custodians in Medak, Mars & WHW 2015

lection, 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 th

custodians in Mars & Medak 2019

hit Tech for A
Shitty World’. Together with Marcell Mars he co-edited ‘Public Library’ and ‘Guerrilla
Open Access’.

ve 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., the first letter
On 30 November, 2015 a number of us shadow librarians who advocate, build
and maintain ‘shadow libraries’, i.e. online

nness, 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 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 inflate

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.) (, 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 capitali

ruptive 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 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 unc

thing in 1967, in 2017 it is no
longer. Libraries and universities can stop faking ‘innovativity’, ‘efficiency’ and

article | 361, the second letter
On 30 November, 2016 a second missive was published by
(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

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 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 massivel

ng-term commitment to maintenance – for instance, of a mirror –
while dealing institutionally with all the conflicts and challenges that doing this
publicly entails.
362 | article

Marcell Mars and Tomislav Medak

Against innovation

The second 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 a


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