library genesis in Sekulic 2018


Sekulic
On Knowledge and Stealing
2018


# Dubravka Sekulic: On Knowledge and 'Stealing'

This text was originally published in [The
Funambulist](https://thefunambulist.net/) - Issue 17, May-June 2018
"Weaponized Infrastructure".

__

In 2003 artist Jackie Summell started a correspondence with Herman Wallace,
who at the time was serving a life sentence in solitary confinement in the
Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, by asking him “What kind of a house
does a man who has lived in a 6′ x 9′ cell for over thirty years dream of?”
(1) The Louisiana State Penitentiary, the largest maximum-security prison in
the US, besides inmate quarters and among other facilities includes a prison
plantation, Prison View Golf Course, and Angola Airstrip. The nickname Angola
comes from the former slave plantation purchased for a prison after the end of
the Civil War – and where Herman Wallace became a prisoner in 1971 upon
charges of armed robbery. He became politically active in the prison's chapter
of the Black Panther and campaigned for better conditions in Angola,
organizing petitions and hunger strikes against segregation, rape, and
violence. In 1973, together with Albert Woodfox, he was convicted of murder of
a prison guard and both were put in solitary confinement. Together with Robert
King, Wallace and Woodfox would become known as the Angola 3, the three prison
inmates who served the longest period in solitary confinement – 29, 41, and 43
years respectively. The House that Herman Built, Herman's virtual and
eventually physical dream house in his birth city of New Orleans grew from the
correspondence between Jackie and Herman. At one point, Jackie asked Herman to
make a list of the books he would have on the book shelf in his dream house,
the books which influenced his political awakening. At the time Jackie was a
fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, which supported acquisition
of the books and became the foundation of Herman's physical library on its
premises, waiting for his dream home to be built to relocate.

In 2013 the conviction against Herman Wallace was thrown out and he was
released from jail. Three days later he passed away. He never saw his dream
house built, nor took a book from a shelf in his library in Solitude, which
remained accessible to fellows and visitors until 2014. In 2014 Public
Library/Memory of the World (2) digitized Herman's library to place it online
thus making it permanently accessible to everyone with an Internet
connection(3). The spirit of Herman Wallace continued to live through the
collection shaping him – works by Marxists, revolutionaries, anarchists,
abolitionists, and civil rights activists, some of whom were also prisoners
during their lifetime. Many books from Herman's library would not be
accessible to those serving time, as access to knowledge for the inmate
population in the US is increasingly being regulated. A peak into the list of
banned books, which at one point included Michelle Alexander's The New Jim
Crow (The New Press, 2010), reveals the incentive of the ban was to prevent
access to knowledge that would allow inmates to understand their position in
society and the workings of the prison-industrial complex. It is becoming
increasingly difficult for inmates to have chance encounters with a book that
could change their lives; given access to knowledge they could see their
position in life from another perspective; they could have a moment of
revelation like the one Cle Sloan had. Sloan, a member of the Los Angeles gang
Bloods encountered his neighborhood Athens Park on a 1972 Los Angeles Police
Department 'Gang Territories' map in Mike Davis' book City of Quartz, which
made him understand gang violence in L.A. was a product of institutional
violence, structural racism, and systemic dispersal of community support
networks put in place by the Black Panther Party.

The books in Herman's library can be seen as a toolbox of “really useful
knowledge” for someone who has to conceive the notion of freedom. The term
“really useful knowledge” originated with workers' awareness of the need for
self-education in the early-19th century, describing a body of 'unpractical'
knowledge such as politics, economics, and philosophy, workers needed to
understand and change their position in society, and opposed 'useful
knowledge' – knowledge of 'practical' skills which would make them useful to
the employer. Like in the 19th century, sustaining the system relies on
continued exploitation of a population prevented from accessing, producing and
sharing knowledges needed to start to understand the system that is made to
oppress and to articulate a position from which they can act. Who controls the
networks of production and distribution to knowledge is an important issue, as
it determines which books are made accessible. Self-help and coloring books
are allowed and accessible to inmates so as to continue oppression and pacify
resistance. The crisis of access persists outside the prison walls with a
continuous decline in the number of public libraries and the books they offer
due to the double assault of austerity measures and a growing monopoly of the
corporate publishing industry.

Digital networks have incredible power to widely distribute content, and once
the (digital) content is out there it is relatively easy to share and access.
Digital networks can provide a solution for enclosure of knowledge and for the
oppressed, easier access to channels of distribution. At least that was the
promise – the Internet would enable a democratization of access. However,
digital networks have a significant capacity to centralize and control within
the realm of knowledge distribution, one look at the oligopoly of academic
publishing and its impact on access and independent production shows its
contrary.

In June 2015 Elsiver won an injunction against Library Genesis and its
subsidiary platform sci-hub.org, making it inaccessible in some countries and
via some commercial internet providers. Run by anonymous scientists mostly
from Eastern Europe, these voluntary and non-commercial projects are the
largest illegal repository of electronic books, journals, and articles on the
web (4). Most of the scientific articles collected in the repository bypassed
the paywalls of academic publishers using the solidary network of access
provided by those associated with universities rich enough to pay the
exuberant subscription fees. The only person named in the court case was
Alexandra Elbakyan, who revealed her identity as the creator of sci-hub.org,
and explained she was motivated by the lack of access: “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.”(5) The creation of sci-hub.org made
scientific knowledge accessible to anyone, not just to members of wealthy
academic institutions. The act of acknowledging responsibility for sci-hub
transformed what was seen as the act of illegality (piracy) into the act of
civil disobedience. In the context of sci-hub and Library Genesis, both
projects from the periphery of knowledge production, “copyright infringement
opens on to larger questions about the legitimacy of the historic compromise –
if indeed there ever even was one – between the labor that produces culture
and knowledge and its commodification as codified in existing copyright
regulations.”(6) Here, disobedience and piracy have an equalizing effect on
the asymmetries of access to knowledge.

In 2008, programmer and hacktivist Aaron Swartz published Guerilla Open
Access Manifesto triggered by the enclosure of scientific knowledge production
of the past, often already part of public domain, via digitization. “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
private corporations […] We need to download scientific journals and upload
them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.”(7)
On January 6, 2011, the MIT police and the US Secret Service arrested Aaron
Swartz on charges of having downloaded a large number of scientific articles
from one of the most used and paywalled database. The federal prosecution
decided to show the increasingly nervous publishing industry the lengths they
are willing to go to protect them by indicting Swartz on 13 criminal counts.
With a threat of 50 years in prison and US$1 million fine, Aaron committed
suicide on January 11, 2013. But he left us with an assignment – if you have
access, you have a responsibility to share with those who do not; “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?” (8) He pointed to an important issue – every new cycle of technological
development (in this case the move from paper to digital) brings a new threat
of enclosure of the knowledge in the public domain.

While “the core and the periphery adopt different strategies of opposition to
the inequalities and exclusions [digital] technologies start to reproduce”
some technologies used by corporations to enclose can be used to liberate
knowledge and make it accessible. The existence of projects such as Library
Genesis, sci-hub, Public Library/Memory of the World, aaaarg.org, monoskop,
and ubuweb, commonly known as shadow libraries, show how building
infrastructure for storing, indexing, and access, as well as supporting
digitization, can not only be put to use by the periphery, but used as a
challenge to the normalization of enclosure offered by the core. The people
building alternative networks of distribution also build networks of support
and solidarity. Those on the peripheries need to 'steal' the knowledge behind
paywalls in order to fight the asymmetries paywalls enforce – peripheries
“steal” in order to advance. Depending on the vantage point, digitization of a
book can be stealing, or liberating it to return the knowledge (from the dusty
library closed stacks) back into circulation. “Old” knowledge can teach new
tricksters a handful of tricks.

In 2015 I realized none of the architecture students of the major European
architecture schools can have a chance encounter with Architecture and
Feminisms or Sexuality and Space, nor with many books on similar topics
because they were typically located in the library’s closed stacks. Both books
were formative and in 2005, as a student I went to great lengths to gain
access to them. The library at the Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade, was
starved of books due to permanent financial crisis, and even bestsellers such
as Rem Koolhaas' S, M, L, XL were not available, let alone books that were
focused on feminism and architecture. At the time, the Internet could inform
that edited volumes such as Architecture and Feminism and Sexuality and Space
existed but nothing more. To satisfy my curiosity, and help me write a paper,
a friend sent – via another friend – her copies from London to Belgrade, which
I photocopied, and returned. With time, I graduated to buying my own second
hand copies of both books, which I digitized upon realizing access to them
still relied on access to a well-stocked specialist library. They became the
basis for my growing collection on feminism/gender/space I maintain as an
amateur librarian, tactically digitizing books to contribute to the growing
struggle to make architecture more equitable as both a profession and an
effect in space.

At the end, a confession, and an anecdote – since 2015, I have tried to
digitize a book a week and every year, I manage to digitize around 20 books,
so one can say I am not particularly good at meeting my goals. The books I do
digitize are related to feminism, space, race, urban riots, and struggle, and
I choose them for their (un)availability and urgency. Most of them are
published in the 1970s and 1980s, though some were published in the 1960s and
1990s. Some I bought as former library books, digitized on a DIY book scanner,
and uploaded to the usual digital repositories. It takes two to four hours to
make a neat and searchable PDF scan of a book. As a PDF, knowledge production
usually under the radar or long out of print becomes more accessible. One of
the first books I digitized was Robert Goodman's After the Planners, a
critique of urban planning and the limits of alternate initiatives in cities
written in the late 1960s. A few years after I scanned it, online photos from
a conference drew my attention –the important, white male professor was
showing the front page of After the Planners on his slide. I realized fast the
image had a light signature of the scanner I had used. While I do not know if
this act of digitization made a dent or was co-opted, seeing the image was a
small proof that digitization can bring books back into circulation and access
to them might make a difference – or that access to knowledge can be a weapon.



[Dubravka Sekulic](https://www.making-futures.com/contributor/sekulic/) writes
about the production of space. She is an amateur-librarian at Public
Library/Memory of the World, where she maintains feminist, and space/race
collections. During Making Futures School, Dubravka will be figuring out the
future of education (on all things spatial) together with [Elise
Hunchuck](https://www.making-futures.com/contributor/hunchuck/), [Jonathan
Solomon](https://www.making-futures.com/contributor/solomon/) and [Valentina
Karga](https://www.making-futures.com/contributor/karga/).

__

This text was originally published in The Funambulist - Issue 17, May-June
2018 "Weaponized Infrastrucuture".  [A pdf version of it can be downloaded
here.](https://www.making-futures.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05
/Dubravka_Sekulic-On_Knowledge_and_Stealing.pdf)

__

Notes:

(1) For more on the project Herman’s House. Accessed 6 April 2018.


(2) Public Library is a project which has been since 2012 developing and
publicly supporting scenarios for massive disobedience against the current
regulation of production and circulation of knowlde and culture in the digital
realm. See: ‘Memory of the World’. Accessed 7 April 2018.


(3) Herman's library can be accessed at[
http://herman.memoryoftheworld.org/](http://herman.memoryoftheworld.org/) More
on the context of digitization see: ‘Herman’s Library’. Memory of the World
(blog), 28 October 2014. /hermans-library/>, and ‘Public Library. Rethinking the Infrastructures of
Knowledge Production’. Memory of the World (blog), 30 October 2014.
the-infrastructures-of-knowledge-production/.>

(4) For more on shadow libraries and library genesis see: Bodo, Balazs.
‘Libraries in the Post-Scarcity Era’. SSRN Scholarly Paper. Rochester, NY:
Social Science Research Network, 10 June 2015.


(5) ‘Sci-Hub Tears Down Academia’s “Illegal” Copyright Paywalls’. TorrentFreak
(blog), 27 June 2015. illegal-copyright-paywalls-150627/.>

(6) For the schizophrenia of the current model of the corporate enclosure of
the scientific knowledge see: Mars, Marcell and Tomislav Medak, The System of
a Takedown, forthcoming, 2018

(7) Aaron Swartz. Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. Accessed 7 April 2018.[
http://archive.org/details/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto.](http://archive.org/details/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto.)

(8) Ibid.

(9) Mars, Marcell and Tomislav Medak, The System of a Takedown, forthcoming,
2018.

(10) See ‘In Solidarity with Library Genesis and Sci-Hub’.
http://custodians.online. Accessed 7 April 2018.




 

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