Shadow Libraries

_A talk given at the [Shadow Libraries](
symposium held at the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) in
[Athens](/Athens "Athens"), 17 March 2018. Moderated by [Kenneth
Goldsmith](/Kenneth_Goldsmith "Kenneth Goldsmith") (UbuWeb) and bringing
together [Dusan Barok](/Dusan_Barok "Dusan Barok") (Monoskop), [Marcell
Mars](/Marcell_Mars "Marcell Mars") (Public Library), [Peter
Sunde](/Peter_Sunde "Peter Sunde") (The Pirate Bay), [Vicki
Bennett](/Vicki_Bennett "Vicki Bennett") (People Like Us), [Cornelia
Sollfrank](/Cornelia_Sollfrank "Cornelia Sollfrank") (Giving What You Don't
Have), and Prodromos Tsiavos, the event was part of the _[Shadow Libraries:
UbuWeb in Athens]( _programme organised by [Ilan
Manouach](/Ilan_Manouach "Ilan Manouach"), Kenneth Goldsmith and the Onassis

[![Shadow Libraries.jpg](/images/thumb/8/8e/Shadow_Libraries.jpg/500px-

This is the first time that I was asked to talk about Monoskop as a _shadow

What are shadow libraries?
[Lawrence Liang](/Lawrence_Liang "Lawrence Liang") wrote a think piece for _e-
flux_ a couple of years ago,
in response to the closure of, a digital library that had operated
from 2004, first as Ebooksclub, later as Gigapedia.
He wrote that:

[![Liang Lawrence 2012 Shadow

In the essay, he moves between identifying as digital Alexandria
and as its shadow.
In this account, even large libraries exist in the shadows cast by their
monumental precedessors.
There’s a lineage, there’s a tradition.

Almost everyone and every institution has a library, small or large.
They’re not necessarily Alexandrias, but they strive to stay relevant.
Take the University of Amsterdam where I now work.
University libraries are large, but they’re hardly _large enough_.
The publishing market is so huge that you simply can’t keep up with all the
niche little disciplines.
So either you have to wait days or weeks for a missing book to be ordered
Or you have some EBSCO ebooks.
And most of the time if you’re searching for a book title in the catalogue,
all you get are its reviews in various journals the library subscribes to.

So my colleagues keep asking me.
Dušan, where do I find this or that book?
You need to scan through dozens of texts, check one page in that book, table
of contents of another book, read what that paper is about.

[![Arts humanities and social sciences digital libraries
"Digital libraries#Libraries")

Well, just look _online_.

So what do digital libraries do?

[![Hand writing.jpg](/images/thumb/a/a2/Hand_writing.jpg/500px-

You write a manuscript, have it published,

[![Scanning hand.jpg](/images/thumb/4/48/Scanning_hand.jpg/500px-

and someone scans it later.

[![Hands typing.jpg](/images/thumb/8/8a/Hands_typing.jpg/500px-

Or scrapes it from somewhere, since most books today are born digital and live
their digital lives.
Digital libraries need to be creative.
They don’t just preserve and circulate books.

[![Hirsal Josef Groegerova Bohumila eds Slovo pismo akce hlas

They engage in extending print runs, making new editions, readily
reproducible, unlimited editions.

[![Hirsal Josef Groegerova Bohumila eds Slovo pismo akce hlas

This one comes with something extra. Isn’t this beautiful? You can read along
someone else.
In this case we know these annotations come from the Slovak avant-garde visual
poet and composer [Milan Adamciak](/Milan_Adamciak "Milan Adamciak").

[![Milan Adamciak John Cage in Bratislava 1992
"Milan Adamciak")

...standing in the middle.
A couple of pages later...

[![Hirsal Josef Groegerova Bohumila eds Slovo pismo akce hlas
Hirsal_Josef_Groegerova_Bohumila_eds_Slovo_pismo_akce_hlas_pp232-233.jpg)]( can clearly see how he found out about a book containing one million
random digits [see note 24 on the image]. The strangest book.

[![Million Random Digits with 100000 Normal Deviates

He was still alive when we put it up on Monoskop, and could experience it.
Digital libraries may seem like virtual, grey places, nonplaces.
But these little chance encounters happen all the time there.
There are touches. There are traces. There are many hands involved, visible
They join writers’ hands and help creating new, unlimited editions.

[![Second-Hand Libraries.jpg](/images/thumb/d/d4/Second-Hand_Libraries.jpg

They may be off Google, but for many, especially younger generation these are
the places to go to learn, to share.
Rather than in a shadow, they are out in the open, in plain sight.

[![Hawking 2017 on free access to

This made rounds last year.
As scholars, as authors, we have reasons to have our works freely accessible
by everyone.
We do it for feedback, for invites to lecture, for citations.
Sounds great.
So when after long two, three, four, five years I have my manuscript ready,
where will I go?
Will I go to an established publisher or an open access press?
Will I send it to MIT Press or Open Humanities Press?
Traditional publishers have better distribution, and they often have a strong
It’s often about career moves and bios, plans A’s and plan B’s.
There are no easy answers, but one can always be a little inventive.
In the end, one should not feel guilty for publishing with MIT Press.
But at the same time, one should neither feel guilty for scanning and sharing
such a book with others.
You know, there’s fighting, there are court cases.
[Aaaaarg](/Aaaaarg "Aaaaarg"), a digital library run by our dear friend [Sean
Dockray](/Sean_Dockray "Sean Dockray"), is facing a Canadian publisher.
Open Library is now facing the Authors Guild for lending scanned books
deaccessioned from libraries.
They need our help, our support.

[![Cabinet 2012 Monoskop

But collisions of interests can be productive.
This is what our beloved _Cabinet_ magazine did when they found their PDFs
They converted all their articles into HTML and put them online.
The most beautiful takedown request we have ever received.

[![The Writings of Swartz Aaron

So what is at stake? What are these digital books?
They are poor versions of print books.
They come with no binding, no paper, no weight.
They come as PDFs, EPUBs, JPEGs in online readers, they come as HTML.
By the way, HTML is great, you can search it, copy, save it, it’s lightweight,
it’s supported by all browsers, footnotes too, you can adapt its layout
That’s completely fine for a researcher.
As a researcher, you just need source code:
you need plain text, page numbers, images, working footnotes, relevant data
and code.
_Data and code_ as well:
this is where online companions to print books come in,
you want to publish your research material,
your interviews, spreadsheets, software you made.
Here we distinguish between researchers and readers.
As _readers_ we will always build our beautiful libraries at home, and
filled with books and... and external harddrives.
There may be _no contradiction_ between the existence of a print book in
stores and the existence of its free digital version.

[![Unconditional Basic

So what we’ve been asking for is access, basic access. The access to culture
and knowledge for research, educational, noncommercial purposes. A low budget,
poor bandwidth access. Access to badly OCR’d ebooks with grainy images. Access
to culture and knowledge _light_.

Thank you.

Dusan Barok

_Written on 16-17 March 2018 in Athens and Amsterdam. Published online on 21
March 2018._


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