124)—­the identifiable subject of
scrutiny, censorship, and political sanction by the absolutist state.
Although the Romantic author slowly took the center stage in
copyright regulations, economic compensation for the work would
long remain no more than honorary. Until well into the eighteenth
century, literary writing and creativity in general were regarded as
resulting from divine inspiration and not the individual genius of
the author. Writing was a work of honor and distinction, not something requiring an honest day’s pay.8 Money earned in the growing
printing industry mostly stayed in the pockets of publishers, while
the author received literally an honorarium, a flat sum that served
as a “token of esteem” (Woodmansee 1996, 42). It is only once
authors began to voice demands for securing their material and
political independence from patronage and authority that they also
started to make claims for rightful remuneration.
Thus, before it was made a matter of law, copyright was a matter of
politics and economy.

Copyright, Labor, and Economic Domination
The full-­blown affirmation of the Romantic author-­function marks
the historic moment where a compromise is established between
the right of publishers to the economic exploitation of works and
the right of authors to rightful compensation for those works. Economically, this redistribution from publishers to authors was made

possible by the expanding market for printed books in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while politically this was catalyzed
by the growing desire for the autonomy of scientific and literary
production from the system of feudal patronage and censorship
in gradually liberalizing and modernizing capitalist societies. The
newfound autonomy of production was substantially coupled to
production specifically for the market. However, this irenic balance
could not last for very long. Once the production of culture and
science was subsumed under the exigencies of the generalized
market, it had to follow the laws of commodification and competition from which no form of commodity production can escape.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, copyright expanded to
a number of other forms of creativity, transcending its primarily
literary and scientific ambit and becoming part of the broader
set of intellectual property rights that are fundamental to the
functioning and positioning of capitalist enterprise. The corporatization of the production of culture and knowledge thus brought
about a decisive break from the Romantic model that singularized
authorship in the person of the author. The production of cultural
commodities nowadays involves a number of creative inputs from
both credited (but mostly unwaged) and uncredited (but mostly
waged) contributors. The “moral rights of the author,” a substantive
link between the work and the person of the author, are markedly
out of step with these realities, yet they still perform an important
function in the moral economy of reputation, which then serves as
the legitimation of copyright enforcement and monopoly. Moral
rights allow easy attribution; incentivize authors to subsidize
publishers by self-­financing their own work in the hope of topping
the sales charts, rankings, or indexes; and help markets develop
along winner-­takes-­all principles.
The level of concentration in industries primarily concerned with
various forms of intellectual property rights is staggering. The film
industry is a US$88 billion industry dominated by six major studios
(PwC 2015c). The recorded music industry is an almost US$20
billion industry dominated by only three major labels (PwC 2015b).



The publishing industry is a US$120 billion industry where the
leading ten companies earn in revenues more than the next forty
largest publishing groups (PwC 2015a; Wischenbart 2014).

The Oligopoly and Academic Publishing
Academic publishing in particular draws the state of play into stark
relief. It’s a US$10 billion industry dominated by five publishers and
financed up to 75 percent from library subscriptions. It’s notorious
for achieving extreme year-­on-­year profit margins—­in the case of
Reed Elsevier regularly over 30 percent, with Taylor and Francis,
Springer, Wiley-­Blackwell and Sage barely lagging behind (Larivière,
Haustein, and Mongeon 2015). Given that the work of contributing
authors is not paid but rather financed by their institutions (provided, that is, that they are employed at an institution) and that
these publications nowadays come mostly in the form of electronic
articles licensed under subscription for temporary use to libraries
and no longer sold as printed copies, the public interest could be
served at a much lower cost by leaving commercial closed-­access
publishers out of the equation entirely.
But that cannot be done, of course. The chief reason for this is that
the system of academic reputation and ranking based on publish-­
or-­perish principles is historically entangled with the business of
academic publishers. Anyone who doesn’t want to put their academic career at risk is advised to steer away from being perceived
as reneging on that not-­so-­tacit deal. While this is patently clear
to many in academia, opting for the alternative of open access
means not playing by the rules, and not playing by the rules can
have real-­life consequences, particularly for younger academics.
Early career scholars have to publish in prestigious journals if they
want to advance in the highly competitive and exclusive system of
academia (Kendzior 2012).
Copyright in academic publishing has thus become simply a mechanism of the direct transfer of economic power from producers to
publishers, giving publishers an instrument for maintaining their

stranglehold on the output of academia. But publishers also have
control over metrics and citation indexes, pandering to the authors
with better tools for maximizing their impact and self-­promotion.
Reputation and copyright are extortive instruments that publishers
can wield against authors and the public to prevent an alternative
from emerging.9
The state of the academic publishing business signals how the
“copyright industries” in general might continue to control the
field as their distribution model now transitions to streaming or
licensed-­access models. In the age of cloud computing, autonomous infrastructures run by communities of enthusiasts are
becoming increasingly a thing of the past. “Copyright industries,”
supported by the complicit legal system, now can pressure proxies
for these infrastructures, such as providers of server colocation,
virtual hosting, and domain-­name network services, to enforce
injunctions for them without ever getting involved in direct, costly
infringement litigation. Efficient shutdowns of precarious shadow
systems allow for a corporate market consolidation wherein the
majority of streaming infrastructures end up under the control of a
few corporations.

Illegal Yet Justified, Collective Civil
Disobedience, Politicizing the Legal
However, when companies do resort to litigation or get involved in
criminal proceedings, they can rest assured that the prosecution
and judicial system will uphold their interests over the right of
public to access culture and knowledge, even when the irrationality
of the copyright system lies in plain sight, as it does in the case of
academic publishing. Let’s look at two examples:
On January 6, 2011, Aaron Swartz, a prominent programmer
and hacktivist, was arrested by the MIT campus police and U.S.
Secret Service on charges of having downloaded a large number
of academic articles from the JSTOR repository. While JSTOR, with
whom Swartz reached a settlement and to whom he returned the



files, and, later, MIT, would eventually drop the charges, the federal
prosecution decided nonetheless to indict Swartz on thirteen
criminal counts, potentially leading to fifty years in prison and a
US$1 million fine. Under growing pressure by the prosecution
Swartz committed suicide on January 11, 2013.
Given his draconian treatment at the hands of the prosecution
and the absence of institutions of science and culture that would
stand up and justify his act on political grounds, much of Swartz’s
defense focused on trying to exculpate his acts, to make them less
infringing or less illegal than the charges brought against him had
claimed, a rational course of action in irrational circumstances.
However, this was unfortunately becoming an uphill battle as the
prosecution’s attention was accidentally drawn to a statement
written by Swartz in 2008 wherein he laid bare the dysfunctionality
of the academic publishing system. In his Guerrilla Open Access
Manifesto, he wrote: “The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly
being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. . . . Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their
colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at
Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite
universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global
South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.” After a no-­nonsense
diagnosis followed an even more clear call to action: “We need
to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing
networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access” (Swartz 2008).
Where a system has failed to change unjust laws, Swartz felt, the
responsibility was on those who had access to make injustice a
thing of the past.
Whether Swartz’s intent actually was to release the JSTOR repository remains subject to speculation. The prosecution has never
proven that it was. In the context of the legal process, his call to
action was simply taken as a matter of law and not for what it
was—­a matter of politics. Yet, while his political action was pre-

empted, others have continued pursuing his vision by committing
small acts of illegality on a massive scale. In June 2015 Elsevier won
an injunction against Library Genesis, the largest illegal repository
of electronic books, journals, and articles on the Web, and its
subsidiary platform for accessing academic journals, Sci-­hub. A
voluntary and noncommercial project of anonymous scientists
mostly from Eastern Europe, Sci-­hub provides as of end of 2015
access to more than 41 million academic articles either stored
in its database or retrieved through bypassing the paywalls of
academic publishers. The only person explicitly named in Elsevier’s
lawsuit was Sci-­hub’s founder Alexandra Elbakyan, who minced no
words: “When I was working on my research project, I found out
that all research papers I needed for work were paywalled. I was
a student in Kazakhstan at the time and our university was not
subscribed to anything” (Ernesto 2015). Being a computer scientist,
she found the tools and services on the internet that allowed her to
bypass the paywalls. At first, she would make articles available on
internet forums where people would file requests for the articles
they needed, but eventually she automated the process, making
access available to everyone on the open web. “Thanks to Elsevier’s
lawsuit, I got past the point of no return. At this time I either have
to prove we have the full right to do this or risk being executed like
other ‘pirates’ . . . If Elsevier manages to shut down our projects or
force them into the darknet, that will demonstrate an important
idea: that the public does not have the right to knowledge. . . .
Everyone should have access to knowledge regardless of their
income or affiliation. And that’s absolutely legal. Also the idea
that knowledge can be a private property of some commercial
company sounds absolutely weird to me” (Ernesto 2015).
If the issue of infringement is to become political, a critical mass
of infringing activity has to be achieved, access technologically
organized, and civil disobedience collectively manifested. Only in
this way do the illegal acts stand a chance of being transformed
into the legitimate acts.



Where Law Was, there Politics Shall Be
And thus we have made a full round back to where we started. The
parallel development of liberalism, copyright, and capitalism has
resulted in a system demanding that the contemporary subject
act in accordance with two opposing tendencies: “more capitalist
than capitalist and more proletarian than proletariat” (Deleuze
and Guattari 1983, 34). Schizophrenia is, as Deleuze and Guattari
argue, a condition that simultaneously embodies two disjunctive
positions. Desire and blockage, flow and territory. Capitalism is
the constant decoding of social blockages and territorializations
aimed at liberating the production of desires and flows further
and further, only to oppose them at its extreme limit. It decodes
the old socius by means of private property and commodity
production, privatization and abstraction, the flow of wealth and
flows of workers (140). It allows contemporary subjects—­including
corporate entities such as the MIT Press or Sony—­to embrace their
contradictions and push them to their limits. But capturing them in
the orbit of the self-­expanding production of value, it stops them
at going beyond its own limit. It is this orbit that the law sanctions
in the present, recoding schizoid subjects into the inevitability of
capitalism. The result is the persistence of a capitalist reality antithetical to common interest—­commercial closed-­access academic
publishing—­and the persistence of a hyperproletariat—­an intellectual labor force that is too subsumed to organize and resist the
reality that thrives parasitically on its social function. It’s a schizoid
impasse sustained by a failed metaphor.
The revolutionary events of the Paris Commune of 1871, its mere
“existence” as Marx has called it,10 a brief moment of “communal
luxury” set in practice as Kristin Ross (2015) describes it, demanded
that, in spite of any circumstances and reservations, one takes a
side. And such is our present moment of truth.
Digital networks have expanded the potential for access and
created an opening for us to transform the production of knowledge and culture in the contemporary world. And yet they have
likewise facilitated the capacity of intellectual property industries

to optimize, to cut out the cost of printing and physical distribution.
Digitization is increasingly helping them to control access, expand
copyright, impose technological protection measures, consolidate
the means of distribution, and capture the academic valorization
As the potential opening for universalizing access to culture and
knowledge created by digital networks is now closing, attempts at
private legal reform such as Creative Commons licenses have had
only a very limited effect. Attempts at institutional reform such as
Open Access publishing are struggling to go beyond a niche. Piracy
has mounted a truly disruptive opposition, but given the legal
repression it has met with, it can become an agent of change only if
it is embraced as a kind of mass civil disobedience. Where law was,
there politics shall be.
Many will object to our demand to replace the law with politicization. Transitioning from politics to law was a social achievement
as the despotism of political will was suppressed by legal norms
guaranteeing rights and liberties for authors; this much is true. But
in the face of the draconian, failed juridical rationality sustaining
the schizoid impasse imposed by economic despotism, these developments hold little justification. Thus we return once more to the
words of Aaron Swartz to whom we remain indebted for political
inspiration and resolve: “There is no justice in following unjust laws.
It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil
disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public
culture. . . . With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send
a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge—­we’ll
make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?” (Swartz 2008).


We initially named our project Public Library because we have developed it
as a technosocial project from a minimal definition that defines public library
as constituted by three elements: free access to books for every member of
a society, a library catalog, and a librarian (Mars, Zarroug and Medak, 2015).
However, this definition covers all public libraries and shadow libraries
complementing the work of public libraries in providing digital access. We have
thus decided to rename our project as Memory of the World, after our project’s


initial domain name. This is a phrase coined by Henri La Fontaine, whose men-


tion we found in Markus Krajewski’s Paper Machines (2011). It turned out that
UNESCO runs a project under the same name with the objective to preserve
valuable archives for the whole of humanity. We have appropriated that objective. Given that this change has happened since we drafted the initial version
of this text in 2015, we’ll call our project in this text with a double name Public
Library/Memory of the World.

Sony Pictures Entertainment became the owner of two (MGM, Columbia Pictures) out of eight Golden Age major movie studios (“Major Film Studio,” Wikipedia 2015).


In 2012 Sony Music Entertainment is one of the Big Three majors (“Record
Label,” Wikipedia 2015).


Since this anecdote was recounted by Marcell in his opening keynote in the
Terms of Media II conference at Brown University, we have received another
batch of takedown notices from the MIT Press. It seemed as no small irony,
because at the time the Terms of Media conference reader was rumored to be
distributed by the MIT Press.


“In law, authorship is a point of origination of a property right which, thereafter, like other property rights, will circulate in the market, ending up in the
control of the person who can exploit it most profitably. Since copyright serves
paradoxically to vest authors with property only to enable them to divest that
property, the author is a notion which needs only to be sustainable for an
instant” (Bently 1994).


For more on the formal freedom of the laborer to sell his labor-­power, see
chapter 6 of Marx’s Capital (1867).


For a more detailed account of the history of printing privilege in Great Britain,
but also the emergence of peer review out of the self-­censoring performed by
the Royal Academy and Académie de sciences in return for the printing privilege, see Biagioli 2002.


The transition of authorship from honorific to professional is traced in Woodmansee 1996.


Not all publishers are necessarily predatory. For instance, scholar-­led open-­
access publishers, such as those working under the banner of Radical Open
Access (http://radicaloa.disruptivemedia.org) have been experimenting with
alternatives to the dominant publishing models, workflows, and metrics, radicalizing the work of conventional open access, which has by now increasingly
become recuperated by big for-­profit publishers, who see in open access an
opportunity to assume the control over the economy of data in academia.
Some established academic publishers, too, have been open to experiments
that go beyond mere open access and are trying to redesign how academic
writing is produced, made accessible, and valorized. This essay has the good
fortune of appearing as a joint publication of two such publishers: Meson Press
and University of Minnesota Press.


“The great social measure of the Commune was its own working existence”
(Marx 1871).

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Journal for the Study of Media & Composite Cultures 12, no. 1: 11–­45.
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tactics in Mars & Medak 2017

Mars & Medak
Knowledge Commons and Activist Pedagogies

Conversation with Marcell Mars and Tomislav Medak (co-authored with Ana Kuzmanic)

Marcell Mars is an activist, independent scholar, and artist. His work has been
instrumental in development of civil society in Croatia and beyond. Marcell is one
of the founders of the Multimedia Institute – mi2 (1999) (Multimedia Institute,
2016a) and Net.culture club MaMa in Zagreb (2000) (Net.culture club MaMa,
2016a). He is a member of Creative Commons Team Croatia (Creative Commons,
2016). He initiated GNU GPL publishing label EGOBOO.bits (2000) (Monoskop,
2016a), meetings of technical enthusiasts Skill sharing (Net.culture club MaMa,
2016b) and various events and gatherings in the fields of hackerism, digital
cultures, and new media art. Marcell regularly talks and runs workshops about
hacking, free software philosophy, digital cultures, social software, semantic web
etc. In 2011–2012 Marcell conducted research on Ruling Class Studies at Jan Van
Eyck in Maastricht, and in 2013 he held fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude
in Stuttgart. Currently, he is PhD researcher at the Digital Cultures Research Lab at
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg.
Tomislav Medak is a cultural worker and theorist interested in political
philosophy, media theory and aesthetics. He is an advocate of free software and
free culture, and the Project Lead of the Creative Commons Croatia (Creative
Commons, 2016). He works as coordinator of theory and publishing activities at
the Multimedia Institute/MaMa (Zagreb, Croatia) (Net.culture club MaMa, 2016a).
Tomislav is an active contributor to the Croatian Right to the City movement
(Pravo na grad, 2016). He interpreted to numerous books into Croatian language,
including Multitude (Hardt & Negri, 2009) and A Hacker Manifesto (Wark,
2006c). He is an author and performer with the internationally acclaimed Zagrebbased performance collective BADco (BADco, 2016). Tomislav writes and talks
about politics of technological development, and politics and aesthetics.
Tomislav and Marcell have been working together for almost two decades.
Their recent collaborations include a number of activities around the Public Library
project, including HAIP festival (Ljubljana, 2012), exhibitions in
Württembergischer Kunstverein (Stuttgart, 2014) and Galerija Nova (Zagreb,
2015), as well as coordinated digitization projects Written-off (2015), Digital
Archive of Praxis and the Korčula Summer School (2016), and Catalogue of
Liberated Books (2013) (in Monoskop, 2016b).


Ana Kuzmanic is an artist based in Zagreb and Associate Professor at the
Faculty of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Geodesy at the University in Split
(Croatia), lecturing in drawing, design and architectural presentation. She is a
member of the Croatian Association of Visual Artists. Since 2007 she held more
than a dozen individual exhibitions and took part in numerous collective
exhibitions in Croatia, the UK, Italy, Egypt, the Netherlands, the USA, Lithuania
and Slovenia. In 2011 she co-founded the international artist collective Eastern
Surf, which has “organised, produced and participated in a number of projects
including exhibitions, performance, video, sculpture, publications and web based
work” (Eastern Surf, 2017). Ana's artwork critically deconstructs dominant social
readings of reality. It tests traditional roles of artists and viewers, giving the
observer an active part in creation of artwork, thus creating spaces of dialogue and
alternative learning experiences as platforms for emancipation and social
transformation. Grounded within a postdisciplinary conceptual framework, her
artistic practice is produced via research and expression in diverse media located at
the boundaries between reality and virtuality.

I have known Marcell Mars since student days, yet our professional paths have
crossed only sporadically. In 2013 I asked Marcell’s input about potential
interlocutors for this book, and he connected me to McKenzie Wark. In late 2015,
when we started working on our own conversation, Marcell involved Tomislav
Medak. Marcell’s and Tomislav’s recent works are closely related to arts, so I
requested Ana Kuzmanic’s input in these matters. Since the beginning of the
conversation, Marcell, Tomislav, Ana, and I occasionally discussed its generalities
in person. Yet, the presented conversation took place in a shared online document
between November 2015 and December 2016.

Petar Jandrić & Ana Kuzmanic (PJ & AK): In 1999, you established the
Multimedia Institute – mi2 (Multimedia Institute, 2016a); in 2000, you established
the Net.culture club MaMa (both in Zagreb, Croatia). The Net.culture club MaMa
has the following goals:
To promote innovative cultural practices and broadly understood social
activism. As a cultural center, it promotes wide range of new artistic and
cultural practices related in the first place to the development of
communication technologies, as well as new tendencies in arts and theory:
from new media art, film and music to philosophy and social theory,
publishing and cultural policy issues.
As a community center, MaMa is a Zagreb’s alternative ‘living room’ and
a venue free of charge for various initiatives and associations, whether they
are promoting minority identities (ecological, LBGTQ, ethnic, feminist and



others) or critically questioning established social norms. (Net.culture club
MaMa, 2016a)
Please describe the main challenges and opportunities from the dawn of Croatian
civil society. Why did you decide to establish the Multimedia Institute – mi2 and
the Net.culture club MaMa? How did you go about it?
Marcell Mars & Tomislav Medak (MM & TM): The formative context for
our work had been marked by the process of dissolution of Yugoslavia, ensuing
civil wars, and the rise of authoritarian nationalisms in the early 1990s. Amidst the
general turmoil and internecine bloodshed, three factors would come to define
what we consider today as civil society in the Croatian context. First, the newly
created Croatian state – in its pursuit of ethnic, religious and social homogeneity –
was premised on the radical exclusion of minorities. Second, the newly created
state dismantled the broad institutional basis of social and cultural diversity that
existed under socialism. Third, the newly created state pursued its own nationalist
project within the framework of capitalist democracy. In consequence, politically
undesirable minorities and dissenting oppositional groups were pushed to the
fringes of society, and yet, in keeping with the democratic system, had to be
allowed to legally operate outside of the state, its loyal institutions and its
nationalist consensus – as civil society. Under the circumstances of inter-ethnic
conflict, which put many people in direct or indirect danger, anti-war and human
rights activist groups such as the Anti-War Campaign provided an umbrella under
which political, student and cultural activists of all hues and colours could find a
common context. It is also within this context that the high modernism of cultural
production from the Yugoslav period, driven out from public institutions, had
found its recourse and its continuity.
Our loose collective, which would later come together around the Multimedia
Institute and MaMa, had been decisively shaped by two circumstances. The first
was participation of the Anti-War Campaign, its BBS network ZaMir (Monoskop,
2016c) and in particular its journal Arkzin, in the early European network culture.
Second, the Open Society Institute, which had financed much of the alternative and
oppositional activities during the 1990s, had started to wind down its operations
towards end of the millennium. As the Open Society Institute started to spin off its
diverse activities into separate organizations, giving rise to the Croatian Law
Center, the Center for Contemporary Art and the Center for Drama Art, activities
related to Internet development ended up with the Multimedia Institute. The first
factor shaped us as activists and early adopters of critical digital culture, and the
second factor provided us with an organizational platform to start working
together. In 1998 Marcell was the first person invited to work with the Multimedia
Institute. He invited Vedran Gulin and Teodor Celakoski, who in turn invited other
people, and the group organically grew to its present form.
Prior to our coming together around the Multimedia Institute, we have been
working on various projects such as setting up the cyber-culture platform Labinary
in the space run by the artist initiative Labin Art Express in the former miner town
of Labin located in the north-western region of Istria. As we started working


together, however, we began to broaden these activities and explore various
opportunities for political and cultural activism offered by digital networks. One of
the early projects was ‘Radioactive’ – an initiative bringing together a broad group
of activists, which was supposed to result in a hybrid Internet/FM radio. The radio
never arrived into being, yet the project fostered many follow-up activities around
new media and activism in the spirit of ‘don’t hate the media, become the media.’
In these early days, our activities had been strongly oriented towards technological
literacy and education; also, we had a strong interest in political theory and
philosophy. Yet, the most important activity at that time was opening the
Net.culture club MaMa in Zagreb in 2000 (Net.culture club MaMa, 2016a).
PJ & AK: What inspired you to found the Net.culture club MaMa?
MM & TM: We were not keen on continuing the line of work that the
Multimedia Institute was doing under the Open Society Institute, which included,
amongst other activities, setting up the first non-state owned Internet service
provider ZamirNet. The growing availability of Internet access and computer
hardware had made the task of helping political, cultural and media activists get
online less urgent. Instead, we thought that it would be much more important to
open a space where those activists could work together. At the brink of the
millennium, institutional exclusion and access to physical resources (including
space) needed for organizing, working together and presenting that work was a
pressing problem. MaMa was one of the only three independent cultural spaces in
Zagreb – capital city of Croatia, with almost one million inhabitants! The Open
Society Institute provided us with a grant to adapt a former downtown leather-shop
in the state of disrepair and equip it with latest technology ranging from servers to
DJ decks. These resources were made available to all members of the general
public free of charge. Immediately, many artists, media people, technologists, and
political activists started initiating own programs in MaMa. Our activities ranged
from establishing art servers aimed at supporting artistic and cultural projects on
the Internet (Monoskop, 2016d) to technology-related educational activities,
cultural programs, and publishing. By 2000, nationalism had slowly been losing its
stranglehold on our society, and issues pertaining to capitalist globalisation had
arrived into prominence. At MaMa, the period was marked by alter-globalization,
Indymedia, web development, East European net.art and critical media theory.
The confluence of these interests and activities resulted in many important
developments. For instance, soon after the opening of MaMa in 2000, a group of
young music producers and enthusiasts kicked off a daily music program with live
acts, DJ sessions and meetings to share tips and tricks about producing electronic
music. In parallel, we had been increasingly drawn to free software and its
underlying ethos and logic. Yugoslav legacy of social ownership over means of
production and worker self-management made us think how collectivized forms of
cultural production, without exclusions of private property, could be expanded
beyond the world of free software. We thus talked some of our musician friends
into opening the free culture label EGOBOO.bits and publishing their music,
together with films, videos and literary texts of other artists, under the GNU
General Public License. The EGOBOO.bits project had soon become uniquely


successful: producers such as Zvuk broda, Blashko, Plazmatick, Aesqe, No Name
No Fame, and Ghetto Booties were storming the charts, the label gradually grew to
fifty producers and formations, and we had the artists give regular workshops in
DJ-ing, sound editing, VJ-ing, video editing and collaborative writing at schools
and our summer camp Otokultivator. It inspired us to start working on alternatives
to the copyright regime and on issues of access to knowledge and culture.
PJ & AK: The civil society is the collective conscious, which provides leverage
against national and corporate agendas and serves as a powerful social corrective.
Thus, at the outbreak of the US invasion to Iraq, Net.culture club MaMa rejected a
$100 000 USAID grant because the invasion was:
a) a precedent based on the rationale of pre-emptive war, b) being waged in
disregard of legitimate processes of the international community, and c)
guided by corporate interests to control natural resources (Multimedia
Institute, 2003 in Razsa, 2015: 82).
Yet, only a few weeks later, MaMa accepted a $100 000 grant from the German
state – and this provoked a wide public debate (Razsa, 2015; Kršić, 2003; Stubbs,
Now that the heat of the moment has gone down, what is your view to this
debate? More generally, how do you decide whose money to accept and whose
money to reject? How do you decide where to publish, where to exhibit, whom to
work with? What is the relationship between idealism and pragmatism in your
MM & TM: Our decision seems justified yet insignificant in the face of the
aftermath of that historical moment. The unilateral decision of US and its allies to
invade Iraq in March 2003 encapsulated both the defeat of global protest
movements that had contested the neoliberal globalisation since the early 1990s
and the epochal carnage that the War on Terror, in its never-ending iterations, is
still reaping today. Nowadays, the weaponized and privatized security regime
follows the networks of supply chains that cut across the logic of borders and have
become vital both for the global circuits of production and distribution (see Cowen,
2014). For the US, our global policeman, the introduction of unmanned weaponry
and all sorts of asymmetric war technologies has reduced the human cost of war
down to zero. By deploying drones and killer robots, it did away with the
fundamental reality check of own human casualties and made endless war
politically plausible. The low cost of war has resulted in the growing side-lining of
international institutions responsible for peaceful resolution of international
conflicts such as the UN.
Our 2003 decision carried hard consequences for the organization. In a capitalist
society, one can ensure wages either by relying on the market, or on the state, or on
private funding. The USAID grant was our first larger grant after the initial spinoff money from the Open Society Institute, and it meant that we could employ
some people from our community over the period of next two years. Yet at the
same time, the USAID had become directly involved in Iraq, aiding the US forces
and various private contractors such as Halliburton in the dispossession and


plunder of the Iraqi economy. Therefore, it was unconscionable to continue
receiving money from them. In light of its moral and existential weight, the
decision to return the money thus had to be made by the general assembly of our
People who were left without wages were part and parcel of the community that
we had built between 2000 and 2003, primarily through Otokultivator Summer
Camps and Summer Source Camp (Tactical Tech Collective, 2016). The other
grant we would receive later that year, from the Federal Cultural Foundation of the
German government, was split amongst a number of cultural organizations and
paid for activities that eventually paved the way for Right to the City (Pravo na
grad, 2016). However, we still could not pay the people who decided to return
USAID money, so they had to find other jobs. Money never comes without
conditionalities, and passing judgements while disregarding specific economic,
historic and organizational context can easily lead to apolitical moralizing.
We do have certain principles that we would not want to compromise – we do
not work with corporations, we are egalitarian in terms of income, our activities are
free for the public. In political activities, however, idealist positions make sense
only for as long as they are effective. Therefore, our idealism is through and
through pragmatic. It is in the similar manner that we invoke the ideal of the
library. We are well aware that reality is more complex than our ideals. However,
the collective sense of purpose inspired by an ideal can carry over into useful
collective action. This is the core of our interest …
PJ & AK: There has been a lot of water under the bridge since the 2000s. From
a ruined post-war country, Croatia has become an integral part of the European
Union – with all associated advantages and problems. What are the main today’s
challenges in maintaining the Multimedia Institute and its various projects? What
are your future plans?
MM & TM: From the early days, Multimedia Institute/MaMa took a twofold
approach. It has always supported people working in and around the organization
in their heterogeneous interests including but not limited to digital technology and
information freedoms, political theory and philosophy, contemporary digital art,
music and cinema. Simultaneously, it has been strongly focused to social and
institutional transformation.
The moment zero of Croatian independence in 1991, which was marked by war,
ethnic cleansing and forceful imposition of contrived mono-national identity, saw
the progressive and modernist culture embracing the political alternative of antiwar movement. It is within these conditions, which entailed exclusion from access
to public resources, that the Croatian civil society had developed throughout the
1990s. To address this denial of access to financial and spatial resources to civil
society, since 2000 we have been organizing collective actions with a number of
cultural actors across the country to create alternative routes for access to resources
– mutual support networks, shared venues, public funding, alternative forms of
funding. All the while, that organizational work has been implicitly situated in an
understanding of commons that draws on two sources – the social contract of the
free software community, and the legacy of social ownership under socialism.


Later on, this line of work has been developed towards intersectional struggles
around spatial justice and against privatisation of public services that coalesced
around the Right to the City movement (2007 till present) (Pravo na grad, 2016)
and the 2015 Campaign against the monetization of the national highway network.
In early 2016, with the arrival of the short-lived Croatian government formed by
a coalition of inane technocracy and rabid right wing radicals, many institutional
achievements of the last fifteen years seemed likely to be dismantled in a matter of
months. At the time of writing this text, the collapse of broader social and
institutional context is (again) an imminent threat. In a way, our current situation
echoes the atmosphere of Yugoslav civil wars in 1990s. Yet, the Croatian turn to
the right is structurally parallel to recent turn to the right that takes place in most
parts of Europe and the world at large. In the aftermath of the global neoliberal
race to the bottom and the War on Terror, the disenfranchised working class vents
its fears over immigration and insists on the return of nationalist values in various
forms suggested by irresponsible political establishments. If they are not spared the
humiliating sense of being outclassed and disenfranchised by the neoliberal race to
the bottom, why should they be sympathetic to those arriving from the
impoverished (semi)-periphery or to victims of turmoil unleashed by the endless
War on Terror? If globalisation is reducing their life prospects to nothing, why
should they not see the solution to their own plight in the return of the regime of
statist nationalism?
At the Multimedia Institute/MaMa we intend to continue our work against this
collapse of context through intersectionalist organizing and activism. We will
continue to do cultural programs, publish books, and organise the Human Rights
Film Festival. In order to articulate, formulate and document years of practical
experience, we aim to strengthen our focus on research and writing about cultural
policy, technological development, and political activism. Memory of the
World/Public Library project will continue to develop alternative infrastructures
for access, and develop new and existing networks of solidarity and public
advocacy for knowledge commons.

PJ & AK: Your interests and activities are predominantly centred around
information and communication technologies. Yet, a big part of your social
engagement takes place in Eastern Europe, which is not exactly on the forefront of
technological innovation. Can you describe the dynamics of working from the
periphery around issues developed in global centres of power (such as the Silicon
MM & TM: Computers in their present form had been developed primarily in
the Post-World War II United States. Their development started from the military
need to develop mathematics and physics behind the nuclear weapons and counterair defense, but soon it was combined with efforts to address accounting, logistics
and administration problems in diverse fields such as commercial air traffic,
governmental services, banks and finances. Finally, this interplay of the military


and the economy was joined by enthusiasts, hobbyists, and amateurs, giving the
development of (mainframe, micro and personal) computer its final historical
blueprint. This story is written in canonical computing history books such as The
Computer Boys Take Over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of
Technical Expertise. There, Nathan Ensmenger (2010: 14) writes: “the term
computer boys came to refer more generally not simply to actual computer
specialists but rather to the whole host of smart, ambitious, and technologically
inclined experts that emerged in the immediate postwar period.”
Very few canonical computing history books cover other histories. But when
that happens, we learn a lot. Be that Slava Gerovitch’s From Newspeak to
Cyberspeak (2002), which recounts the history of Soviet cybernetics, or Eden
Medina’s Cybernetic Revolutionaries (2011), which revisits the history of socialist
cybernetic project in Chile during Allende’s government, or the recent book by
Benjamin Peters How Not to Network a Nation (2016), which describes the history
of Soviet development of Internet infrastructure. Many (other) histories are yet to
be heard and written down. And when these histories get written down, diverse
things come into view: geopolitics, class, gender, race, and many more.
With their witty play and experiments with the medium, the early days of the
Internet were highly exciting. Big corporate websites were not much different from
amateur websites and even spoofs. A (different-than-usual) proximity of positions
of power enabled by the Internet allowed many (media-art) interventions, (rebirth
of) manifestos, establishment of (pseudo)-institutions … In these early times of
Internet’s history and geography, (the Internet subculture of) Eastern Europe
played a very important part. Inspired by Alexei Shulgin, Lev Manovich wrote ‘On
Totalitarian Interactivity’ (1996) where he famously addressed important
differences between understanding of the Internet in the West and the East. For the
West, claims Manovich, interactivity was a perfect vehicle for the ideas of
democracy and equality. For the East, however, interactivity was merely another
form of (media) manipulation. Twenty years later, it seems that Eastern Europe
was well prepared for what the Internet would become today.
PJ & AK: The dominant (historical) narrative of information and
communication technologies is predominantly based in the United States.
However, Silicon Valley is not the only game in town … What are the main
differences between approaches to digital technologies in the US and in Europe?
MM & TM: In the ninties, the lively European scene, which equally included
the East Europe, was the centre of critical reflection on the Internet and its
spontaneous ‘Californian ideology’ (Barbrook & Cameron, 1996). Critical culture
in Europe and its Eastern ‘countries in transition’ had a very specific institutional
landscape. In Western Europe, art, media, culture and ‘post-academic’ research in
humanities was by and large publicly funded. In Eastern Europe, development of
the civil society had been funded by various international foundations such as the
Open Society Institute aka the Soros Foundation. Critical new media and critical
art scene played an important role in that landscape. A wide range of initiatives,
medialabs, mailing lists, festivals and projects like Next5minutes (Amsterdam/
Rotterdam), Nettime & Syndicate (mailing lists), Backspace & Irational.org


(London), Ljudmila (Ljubljana), Rixc (Riga), C3 (Budapest) and others constituted
a loose network of researchers, theorists, artists, activists and other cultural
This network was far from exclusively European. It was very well connected to
projects and initiatives from the United States such as Critical Art Ensemble,
Rhizome, and Thing.net, to projects in India such as Sarai, and to struggles of
Zapatistas in Chiapas. A significant feature of this loose network was its mutually
beneficial relationship with relevant European art festivals and institutions such as
Documenta (Kassel), Transmediale/HKW (Berlin) or Ars Electronica (Linz). As a
rule of thumb, critical new media and art could only be considered in a conceptual
setup of hybrid institutions, conferences, forums, festivals, (curated) exhibitions
and performances – and all of that at once! The Multimedia Institute was an active
part of that history, so it is hardly a surprise that the Public Library project took a
similar path of development and contextualization.
However, European hacker communities were rarely hanging out with critical
digital culture crowds. This is not the place to extensively present the historic
trajectory of different hacker communities, but risking a gross simplification here
is a very short genealogy. The earliest European hacker association was the
German Chaos Computer Club (CCC) founded in 1981. Already in the early
1980s, CCC started to publicly reveal (security) weaknesses of corporate and
governmental computer systems. However, their focus on digital rights, privacy,
cyberpunk/cypherpunk, encryption, and security issues prevailed over other forms
of political activism. The CCC were very successful in raising issues, shaping
public discussions, and influencing a wide range of public actors from digital rights
advocacy to political parties (such as Greens and Pirate Party). However, unlike the
Italian and Spanish hackers, CCC did not merge paths with other social and/or
political movements. Italian and Spanish hackers, for instance, were much more
integral to autonomist/anarchist, political and social movements, and they have
kept this tradition until the present day.
PJ & AK: Can you expand this analysis to Eastern Europe, and ex-Yugoslavia
in particular? What were the distinct features of (the development of) hacker
culture in these areas?
MM & TM: Continuing to risk a gross simplification in the genealogy, Eastern
European hacker communities formed rather late – probably because of the
turbulent economic and political changes that Eastern Europe went through after
In MaMa, we used to run the programme g33koskop (2006–2012) with a goal to
“explore the scope of (term) geek” (Multimedia Institute, 2016b). An important
part of the program was to collect stories from enthusiasts, hobbyists, or ‘geeks’
who used to be involved in do-it-yourself communities during early days of
(personal) computing in Yugoslavia. From these makers of first 8-bit computers,
editors of do-it-yourself magazines and other early day enthusiasts, we could learn
that technical and youth culture was strongly institutionally supported (e.g. with
nation-wide clubs called People’s Technics). However, the socialist regime did not
adequately recognize the importance and the horizon of social changes coming


from (mere) education and (widely distributed) use of personal computers. Instead,
it insisted on an impossible mission of own industrial computer production in order
to preserve autonomy on the global information technology market. What a
horrible mistake … To be fair, many other countries during this period felt able to
achieve own, autonomous production of computers – so the mistake has reflected
the spirit of the times and the conditions of uneven economic and scientific
Looking back on the early days of computing in former Yugoslavia, many geeks
now see themselves as social visionaries and the avant-garde. During the 1990s
across the Eastern Europe, unfortunately, they failed to articulate a significant
political agenda other than fighting the monopoly of telecom companies. In their
daily lives, most of these people enjoyed opportunities and privileges of working in
a rapidly growing information technology market. Across the former Yugoslavia,
enthusiasts had started local Linux User Groups: HULK in Croatia, LUGOS in
Slovenia, LUGY in Serbia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and Macedonia. In the spirit
of their own times, many of these groups focused on attempts to convince the
business that free and open source software (at the time GNU/Linux, Apache,
Exim …) was a viable IT solution.
PJ & AK: Please describe further developments in the struggle between
proponents of proprietary software and the Free Software Movement.
MM & TM: That was the time before Internet giants such as Google, Amazon,
eBay or Facebook built their empires on top of Free/Libre/Open Source Software.
GNU General Public Licence, with its famous slogan “free as in free speech, not
free as in free beer” (Stallman, 2002), was strong enough to challenge the property
regime of the world of software production. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley
experimented with various approaches against the challenge of free software such
as ‘tivoizations’ (systems that incorporate copyleft-based software but impose
hardware restrictions to software modification), ‘walled gardens’ (systems where
carriers or service providers control applications, content and media, while
preventing them from interacting with the wider Internet ecosystem), ‘software-asa-service’ (systems where software is hosted centrally and licensed through
subscription). In order to support these strategies of enclosure and turn them into
profit, Silicon Valley developed investment strategies of venture capital or
leveraged buyouts by private equity to close the proprietary void left after the
success of commons-based peer production projects, where a large number of
people develop software collaboratively over the Internet without the exclusion by
property (Benkler, 2006).
There was a period when it seemed that cultural workers, artists and hackers
would follow the successful model of the Free Software Movement and build a
universal commons-based platform for peer produced, shared and distributed
culture, art, science and knowledge – that was the time of the Creative Commons
movement. But that vision never materialized. It did not help, either, that start-ups
with no business models whatsoever (e.g. De.lic.io.us (bookmarks), Flickr
(photos), Youtube (videos), Google Reader (RSS aggregator), Blogspot, and
others) were happy to give their services for free, let contributors use Creative


Commons licences (mostly on the side of licenses limiting commercial use and
adaptations), let news curators share and aggregate relevant content, and let Time
magazine claim that “You” (meaning “All of us”) are The Person of the Year
(Time Magazine, 2006).
PJ & AK: Please describe the interplay between the Free Software Movement
and the radically capitalist Silicon Valley start-up culture, and place it into the
larger context of political economy of software development. What are its
consequences for the hacker movement?
MM & TM: Before the 2008 economic crash, in the course of only few years,
most of those start-ups and services had been sold out to few business people who
were able to monetize their platforms, users and usees (mostly via advertisement)
or crowd them out (mostly via exponential growth of Facebook and its ‘magic’
network effect). In the end, almost all affected start-ups and services got shut down
(especially those bought by Yahoo). Nevertheless, the ‘golden’ corporate start-up
period brought about a huge enthusiasm and the belief that entrepreneurial spirit,
fostered either by an individual genius or by collective (a.k.a. crowd) endeavour,
could save the world. During that period, unsurprisingly, the idea of hacker
labs/spaces exploded.
Fabulous (self)replicating rapid prototypes, 3D printers, do-it-yourself, the
Internet of Things started to resonate with (young) makers all around the world.
Unfortunately, GNU GPL (v.3 at the time) ceased to be a priority. The
infrastructure of free software had become taken for granted, and enthusiastic
dancing on the shoulders of giants became the most popular exercise. Rebranding
existing Unix services (finger > twitter, irc > slack, talk > im), and/or designing the
‘last mile’ of user experience (often as trivial as adding round corners to the
buttons), would often be a good enough reason to enclose the project, do the
slideshow pitch, create a new start-up backed up by an angel investor, and hope to
win in the game of network effect(s).
Typically, software stack running these projects would be (almost) completely
GNU GPL (server + client), but parts made on OSX (endorsed for being ‘true’
Unix under the hood) would stay enclosed. In this way, projects would shift from
the world of commons to the world of business. In order to pay respect to the open
source community, and to keep own reputation of ‘the good citizen,’ many
software components would get its source code published on GitHub – which is a
prime example of that game of enclosure in its own right. Such developments
transformed the hacker movement from a genuine political challenge to the
property regime into a science fiction fantasy that sharing knowledge while
keeping hackers’ meritocracy regime intact could fix all world’s problems – if only
we, the hackers, are left alone to play, optimize, innovate and make that amazing

PJ & AK: This brings about the old debate between technological determinism
and social determinism, which never seems to go out of fashion. What is your take,


as active hackers and social activists, on this debate? What is the role of
(information) technologies in social development?
MM & TM: Any discussion of information technologies and social
development requires the following parenthesis: notions used for discussing
technological development are shaped by the context of parallel US hegemony
over capitalist world-system and its commanding role in the development of
information technologies. Today’s critiques of the Internet are far from celebration
of its liberatory, democratizing potential. Instead, they often reflect frustration over
its instrumental role in the expansion of social control. Yet, the binary of freedom
and control (Chun, 2008), characteristic for ideological frameworks pertaining to
liberal capitalist democracies, is increasingly at pains to explain what has become
evident with the creeping commercialization and concentration of market power in
digital networks. Information technologies are no different from other generalpurpose technologies on which they depend – such as mass manufacture, logistics,
or energy systems.
Information technologies shape capitalism – in return, capitalism shapes
information technologies. Technological innovation is driven by interests of
investors to profit from new commodity markets, and by their capacity to optimize
and increase productivity of other sectors of economy. The public has some
influence over development of information technologies. In fact, publicly funded
research and development has created and helped commercialize most of the
fundamental building blocks of our present digital infrastructures ranging from
microprocessors, touch-screens all the way to packet switching networks
(Mazzucato, 2013). However, public influence on commercially matured
information technologies has become limited, driven by imperatives of
accumulation and regulatory hegemony of the US.
When considering the structural interplay between technological development
and larger social systems, we cannot accept the position of technological
determinism – particularly not in the form of Promethean figures of enterpreneurs,
innovators and engineers who can solve the problems of the world. Technologies
are shaped socially, yet the position of outright social determinism is inacceptable
either. The reproduction of social relations depends on contingencies of
technological innovation, just as the transformation of social relations depends on
contingencies of actions by individuals, groups and institutions. Given the
asymmetries that exist between the capitalist core and the capitalist periphery, from
which we hail, strategies for using technologies as agents of social change differ
PJ & AK: Based on your activist experience, what is the relationship between
information technologies and democracy?
MM & TM: This relation is typically discussed within the framework of
communicative action (Habermas, 1984 [1981], 1987 [1981]) which describes how
the power to speak to the public has become radically democratized, how digital
communication has coalesced into a global public sphere, and how digital
communication has catalysed the power of collective mobilization. Information
technologies have done all that – but the framework of communicative action


describes only a part of the picture. Firstly, as Jodi Dean warns us in her critique of
communicative capitalism (Dean, 2005; see also Dean, 2009), the self-referential
intensity of communication frequently ends up as a substitute for the hard (and
rarely rewarding) work of political organization. Secondly, and more importantly,
Internet technologies have created the ‘winner takes all’ markets and benefited
more highly skilled workforce, thus helping to create extreme forms of economic
inequality (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2011). Thus, in any list of world’s richest
people, one can find an inordinate number of entrepreneurs from information
technology sector. This feeds deeply into neoliberal transformation of capitalist
societies, with growing (working and unemployed) populations left out of social
welfare which need to be actively appeased or policed. This is the structural
problem behind liberal democracies, electoral successes of the radical right, and
global “Trumpism” (Blyth, 2015). Intrinsic to contemporary capitalism,
information technologies reinforce its contradictions and pave its unfortunate trail
of destruction.
PJ & AK: Access to digital technologies and digital materials is dialectically
intertwined with human learning. For instance, Stallman’s definition of free
software directly addresses this issue in two freedoms: “Freedom 1: The freedom
to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish,” and
“Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements
(and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community
benefits” (Stallman, 2002: 43). Please situate the relationship between access and
learning in the contemporary context.
MM & TM: The relationships between digital technologies and education are
marked by the same contradictions and processes of enclosure that have befallen
the free software. Therefore, Eastern European scepticism towards free software is
equally applicable to education. The flip side of interactivity is audience
manipulation; the flip side of access and availability is (economic) domination.
Eroded by raising tuitions, expanding student debt, and poverty-level wages for
adjunct faculty, higher education is getting more and more exclusive. However,
occasional spread of enthusiasm through ideas such as MOOCs does not bring
about more emancipation and equality. While they preach loudly about unlimited
access for students at the periphery, neoliberal universities (backed up by venture
capital) are actually hoping to increase their recruitment business (models).
MOOCs predominantly serve members of privileged classes who already have
access to prestige universities, and who are “self-motivated, self-directed, and
independent individuals who would push to succeed anywhere” (Konnikova,
2014). It is a bit worrying that such rise of inequality results from attempts to
provide materials freely to everyone with Internet access!
The question of access to digital books for public libraries is different. Libraries
cannot afford digital books from world’s largest publishers (Digitalbookworld,
2012), and the small amount of already acquired e-books must destroyed after only
twenty six lendings (Greenfield, 2012). Thus, the issue of access is effectively left
to competition between Amazon, Google, Apple and other companies. The state of
affairs in scientific publishing is not any better. As we wrote in the collective open


letter ‘In solidarity with Library Genesis and Sci-Hub’ (Custodians.online, 2015),
five for-profit publishers (Elsevier, Springer, Wiley-Blackwell, Taylor & Francis
and Sage) own more than half of all existing databases of academic material, which
are licensed at prices so scandalously high that even Harvard, the richest university
of the Global North, has complained that it cannot afford them any longer. Robert
Darnton, the past director of Harvard Library, says: “We faculty do the research,
write the papers, referee papers by other researchers, serve on editorial boards, all
of it for free … and then we buy back the results of our labor at outrageous prices.”
For all the work supported by public money benefiting scholarly publishers,
particularly the peer review that grounds their legitimacy, prices of journal articles
prohibit access to science to many academics – and all non-academics – across the
world, and render it a token of privilege (Custodians.online, 2015).
PJ & AK: Please describe the existing strategies for struggle against these
developments. What are their main strengths and weaknesses?
MM & TM: Contemporary problems in the field of production, access,
maintenance and distribution of knowledge regulated by globally harmonized
intellectual property regime have brought about tremendous economic, social,
political and institutional crisis and deadlock(s). Therefore, we need to revisit and
rethink our politics, strategies and tactics. We could perhaps find inspiration in the
world of free software production, where it seems that common effort, courage and
charming obstinacy are able to build alternative tools and infrastructures. Yet, this
model might be insufficient for the whole scope of crisis facing knowledge
production and dissemination. The aforementioned corporate appropriations of free
software such as ‘tivoizations,’ ‘walled gardens,’ ‘software-as-a-service’ etc. bring
about the problem of longevity of commons-based peer-production.
Furthermore, the sense of entitlement for building alternatives to dominant
modes of oppression can only arrive at the close proximity to capitalist centres of
power. The periphery (of capitalism), in contrast, relies on strategies of ‘stealing’
and bypassing socio-economic barriers by refusing to submit to the harmonized
regulation that sets the frame for global economic exchange. If we honestly look
back and try to compare the achievements of digital piracy vs. the achievements of
reformist Creative Commons, it is obvious that the struggle for access to
knowledge is still alive mostly because of piracy.
PJ & AK: This brings us to the struggle against (knowledge as) private
property. What are the main problems in this struggle? How do you go about them?
MM & TM: Many projects addressing the crisis of access to knowledge are
originated in Eastern Europe. Examples include Library Genesis, Science Hub,
Monoskop and Memory of the World. Balázs Bodó’s research (2016) on the ethos
of Library Genesis and Science Hub resonates with our beliefs, shared through all
abovementioned projects, that the concept of private property should not be taken
for granted. Private property can and should be permanently questioned,
challenged and negotiated. This is especially the case in the face of artificial
scarcity (such as lack of access to knowledge caused by intellectual property in
context of digital networks) or selfish speculations over scarce basic human



resources (such as problems related to housing, water or waterfront development)
(Mars, Medak, & Sekulić, 2016).
The struggle to challenge the property regime used to be at the forefront of the
Free Software Movement. In the spectacular chain of recent events, where the
revelations of sweeping control and surveillance of electronic communications
brought about new heroes (Manning, Assange, Snowden), the hacker is again
reduced to the heroic cypherpunk outlaw. This firmly lies within the old Cold War
paradigm of us (the good guys) vs. them (the bad guys). However, only rare and
talented people are able to master cryptography, follow exact security protocols,
practice counter-control, and create a leak of information. Unsurprisingly, these
people are usually white, male, well-educated, native speakers of English.
Therefore, the narrative of us vs. them is not necessarily the most empowering, and
we feel that it requires a complementary strategy that challenges the property
regime as a whole. As our letter at Custodians.online says:
We find ourselves at a decisive moment. This is the time to recognize that the
very existence of our massive knowledge commons is an act of collective
civil disobedience. It is the time to emerge from hiding and put our names
behind this act of resistance. You may feel isolated, but there are many of us.
The anger, desperation and fear of losing our library infrastructures, voiced
across the Internet, tell us that. This is the time for us custodians, being dogs,
humans or cyborgs, with our names, nicknames and pseudonyms, to raise our
voices. Share your writing – digitize a book – upload your files. Don’t let our
knowledge be crushed. Care for the libraries – care for the metadata – care
for the backup. (Custodians.online, 2015)

PJ & AK: Started in 2012, The Public Library project (Memory of the World,
2016a) is an important part of struggle against commodification of knowledge.
What is the project about; how did it arrive into being?
MM & TM: The Public Library project develops and affirms scenarios for
massive disobedience against current regulation of production and circulation of
knowledge and culture in the digital realm. Started in 2012, it created a lot of
resonance across the peripheries of an unevenly developed world of study and
learning. Earlier that year, takedown of the book-sharing site Library.nu produced
the anxiety that the equalizing effects brought about by piracy would be rolled
back. With the takedown, the fact that access to most recent and most relevant
knowledge was (finally) no longer a privilege of the rich academic institutions in a
few countries of the Global West, and/or the exclusive preserve of the academia to
boot – has simply disappeared into thin air. Certainly, various alternatives from
deep semi-periphery have quickly filled the gap. However, it is almost a miracle
that they still continue to exist in spite of prosecution they are facing on everyday



Our starting point for the Public Library project is simple: public library is the
institutional form devised by societies in order to make knowledge and culture
accessible to all its members regardless their social or economic status. There is a
political consensus across the board that this principle of access is fundamental to
the purpose of a modern society. Only educated and informed citizens are able to
claim their rights and fully participate in the polity for common good. Yet, as
digital networks have radically expanded availability of literature and science,
provision of de-commodified access to digital objects has been by and large denied
to public libraries. For instance, libraries frequently do not have the right to
purchase e-books for lending and preservations. If they do, they are limited in
regards to how many times and under what conditions they can lend digital objects
before the license and the object itself is revoked (Greenfield, 2012). The case of
academic journals is even worse. As journals become increasingly digital, libraries
can provide access and ‘preserve’ them only for as long as they pay extortionate
subscriptions. The Public Library project fills in the space that remains denied to
real-world public libraries by building tools for organizing and sharing electronic
libraries, creating digitization workflows and making books available online.
Obviously, we are not alone in this effort. There are many other platforms, public
and hidden, that help people to share books. And the practice of sharing is massive.
PJ & AK: The Public Library project (Memory of the World, 2016a) is a part of
a wider global movement based, amongst other influences, on the seminal work of
Aaron Swartz. This movement consists of various projects including but not
limited to Library Genesis, Aaaaarg.org, UbuWeb, and others. Please situate The
Public Library project in the wider context of this movement. What are its distinct
features? What are its main contributions to the movement at large?
MM & TM: The Public Library project is informed by two historic moments in
the development of institution of public library The first defining moment
happened during the French Revolution – the seizure of library collections from
aristocracy and clergy, and their transfer to the Bibliothèque Nationale and
municipal libraries of the post-revolutionary Republic. The second defining
moment happened in England through working class struggles to make knowledge
accessible to the working class. After the revolution of 1848, that struggle resulted
in tax-supported public libraries. This was an important part of the larger attempt
by the Chartist movement to provide workers with “really useful knowledge”
aimed at raising class consciousness through explaining functioning of capitalist
domination and exploring ways of building workers’ own autonomous culture
(Johnson, 1988). These defining revolutionary moments have instituted two
principles underpinning the functioning of public libraries: a) general access to
knowledge is fundamental to full participation in the society, and b)
commodification of knowledge in the form of book trade needs to be limited by
public de-commodified non-monetary forms of access through public institutions.
In spite of enormous expansion of potentials for providing access to knowledge
to all regardless of their social status or geographic location brought about by the
digital technologies, public libraries have been radically limited in pursuing their
mission. This results in side-lining of public libraries in enormous expansion of


commodification of knowledge in the digital realm, and brings huge profits to
academic publishers. In response to these limitations, a number of projects have
sprung up in order to maintain public interest by illegal means.
PJ & AK: Can you provide a short genealogy of these projects?
MM & TM: Founded in 1996, Ubu was one of the first online repositories.
Then, in 2001, Textz.com started distributing texts in critical theory. After
Textz.com got shot down in early 2004, it took another year for Aaaaarg to emerge
and Monoskop followed soon thereafter. In the latter part of the 2000s, Gigapedia
started a different trajectory of providing access to comprehensive repositories.
Gigapedia was a game changer, because it provided access to thousands and
thousands of scholarly titles and made access to that large corpus no longer limited
to those working or studying in the rich institutions of the Global North. In 2012
publishing industry shut down Gigapedia (at the time, it was known as Library.nu).
Fortunately, the resulting vacuum did not last for long, as Library.nu repository got
merged into the holdings of Library Genesis. Building on the legacy of Soviet
scholars who devised the ways of shadow production and distribution of
knowledge in the form of samizdat and early digital distribution of texts in the
post-Soviet period (Balázs, 2014), Library Genesis has built a robust infrastructure
with the mission to provide access to the largest online library in existence while
keeping a low profile. At this moment Library Genesis provides access to books,
and its sister project Science Hub provides access to academic journals. Both
projects are under threat of closure by the largest academic publisher Reed
Elsevier. Together with the Public Library project, they articulate a position of civil
PJ & AK: Please elaborate the position of civil disobedience. How does it
work; when is it justified?
MM & TM: Legitimating discourses usually claim that shadow libraries fall
into the category of non-commercial fair use. These arguments are definitely valid,
yet they do not build a particularly strong ground for defending knowledge
commons. Once they arrive under attack, therefore, shadow libraries are typically
shut down. In our call for collective disobedience, therefore, we want to make a
larger claim. Access to knowledge as a universal condition could not exist if we –
academics and non-academics across the unevenly developed world – did not
create own ways of commoning knowledge that we partake in producing and
learning. By introducing the figure of the custodian, we are turning the notion of
property upside down. Paraphrasing the Little Prince, to own something is to be
useful to that which you own (Saint-Exupéry, 1945). Custodians are the political
subjectivity of that disobedient work of care.
Practices of sharing, downloading, and uploading, are massive. So, if we want to
prevent our knowledge commons from being taken away over and over again, we
need to publicly and collectively stand behind our disobedient behaviour. We
should not fall into the trap of the debate about legality or illegality of our
practices. Instead, we should acknowledge that our practices, which have been
deemed illegal, are politically legitimate in the face of uneven opportunities
between the Global North and the Global South, in the face of commercialization


of education and student debt in the Global North … This is the meaning of civil
disobedience – to take responsibility for breaking unjust laws.
PJ & AK: We understand your lack of interest for debating legality –
nevertheless, legal services are very interested in your work … For instance,
Marcell has recently been involved in a law suit related to Aaaaarg. Please describe
the relationship between morality and legality in your (public) engagement. When,
and under which circumstances, can one’s moral actions justify breaking the law?
MM & TM: Marcell has been recently drawn into a lawsuit that was filed
against Aaaaarg for copyright infringement. Marcell, the founder of Aaaaarg Sean
Dockray, and a number of institutions ranging from universities to continentalscale intergovernmental organizations, are being sued by a small publisher from
Quebec whose translation of André Bazin’s What is Cinema? (1967) was twice
scanned and uploaded to Aaaaarg by an unknown user. The book was removed
each time the plaintiff issued a takedown notice, resulting in minimal damages, but
these people are nonetheless being sued for 500.000 Canadian dollars. Should
Aaaaarg not be able to defend its existence on the principle of fair use, a valuable
common resource will yet again be lost and its founder will pay a high price. In this
lawsuit, ironically, there is little economic interest. But many smaller publishers
find themselves squeezed between the privatization of education which leaves
students and adjuncts with little money for books and the rapid concentration of
academic publishing. For instance, Taylor and Francis has acquired a smaller
humanities publisher Ashgate and shut it down in a matter of months (Save
Ashgate Publishing petition, 2015).
The system of academic publishing is patently broken. It syphons off public
funding of science and education into huge private profits, while denying living
wages and access to knowledge to its producers. This business model is legal, but
deeply illegitimate. Many scientists and even governments agree with this
conclusion – yet, situation cannot be easily changed because of entrenched power
passed down from the old models of publishing and their imbrication with
allocation of academic prestige. Therefore, the continuous existence of this model
commands civil disobedience.
PJ & AK: The Public Library project (Memory of the World, 2016a) operates
in various public domains including art galleries. Why did you decide to develop
The Public Library project in the context of arts? How do you conceive the
relationship between arts and activism?
MM & TM: We tend to easily conflate the political with the aesthetic.
Moreover, when an artwork expressedly claims political character, this seems to
grant it recognition and appraisal. Yet, socially reflective character of an artwork
and its consciously critical position toward the social reality might not be outright
political. Political action remains a separate form of agency, which is different than
that of socially reflexive, situated and critical art. It operates along a different logic
of engagement. It requires collective mobilization and social transformation.
Having said that, socially reflexive, situated and critical art cannot remain detached
from the present conjuncture and cannot exist outside the political space. Within
the world of arts, alternatives to existing social sensibilities and realities can be


articulated and tested without paying a lot of attention to consistency and
plausibility. Whereas activism generally leaves less room for unrestricted
articulation, because it needs to produce real and plausible effects.
With the generous support of the curatorial collective What, How and for Whom
(WHW) (2016), the Public Library project was surprisingly welcomed by the art
world, and this provided us with a stage to build the project, sharpen its arguments
and ascertain legitimacy of its political demands. The project was exhibited, with
WHW and other curators, in some of the foremost art venues such as Reina Sofía
in Madrid, Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart, 98 Weeks in Beirut,
Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova in Ljubljana, and Calvert 22 in London.
It is great to have a stage where we can articulate social issues and pursue avenues
of action that other social institutions might find risky to support. Yet, while the
space of art provides a safe haven from the adversarial world of political reality, we
think that the addressed issues need to be politicized and that other institutions,
primarily institutions of education, need to stand behind the demand for universal
access. For instance, teaching and research at the University in Zagreb critically
depends on the capacity of its faculty and students to access books and journals
from sources that are deemed illegal – in our opinion, therefore, the University
needs to take a public stand for these forms of access. In the world of
commercialized education and infringement liability, expecting the University to
publicly support us seems highly improbable. However, it is not impossible! This
was recently demonstrated by the Zürich Academy of Arts, which now hosts a
mirror of Ubu – a crucial resource for its students and faculty alike
(Custodians.online, 2016).
PJ & AK: In the current climate of economic austerity, the question of
resources has become increasingly important. For instance, Web 2.0. has narrowed
available spaces for traditional investigative journalism, and platforms such as
Airbnb and Uber have narrowed spaces for traditional labor. Following the same
line of argument, placing activism into art galleries clearly narrows available
spaces for artists. How do you go about this problem? What, if anything, should be
done with the activist takeover of traditional forms of art? Why?
MM & TM: Art can no longer stand outside of the political space, and it can no
longer be safely stowed away into a niche of supposed autonomy within bourgeois
public sphere detached from commodity production and the state. However, art
academies in Croatia and many other places throughout the world still churn out
artists on the premise that art is apolitical. In this view artists can specialize in a
medium and create in isolation of their studios – if their artwork is recognized as
masterful, it will be bought on the marketplace. This is patently a lie! Art in Croatia
depends on bonds of solidarity and public support.
Frequently it is the art that seeks political forms of engagement rather than vice
versa. A lot of headspace for developing a different social imaginary can be gained
from that venturing aspect of contemporary art. Having said that, art does not need
to be political in order to be relevant and strong.




PJ & AK: The Public Library project (Memory of the World, 2016a) is essentially
pedagogical. When everyone is a librarian, and all books are free, living in the
world transforms into living with the world – so The Public Library project is also
essentially anti-capitalist. This brings us to the intersections between critical
pedagogy of Paulo Freire, Peter McLaren, Henry Giroux, and others – and the
hacker culture of Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, Steven Lévy, and others. In
spite of various similarities, however, critical pedagogy and hacker culture disagree
on some important points.
With its deep roots in Marxism, critical theory always insists on class analysis.
Yet, imbued in the Californian ideology (Barbrook and Cameron, 1996), the hacker
culture is predominantly individualist. How do you go about the tension between
individualism and collectivism in The Public Library project? How do you balance
these forces in your overall work?
MM & TM: Hacker culture has always lived a double life. Personal computers
and the Internet have set up a perfect projection screen for a mind-set which
understands autonomy as a pursuit for personal self-realisation. Such mind-set sees
technology as a frontier of limitless and unconditional freedom, and easily melds
with entrepreneurial culture of the Silicon Valley. Therefore, it is hardly a surprise
that individualism has become the hegemonic narrative of hacker culture.
However, not all hacker culture is individualist and libertarian. Since the 1990s, the
hacker culture is heavily divided between radical individualism and radical
mutualism. Fred Turner (2006), Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron (1996) have
famously shown that radical individualism was built on freewheeling counterculture of the American hippie movement, while radical mutualism was built on
collective leftist traditions of anarchism and Marxism. This is evident in the Free
Software Movement, which has placed ethics and politics before economy and
technology. In her superb ethnographic work, Biella Coleman (2013) has shown
that projects such as GNU/Linux distribution Debian have espoused radically
collective subjectivities. In that regard, these projects stand closer to mutualist,
anarchist and communist traditions where collective autonomy is the foundation of
individual freedom.
Our work stands in that lineage. Therefore, we invoke two collective figures –
amateur librarian and custodian. These figures highlight the labor of communizing
knowledge and maintaining infrastructures of access, refuse to leave the commons
to the authority of professions, and create openings where technologies and
infrastructures can be re-claimed for radically collective and redistributive
endeavours. In that context, we are critical of recent attempts to narrow hacker
culture down to issues of surveillance, privacy and cryptography. While these
issues are clearly important, they (again) reframe the hacker community through
the individualist dichotomy of freedom and privacy, and, more broadly, through
the hegemonic discourse of the post-historical age of liberal capitalism. In this
way, the essential building blocks of the hacker culture – relations of production,
relations of property, and issues of redistribution – are being drowned out, and


collective and massive endeavour of commonizing is being eclipsed by the
capacity of the few crypto-savvy tricksters to avoid government control.
Obviously, we strongly disagree with the individualist, privative and 1337 (elite)
thrust of these developments.
PJ & AK: The Public Library project (Memory of the World, 2016a) arrives
very close to visions of deschooling offered by authors such as Ivan Illich (1971),
Everett Reimer (1971), Paul Goodman (1973), and John Holt (1967). Recent
research indicates that digital technologies offer some fresh opportunities for the
project of deschooling (Hart, 2001; Jandrić, 2014, 2015b), and projects such as
Monoskop (Monoskop, 2016) and The Public Library project (Memory of the
World, 2016a) provide important stepping-stones for emancipation of the
oppressed. Yet, such forms of knowledge and education are hardly – if at all –
recognised by the mainstream. How do you go about this problem? Should these
projects try and align with the mainstream, or act as subversions of the mainstream,
or both? Why?
MM & TM: We are currently developing a more fine-tuned approach to
educational aspects of amateur librarianship. The forms of custodianship over
knowledge commons that underpin the practices behind Monoskop, Public Library,
Aaaaarg, Ubu, Library Genesis, and Science Hub are part and parcel of our
contemporary world – whether you are a non-academic with no access to scholarly
libraries, or student/faculty outside of the few well-endowed academic institutions
in the Global North. As much as commercialization and privatization of education
are becoming mainstream across the world, so are the strategies of reproducing
one’s knowledge and academic research that depend on the de-commodified access
of shadow libraries.
Academic research papers are narrower in scope than textbooks, and Monoskop
is thematically more specific than Library Genesis. However, all these practices
exhibit ways in which our epistemologies and pedagogies are built around
institutional structures that reproduce inequality and differentiated access based on
race, gender, class and geography. By building own knowledge infrastructures, we
build different bodies of knowledge and different forms of relating to our realities –
in words of Walter Mignolo, we create new forms of epistemic disobedience
(2009). Through Public Library, we have digitized and made available several
collections that represent epistemologically different corpuses of knowledge. A
good example of that is the digital collection of books selected by Black Panther
Herman Wallace as his dream library for political education (Memory of the
World, 2016b).
PJ & AK: Your work breaks traditional distinctions between professionals and
amateurs – when everyone becomes a librarian, the concepts of ‘professional
librarian’ and ‘amateur librarian’ become obsolete. Arguably, this tension is an
inherent feature of the digital world – similar trends can be found in various
occupations such as journalism and arts. What are the main consequences of the
new (power) dynamics between professionals and amateurs?
MM & TM: There are many tensions between amateurs and professionals.
There is the general tension, which you refer to as “the inherent feature of the


digital world,” but there are also more historically specific tensions. We, amateur
librarians, are mostly interested in seizing various opportunities to politicize and
renegotiate the positions of control and empowerment in the tensions that are
already there. We found that storytelling is a particularly useful, efficient and
engaging way of politicization. The naïve and oft overused claim – particularly
during the Californian nineties – of the revolutionary potential of emerging digital
networks turned out to be a good candidate for replacement by a story dating back
two centuries earlier – the story of emergence of public libraries in the early days
of the French bourgeois revolution in the 19th century.
The seizure of book collections from the Church and the aristocracy in the
course of revolutions casts an interesting light on the tensions between the
professionals and the amateurs. Namely, the seizure of book collections didn’t lead
to an Enlightenment in the understanding of the world – a change in the paradigm
how we humans learn, write and teach each other about the world. Steam engine,
steam-powered rotary press, railroads, electricity and other revolutionary
technological innovations were not seen as results of scientific inquiry. Instead,
they were by and large understood as developments in disciplines such as
mechanics, engineering and practical crafts, which did not challenge religion as the
foundational knowledge about the world.
Consequently, public prayers continued to act as “hoped for solutions to cattle
plagues in 1865, a cholera epidemic in 1866, and a case of typhoid suffered by the
young Prince (Edward) of Wales in 1871” (Gieryn, 1983). Scientists of the time
had to demarcate science from both the religion and the mechanics to provide a
rationale for its supriority as opposed to the domains of spiritual and technical
discovery. Depending on whom they talked to, asserts Thomas F. Gieryn, scientists
would choose to discribe the science as either theoretical or empirical, pure or
applied, often in contradictory ways, but with a clear goal to legitimate to
authorities both the scientific endavor and its claim to resources. Boundary-work of
demarcation had the following characteristics:
(a) when the goal is expansion of authority or expertise into domains claimed
by other professions or occupations, boundary-work heightens the contrast
between rivals in ways flattering to the ideologists’ side;
(b) when the goal is monopolization of professional authority and resources,
boundary-work excludes rivals from within by defining them as outsiders
with labels such as ‘pseudo,’ ‘deviant,’ or ‘amateur’;
(c) when the goal is protection of autonomy over professional activities,
boundary-work exempts members from responsibility for consequences of
their work by putting the blame on scapegoats from outside. (Gieryn, 1983:
Once institutionally established, modern science and its academic system have
become the exclusive instances where emerging disciplines had now to seek
recognition and acceptance. The new disciplines (and their respective professions),
in order to become acknowledged by the scientific community as legitimate, had to


repeat the same boundary-work as the science in general once had to go through
The moral of this story is that the best way for a new scientific discipline to
claim its territory was to articulate the specificity and importance of its insights in a
domain no other discipline claimed. It could achieve that by theorizing,
formalizing, and writing own vocabulary, methods and curricula, and finally by
asking the society to see its own benefit in acknowledging the discipline, its
practitioners and its practices as a separate profession – giving it the green light to
create its own departments and eventually join the productive forces of the world.
This is how democratization of knowledge led to the professionalization of science.
Another frequent reference in our storytelling is the history of
professionalization of computing and its consequences for the fields and disciplines
where the work of computer programmers plays an important role (Ensmenger,
2010: 14; Krajewski, 2011). Markus Krajewski in his great book Paper Machines
(2011), looking back on the history of index card catalog (an analysis that is
formative for our understanding of the significance of library catalog as an
epistemic tool), introduced a thought-provoking idea of the logical equivalence of
the developed index card catalog and the Turing machine, thus making the library a
vanguard of the computing. Granting that equivalence, we however think that the
professionalization of computing much better explains the challenges of today’s
librarianship and tensions between the amateur and professional librarians.
The world recognized the importance and potential of computer technology
much before computer science won its own autonomy in the academia. Computer
science first had to struggle and go through its own historical phase of boundarywork. In 1965 the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) had decided to
pool together various attempts to define the terms and foundations of computer
science analysis. Still, the field wasn’t given its definition before Donald Knuth
and his colleagues established the algorithm as as the principle unit of analysis in
computer science in the first volume of Knuth’s canonical The Art of Computer
Programming (2011) [1968]. Only once the algorithm was posited as the main unit
of study of computer science, which also served as the basis for ACM’s
‘Curriculum ‘68’ (Atchison et al., 1968), the path was properly paved for the future
departments of computer science in the university.
PJ & AK: What are the main consequences of these stories for computer
science education?
MM & TM: Not everyone was happy with the algorithm’s central position in
computer science. Furthermore, since the early days, computer industry has been
complaining that the university does not provide students with practical
knowledge. Back in 1968, for instance, IBM researcher Hal Sackman said:
new departments of computer science in the universities are too busy
teaching simon-pure courses in their struggle for academic recognition to pay
serious time and attention to the applied work necessary to educate
programmers and systems analysts for the real world. (in Ensmenger, 2010:


Computer world remains a weird hybrid where knowledge is produced in both
academic and non-academic settings, through academic curricula – but also
through fairs, informal gatherings, homebrew computer clubs, hacker communities
and the like. Without the enthusiasm and the experiments with ways how
knowledge can be transferred and circulated between peers, we would have
probably never arrived to the Personal Computer Revolution in the beginning of
1980s. Without the amount of personal computers already in use, we would have
probably never experienced the Internet revolution in the beginning of 1990s. It is
through such historical development that computer science became the academic
centre of the larger computer universe which spread its tentacles into almost all
other known disciplines and professions.
PJ & AK: These stories describe the process of professionalization. How do
you go about its mirror image – the process of amateurisation?
MM & TM: Systematization, vocabulary, manuals, tutorials, curricula – all the
processes necessary for achieving academic autonomy and importance in the world
– prime a discipline for automatization of its various skills and workflows into
software tools. That happened to photography (Photoshop, 1990; Instagram, 2010),
architecture (AutoCAD, 1982), journalism (Blogger, 1999; WordPress, 2003),
graphic design (Adobe Illustrator, 1986; Pagemaker, 1987; Photoshop, 1988;
Freehand, 1988), music production (Steinberg Cubase, 1989), and various other
disciplines (Memory of the World, 2016b).
Usually, after such software tool gets developed and introduced into the
discipline, begins the period during which a number of amateurs start to ‘join’ that
profession. An army of enthusiasts with a specific skill, many self-trained and with
understanding of a wide range of software tools, join. This phenomenon often
marks a crisis as amateurs coming from different professional backgrounds start to
compete with certified and educated professionals in that field. Still, the future
development of the same software tools remains under control by software
engineers, who become experts in established workflows, and who promise further
optimizations in the field. This crisis of old professions becomes even more
pronounced if the old business models – and their corporate monopolies – are
challenged by the transition to digital network economy and possibly face the
algorithmic replacement of their workforce and assets.
For professions under these challenging conditions, today it is often too late for
boundary-work described in our earlier answer. Instead of maintaining authority
and expertise by labelling upcoming enthusiasts as ‘pseudo,’ ‘deviant,’ or
‘amateur,’ therefore, contemporary disciplines need to revisit own roots, values,
vision and benefits for society and then (re-)articulate the corpus of knowledge that
the discipline should maintain for the future.
PJ & AK: How does this relate to the dichotomy between amateur and
professional librarians?
MM & TM: We regard the e-book management software Calibre (2016),
written by Kovid Goyal, as a software tool which has benefited from the
knowledge produced, passed on and accumulated by librarians for centuries.
Calibre has made the task of creating and maintaining the catalog easy.


Our vision is to make sharing, aggregating and accessing catalogs easy and
playful. We like the idea that every rendered catalog is stored on a local hard disk,
that an amateur librarian can choose when to share, and that when she decides to
share, the catalog gets aggregated into a library together with the collections of
other fellow amateur librarians (at https://library.memoryoftheworld.org). For the
purpose of sharing we wrote the Calibre plugin named let’s share books and set up
the related server infrastructure – both of which are easily replicable and
deployable into distributed clones.
Together with Voja Antonić, the legendary inventor of the first eight-bit
computer in Yugoslavia, we also designed and developed a series of book scanners
and used them to digitize hundreds of books focused to Yugoslav humanities such
as the Digital Archive of Praxis and the Korčula Summer School (2016), Catalogue
of Liberated Books (2013), books thrown away from Croatian public libraries
during ideological cleansing of the 1990s Written-off (2015), and the collection of
books selected by the Black Panther Herman Wallace as his dream library for
political education (Memory of the World, 2016b).
In our view, amateur librarians are complementary to professional librarians,
and there is so much to learn and share between each other. Amateur librarians care
about books which are not (yet) digitally curated with curiosity, passion and love;
they dare to disobey in pursuit for the emancipatory vision of the world which is
now under threat. If we, amateur librarians, ever succeed in our pursuits – that
should secure the existing jobs of professional librarians and open up many new
and exciting positions. When knowledge is easily accessed, (re)produced and
shared, there will be so much to follow up upon.

PJ & AK: You organize talks and workshops, publish books, and maintain a major
regional hub for people interested in digital cultures. In Croatia, your names are
almost synonymous with social studies of the digital – worldwide, you are
recognized as regional leaders in the field. Such engagement has a prominent
pedagogical component – arguably, the majority of your work can be interpreted as
public pedagogy. What are the main theoretical underpinnings of your public
pedagogy? How does it work in practice?
MM & TM: Our organization is a cluster of heterogeneous communities and
fields of interest. Therefore, our approaches to public pedagogy hugely vary. In
principle, we subscribe to the idea that all intelligences are equal and that all
epistemology is socially structured. In practice, this means that our activities are
syncretic and inclusive. They run in parallel without falling under the same
umbrella, and they bring together people of varying levels of skill – who bring in
various types of knowledge, and who arrive from various social backgrounds.
Working with hackers, we favour hands-on approach. For a number of years
Marcell has organized weekly Skill Sharing program (Net.culture club MaMa,
2016b) that has started from very basic skills. The bar was incrementally raised to
today’s level of the highly specialized meritocratic community of 1337 hackers. As


the required skill level got too demanding, some original members left the group –
yet, the community continues to accommodate geeks and freaks. At the other end,
we maintain a theoretically inflected program of talks, lectures and publications.
Here we invite a mix of upcoming theorists and thinkers and some of the most
prominent intellectuals of today such as Jacques Rancière, Alain Badiou, Saskia
Sassen and Robert McChesney. This program creates a larger intellectual context,
and also provides space for our collaborators in various activities.
Our political activism, however, takes an altogether different approach. More
often than not, our campaigns are based on inclusive planning and direct decision
making processes with broad activist groups and the public. However, such
inclusiveness is usually made possible by a campaigning process that allows
articulation of certain ideas in public and popular mobilization. For instance, before
the Right to the City campaign against privatisation of the pedestrian zone in
Zagreb’s Varšavska Street coalesced together (Pravo na grad, 2016), we tactically
used media for more than a year to clarify underlying issues of urban development
and mobilize broad public support. At its peak, this campaign involved no less than
200 activists involved in the direct decision-making process and thousands of
citizens in the streets. Its prerequisite was hard day-to-day work by a small group
of people organized by the important member of our collective Teodor Celakoski.
PJ & AK: Your public pedagogy provides great opportunity for personal
development – for instance, talks organized by the Multimedia Institute have been
instrumental in shaping our educational trajectories. Yet, you often tackle complex
problems and theories, which are often described using complex concepts and
language. Consequently, your public pedagogy is inevitably restricted to those who
already possess considerable educational background. How do you balance the
popular and the elitist aspects of your public pedagogy? Do you intend to try and
reach wider audiences? If so, how would you go about that?
MM & TM: Our cultural work equally consists of more demanding and more
popular activities, which mostly work together in synergy. Our popular Human
Rights Film Festival (2016) reaches thousands of people; yet, its highly selective
programme echoes our (more) theoretical concerns. Our political campaigns are
intended at scalability, too. Demanding and popular activities do not contradict
each other. However, they do require very different approaches and depend on
different contexts and situations. In our experience, a wide public response to a
social cause cannot be simply produced by shaping messages or promoting causes
in ways that are considered popular. The response of the public primarily depends
on a broadly shared understanding, no matter its complexity, that a certain course
of action has an actual capacity to transform a specific situation. Recognizing that
moment, and acting tactfully upon it, is fundamental to building a broad political
This can be illustrated by the aforementioned Custodians.online letter (2015)
that we recently co-authored with a number of our fellow library activists against
the injunction that allows Elsevier to shut down two most important repositories
providing access to scholarly writing: Science Hub and Library Genesis. The letter
is clearly a product of our specific collective work and dynamic. Yet, it clearly


articulates various aspects of discontent around this impasse in access to
knowledge, so it resonates with a huge number of people around the world and
gives them a clear indication that there are many who disobey the global
distribution of knowledge imposed by the likes of Elsevier.
PJ & AK: Your work is probably best described by John Holloway’s phrase
“in, against, and beyond the state” (Holloway, 2002, 2016). What are the main
challenges of working under such conditions? How do you go about them?
MM & TM: We could situate the Public Library project within the structure of
tactical agency, where one famously moves into the territory of institutional power
of others. While contesting the regulatory power of intellectual property over
access to knowledge, we thus resort to appropriation of universalist missions of
different social institutions – public libraries, UNESCO, museums. Operating in an
economic system premised on unequal distribution of means, they cannot but fail
to deliver on their universalist promise. Thus, while public libraries have a mission
to provide access to knowledge to all members of the society, they are severely
limited in what they can do to accomplish that mission in the digital realm. By
claiming the mission of universal access to knowledge for shadow libraries,
collectively built shared infrastructures redress the current state of affairs outside of
the territory of institutions. Insofar, these acts of commoning can indeed be
regarded as positioned beyond the state (Holloway, 2002, 2016).
Yet, while shadow libraries can complement public libraries, they cannot
replace public libraries. And this shifts the perspective from ‘beyond’ to ‘in and
against’: we all inhabit social institutions which reflect uneven development in and
between societies. Therefore, we cannot simply operate within binaries: powerful
vs. powerless, institutional vs. tactical. Our space of agency is much more complex
and blurry. Institutions and their employees resist imposed limitations, and
understand that their spaces of agency reach beyond institutional limitations.
Accordingly, the Public Library project enjoys strong and unequivocal complicity
of art institutions, schools and libraries for its causes and activities. While
collectively building practices that abolish the present state of affairs and reclaim
the dream of universal access to knowledge, we rearticulate the vision of a
radically equal society equipped with institutions that can do justice to that
“infinite demand” (Critchley, 2013). We are collectively pursuing this collective
dream – in words of our friend and our continuing inspiration Aaron Swartz: “With
enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the
privatization of knowledge – we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?”
(Swartz, 2008).

tactics in Medak, Mars & WHW 2015

Medak, Mars & WHW
Public Library

Public Library

may • 2015
price 50 kn

This publication is realized along with the exhibition
Public Library • 27/5 –13/06 2015 • Gallery Nova • Zagreb
Izdavači / Publishers
Tomislav Medak • Marcell Mars •
What, How & for Whom / WHW
ISBN 978-953-55951-3-7 [Što, kako i za koga/WHW]
ISBN 978-953-7372-27-9 [Multimedijalni institut]
A Cip catalog record for this book is available from the
National and University Library in Zagreb under 000907085

With the support of the Creative Europe Programme of the
European Union

ZAGREB • ¶ May • 2015

Public Library

Marcell Mars, Manar Zarroug
& Tomislav Medak


Public Library (essay)
Paul Otlet


Transformations in the Bibliographical
Apparatus of the Sciences
(Repertory — Classification — Office
of Documentation)
McKenzie Wark


Metadata Punk
Tomislav Medak
The Future After the Library
UbuWeb and Monoskop’s Radical Gestures


Marcell Mars,
Manar Zarroug
& Tomislav Medak

Public library (essay)

In What Was Revolutionary about the French Revolution? 01 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
The revolution bootstraps itself.
01 Robert H. Darnton, What Was Revolutionary about the
French Revolution? (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press,
1996), 6.
02 Ibid.

Public library (essay)


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.” 03 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)04 were built through
03 Ibid.
04 Slogan of the French Republic, France.fr, n.d.,


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

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
1851.05 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 spine,
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,06 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.”07
05 Richard F. Snow, “Melvil Dewey”, American Heritage 32,
no. 1 (December 1980),
06 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),
07 Snow, “Melvil Dewey”.

Public library (essay)


His dream came true. Public Library is an entry
in the catalog of History where a fantastic decimal08
describes a category of phenomenon that—together
with free public education, a free public healthcare,
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 infrastructures 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,
until the egalitarian impetus of social revolutions,
the Enlightment idea of universality of knowledge,
and the expcetional suspenssion of the comercial
barriers to access to knowledge made it possible.
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. Today nobody 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. However, the
08 “Dewey Decimal Classification: 001.”, Dewey.info, 27 October 2014, http://dewey.info/class/001/2009-08/about.en.


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

emergence and development of the internet is taking place precisely at the point at which an institutional crisis—one with traumatic and inconceivable
consequences—has also begun.
The internet is a new challenge, creating experiences commonly proferred as ‘revolutionary’. Yet, a
true revolution of the internet is the universal access
to all knowledge that it makes possible. However,
unlike the new epistemologies developed during
the French revolution the tendency is to keep the
‘old regime’ (of intellectual property rights, market
concentration and control of access). The new possibilities for classification, development of languages,
invention of epistemologies which the internet poses,
and which might launch off into new orbits from
existing classification systems, are being suppressed.
In fact, the reactionary forces of the ‘old regime’
are staging a ‘Thermidor’ to suppress the public libraries from pursuing their mission. Today public
libraries cannot acquire, cannot even buy digital
books from the world’s largest publishers.09 The
small amount of e-books that they were able to acquire already they must destroy after only twenty-six
lendings.10 Libraries and the principle of universal
09 “American Library Association Open Letter to Publishers on
E-Book Library Lending”, Digital Book World, 24 September
2012, http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2012/americanlibrary-association-open-letter-to-publishers-on-e-booklibrary-lending/.
10 Jeremy Greenfield, “What Is Going On with Library E-Book
Lending?”, Forbes, 22 June 2012, http://www.forbes.com/

Public library (essay)


access to all existing knowledge that they embody
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.11 In only three years, from 2010 to
2012, some 10 percent of public libraries were closed
in Great Britain.12
The commodification of knowledge, education,
and schooling (which are the consequences of a
globally harmonized, restrictive legal regime for intellectual property) with neoliberal austerity politics
curtails the possibilities of adapting to new sociotechnological conditions, let alone further development, innovation, or even basic maintenance of
public libraries’ infrastructure.
Public libraries are an endangered institution,
doomed to extinction.
Petit bourgeois denial prevents society from confronting this disturbing insight. As in many other
fields, the only way out offered is innovative mar11 Aideen Doran, “Free Libraries for Every Soul: Dreaming
of the Online Library”, The Bear, March 2014, http://www.
12 Alison Flood, “UK Lost More than 200 Libraries in 2012”,
The Guardian, 10 December 2012, http://www.theguardian.


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

ket-based entrepreneurship. Some have even suggested that the public library should become an
open software platform on top of which creative
developers can build app stores13 or Internet cafés
for the poorest, ensuring that they are only a click
away from the Amazon.com catalog or the Google
search bar. But these proposals overlook, perhaps
deliberately, the fundamental principles of access
upon which the idea of the public library was built.
Those who are well-meaning, intelligent, and
tactfull will try to remind the public of all the many
sides of the phenomenon that the public library is:
major community center, service for the vulnerable,
center of literacy, informal and lifelong learning; a
place where hobbyists, enthusiasts, old and young
meet and share knowledge and skills.14 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
13 David Weinberger, “Library as Platform”, Library Journal,
4 September 2012, http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2012/09/
14 Shannon Mattern, “Library as Infrastructure”, Design
Observer, 9 June 2014, http://places.designobserver.com/

Public library (essay)


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 brotherhood need brave librarians practicing civil disobedience.
Library Genesis, aaaaarg.org, Monoskop, UbuWeb
are all examples of fragile knowledge infrastructures
built and maintained by brave librarians practicing
civil disobedience which the world of researchers
in the humanities rely on. These projects are re-inventing the public library in the gap left by today’s
institutions in crisis.
Library Genesis15 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 reposito15 See http://libgen.org/.


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

ries, 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.16 News of the termination of
Gigapedia/Library.nu strongly resonated among
academics and book enthusiasts 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. It also as a courseware extension to the self-organized education platform The Public School.17
16 Andrew Losowsky, “Library.nu, Book Downloading Site,
Targeted in Injunctions Requested by 17 Publishers,” Huffington Post, 15 February 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.
17 “The Public School”, The Public School, n.d.,

Public library (essay)


UbuWeb18 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 curated 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 extending
the dreams of Melvil Dewey, Paul Otlet19 and other
visionary librarians, just as it did before the emergence of the internet.

18 See http://ubu.com/.
19 “Paul Otlet”, Wikipedia, 27 October 2014,


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

With the emergence of the internet and software
tools such as Calibre and “[let’s share books],”20 librarianship has been given an opportunity, similar to astronomy and the project SETI@home21, to
include thousands of amateur librarians who will,
together with the experts, build a distributed peerto-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

20 “Tools”, Memory of the World, n.d.,
21 See http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/.
22 “End-to-End Catalog”, Memory of the World, 26 November 2012,

Public library (essay)


Paul Otlet

in the Bibliographical Apparatus
of the Sciences [1]
Repertory — Classification — Office
of Documentation
1. Because of its length, its extension to all countries,
the profound harm that it has created in everyone’s
life, the War has had, and will continue to have, repercussions for scientific productivity. The hour for
the revision of the old order is about to strike. Forced
by the need for economies of men and money, and
by the necessity of greater productivity in order to
hold out against all the competition, we are going to
have to introduce reforms into each of the branches
of the organisation of science: scientific research, the
preservation of its results, and their wide diffusion.
Everything happens simultaneously and the distinctions that we will introduce here are only to
facilitate our thinking. Always adjacent areas, or
even those that are very distant, exert an influence
on each other. This is why we should recognize the
impetus, growing each day even greater in the organisation of science, of the three great trends of
our times: the power of associations, technological
progress and the democratic orientation of institutions. We would like here to draw attention to some
of their consequences for the book in its capacity

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


as an instrument for recording what has been discovered and as a necessary means for stimulating
new discoveries.
The Book, the Library in which it is preserved,
and the Catalogue which lists it, have seemed for
a long time as if they had achieved their heights of
perfection or at least were so satisfactory that serious
changes need not be contemplated. This may have
been so up to the end of the last century. But for a
score of years great changes have been occurring
before our very eyes. The increasing production of
books and periodicals has revealed the inadequacy of
older methods. The increasing internationalisation
of science has required workers to extend the range
of their bibliographic investigations. As a result, a
movement has occurred in all countries, especially
Germany, the United States and England, for the
expansion and improvement of libraries and for
an increase in their numbers. Publishers have been
searching for new, more flexible, better-illustrated,
and cheaper forms of publication that are better-coordinated with each other. Cataloguing enterprises
on a vast scale have been carried out, such as the
International Catalogue of Scientific Literature and
the Universal Bibliographic Repertory. [2]
Three facts, three ideas, especially merit study
for they represent something really new which in
the future can give us direction in this area. They
are: The Repertory, Classification and the Office of


Paul Otlet

2. The Repertory, like the book, has gradually been
increasing in size, and improvements in it suggest
the emergence of something new which will radically modify our traditional ideas.
From the point of view of form, a book can be
defined as a group of pages cut to the same format
and gathered together in such a way as to form a
whole. It was not always so. For a long time the
Book was a roll, a volumen. The substances which
then took the place of paper — papyrus and parchment — were written on continuously from beginning to end. Reading required unrolling. This was
certainly not very practical for the consultation of
particular passages or for writing on the verso. The
codex, which was introduced in the first centuries of
the modern era and which is the basis of our present
book, removed these inconveniences. But its faults
are numerous. It constitutes something completed,
finished, not susceptible of addition. The Periodical
with its successive issues has given science a continuous means of concentrating its results. But, in
its turn, the collections that it forms runs into the
obstacle of disorder. It is impossible to link similar
or connected items; they are added to one another
pell-mell, and research requires handling great masses of heavy paper. Of course indexes are a help and
have led to progress — subject indexes, sometimes
arranged systematically, sometimes analytically,
and indexes of names of persons and places. These
annual indexes are preceded by monthly abstracts
and are followed by general indexes cumulated every
five, ten or twenty-five years. This is progress, but
the Repertory constitutes much greater progress.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


The aim of the Repertory is to detach what the
book amalgamates, to reduce all that is complex to
its elements and to devote a page to each. Pages, here,
are leaves or cards according to the format adopted.
This is the “monographic” principle pushed to its
ultimate conclusion. No more binding or, if it continues to exist, it will become movable, that is to
say, at any moment the cards held fast by a pin or a
connecting rod or any other method of conjunction
can be released. New cards can then be intercalated,
replacing old ones, and a new arrangement made.
The Repertory was born of the Catalogue. In
such a work, the necessity for intercalations was
clear. Nor was there any doubt as to the unitary or
monographic notion: one work, one title; one title,
one card. As a result, registers which listed the same
collections of books for each library but which had
constantly to be re-done as the collections expanded,
have gradually been discarded. This was practical
and justified by experience. But upon reflection one
wonders whether the new techniques might not be
more generally applied.
What is a book, in fact, if not a single continuous line which has initially been cut to the length
of a page and then cut again to the size of a justified
line? Now, this cutting up, this division, is purely
mechanical; it does not correspond to any division
of ideas. The Repertory provides a practical means
of physically dividing the book according to the
intellectual division of ideas.
Thus, the manuscript library catalogue on cards
has been quickly followed by catalogues printed on
cards (American Library Bureau, the Catalogue or


Paul Otlet

the Library of Congress in Washington) [3]; then by
bibliographies printed on cards (International Institute of Bibliography, Concilium Bibliographicum)
[4]; next, indices of species have been published on
cards (Index Speciorum) [5]. We have moved from
the small card to the large card, the leaf, and have
witnessed compendia abandoning the old form for
the new (Jurisclasseur, or legal digests in card form).
Even the idea of the encyclopedia has taken this
form (Nelson’s Perpetual Cyclopedia [6]).
Theoretically and technically, we now have in
the Repertory a new instrument for analytically or
monographically recording data, ideas, information. The system has been improved by divisionary cards of various shapes and colours, placed in
such a way that they express externally the outline
of the classification being used and reduce search
time to a minimum. It has been improved further
by the possibility of using, by cutting and pasting,
materials that have been printed on large leaves or
even books that have been published without any
thought of repertories. Two copies, the first providing the recto, the second the verso, can supply
all that is necessary. One has gone even further still
and, from the example of statistical machines like
those in use at the Census of Washington (sic) [7],
extrapolated the principle of “selection machines”
which perform mechanical searches in enormous
masses of materials, the machines retaining from
the thousands of cards processed by them only those
related to the question asked.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


3. But such a development, like the Repertory before it, presupposes a classification. This leads us to
examine the second practical idea that is bringing
about the transformation of the book.
Classification plays an enormous role in scientific thought. If one could say that a science was a
well-made language, one could equally assert that
it is a completed classification. Science is made up
of verified facts which are organised in a structure
of systems, hypotheses, theories, laws. If there is
a certain order in things, it is necessary to have it
also in science which reflects and explains nature.
That is why, since the time of Greek thought until
the present, constant efforts have been made to improve classification. These have taken three principal directions: classification studied as an activity
of the mind; the general classification and sequence
of the sciences; the systematization appropriate to
each discipline. The idea of order, class, genus and
species has been studied since Aristotle, in passing
by Porphyrus, by the scholastic philosophers and by
modern logicians. The classification of knowledge
goes back to the Greeks and owes much to the contributions of Bacon and the Renaissance. It was posed
as a distinct and separate problem by D’Alembert
and the Encyclopédie, and by Ampère, Comte, and
Spencer. The recent work of Manouvrier, Durand
de Cros, Goblot, Naville, de la Grasserie, has focussed on various aspects of it. [8] As to systematics,
one can say that this has become the very basis of
the organisation of knowledge as a body of science.
When one has demonstrated the existence of 28 million stars, a million chemical compounds, 300,000


Paul Otlet

vegetable species, 200,000 animal species, etc., it is
necessary to have a means, an Ariadne’s thread, of
finding one’s way through the labyrinth formed by
all these objects of study. Because there are sciences of beings as well as sciences of phenomena, and
because they intersect with each other as we better
understand the whole of reality, it is necessary that
this means be used to retrieve both. The state of development of a science is reflected at any given time
by its systematics, just as the general classification
of the sciences reflects the state of development of
the encyclopedia, of the philosophy of knowledge.
The need has been felt, however, for a practical
instrument of classification. The classifications of
which we have just spoken are constantly changing, at least in their detail if not in broad outline. In
practice, such instability, such variability which is
dependent on the moment, on schools of thought
and individuals, is not acceptable. Just as the Repertory had its origin in the catalogue, so practical
classification originated in the Library. Books represent knowledge and it is necessary to arrange them
in collections. Schemes for this have been devised
since the Middle Ages. The elaboration of grand
systems occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries
and some new ones were added in the 19th century. But when bibliography began to emerge as an
autonomous field of study, it soon began to develop
along the lines of the catalogue of an ideal library
comprising the totality of what had been published.
From this to drawing on library classifications was
but a step, and it was taken under certain conditions
which must be stressed.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


Up to the present time, 170 different classifications
have been identified. Now, no cooperation is possible if everyone stays shut up in his own system. It
has been necessary, therefore, to choose a universal
classification and to recommend it as such in the
same way that the French Convention recognized
the necessity of a universal system of weights and
measures. In 1895 the first International Conference
of Bibliography chose the Decimal Classification
and adopted a complete plan for its development. In
1904, the edition of the expanded tables appeared. A
new edition was being prepared when the war broke
out Brussels, headquarters of the International Institute of Bibliography, which was doing this work,
was part of the invaded territory.
In its latest state, the Decimal Classification has
become an instrument of great precision which
can meet many needs. The printed tables contain
33,000 divisions and they have an alphabetical index consisting of about 38,000 words. Learning is
here represented in its entire sweep: the encyclopedia of knowledge. Its principle is very simple. The
empiricism of an alphabetical classification by subject-heading cannot meet the need for organising
and systematizing knowledge. There is scattering;
there is also the difficulty of dealing with the complex expressions which one finds in the modern terminology of disciplines like medicine, technology,
and the social sciences. Above all, it is impossible
to achieve any international cooperation on such
a national basis as language. The Decimal Classification is a vast systematization of knowledge, “the
table of contents of the tables of contents” of all


Paul Otlet

treatises. But, as it would be impossible to find a
particular subject’s relative place by reference to
another subject, a system of numbering is needed.
This is decimal, which an example will make clear.
Optical Physiology would be classified thus:
5 th Class
3rd Group
5th Division
7th Sub-division

Natural Sciences
Optical Physiology

or 535.7
This number 535.7 is called decimal because all
knowledge is taken as one of which each science is
a fraction and each individual subject is a decimal
subdivided to a lesser or greater degree. For the sake
of abbreviation, the zero of the complete number,
which would be 0.5357, has been suppressed because
the zero would be repeated in front of each number.
The numbers 5, 3, 5, 7 (which one could call five hundred and thirty-five point seven and which could
be arranged in blocks of three as for the telephone,
or in groups of twos) form a single number when
the implied words, “class, group, division and subdivision,” are uttered.
The classification is also called decimal because
all subjects are divided into ten classes, then each
of these into at least ten groups, and each group
into at least ten divisions. All that is needed for the
number 535.7 always to have the same meaning is
to translate the tables into all languages. All that is
needed to deal with future scientific developments

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


in optical physiology in all of its ramifications is to
subdivide this number by further decimal numbers
corresponding to the subdivisions of the subject
Finally, all that is needed to ensure that any document or item pertaining to optical physiology finds
its place within the sum total of scientific subjects
is to write this number on it In the alphabetic index
to the tables references are made from each word
to the classification number just as the index of a
book refers to page numbers.
This first remarkable principle of the decimal
classification is generally understood. Its second,
which has been introduced more recently, is less
well known: the combination of various classification numbers whenever there is some utility in expressing a compound or complex heading. In the
social sciences, statistics is 31 and salaries, 331.2. By
a convention these numbers can be joined by the
simple sign : and one may write 31:331.2 statistics
of salaries.01
This indicates a general relationship, but a subject also has its place in space and time. The subject
may be salaries in France limited to a period such as
the 18th century (that is to say, from 1700 to 1799).
01 The first ten divisions are: 0 Generalities, 1 Philosophy, 2
Religion, 3 Social Sciences, 4 Philology, Language, 5 Pure
Sciences, 6 Applied Science, Medicine, 7 Fine Arts, 8 Literature, 9 History and Geography. The Index number 31 is
derived from: 3rd class social sciences, 1st group statistics. The
Index number 331.2 is derived from 3rd class social sciences,
3rd group political economy, 1st division topics about work,
2nd subdivision salaries.


Paul Otlet

The sign that characterises division by place being
the parenthesis and that by time quotation marks
or double parentheses, one can write:
33:331.2 (44) «17» statistics — of salaries — in
France — in the 17th century
or ten figures and three signs to indicate, in terms
of the universe of knowledge, four subordinated
headings comprising 42 letters. And all of these
numbers are reversible and can be used for geographic or chronologic classification as well as for
subject classification:
(44) 31:331.2 «17»
France — Statistics — Salaries — 17th Century
«17» (44) 31:331.2
17th Century — France — Statistics — Salaries
The subdivisions of relation and location explained
here, are completed by documentary subdivisions
for the form and the language of the document (for
example, periodical, in Italian), and by functional
subdivisions (for example, in zoology all the divisions by species of animal being subdivided by biological aspects). It follows by virtue of the law of
permutations and combinations that the present
tables of the classification permit the formulation
at will of millions of classification numbers. Just as
arithmetic does not give us all the numbers readymade but rather a means of forming them as we
need them, so the classification gives us the means

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


of creating classification numbers insofar as we have
compound headings that must be translated into a
notation of numbers.
Like chemistry, mathematics and music, bibliography thus has its own extremely simple notations:
numbers. Immediately and without confusion, it
allows us to find a place for each idea, for each thing
and consequently for each book, article, or document and even for each part of a book or document
Thus it allows us to take our bearings in the midst
of the sources of knowledge, just as the system of
geographic coordinates allows us to take our bearings on land or sea.
One may well imagine the usefulness of such a
classification to the Repertory. It has rid us of the
difficulty of not having continuous pagination. Cards
to be intercalated can be placed according to their
class number and the numbering is that of tables
drawn up in advance, once and for all, and maintained with an unvarying meaning. As the classification has a very general use, it constitutes a true
documentary classification which can be used in
various kinds of repertories: bibliographic repertories; catalogue-like repertories of objects, persons,
phenomena; and documentary repertories of files
made up of written or printed materials of all kinds.
The possibility can be envisaged of encyclopedic
repertories in which are registered and integrated
the diverse data of a scientific field and which draw
for this purpose on materials published in periodicals. Let each article, each report, each item of news
henceforth carry a classification number and, automatically, by clipping, encyclopedias on cards can


Paul Otlet

be created in which all the results of international
scientific cooperation are brought together at the
same number. This constitutes a profound change
in the technology of the Book, since the repertory
thus formed is simultaneously a constantly up-dated book and a cooperative book in which are found
printed elements produced in all locations.
4. If we can realize the third idea, the Office of Documentation, then reform will be complete. Such an
office is the old library, but adapted to a new function. Hitherto the library has been a museum of
books. Works were preserved in libraries because
they were precious objects. Librarians were keepers.
Such establishments were not organised primarily
for the use of documents. Moreover, their outmoded
regulations if they did not exclude the most modern
forms of publication at least did not admit them.
They have poor collections of journals; collections
of newspapers are nearly nonexistent; photographs,
films, phonograph discs have no place in them, nor
do film negatives, microscopic slides and many other “documents.” The subject catalogue is considered
secondary in the library so long as there is a good
register for administrative purposes. Thus there is
little possibility of developing repertories in the
library, that is to say of taking publications to pieces and redistributing them in a more directly and
quickly accessible form. For want of personnel to
arrange them, there has not even been a place for
the cards that are received already printed.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


The Office of Documentation, on the contrary, is
conceived of in such a way as to achieve all that is
lacking in the library. Collections of books are the
necessary basis for it, but books, far from being
considered as finished products, are simply materials which must be developed more fully. This
development consists in establishing the connections each individual book has with all of the other
books and forming from them all what might be
called The Universal Book. It is for this that we use
repertories: bibliographic repertories; repertories of
documentary dossiers gathering pamphlets and extracts together by subject; catalogues; chronological
repertories of facts or alphabetical ones of names;
encyclopedic repertories of scientific data, of laws,
of patents, of physical and technical constants, of
statistics, etc. All of these repertories will be set up
according to the method described above and arranged by the same universal classification. As soon
as an organisation to contain these repertories is
created, the Office of Documentation, one may be
sure that what happened to the book when libraries
first opened — scientific publication was regularised
and intensified — will happen to them. Then there
will be good reason for producing in bibliographies,
catalogues, and above all in books and periodicals
themselves, the rational changes which technology and the creative imagination suggest. What is
still an exception today will be common tomorrow.
New possibilities will exist for cooperative work
and for the more effective organisation of science.


Paul Otlet

5. Repertory, Classification, Office of Documentation are therefore the three related elements of a
single reform in our methods of registering scientific discoveries and making them available to the
greatest number of people. Already one must speak
less of experiments and uncertain trials than of the
beginning of serious achievement. The International Institute of Bibliography in Brussels constitutes
a vast intellectual cooperative whose members are
becoming more numerous each day. Associations,
scientific establishments, periodical publications,
scientific and technical workers of every kind are
affiliating with it. Its repertories contain millions of
cards. There are sections in several countries02 . But
this was before the War. Since its outbreak, a movement in France, England and the United States has
been emerging everywhere to improve the organisation of the Book. The Office of Documentation has
been suggested as the solution for the requirements
that have been discussed.
It is important that the world of science and
technology should support this movement and
above all that it should endeavour to apply the new
methods to the works which it will be necessary to
re-organise. Among the most important of these is
the International Catalogue of Scientific Literature,
that fine and great work begun at the initiative of the
Royal Society of London. Until now, this work has
02 In France, the Bureau Bibliographique de Paris and great
associations such as the Société pour l’encouragement de
l’industrie nationale, l’Association pour l’avancement des
sciences, etc., are affiliated with it.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


been carried on without relation to other works of
the same kind: it has not recognised the value of a
card repertory or a universal classification. It must
recognise them in the future.03 ❧

03 See Paul Otlet, “La Documentation et I’information au service de I’industrie”, Bulletin de la Société d’encouragement
de l’industrie nationale, June 1917. — La Documentation au
service de l’invention. Euréka, October 1917. — L’Institut
International de Bibliographie, Bibliographie de la France,
21 December 1917. — La Réorganisation du Catalogue international de la littérature scientifique. Revue générale des
sciences, IS February 1918. The publications of the Institute,
especially the expanded tables of the Decimal Classification,
have been deposited at the Bureau Bibliographique de Paris,
44 rue de Rennes at the apartments of the Société de l’encouragement. — See also the report presented by General
Sebert (9] to the Congrès du Génie civil, in March 1918 and
whose conclusions about the creation in Paris of a National
Office of Technical Documentation have been adopted.


Paul Otlet

Editor’s Notes
[1] “Transformations operées dans l’appareil bibliographique
des sciences,” Revue scientifique 58 (1918): 236-241.
[2] The International Catalogue of Scientific Literature, an enormous work, was compiled by a Central Bureau under the
sponsorship of the Royal Society from material sent in from
Regional Bureaus around the world. It was published annually beginning in 1902 in 17 parts each corresponding to
a major subject division and comprising one or more volumes. Publication was effectively suspended in 1914. By the
time war broke out, the Universal Bibliographic Repertory
contained over 11 million entries.
[3] For card publication by the Library Bureau and Library of
Congress, see Edith Scott, “The Evolution of Bibliographic
Systems in the United States, 1876–1945” and Editor’s Note
36 to the second paper and Note 5 to the seventh paper in
International Organisation and Dissemination of Knowledge; Selected Essays of Paul Otlet, translated and edited by
W. Boyd Rayward. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1990: 148–156.
[4] Otlet refers to the Concilium Bibliographicum also in Paper
No. 7, “The Reform of National Bibliographies...” in International Organisation and Dissemination of Knowledge; Selected
Essays of Paul Otlet. See also Editor’s Note 5 in that paper
for the major bibliographies published by the Concilium
[5] A possible example of what Otlet is referring to here is the
Gray Herbarium Index. This was “planned to provide cards
for all the names of vascular plant taxa attributable to the

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


Western Hemisphere beginning with the literature of 1886”
(Gray Herbarium Index, Preface, p. iii). Under its first compiler, 20 instalments consisting in all of 28,000 cards were
issued between 1894 and 1903. It has been continued after
that time and was for many years “issued quarterly at the
rate of about 4,000 cards per year.” At the time the cards
were reproduced in a printed catalogue by G. K. Hall in 1968,
there were 85 subscribers to the card sets.
[6] Nelson’s Perpetual Loose-Leaf Encylcopedia was a popular,
12-volume work which went through many editions, its
principle being set down at the beginning of the century.
It was published in binders and the publisher undertook to
supply a certain number of pages of revisions (or renewals)
semi-annually after each edition, the first of which appeared
in 1905. An interesting reference presumably to this work
occurs in a notice, “An Encylcopedia on the Card-Index System,” in the Scientific American 109 (1913): 213. The Berlin
Correspondent of the journal reports a proposal made in
Berlin which contains “an idea, in a sense ... already carried
out in an American loose-leaf encyclopedia, the publishers
of which supply new pages to take the place of those that
are obsolete” (Nelsons, an English firm, set up a New York
branch in 1896. Publication in the U.S. of works to be widely
circulated there was a requirement of the copyright law.)
The reporter observes that the principle suggested “affords
a means of recording all facts at present known as well as
those to be discovered in the future, with the same safety
and ease as though they were registered in our memory, by
providing a universal encyclopedia, incessantly keeping
abreast of the state of human knowledge.” The “bookish”
form of conventional encyclopedias acts against its future
success. “In the case of a mere storehouse of facts the in-


Paul Otlet

finitely more mobile form of the card index should however
be adopted, possibly,” the author goes on making a most interesting reference, “in conjunction with Dr. Goldschmidt’s
Microphotographic Library System.” The need for a central
institute, the nature of its work, the advantages of the work
so organised are described in language that is reminiscent
of that of Paul Otlet (see also the papers of Goldschmidt
and Otlet translated in International Organisation and
Dissemination of Knowledge; Selected Essays of Paul Otlet).
[7] These machines were derived from Herman Hollerith’s
punched cards and tabulating machines. Hollerith had
introduced them under contract into the U.S. Bureau of
the Census for the 1890 census. This equipment was later
modified and developed by the Bureau. Hollerith, his invention and his business connections lie at the roots of the
present IBM company. The equipment and its uses in the
census from 1890 to 1910 are briefly described in John H.
Blodgett and Claire K. Schultz, “Herman Hollerith: Data
Processing Pioneer,” American Documentation 20 (1969):
221-226. As they observe, suggesting the accuracy of Otlet’s
extrapolation, “his was not simply a calculating machine,
it performed selective sorting, an operation basic to all information retrieval.”
[8] The history of the classification of knowledge has been treated
in English in detail by E.C. Richardson in his Classification
Theoretical and Practical, the first edition of which appeared
in 1901 and was followed by editions in 1912 and 1930. A
different treatment is given in Robert Flint’s Philosophy as
Scientia Scientarium: a History of the Classification of the
Sciences which appeared in 1904. Neither of these works
deal with Manouvrier, a French anthropologist, or Durand

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


de Cros. Joseph-Pierre Durand, sometimes called Durand
de Cros after his birth place, was a French physiologist and
philosopher who died in 1900. In his Traité de documentation,
in the context of his discussion of classification, Otlet refers
to an Essai de taxonomie by Durand published by Alcan. It
seems that this is an error for Aperçus de taxonomie (Alcan,
[9] General Hippolyte Sebert was President of the Association française pour l’avancement des sciences, and the Société d’encouragement pour l’industrie nationale. He had
been active in the foundation of the Bureau bibliographique
de Paris. For other biographical information about him see
Editor’s Note 9 to Paper no 17, “Henri La Fontaine”, in International Organisation and Dissemination of Knowledge;
Selected Essays of Paul Otlet.

English translation of the Paul Otlet’s text published with the
permission of W. Boyd Rayward. The translation was originally
published as Paul Otlet, “Transformations in the Bibliographical
Apparatus of the Sciences: Repertory–Classification–Office of
Documentation”, in International Organisation and Dissemination of Knowledge; Selected Essays of Paul Otlet, translated and
edited by W. Boyd Rayward, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1990: 148–156.


Paul Otlet



public library



McKenzie Wark

Metadata Punk

So we won the battle but lost the war. By “we”, I
mean those avant-gardes of the late twentieth century whose mission was to free information from the
property form. It was always a project with certain
nuances and inconsistencies, but over-all it succeeded beyond almost anybody’s wildest dreams. Like
many dreams, it turned into a nightmare in the end,
the one from which we are now trying to awake.
The place to start is with what the situationists
called détournement. The idea was to abolish the
property form in art by taking all of past art and
culture as a commons from which to copy and correct. We see this at work in Guy Debord’s texts and
films. They do not quote from past works, as to do
so acknowledges their value and their ownership.
The elements of détournement are nothing special.
They are raw materials for constructing theories,
narratives, affects of a subjectivity no longer bound
by the property form.
Such a project was recuperated soon enough
back into the art world as “appropriation.” Richard
Prince is the dialectical negation of Guy Debord,

Metadata Punk


in that appropriation values both the original fragment and contributes not to a subjectivity outside of
property but rather makes a career as an art world
star for the appropriating artist. Of such dreams is
mediocrity made.
If there was a more promising continuation of
détournement it had little to do with the art world.
Détournement became a social movement in all but
name. Crucially, it involved an advance in tools,
from Napster to Bitorrent and beyond. It enabled
the circulation of many kinds of what Hito Steyerl
calls the poor image. Often low in resolution, these
détourned materials circulated thanks both to the
compression of information but also because of the
addition of information. There might be less data
but there’s added metadata, or data about data, enabling its movement.
Needless to say the old culture industries went
into something of a panic about all this. As I wrote
over ten years ago in A Hacker Manifesto, “information wants to be free but is everywhere in chains.”
It is one of the qualities of information that it is indifferent to the medium that carries it and readily
escapes being bound to things and their properties.
Yet it is also one of its qualities that access to it can
be blocked by what Alexander Galloway calls protocol. The late twentieth century was — among other
things — about the contradictory nature of information. It was a struggle between détournement and
protocol. And protocol nearly won.
The culture industries took both legal and technical steps to strap information once more to fixity
in things and thus to property and scarcity. Inter-


McKenzie Wark

estingly, those legal steps were not just a question of
pressuring governments to make free information
a crime. It was also a matter of using international
trade agreements as a place outside the scope of de­
mo­­cratic oversight to enforce the old rules of property. Here the culture industries join hands with the
drug cartels and other kinds of information-based
industry to limit the free flow of information.
But laws are there to be broken, and so are protocols of restriction such as encryption. These were
only ever delaying tactics, meant to shore up old
monopoly business for a bit longer. The battle to
free information was the battle that the forces of
détournement largely won. Our defeat lay elsewhere.
While the old culture industries tried to put information back into the property form, there were
other kinds of strategy afoot. The winners were not
the old culture industries but what I call the vulture
industries. Their strategy was not to try to stop the
flow of free information but rather to see it as an
environment to be leveraged in the service of creating a new kind of business. “Let the data roam free!”
says the vulture industry (while quietly guarding
their own patents and trademarks). What they aim
to control is the metadata.
It’s a new kind of exploitation, one based on an
unequal exchange of information. You can have the
little scraps of détournement that you desire, in exchange for performing a whole lot of free labor—and
giving up all of the metadata. So you get your little
bit of data; they get all of it, and more importantly,
any information about that information, such as
the where and when and what of it.

Metadata Punk


It is an interesting feature of this mode of exploitation that you might not even be getting paid for your
labor in making this information—as Trebor Scholz
as pointed out. You are working for information
only. Hence exploitation can be extended far beyond
the workplace and into everyday life. Only it is not
so much a social factory, as the autonomists call it.
This is more like a social boudoir. The whole of social
space is in some indeterminate state between public
and private. Some of your information is private to
other people. But pretty much all of it is owned by
the vulture industry — and via them ends up in the
hands of the surveillance state.
So this is how we lost the war. Making information free seemed like a good idea at the time. Indeed, one way of seeing what transpired is that we
forced the ruling class to come up with these new
strategies in response to our own self-organizing
activities. Their actions are reactions to our initiatives. In this sense the autonomists are right, only
it was not so much the actions of the working class
to which the ruling class had to respond in this case,
as what I call the hacker class. They had to recuperate a whole social movement, and they did. So our
tactics have to change.
In the past we were acting like data-punks. Not
so much “here’s three chords, now form your band.”
More like: “Here’s three gigs, now go form your autonomous art collective.” The new tactic might be
more question of being metadata-punks. On the one
hand, it is about freeing information about information rather than the information itself. We need
to move up the order of informational density and


McKenzie Wark

control. On the other hand, it might be an idea to
be a bit discreet about it. Maybe not everyone needs
to know about it. Perhaps it is time to practice what
Zach Blas calls infomatic opacity.
Three projects seem to embody much of this
spirit to me. One I am not even going to name or
discuss, as discretion seems advisable in that case.
It takes matters off the internet and out of circulation among strangers. Ask me about it in person if
we meet in person.
The other two are Monoskop Log and UbuWeb.
It is hard to know what to call them. They are websites, archives, databases, collections, repositories,
but they are also a bit more than that. They could be
thought of also as the work of artists or of curators;
of publishers or of writers; of archivists or researchers. They contain lots of files. Monoskop is mostly
books and journals; UbuWeb is mostly video and
audio. The work they contain is mostly by or about
the historic avant-gardes.
Monoskop Log bills itself as “an educational
open access online resource.” It is a component part
of Monoskop, “a wiki for collaborative studies of
art, media and the humanities.” One commenter
thinks they see the “fingerprint of the curator” but
nobody is named as its author, so let’s keep it that
way. It is particularly strong on Eastern European
avant-garde material. UbuWeb is the work of Kenneth Goldsmith, and is “a completely independent
resource dedicated to all strains of the avant-garde,
ethnopoetics, and outsider arts.”
There’s two aspects to consider here. One is the
wealth of free material both sites collect. For any-

Metadata Punk


body trying to teach, study or make work in the
avant-garde tradition these are very useful resources.
The other is the ongoing selection, presentation and
explanation of the material going on at these sites
themselves. Both of them model kinds of ‘curatorial’
or ‘publishing’ behavior.
For instance, Monoskop has wiki pages, some
better than Wikipedia, which contextualize the work
of a given artist or movement. UbuWeb offers “top
ten” lists by artists or scholars which give insight
not only into the collection but into the work of the
person making the selection.
Monoskop and UbuWeb are tactics for intervening in three kinds of practices, those of the artworld, of publishing and of scholarship. They respond to the current institutional, technical and
political-economic constraints of all three. As it
says in the Communist Manifesto, the forces for social change are those that ask the property question.
While détournement was a sufficient answer to that
question in the era of the culture industries, they try
to formulate, in their modest way, a suitable tactic
for answering the property question in the era of
the vulture industries.
This takes the form of moving from data to metadata, expressed in the form of the move from writing
to publishing, from art-making to curating, from
research to archiving. Another way of thinking this,
suggested by Hiroki Azuma would be the move from
narrative to database. The object of critical attention
acquires a third dimension, a kind of informational
depth. The objects before us are not just a text or an
image but databases of potential texts and images,
with metadata attached.


McKenzie Wark

The object of any avant-garde is always to practice the relation between aesthetics and everyday
life with a new kind of intensity. UbuWeb and
Monoskop seem to me to be intimations of just
such an avant-garde movement. One that does not
offer a practice but a kind of meta-practice for the
making of the aesthetic within the everyday.
Crucial to this project is the shifting of aesthetic
intention from the level of the individual work to the
database of works. They contain a lot of material, but
not just any old thing. Some of the works available
here are very rare, but not all of them are. It is not
just rarity, or that the works are available for free.
It is more that these are careful, artful, thoughtful
collections of material. There are the raw materials here with which to construct a new civilization.
So we lost the battle, but the war goes on. This
civilization is over, and even its defenders know it.
We live in among ruins that accrete in slow motion.
It is not so much a civil war as an incivil war, waged
against the very conditions of existence of life itself.
So even if we have no choice but to use its technologies and cultures, the task is to build another way
of life among the ruins. Here are some useful practices, in and on and of the ruins. ❧

Metadata Punk



public library



Tomislav Medak

The Future After the Library
UbuWeb and Monoskop’s
Radical Gestures

The institution of the public library has crystallized,
developed and advanced around historical junctures
unleashed by epochal economic, technological and
political changes. A series of crises since the advent
of print have contributed to the configuration of the
institutional entanglement of the public library as
we know it today:01 defined by a publicly available
collection, housed in a public building, indexed and
made accessible with a help of a public catalog, serviced by trained librarians and supported through
public financing. Libraries today embody the idea
of universal access to all knowledge, acting as custodians of a culture of reading, archivists of material
and ephemeral cultural production, go-betweens
of information and knowledge. However, libraries have also embraced a broader spirit of public
service and infrastructure: providing information,
01 For the concept and the full scope of the contemporary library
as institutional entanglement see Shannon Mattern, “Library
as Infrastructure”, Places Journal, accessed April 9, 2015,

The Future After the Library


education, skills, assistance and, ultimately, shelter
to their communities — particularly their most vulnerable members.
This institutional entanglement, consisting in
a comprehensive organization of knowledge, universally accessible cultural goods and social infrastructure, historically emerged with the rise of (information) science, social regulation characteristic
of modernity and cultural industries. Established
in its social aspect as the institutional exemption
from the growing commodification and economic
barriers in the social spheres of culture, education
and knowledge, it is a result of struggles for institutionalized forms of equality that still reflect the
best in solidarity and universality that modernity
had to offer. Yet, this achievement is marked by
contradictions that beset modernity at its core. Libraries and archives can be viewed as an organon
through which modernity has reacted to the crises
unleashed by the growing production and fixation
of text, knowledge and information through a history of transformations that we will discuss below.
They have been an epistemic crucible for the totalizing formalizations that have propelled both the
advances and pathologies of modernity.
Positioned at a slight monastic distance and indolence toward the forms of pastoral, sovereign or
economic domination that defined the surrounding world that sustained them, libraries could never
close the rift or between the universalist aspirations
of knowledge and their institutional compromise.
Hence, they could never avoid being the battlefield
where their own, and modernity’s, ambivalent epis-


Tomislav Medak

temic and social character was constantly re-examined and ripped asunder. It is this ambivalent
character that has been a potent motor for critical theory, artistic and political subversion — from
Marx’s critique of political economy, psychoanalysis
and historic avant-gardes, to revolutionary politics.
Here we will examine the formation of the library
as an epistemic and social institution of modernity
and the forms of critical engagement that continue
to challenge the totalizing order of knowledge and
appropriation of culture in the present.
Here Comes the Flood02
Prior to the advent of print, the collections held in
monastic scriptoria, royal courts and private libraries
typically contained a limited number of canonical
manuscripts, scrolls and incunabula. In Medieval
and early Renaissance Europe the canonized knowledge considered necessary for the administration of
heavenly and worldly affairs was premised on reading and exegesis of biblical and classical texts. It is
02 The metaphor of the information flood, here incanted in the
words of Peter Gabriel’s song with apocalyptic overtones, as
well as a good part of the historic background of the development of index card catalog in the following paragraphs
are based on Markus Krajewski, Paper Machines: About
Cards & Catalogs, 1548–1929 (MIT Press, 2011). The organizing idea of Krajewski’s historical account, that the index
card catalog can be understood as a Turing machine avant
la lettre, served as a starting point for the understanding
of the library as an epistemic institution developed here.

The Future After the Library


estimated that by the 15th century in Western Europe
there were no more than 5 million manuscripts held
mainly in the scriptoria of some 21,000 monasteries and a small number of universities. While the
number of volumes had grown sharply from less
than 0.8 million in the 12th century, the number of
monasteries had remained constant throughout that
period. The number of manuscripts read averaged
around 1,000 per million inhabitants, with the total
population of Europe peaking around 60 million.03
All in all, the book collections were small, access was
limited and reading culture played a marginal role.
The proliferation of written matter after the invention of mechanical movable type printing would
greatly increase the number of books, but also the
patterns of literacy and knowledge production. Already in the first fifty years after Gutenberg’s invention, 12 million volumes were printed, and from
this point onwards the output of printing presses
grew exponentially to 700 million volumes in the
18th century. In the aftermath of the explosion in
book production the cost of producing and buying
books fell drastically, reducing the economic barriers to literacy, but also creating a material vector
for a veritable shift of the epistemic paradigm. The
03 For an economic history of the book in the Western Europe
see Eltjo Buringh and Jan Luiten Van Zanden, “Charting
the ‘Rise of the West’: Manuscripts and Printed Books in
Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through
Eighteenth Centuries”, The Journal of Economic History 69,
No. 02 (June 2009): 409–45, doi:10.1017/S0022050709000837,
particularly Tables 1-5.


Tomislav Medak

emerging reading public was gaining access to the
new works of a nascent Enlightenment movement,
ushering in the modern age of science. In parallel
with those larger epochal transformations, the explosion of print also created a rising tide of new books
that suddenly inundated the libraries. The libraries
now had to contend both with the orders-of-magnitude greater volume of printed matter and the
growing complexity of systematically storing, ordering, classifying and tracking all of the volumes
in their collection. An once almost static collection
of canonical knowledge became an ever expanding
dynamic flux. This flood of new books, the first of
three to follow, presented principled, infrastructural and organizational challenges to the library that
radically transformed and coalesced its functions.
The epistemic shift created by this explosion of
library holdings led to a revision of the assumption
that the library is organized around a single holy
scripture and a small number of classical sources.
Coextensive with the emergence and multiplication of new sciences, the books that were entering
the library now covered an ever diversified scope
of topics and disciplines. And the sheer number of
new acquisitions demanded the physical expansion of libraries, which in turn required a radical
rethinking of the way the books were stored, displayed and indexed. In fact, the flood caused by the
printing press was nothing short of a revolution in
the organization, formalization and processing of
information and knowledge. This becomes evident
in the changes that unfolded between the 16th and
the early 20th in the cataloging of library collections.

The Future After the Library


The initial listings of books were kept in bound
volumes, books in their own right. But as the number of items arriving into the library grew, the constant need to insert new entries made the bound
book format increasingly impractical for library
catalogs. To make things more complicated still,
the diversification of the printed matter demanded
a richer bibliographic description that would allow
better comprehension of what was contained in the
volumes. Alongside the name of the author and the
book’s title, the description now needed to include
the format of the volume, the classification of the
subject matter and the book’s location in the library.
As the pace of new arrivals accelerated, the effort to
create a library catalog became unending, causing a
true crisis in the emerging librarian profession. This
would result in a number of physical and epistemic
innovations in the organization and formalization
of information and knowledge. The requirement
to constantly rearrange the order of entries in the
listing lead to the eventual unbinding of the bound
catalog into separate slips of paper and finally to the
development of the index card catalog. The unbound
index cards and their floating rearrangement, not
unlike that of the movable type, would in turn result in the design of filing cabinets. From Conrad
Gessner’s Bibliotheca Universalis, a three-volume
book-format catalog of around 3,000 authors and
10,000 texts, arranged alphabetically and topically,
published in the period 1545–1548; Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s proposals for a universal library
during his tenure at the Wolfenbüttel library in the
late 17th century; to Gottfried van Swieten’s catalog


Tomislav Medak

of the Viennese court library, the index card catalog and the filing cabinets would develop almost to
their present form.04
The unceasing inflow of new books into the library
prompted the need to spatially organize and classify
the arrangement of the collection. The simple addition of new books to the shelves by size; canonical
relevance or alphabetical order, made little sense
in a situation where the corpus of printed matter
was quickly expanding and no individual librarian
could retain an intimate overview of the library’s
entire collection. The inflow of books required that
the brimming shelf-space be planned ahead, while
the increasing number of expanding disciplines required that the collection be subdivided into distinct
sections by fields. First the shelves became classified
and then the books individually received a unique
identifier. With the completion of the Josephinian
catalog in the Viennese court library, every book became compartmentalized according to a systematic
plan of sciences and assigned a unique sequence of
a Roman numeral, a Roman letter and an Arabic
numeral by which it could be tracked down regardless of its physical location.05 The physical location
of the shelves in the library no longer needed to be
reflected in the ordering of the catalog, and the catalog became a symbolic representation of the freely
re-arrangeable library. In the technological lingo of
today, the library required storage, index, search
and address in order to remain navigable. It is this
04 Krajewski, Paper Machines, op. cit., chapter 2.
05 Ibid., 30.

The Future After the Library


formalization of a universal system of classification
of objects in the library with the relative location of
objects and re-arrangeable index that would then in
1876 receive its present standardized form in Melvil
Dewey’s Decimal System.
The development of the library as an institution of
public access and popular literacy did not proceed
apace with the development of its epistemic aspects.
It was only a series of social upheavals and transformations in the course of the 18th and 19th century
that would bring about another flood of books and
political demands, pushing the library to become
embedded in an egalitarian and democratic political culture. The first big step in that direction came
with the decision of the French revolutionary National Assembly from 2 November 1789 to seize all
book collections from the Church and aristocracy.
Million of volumes were transferred to the Bibliothèque Nationale and local libraries across France.
In parallel, particularly in England, capitalism was
on the rise. It massively displaced the impoverished rural population into growing urban centers,
propelled the development of industrial production and, by the mid-19th century, introduced the
steam-powered rotary press into the book business.
As books became more easily, and mass produced,
the commercial subscription libraries catering to the
better-off parts of society blossomed. This brought
the class aspect of the nascent demand for public
access to books to the fore. After the failed attempts
to introduce universal suffrage and end the system
of political representation based on property entitlements in 1830s and 1840s, the English Chartist


Tomislav Medak

movement started to open reading rooms and cooperative lending libraries that would quickly become
a popular hotbed of social exchanges between the
lower classes. In the aftermath of the revolutionary
upheavals of 1848, the fearful ruling classes heeded
the demand for tax-financed public libraries, hoping
that the access to literature and edification would
ultimately hegemonize the working class for the
benefits of capitalism’s culture of self-interest and
The Avant-gardes in the Library
As we have just demonstrated, the public library
in its epistemic and social aspects coalesced in the
context of the broader social transformations of
modernity: early capitalism and processes of nation-building in Europe and the USA. These transformations were propelled by the advancement of
political and economic rationalization, public and
business administration, statistical and archival
procedures. Archives underwent a corresponding and largely concomitant development with the
libraries, responding with a similar apparatus of
classification and ordering to the exponential expansion of administrative records documenting the
social world and to the historicist impulse to capture the material traces of past events. Overlaying
the spatial organization of documentation; rules
06 For the social history of public library see Matthew Battles,
Library: An Unquiet History (Random House, 2014) chapter
5: “Books for all”.

The Future After the Library


of its classification and symbolic representation of
the archive in reference tools, they tried to provide
a formalization adequate to the passion for capturing historical or present events. Characteristic
of the ascendant positivism of the 19th century, the
archivists’ and librarians’ epistemologies harbored
a totalizing tendency that would become subject to
subversion and displacement in the first decades of
the 20th century.
The assumption that the classificatory form can
fully capture the archival content would become
destabilized over and over by the early avant-gardist
permutations of formal languages of classification:
dadaist montage of the contingent compositional
elements, surrealist insistence on the unconscious
surpluses produced by automatized formalized language, constructivist foregrounding of dynamic and
spatialized elements in the acts of perception and
cognition of an artwork.07 The material composition
of the classified and ordered objects already contained formalizations deposited into those objects
by the social context of their provenance or projected onto them by the social situation of encounter
with them. Form could become content and content
could become form. The appropriations, remediations and displacements exacted by the neo-avantgardes in the second half of the 20th century pro07 Sven Spieker, The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (MIT
Press, 2008) provides a detailed account of strategies that
the historic avant-gardes and the post-war art have developed toward the classificatory and ordering regime of the


Tomislav Medak

duced subversions, resignifications and simulacra
that only further blurred the lines between histories
and their construction, dominant classifications and
their immanent instabilities.
Where does the library fit into this trajectory? Operating around an uncertain and politically embattled universal principle of public access to knowledge
and organization of information, libraries continued being sites of epistemic and social antagonisms,
adaptations and resilience in response to the challenges created by the waves of radical expansion of
textuality and conflicting social interests between
the popular reading culture and the commodification of cultural consumption. This precarious position is presently being made evident by the third
big flood — after those unleashed by movable type
printing and the social context of industrial book
production — that is unfolding with the transition
of the book into the digital realm. Both the historic
mode of the institutional regulation of access and
the historic form of epistemic classification are
swept up in this transformation. While the internet
has made possible a radically expanded access to
digitized culture and knowledge, the vested interests of cultural industries reliant on copyright for
their control over cultural production have deepened the separation between cultural producers and
their readers, listeners and viewers. While the hypertextual capacity for cross-reference has blurred
the boundaries of the book, digital rights management technologies have transformed e-books into
closed silos. Both the decommodification of access
and the overcoming of the reified construct of the

The Future After the Library


self-enclosed work in the form of a book come at
the cost of illegality.
Even the avant-gardes in all their inappropriable
and idiosyncratic recalcitrance fall no less under
the legally delimited space of copyrightable works.
As they shift format, new claims of ownership and
appropriation are built. Copyright is a normative
classification that is totalizing, regardless of the
effects of leaky networks speaking to the contrary.
Few efforts have insisted on the subverting of juridical classification by copyright more lastingly than
the UbuWeb archive. Espousing the avant-gardes’
ethos of appropriation, for almost 20 years it has
collected and made accessible the archives of the
unknown; outsider, rare and canonized avant-gardes and contemporary art that would otherwise remained reserved for the vaults and restricted access
channels of esoteric markets, selective museological
presentations and institutional archives. Knowing
that asking to publish would amount to aligning itself with the totalizing logic of copyright, UbuWeb
has shunned the permission culture. At the level of
poetical operation, as a gesture of displacing the cultural archive from a regime of limited, into a regime
of unlimited access, it has created provocations and
challenges directed at the classifying and ordering
arrangements of property over cultural production.
One can only assume that as such it has become a
mechanism for small acts of treason for the artists,
who, short of turning their back fully on the institutional arrangements of the art world they inhabit,
use UbuWeb to release their own works into unlimited circulation on the net. Sometimes there might


Tomislav Medak

be no way or need to produce a work outside the
restrictions imposed by those institutions, just as
sometimes it is for academics impossible to avoid
the contradictory world of academic publishing,
yet that is still no reason to keep one’s allegiance to
their arrangements.
At the same time UbuWeb has played the game
of avant-gardist subversion: “If it doesn’t exist on
the internet, it doesn’t exist”. Provocation is most
effective when it is ignorant of the complexities of
the contexts that it is directed at. Its effect starts
where fissures in the defense of the opposition start
to show. By treating UbuWeb as massive evidence
for the internet as a process of reappropriation, a
process of “giving to all”, its volunteering spiritus
movens, Kenneth Goldsmith, has been constantly rubbing copyright apologists up the wrong way.
Rather than producing qualifications, evasions and
ambivalences, straightforward affirmation of copy­
ing, plagiarism and reproduction as a dominant
yet suppressed mode of operation of digital culture re-enacts the avant-gardes’ gesture of taking
no hostages from the officially sanctioned systems
of classification. By letting the incumbents of control over cultural production react to the norm of
copying, you let them struggle to dispute the norm
rather than you having to try to defend the norm.
UbuWeb was an early-comer, starting in 1996
and still functioning today on seemingly similar
technology, it’s a child of the early days of World
Wide Web and the promissory period of the experimental internet. It’s resolutely Web 1.0, with
a single maintainer, idiosyncratically simple in its

The Future After the Library


layout and programmatically committed to the
eventual obsolescence and sudden abandonment.
No platform, no generic design, no widgets, no
kludges and no community features. Only Beckett
avec links. Endgame.
A Book is an Index is an Index is an Index...
Since the first book flood, the librarian dream of
epistemological formalization has revolved around
the aspiration to cross-reference all the objects in
the collection. Within the physical library the topical designation has been relegated to the confines of
index card catalog that remained isolated from the
structure of citations and indexes in the books themselves. With the digital transition of the book, the
time-shifted hypertextuality of citations and indexes
became realizable as the immediate cross-referentiality of the segments of individual text to segments
of other texts and other digital artifacts across now
permeable boundaries of the book.
Developed as a wiki for collaborative studies of
art, media and the humanities, Monoskop.org took
up the task of mapping and describing avant-gardes and media art in Europe. In its approach both
indexical and encyclopedic, it is an extension of
the collaborative editing made possible by wiki
technology. Wikis rose to prominence in the early
2000s allowing everyone to edit and extend websites running on that technology by mastering a
very simple markup language. Wikis have been the
harbinger of a democratization of web publishing
that would eventually produce the largest collabo-


Tomislav Medak

rative website on the internet — the Wikipedia, as
well as a number of other collaborative platforms.
Monoskop.org embraces the encyclopedic spirit of
Wikipedia, focusing on its own specific topical and
topological interests. However, from its earliest days
Monoskop.org has also developed as a form of index
that maps out places, people, artworks, movements,
events and venues that compose the dense network
of European avant-gardes and media art.
If we take the index as a formalization of cross-referential relations between names of people, titles
of works and concepts that exist in the books and
across the books, what emerges is a model of a relational database reflecting the rich mesh of cultural
networks. Each book can serve as an index linking
its text to people, other books, segments in them.
To provide a paradigmatic demonstration of that
idea, Monoskop.org has assembled an index of all
persons in Friedrich Kittler’s Discourse Networks,
with each index entry linking both to its location
in the digital version of the book displayed on the
aaaaarg.org archive and to relevant resources for
those persons on the Monoskop.org and the internet. Hence, each object in the library, an index
in its own right, potentially allows one to initiate
the relational re-classification and re-organization
of all other works in the library through linkable
Fundamental to the works of the post-socialist
retro-avant-gardes of the last couple of decades has
been the re-writing of a history of art in reverse.
In the works of IRWIN, Laibach or Mladen Stilinović, or comparable work of Komar & Melamid,

The Future After the Library


totalizing modernity is detourned by re-appropriating the forms of visual representation and classification that the institutions of modernity used to
construct a linear historical narrative of evolutions
and breaks in the 19th and 20th century. Genealogical
tables, events, artifacts and discourses of the past
were re-enacted, over-affirmed and displaced to
open up the historic past relegated to the archives
to an understanding that transformed the present
into something radically uncertain. The efforts of
Monoskop.org in digitizing of the artifacts of the
20th century avant-gardes and playing with the
epistemic tools of early book culture is a parallel
gesture, with a technological twist. If big data and
the control over information flows of today increasingly naturalizes and re-affirms the 19th century
positivist assumptions of the steerablity of society,
then the endlessly recombinant relations and affiliations between cultural objects threaten to overflow
that recurrent epistemic framework of modernity’s
barbarism in its cybernetic form.
The institution of the public library finds itself
today under a double attack. One unleashed by
the dismantling of the institutionalized forms of
social redistribution and solidarity. The other by
the commodifying forces of expanding copyright
protections and digital rights management, control
over the data flows and command over the classification and order of information. In a world of
collapsing planetary boundaries and unequal development, those who control the epistemic order


Tomislav Medak

control the future.08 The Googles and the NSAs run
on capturing totality — the world’s knowledge and
communication made decipherable, organizable and
controllable. The instabilities of the epistemic order
that the library continues to instigate at its margins
contributes to keeping the future open beyond the
script of ‘commodify and control’. In their acts of
re-appropriation UbuWeb and Monoskop.org are
but a reminder of the resilience of libraries’ instability that signals toward a future that can be made
radically open. ❧

08 In his article “Controlling the Future—Edward Snowden and
the New Era on Earth”, (accessed April 13, 2015, http://www.
eurozine.com/articles/2014-12-19-altvater-en.html), Elmar
Altvater makes a comparable argument that the efforts of