Medak, Mars & WHW
Public Library
2015


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
Editors
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

1.
Marcell Mars, Manar Zarroug
& Tomislav Medak

75

Public Library (essay)
2.
Paul Otlet

87

Transformations in the Bibliographical
Apparatus of the Sciences
(Repertory — Classification — Office
of Documentation)
3.
McKenzie Wark

111

Metadata Punk
4.
Tomislav Medak
The Future After the Library
UbuWeb and Monoskop’s Radical Gestures

121

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
tyranny.02
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)

75

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.,
http://www.france.fr/en/institutions-and-values/slogan
-french-republic.html.

76

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),
http://www.americanheritage.com/content/melvil-dewey.
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),
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12513/12513-h/12513-h.htm.
07 Snow, “Melvil Dewey”.

Public library (essay)

77

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.

78

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/
sites/jeremygreenfield/2012/06/22/what-is-going-on-withlibrary-e-book-lending/.

Public library (essay)

79

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.
thebear-review.com/#!free-libraries-for-every-soul/c153g.
12 Alison Flood, “UK Lost More than 200 Libraries in 2012”,
The Guardian, 10 December 2012, http://www.theguardian.
com/books/2012/dec/10/uk-lost-200-libraries-2012.

80

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/
future-of-libraries/by-david-weinberger/.
14 Shannon Mattern, “Library as Infrastructure”, Design
Observer, 9 June 2014, http://places.designobserver.com/
entryprint.html?entry=38488.

Public library (essay)

81

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/.

82

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.
com/2012/02/15/librarynu-book-downloading-injunction_
n_1280383.html.
17 “The Public School”, The Public School, n.d.,
https://www.thepublicschool.org/.

Public library (essay)

83

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,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Otlet.

84

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
everywhere.22


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

Public library (essay)

85

Paul Otlet

Transformations
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

87

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
Documentation.
•••

88

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

89

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

90

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

91

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

92

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

93

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

94

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
Physics
Optics
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

95

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.

96

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

97

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

98

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

99

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.
•••

100

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

101

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.

102

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
Bibliographicum.
[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

103

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-

104

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

105

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,
1899).
[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.

106

Paul Otlet

107

108

public library

http://aaaaarg.org/

109

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

111

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-

112

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

113

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

114

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

115

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.

116

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

117

118

public library

http://midnightnotes.memoryoftheworld.org/

119

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,
https://placesjournal.org/article/library-as-infrastructure/.

The Future After the Library

121

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-

122

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

123

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.

124

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

125

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

126

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

127

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

128

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
competition.06
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

129

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
archive.

130

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

131

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

132

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

133

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-

134

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
information.
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

135

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

136

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
the “Five Eyes” to monitor the global communication flows,
revealed by Edward Snowden, and the control of the future
social development defined by the urgency of mitigating the
effects of the planetary ecological crisis cannot be thought
apart.

The Future After the Library

137

138

public library

http://kok.memoryoftheworld.org

139

Public Library
www.memoryoftheworld.org

Publishers
What, How & for Whom / WHW
Slovenska 5/1 • HR-10000 Zagreb
+385 (0) 1 3907261
whw@whw.hr • www.whw.hr
ISBN 978-953-55951-3-7 [Što, kako i za koga/WHW]
Multimedia Institute
Preradovićeva 18 • HR-10000 Zagreb
+385 (0)1 4856400
mi2@mi2.hr • www.mi2.hr
ISBN 978-953-7372-27-9 [Multimedijalni institut]
Editors
Tomislav Medak • Marcell Mars • What, How & for Whom / WHW
Copy Editor
Dušanka Profeta [Croatian]
Anthony Iles [English]
Translations
Una Bauer
Tomislav Medak
Dušanka Profeta
W. Boyd Rayward
Design & layout
Dejan Kršić @ WHW
Typography
MinionPro [robert slimbach • adobe]

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. ❧
format / size
120 × 200 mm
pages
144
Paper
Agrippina 120 g • Rives Laid 300 g
Printed by
Tiskara Zelina d.d.
Print Run
1000
Price
50 kn
May • 2015

This publication, realized along with the exhibition
Public Library in Gallery Nova, Zagreb 2015, is a part of
the collaborative project This Is Tomorrow. Back to Basics:
Forms and Actions in the Future organized by What, How
& for Whom / WHW, Zagreb, Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm
and Latvian Center for Contemporary Art / LCCA, Riga, as a
part of the book edition Art As Life As Work As Art. ❧

Supported by
Office of Culture, Education and Sport of the City of Zagreb
Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia
Croatian Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs
Creative Europe Programme of the European Commission.
National Foundation for Civil Society Development
Kultura Nova Foundation

This project has been funded with support
from European Commision. This publication reflects
the views only of the authors, and the Commission
cannot be held responsible for any use which may be
made of the information contained therein. ❧
Publishing of this book is enabled by financial support of
the National Foundation for Civil Society Development.
The content of the publication is responsibility of
its authors and as such does not necessarily reflect
the views of the National Foundation. ❧
This project is financed
by the Croatian Government Office for Cooperation
with NGOs. The views expressed in this publication
are the sole responsibility of the publishers. ❧

This book is licensed under a Creative
Commons Attribution–ShareAlike 4.0
International License. ❧

Public Library

may • 2015
price 50 kn


Sekulic
Legal Hacking and Space
2015


# Legal hacking and space

## What can urban commons learn from the free software hackers?

* [Dubravka Sekulic](https://www.eurozine.com/authors/sekulic-dubravka/)

4 November 2015

There is now a need to readdress urban commons through the lens of the digital
commons, writes Dubravka Sekulic. The lessons to be drawn from the free
software community and its resistance to the enclosure of code will likely
prove particularly valuable where participation and regulation are concerned.

> Commons are a particular type of institutional arrangement for governing the
use and disposition of resources. Their salient characteristic, which defines
them in contradistinction to property, is that no single person has exclusive
control over the use and disposition of any particular resource. Instead,
resources governed by commons may be used or disposed of by anyone among some
(more or less defined) number of persons, under rules that may range from
"anything goes" to quite crisply articulated formal rules that are effectively
enforced.
> (Benkler 2003: 6)

The above definition of commons, from the seminal paper "The political economy
of commons" by Yochai Benkler, addresses any type of commons, whether analogue
or digital. In fact, the concept of commons entered the digital realm from
physical space in order to interpret the type of communities, relationships
and production that started to appear with the development of the free as
opposed to the proprietary. Peter Linebaugh charted in his excellent book
_Magna Carta Manifesto_ , how the creation and development of the concept of
commons were closely connected to constantly changing relationships of people
and communities to the physical space. Here, I argue that the concept was
enriched when it was implemented in the digital field. Readdressing urban
space through the lens of digital commons can enable another imagination and
knowledge to appear around urban commons.

[![](http://www.eurozine.com/UserFiles/illustrations/sekulic_commons_220w.jpg)](http://www.derive.at/)The
notion of commons in (urban) space is often complicated by archaic models of
organization and management - "the pasture we knew how to share". There is a
tendency to give the impression that the solution is in reverting to the past
models. In the realm of digital though, there is no "pasture" from the Middle
Ages to fall back on. Digital commons had to start from scratch and define its
own protocols of production and reproduction (caring and sharing). Therefore,
the digital commons and free software community can be the one to turn to, not
only for inspiration and advice, but also as a partner when addressing
questions of urban commons. Or, as Marcell Mars would put it "if we could
start again with (regulating and defining) land, knowing what we know now
about digital networks, we could come up with something much better and
appropriate for today's world. That property wouldn't be private, maybe not
even property, but something else. Only then can we say we have learned
something from the digital" (2013).

## Enclosure as the trigger for action

The moment we turn to commons in relation to (urban) space is the moment in
which the pressure to privatize public space and to commodify every aspect of
urban life has become so strong that it can be argued that it mirrors a moment
in which Magna Carta Libertatum was introduced to protect the basic
reproduction of life for those whose sustenance was connected to the common
pastures and forests of England in the thirteenth century. At the end of the
twentieth century, urban space became the ultimate commodity, and increasing
privatization not only endangered the reproduction of everyday life in the
city; the rent extraction through privatized public space and housing
endangered bare life itself. Additionally, the cities' continuous
privatization of its amenities transformed almost every action in the city, no
matter how mundane - as for example, drinking a glass of water from a tap -,
into an action that creates profit for some private entity and extracts it
from the community. Thus every activity became labour, which a citizen-worker
is not only alienated from, but also unaware of. David Harvey's statement
about the city replacing the factory as a site of class war seems to be not
only an apt description of the condition of life in the city, but also a cry
for action.

When Richard Stallman turned to the foundational gesture of the creation of
free software, GNU/GPL (General Public Licence) was his reaction to the
artificially imposed logic of scarcity on the world of code - and the
increasing and systematic enclosure that took place in the late 1970s and
1980s as "a tidal wave of commercialization transformed software from a
technical object into a commodity, to be bought and sold on the open market
under the alleged protection of intellectual property law" (Coleman 2012:
138). Stallman, who worked as a researcher at MIT's Artificial Intelligence
Laboratory, detected how "[m]any programmers are unhappy about the
commercialization of system software. It may enable them to make more money,
but it requires them to feel in conflict with other programmers in general
rather than feel as comrades. The fundamental act of friendship among
programmers is the sharing of programs; marketing arrangements now typically
used essentially forbid programmers to treat others as friends. The purchaser
of software must choose between friendship and obeying the law. Naturally,
many decide that friendship is more important. But those who believe in law
often do not feel at ease with either choice. They become cynical and think
that programming is just a way of making money" (Stallman 2002: 32).

In the period between 1980 and 1984, "one man [Stallman] envisioned a crusade
to change the situation" (Moglen 1999). Stallman understood that in order to
subvert the system, he would have to intervene in the protocols that regulate
the conditions under which the code is produced, and not the code itself;
although he did contribute some of the best lines of code into the compiler
and text editor - the foundational infrastructure for any development. The
gesture that enabled the creation of a free software community that yielded
the complex field of digital commons was not a perfect line of code. The
creation of GNU General Public License (GPL) was a legal hack to counteract
the imposing of intellectual property law on code. At that time, the only
license available for programmers wanting to keep the code free was public
domain, which gave no protection against the code being appropriated and
closed. GPL enabled free codes to become self-perpetuating. Everything built
using a free code had to be made available under the same condition, in order
to secure the freedom for programmers to continue sharing and not breaking the
law. "By working on and using GNU rather than proprietary programs, we can be
hospitable to everyone and obey the law. In addition, GNU serves as an example
to inspire and as a banner to rally others to join in sharing. This can give
us a feeling of harmony, which is impossible if we use software, which is not
free. For about half the programmers I talk to, this is an important happiness
that money cannot replace" (Stallman 2002: 33).

Architects and planners as well as environmental designers have for too long
believed the opposite, that a good enough design can subvert the logic of
enclosure that dominates the production and reproduction of space; that a good
enough design can keep space open and public by the sheer strength of spatial
intervention. Stallman rightfully understands that no design is strong enough
to keep private ownership from claiming what it believes belongs to it.
Digital and urban commons, despite operating in completely different realms
and economies, are under attack from the same threat of "market processes"
that "crucially depend upon the individual monopoly of capitalists (of all
sorts) over ownership of the means of production, including finance and land.
All rent, recall, is a return to the monopoly power of private ownership of
some crucial asset, such as land or a patent. The monopoly power of private
property is therefore both the beginning-point and the end-point of all
capitalist activity" (Harvey 2012: 100). Stallman envisioned a bleak future
(2003: 26-28) but found a way to "relate the means to the ends". He understood
that the emancipatory task of a struggle "is not only what has to be done, but
also how it will be done and who will do it" (Stavrides & De Angelis: 7).
Thus, to produce the necessary requirements - both for a community to emerge,
but also for the basis of future protocols - tools and methodologies are
needed for the community to create both free software and itself.

## Renegotiating (undoing) property, hacking the law, creating community

Property, as an instrument of allocation of resources, is a right that is
negotiated within society and by society and not written in stone or given as
such. The digital, more than any other field, discloses property as being
inappropriate for contemporary relationships between production and
reproduction and, additionally, proves how it is possible to fundamentally
rethink it. The digital offers this possibility as it is non-material, non-
rival and non-exclusive (Meretz 2013), unlike anything in the physical world.
And Elinor Ostrom's lifelong empirical researches give ground to the belief
that eschewing property, being the sole instrument of allocation, can work as
a tool of management even for rival, excludable goods.
The value of information in digital form is not flat, but property is not the
way to protect that value, as the music industry realized during the course of
the last ten years. Once the copy is _out there_ , the cost of protecting its
exclusivity on the grounds of property becomes too high in relation to the
potential value to be extracted. For example, the value is extracted from
information through controlling the moment of its release and not through
subsequent exploitation. Stallman decided to tackle the imposition of the
concept of property on computer code (and by extension to the digital realm as
a whole) by articulating it in another field: just as property is the product
of constant negotiations within a society, so are legal regulations. After
some time, he was joined by "[m]any free software developers [who] do not
consider intellectual property instruments as the pivotal stimulus for a
marketplace of ideas and knowledge. Instead, they see them as a form of
restriction so fundamental (or poorly executed) that they need to be
counteracted through alternative legal agreements that treat knowledge,
inventions, and other creative expressions not as property but rather as
speech to be freely shared, circulated, and modified" (Coleman 2012: 26).

The digital sphere can give a valid example of how renegotiating regulation
can transform a resource from scarce to abundant. When the change from
analogue signal to packet switching begun to take effect, the distribution of
finite territory and the way the radio frequency spectrum was managed got
renegotiated and the amount of slots of space to be allocated grew by an order
of magnitude while the absolute size of the spectrum stayed the same. This
shift enabled Brecht's dream of a two-sided radio to become reality, thus
enabling what he had suggested: "change this apparatus over from distribution
to communication".1

According to Lawrence Lessig, what regulates behavior in cyberspace is an
interdependence of four constraints: market, law, architecture and norms
(Lessig 2012: 121-25). Analogously, space can be put in place of cyberspace,
as the regulation of space is the sum of these four constraints. These four
constraints are in a dynamic relationship in which the balance can be tilted
towards one, depending on how much each of these categories puts pressure on
the other three. Changes in any one reflect the regulation of the whole.
"Architecture" in Lessig's theory should be understood broadly as the "built
environment" that regulates behaviour in (cyber)space. In the last few decades
we have experienced the domination of the market reconfiguring the basis of
norms, law and architecture. In order to counteract this, the other three
constraints need to be re-negotiated. In digital space, this reconfiguration
happened by declaring the code - that is, the set of instructions written as
highly formalized text in a specific programming language to be executed
(usually) by the computer - to be considered as speech in front of the law,
and by hacking the law in order to disrupt the way that property relationships
are formed.

To put it simply, in order to create a change in dynamics between the
architecture, norms and the market, the law had to be addressed first. This is
not a novel procedure, "legal hacking is going on all the time, it is just
that politics is doing it under the veil of legality because they are the
parliament, they are Microsoft, which can hire a whole law firm to defend them
and find all the legal loopholes. Legal hacking is the norm actually" (Bailey
2013). When it comes to physical space, one of the most obvious examples of
the reconfiguration of regulations under the influence of the market is to
create legal provisions, norms and architecture to sustain the concept of
developing (and privatizing) public space through public-private partnerships.
The decision of the Italian parliament that the privatization of services
(specifically of water management) is legal and does not obstruct one's access
to water as a human right, is another example of a crude manipulation of the
law by the state in favour of the market. Unlike legal hacks by corporations
that aim to create a favourable legal climate for another round of
accumulation through dispossession, Stallman's hack tries to limit the impact
of the market and to create a space of freedom for the creation of a code and
of sharable knowledge, by questioning one of the central pillars of liberal
jurisprudence: (intellectual) property law.

Similarly, translated into physical space, one of the initiatives in Europe
that comes closest to creating a real existing urban commons, Teatro Valle
Occupato in Rome, is doing the same, "pushing the borders of legality of
private property" by legally hacking the institution of a foundation to "serve
a public, or common, purpose" and having "notarized [a] document registered
with the Italian state, that creates a precedent for other people to follow in
its way" (Bailey 2013). Sounds familiar to Stallman's hack as the fundamental
gesture by which community and the whole eco-system can be formed.

It is obvious that, in order to create and sustain that type of legal hack, it
is a necessity to have a certain level of awareness and knowledge of how
systems, both political and legal, work, i.e. to be politically literate.
"While in general", says Italian commons-activist and legal scholar Saki
Bailey, "we've become extremely lazy [when it comes to politics]. We've
started to become a kind of society of people who give up their responsibility
to participate by handing it over to some charismatic leaders, experts of [a]
different type" (2013). Free software hackers, in order to understand and take
part in a constant negotiation that takes place on a legal level between the
market that seeks to cloister the code and hackers who want to keep it free,
had to become literate in an arcane legal language. Gabriella Coleman notes in
_Coding Freedom_ that hacker forums sometimes tend to produce legal analysis
that is just as serious as one would expect to find in a law office. Like the
occupants of Teatro Valle, free software hackers understand the importance of
devoting time and energy to understand constraints and to find ways to
structurally divert them.

This type of knowledge is not shared and created in isolation, but in
socialization, in discussions in physical or cyber spaces (such as #irc chat
rooms, forums, mailing lists…), the same way free software hackers share their
knowledge about code. Through this process of socializing knowledge, "the
community is formed, developed, and reproduced through practices focused on
common space. To generalize this principle: the community is developed through
commoning, through acts and forms of organization oriented towards the
production of the common" (Stavrides 2012: 588). Thus forming a community is
another crucial element of the creation of digital commons, but even more
important are its development and resilience. The emerging community was not
given something to manage, it created something together, and together devised
rules of self-regulation and decision-making.

The prime example of this principle in the free software community is the
Debian Project, formed around the development of the Debian Linux
distribution. It is a volunteer organization consisting of around 3,000
developers that since its inception in 1993 has defined a set of basic
principles by which the project and its members conduct their affairs. This
includes the introduction of new people into the community, a process called
Debian Social Contract (DSC). A special part of the DSC defines the criteria
for "free software", thus regulating technical aspects of the project and also
technical relations with the rest of a free software community. The Debian
Constitution, another document created by the community so it can govern
itself, describes the organizational structure for formal decision-making
within the project.

Another example is Wikipedia, where the community that makes the online
encyclopedia also takes part in creating regulations, with some aspects
debated almost endlessly on forums. It is even possible to detect a loose
community of "Internet users" who took to the streets all over the world when
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Preventing Real Online Threats to
Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) threatened to
enclose the Internet, as we know it; the proposed legislation was successfully
contested.

Free software projects that represent the core of the digital commons are most
of the time born of the initiative of individuals, but their growth and life
cycle depend on the fact that they get picked up by a community or generate
community around them that is allowed to take part in their regulation and in
decisions about which shape and forms the project will take in the future.
This is an important lesson to be transferred to the physical space in which
many projects fail because they do not get picked up by the intended
community, as the community is not offered a chance to partake in its creation
and, more importantly, its regulation.

## Building common infrastructure and institutions

"The expansion of intellectual property law" as the main vehicle of the trend
to enclose the code that leads to the act of the creation of free software
and, thus, digital commons, "is part and parcel of a broader neoliberal trend
to privatize what was once under public or under the state's aegis, such as
health provision, water delivery, and military services" (Coleman 2012: 16).
The structural fight headed by the GNU/GPL against the enclosure of code
"defines the contractual relationship that serves to secure the freedom of
means of production and to constitute a community of those participating in
the production and reproduction of free resources. And it is this constitutive
character, as an answer to an every time singular situation of appropriation
by the capital, that is a genuine political emancipation striving for an equal
and free collective production" (Mars & Medak 2004). Thus digital commons "is
based on the _communication_ among _singularities_ and emerges through
collaborative social processes of production " (Negri & Hardt 2005: 204).

The most important lesson urban commons can take from its digital counterpart
is at the same time the most difficult one: how to make a structural hack in
the moment of the creation of an urban commons that will enable it to become
structurally self-perpetuating, thus creating fertile ground not only for a
singular spatialization of urban commons to appear, but to multiply and create
a whole new eco-system. Digital commons was the first field in which what
Negri and Hardt (2009: 3-21) called the "republic of property" was challenged.
Urban commons, in order to really emerge as a spatialization of a new type of
relationship, need to start undoing property as well in order to socially re-
appropriate the city. Or in the words of Stavros Stavrides "the most urgent
and promising task, which can oppose the dominant governance model, is the
reinvention of common space. The realm of the common emerges in a constant
confrontation with state-controlled 'authorized' public space. This is an
emergence full of contradictions, perhaps, quite difficult to predict, but
nevertheless necessary. Behind a multifarious demand for justice and dignity,
new roads to collective emancipation are tested and invented. And, as the
Zapatistas say, we can create these roads only while walking. But we have to
listen, to observe, and to feel the walking movement. Together" (Stavrides
2012: 594).

The big task for both digital and urban commons is "[b]uilding a core common
infrastructure [which] is a necessary precondition to allow us to transition
away from a society of passive consumers buying what a small number of
commercial producers are selling. It will allow us to develop into a society
in which all can speak to all, and in which anyone can become an active
participant in political, social and cultural discourse" (Benkler 2003: 9).
This core common infrastructure has to be porous enough to include people that
are not similar, to provide "a ground to build a public realm and give
opportunities for discussing and negotiating what is good for all, rather than
the idea of strengthening communities in their struggle to define their own
commons. Relating commons to groups of "similar" people bears the danger of
eventually creating closed communities. People may thus define themselves as
commoners by excluding others from their milieu, from their own privileged
commons." (Stavrides 2010). If learning carefully from digital commons, urban
commons need to be conceptualized on the basis of the public, with a self-
regulating community that is open for others to join. That socializes
knowledge and thus produces and reproduces the commons, creating a space for
political emancipation that is capable of judicial arguments for the
protection and extension of regulations that are counter-market oriented.

## References

Bailey, Saki (2013): Interview by Dubravka Sekulic and Alexander de Cuveland.

Benkler, Yochai (2003): "The political economy of commons". _Upgrade_ IV, no.
3, 6-9, [www.benkler.org/Upgrade-
Novatica%20Commons.pdf](http://www.benkler.org/Upgrade-
Novatica%20Commons.pdf).

Benkler, Yochai (2006): _The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production
Transforms Markets and Freedom_. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Brecht, Bertolt (2000): "The radio as a communications apparatus". In: _Brecht
on Film and Radio_ , edited by Marc Silberman. Methuen, 41-6.

Coleman, E. Gabriella (2012): _Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of
Hacking_. Princeton University Press / Kindle edition.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri (2005): _Multitude: War and Democracy in the
Age of Empire_. Penguin Books.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri (2011): _Commonwealth_. Belknap Press of
Harvard University Press.

Harvey, David (2012): The Art of Rent. In: _Rebel Cities: From the Right to
the City to the Urban Revolution_ , 1st ed. Verso, 94-118.

Hill, Benjamin Mako (2012): Freedom for Users, Not for Software. In: Bollier,
David & Helfrich, Silke (Ed.): _The Wealth of the Commons: a World Beyond
Market and State_. Levellers Press / E-book.

Lessig, Lawrence (2012): _Code: Version 2.0_. Basic Books.

Linebaugh, Peter (2008): _The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for
All_. University of California Press.

Mars, Marcell (2013): Interview by Dubravka Sekulic.

Mars, Marcell and Tomislav Medak (2004): "Both devil and gnu",
[www.desk.org:8080/ASU2/newsletter.Zarez.N5M.MedakRomicTXT.EnGlish](http://www.desk.org:8080/ASU2/newsletter.Zarez.N5M.MedakRomicTXT.EnGlish).

Martin, Reinhold (2013): "Public and common(s): Places: Design observer",
[placesjournal.org/article/public-and-
commons](https://placesjournal.org/article/public-and-commons).

Meretz, Stefan (2010): "Commons in a taxonomy of goods", [keimform.de/2010
/commons-in-a-taxonomy-of-goods](http://keimform.de/2010/commons-in-a
-taxonomy-of-goods/).

Mitrasinovic, Miodrag (2006): _Total Landscape, Theme Parks, Public Space_ ,
1st ed. Ashgate.

Moglen, Eben (1999): "Anarchism triumphant: Free software and the death of
copyright", First Monday,
[firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/684/594](http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/684/594).

Stallman, Richard and Joshua Gay (2002): _Free Software, Free Society:
Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman_. GNU Press.

Stallman, Richard and Joshua Gay (2003): "The Right to Read". _Upgrade_ IV,
no. 3, 26-8.

Stavrides, Stavros (2012) "Squares in movement". _South Atlantic Quarterly_
111, no. 3, 585-96.

Stavrides, Stavros (2013): "Contested urban rhythms: From the industrial city
to the post-industrial urban archipelago". _The Sociological Review_ 61,
34-50.

Stavrides, Stavros, and Massimo De Angelis (2010): "On the commons: A public
interview with Massimo De Angelis and Stavros Stavrides". _e-flux_ 17, 1-17,
[www.e-flux.com/journal/on-the-commons-a-public-interview-with-massimo-de-
angelis-and-stavros-stavrides/](http://www.e-flux.com/journal/on-the-commons-a
-public-interview-with-massimo-de-angelis-and-stavros-stavrides/).

1

"[...] radio is one-sided when it should be two-. It is purely an apparatus
for distribution, for mere sharing out. So here is a positive suggestion:
change this apparatus over from distribution to communication". See "The radio
as a communications apparatus", Brecht 2000.

Published 4 November 2015
Original in English
First published by derive 61 (2015)

Contributed by dérive © Dubravka Sekulic / dérive / Eurozine

[PDF/PRINT](https://www.eurozine.com/legal-hacking-and-space/?pdf)


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.




 

Display 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000 ALL characters around the word.