This pamphlet is published in a series
of 7 as part of the Radical Open
Access II – The Ethics of Care
conference, which took place June
26-27 at Coventry University. More
information about this conference
and about the contributors to this
pamphlet can be found at:
This pamphlet was made possible due
to generous funding from the arts
and humanities research studio, The
Post Office, a project of Coventry
University’s Centre for Postdigital
Cultures and due to the combined
efforts of authors, editors, designers
Table of Contents
Guerrilla Open Access:
Terms Of Struggle
Memory of the World
Recursive Publics and Open Access
What if We Aren't the Only
Guerrillas Out There?
In the 1990s, the Internet offered a horizon from which to imagine what society
could become, promising autonomy and self-organization next to redistribution of
wealth and collectivized means of production. While the former was in line with the
dominant ideology of freedom, the latter ran contrary to the expanding enclosures
in capitalist globalization. This antagonism has led to epochal copyfights, where free
software and piracy kept the promise of radical commoning alive.
Free software, as Christopher Kelty writes in this pamphlet, provided a model ‘of a
shared, collective, process of making software, hardware and infrastructures that
cannot be appropriated by others’. Well into the 2000s, it served as an inspiration
for global free culture and open access movements who were speculating that
distributed infrastructures of knowledge production could be built, as the Internet
was, on top of free software.
For a moment, the hybrid world of ad-financed Internet giants—sharing code,
advocating open standards and interoperability—and users empowered by these
services, convinced almost everyone that a new reading/writing culture was
possible. Not long after the crash of 2008, these disruptors, now wary monopolists,
began to ingest smaller disruptors and close off their platforms. There was still
free software somewhere underneath, but without the ‘original sense of shared,
collective, process’. So, as Kelty suggests, it was hard to imagine that for-profit
academic publishers wouldn't try the same with open access.
Heeding Aaron Swartz’s call to civil disobedience, Guerrilla Open Access has
emerged out of the outrage over digitally-enabled enclosure of knowledge that
has allowed these for-profit academic publishers to appropriate extreme profits
that stand in stark contrast to the cuts, precarity, student debt and asymmetries
of access in education. Shadow libraries stood in for the access denied to public
libraries, drastically reducing global asymmetries in the process.
This radicalization of access has changed how publications
travel across time and space. Digital archiving, cataloging and
sharing is transforming what we once considered as private
libraries. Amateur librarianship is becoming public shadow
librarianship. Hybrid use, as poetically unpacked in Balazs
Bodo's reflection on his own personal library, is now entangling
print and digital in novel ways. And, as he warns, the terrain
of antagonism is shifting. While for-profit publishers are
seemingly conceding to Guerrilla Open Access, they are
opening new territories: platforms centralizing data, metrics
and workflows, subsuming academic autonomy into new
processes of value extraction.
The 2010s brought us hope and then realization how little
digital networks could help revolutionary movements. The
redistribution toward the wealthy, assisted by digitization, has
eroded institutions of solidarity. The embrace of privilege—
marked by misogyny, racism and xenophobia—this has catalyzed
is nowhere more evident than in the climate denialism of the
Trump administration. Guerrilla archiving of US government
climate change datasets, as recounted by Laurie Allen,
indicates that more technological innovation simply won't do
away with the 'post-truth' and that our institutions might be in
need of revision, replacement and repair.
As the contributions to this pamphlet indicate, the terms
of struggle have shifted: not only do we have to continue
defending our shadow libraries, but we need to take back the
autonomy of knowledge production and rebuild institutional
grounds of solidarity.
Memory of the World
Ten years ago, I published a book calledTwo Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free
Software (Kelty 2008).1 Duke University Press and my editor Ken Wissoker were
enthusiastically accommodating of my demands to make the book freely and openly
available. They also played along with my desire to release the 'source code' of the
book (i.e. HTML files of the chapters), and to compare the data on readers of the
open version to print customers. It was a moment of exploration for both scholarly
presses and for me. At the time, few authors were doing this other than Yochai Benkler
(2007) and Cory Doctorow2, both activists and advocates for free software and open
access (OA), much as I have been. We all shared, I think, a certain fanaticism of the
convert that came from recognizing free software as an historically new, and radically
different mode of organizing economic and political activity. Two Bits gave me a way
to talk not only about free software, but about OA and the politics of the university
(Kelty et al. 2008; Kelty 2014). Ten years later, I admit to a certain pessimism at the
way things have turned out. The promise of free software has foundered, though not
disappeared, and the question of what it means to achieve the goals of OA has been
swamped by concerns about costs, arcane details of repositories and versioning, and
ritual offerings to the metrics God.
When I wrote Two Bits, it was obvious to me that the collectives who built free
software were essential to the very structure and operation of a standardized
Internet. Today, free software and 'open source' refer to dramatically different
constellations of practice and people. Free software gathers around itself those
committed to the original sense of a shared, collective, process of making software,
hardware and infrastructures that cannot be appropriated by others. In political
terms, I have always identified free software with a very specific, updated, version
of classical Millian liberalism. It sustains a belief in the capacity for collective action
and rational thought as aids to establishing a flourishing human livelihood. Yet it
also preserves an outdated blind faith in the automatic functioning of meritorious
speech, that the best ideas will inevitably rise to the top. It is an updated classical
liberalism that saw in software and networks a new place to resist the tyranny of the
conventional and the taken for granted.
By contrast, open source has come to mean something quite different: an ecosystem
controlled by an oligopoly of firms which maintains a shared pool of components and
frameworks that lower the costs of education, training, and software creation in the
service of establishing winner-take-all platforms. These are built on open source, but
they do not carry the principles of freedom or openness all the way through to the
platforms themselves.3 What open source has become is now almost the opposite of
free software—it is authoritarian, plutocratic, and nepotistic, everything liberalism
wanted to resist. For example, precarious labor and platforms such as Uber or Task
Rabbit are built upon and rely on the fruits of the labor of 'open source', but the
platforms that result do not follow the same principles—they are not open or free
in any meaningful sense—to say nothing of the Uber drivers or task rabbits who live
by the platforms.
Does OA face the same problem? In part, my desire to 'free the source' of my book
grew out of the unfinished business of digitizing the scholarly record. It is an irony
that much of the work that went into designing the Internet at its outset in the
1980s, such as gopher, WAIS, and the HTML of CERN, was conducted in the name
of the digital transformation of the library. But by 2007, these aims were swamped
by attempts to transform the Internet into a giant factory of data extraction. Even
in 2006-7 it was clear that this unfinished business of digitizing the scholarly record
was going to become a problem—both because it was being overshadowed by other
concerns, and because of the danger it would eventually be subjected to the very
platformization underway in other realms.
Because if the platform capitalism of today has ended up being parasitic on the
free software that enabled it, then why would this not also be true of scholarship
more generally? Are we not witnessing a transition to a world where scholarship
is directed—in its very content and organization—towards the profitability of the
platforms that ostensibly serve it?4 Is it not possible that the platforms created to
'serve science'—Elsevier's increasing acquisition of tools to control the entire lifecycle of research, or ResearchGate's ambition to become the single source for all
academics to network and share research—that these platforms might actually end up
warping the very content of scholarly production in the service of their profitability?
To put this even more clearly: OA has come to exist and scholarship is more available
and more widely distributed than ever before. But, scholars now have less control,
and have taken less responsibility for the means of production of scientific research,
its circulation, and perhaps even the content of that science.
Recursive Publics and Open Access
The Method of Modulation
When I wrote Two Bits I organized the argument around the idea of modulation:
free software is simply one assemblage of technologies, practices, and people
aimed at resolving certain problems regarding the relationship between knowledge
(or software tools related to knowledge) and power (Hacking 2004; Rabinow
2003). Free software as such was and still is changing as each of its elements
evolve or are recombined. Because OA derives some of its practices directly from
free software, it is possible to observe how these different elements have been
worked over in the recent past, as well as how new and surprising elements are
combined with OA to transform it. Looking back on the elements I identified as
central to free software, one can ask: how is OA different, and what new elements
are modulating it into something possibly unrecognizable?
Sharing source code
Shareable source code was a concrete and necessary achievement for free
software to be possible. Similarly, the necessary ability to circulate digital texts
is a significant achievement—but such texts are shareable in a much different way.
For source code, computable streams of text are everything—anything else is a
'blob' like an image, a video or any binary file. But scholarly texts are blobs: Word or
Portable Document Format (PDF) files. What's more, while software programmers
may love 'source code', academics generally hate it—anything less than the final,
typeset version is considered unfinished (see e.g. the endless disputes over
'author's final versions' plaguing OA).5 Finality is important. Modifiability of a text,
especially in the humanities and social sciences, is acceptable only when it is an
experiment of some kind.
In a sense, the source code of science is not a code at all, but a more abstract set
of relations between concepts, theories, tools, methods, and the disciplines and
networks of people who operate with them, critique them, extend them and try to
maintain control over them even as they are shared within these communities.
avoid the waste of 'reinventing the wheel' and of pathological
competition, allowing instead modular, reusable parts that
could be modified and recombined to build better things in an
upward spiral of innovation. The 1980s ideas of modularity,
modifiability, abstraction barriers, interchangeable units
have been essential to the creation of digital infrastructures.
To propose an 'open science' thus modulates this definition—
and the idea works in some sciences better than others.
Aside from the obviously different commercial contexts,
philosophers and literary theorists just don't think about
openness this way—theories and arguments may be used
as building blocks, but they are not modular in quite the
same way. Only the free circulation of the work, whether
for recombination or for reference and critique, remains a
sine qua non of the theory of openness proposed there. It
is opposed to a system where it is explicit that only certain
people have access to the texts (whether that be through
limitations of secrecy, or limitations on intellectual property,
or an implicit elitism).
Writing and using copyright licenses
Of all the components of free software that I analyzed, this
is the one practice that remains the least transformed—OA
texts use the same CC licenses pioneered in 2001, which
were a direct descendant of free software licenses.
For free software to make sense as a solution, those involved first had to
characterize the problem it solved—and they did so by identifying a pathology in
the worlds of corporate capitalism and engineering in the 1980s: that computer
corporations were closed organizations who re-invented basic tools and
infrastructures in a race to dominate a market. An 'open system,' by contrast, would
A novel modulation of these licenses is the OA policies (the
embrace of OA in Brazil for instance, or the spread of OA
Policies starting with Harvard and the University of California,
and extending to the EU Mandate from 2008 forward). Today
the ability to control the circulation of a text with IP rights is
far less economically central to the strategies of publishers
than it was in 2007, even if they persist in attempting to do
so. At the same time, funders, states, and universities have all
adopted patchwork policies intended to both sustain green
OA, and push publishers to innovate their own business
models in gold and hybrid OA. While green OA is a significant
success on paper, the actual use of it to circulate work pales
Recursive Publics and Open Access
in comparison to the commercial control of circulation on the
one hand, and the increasing success of shadow libraries on
the other. Repositories have sprung up in every shape and
form, but they remain largely ad hoc, poorly coordinated, and
underfunded solutions to the problem of OA.
The collective activity of free software is ultimately the
most significant of its achievements—marrying a form of
intensive small-scale interaction amongst programmers,
with sophisticated software for managing complex objects
(version control and GitHub-like sites). There has been
constant innovation in these tools for controlling, measuring,
testing, and maintaining software.
By contrast, the collective activity of scholarship is still
largely a pre-modern affair. It is coordinated largely by the
idea of 'writing an article together' and not by working
to maintain some larger map of what a research topic,
community, or discipline has explored—what has worked and
what has not.
This focus on the coordination of collaboration seemed to
me to be one of the key advantages of free software, but it
has turned out to be almost totally absent from the practice
or discussion of OA. Collaboration and the recombination of
elements of scholarly practice obviously happens, but it does
not depend on OA in any systematic way: there is only the
counterfactual that without it, many different kinds of people
are excluded from collaboration or even simple participation
in, scholarship, something that most active scholars are
willfully ignorant of.
Fomenting a movement
I demoted the idea of a social movement to merely one
component of the success of free software, rather than let
it be—as most social scientists would have it—the principal
container for free software. They are not the whole story.
Is there an OA movement? Yes and no. Librarians remain
the most activist and organized. The handful of academics
who care about it have shifted to caring about it in primarily
a bureaucratic sense, forsaking the cross-organizational
aspects of a movement in favor of activism within universities
(to which I plead guilty). But this transformation forsakes
the need for addressing the collective, collaborative
responsibility for scholarship in favor of letting individual
academics, departments, and disciplines be the focus for
By contrast, the publishing industry works with a
phantasmatic idea of both an OA 'movement' and of the actual
practices of scholarship—they too defer, in speech if not in
practice, to the academics themselves, but at the same time
must create tools, innovate processes, establish procedures,
acquire tools and companies and so on in an effort to capture
these phantasms and to prevent academics from collectively
doing so on their own.
And what new components? The five above were central to
free software, but OA has other components that are arguably
more important to its organization and transformation.
Money, i.e. library budgets
Central to almost all of the politics and debates about OA
is the political economy of publication. From the 'bundles'
debates of the 1990s to the gold/green debates of the 2010s,
the sole source of money for publication long ago shifted into
the library budget. The relationship that library budgets
have to other parts of the political economy of research
(funding for research itself, debates about tenured/nontenured, adjunct and other temporary salary structures) has
shifted as a result of the demand for OA, leading libraries
to re-conceptualize themselves as potential publishers, and
publishers to re-conceptualize themselves as serving 'life
cycles' or 'pipeline' of research, not just its dissemination.
Recursive Publics and Open Access
More than anything, OA is promoted as a way to continue
to feed the metrics God. OA means more citations, more
easily computable data, and more visible uses and re-uses of
publications (as well as 'open data' itself, when conceived of
as product and not measure). The innovations in the world
of metrics—from the quiet expansion of the platforms of the
publishers, to the invention of 'alt metrics', to the enthusiasm
of 'open science' for metrics-driven scientific methods—forms
a core feature of what 'OA' is today, in a way that was not true
of free software before it, where metrics concerning users,
downloads, commits, or lines of code were always after-thefact measures of quality, and not constitutive ones.
Other components of this sort might be proposed, but the
main point is to resist to clutch OA as if it were the beating
heart of a social transformation in science, as if it were a
thing that must exist, rather than a configuration of elements
at a moment in time. OA was a solution—but it is too easy to
lose sight of the problem.
Open Access without Recursive Publics
When we no longer have any commons, but only platforms,
will we still have knowledge as we know it? This is a question
at the heart of research in the philosophy and sociology
of knowledge—not just a concern for activism or social
movements. If knowledge is socially produced and maintained,
then the nature of the social bond surely matters to the
nature of that knowledge. This is not so different than asking
whether we will still have labor or work, as we have long known
it, in an age of precarity? What is the knowledge equivalent of
precarity (i.e. not just the existence of precarious knowledge
workers, but a kind of precarious knowledge as such)?
knowledge and power is shifting dramatically, because the costs—and the stakes—
of producing high quality, authoritative knowledge have also shifted. It is not so
powerful any longer; science does not speak truth to power because truth is no
longer so obviously important to power.
Although this is a pessimistic portrait, it may also be a sign of something yet to
come. Free software as a community, has been and still sometimes is critiqued as
being an exclusionary space of white male sociality (Nafus 2012; Massanari 2016;
Ford and Wajcman 2017; Reagle 2013). I think this critique is true, but it is less a
problem of identity than it is a pathology of a certain form of liberalism: a form that
demands that merit consists only in the content of the things we say (whether in
a political argument, a scientific paper, or a piece of code), and not in the ways we
say them, or who is encouraged to say them and who is encouraged to remain silent
One might, as a result, choose to throw out liberalism altogether as a broken
philosophy of governance and liberation. But it might also be an opportunity to
focus much more specifically on a particular problem of liberalism, one that the
discourse of OA also relies on to a large extent. Perhaps it is not the case that
merit derives solely from the content of utterances freely and openly circulated,
but also from the ways in which they are uttered, and the dignity of the people
who utter them. An OA (or a free software) that embraced that principle would
demand that we pay attention to different problems: how are our platforms,
infrastructures, tools organized and built to support not just the circulation of
putatively true statements, but the ability to say them in situated and particular
ways, with respect for the dignity of who is saying them, and with the freedom to
explore the limits of that kind of liberalism, should we be so lucky to achieve it.
Do we not already see the evidence of this in the 'posttruth' of fake news, or the deliberate refusal by those in
power to countenance evidence, truth, or established
systems of argument and debate? The relationship between
Recursive Publics and Open Access
Benkler, Yochai. 2007. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets
and Freedom. Yale University Press.
Dunbar-Hester, Christina. 2014. Low Power to the People: Pirates, Protest, and Politics in
FM Radio Activism. MIT Press.
Ford, Heather, and Judy Wajcman. 2017. “‘Anyone Can Edit’, Not Everyone Does:
Wikipedia’s Infrastructure and the Gender Gap”. Social Studies of Science 47 (4):
Hacking, I. 2004. Historical Ontology. Harvard University Press.
Kelty, Christopher M. 2014. “Beyond Copyright and Technology: What Open Access Can
Tell Us About Precarity, Authority, Innovation, and Automation in the University
Today”. Cultural Anthropology 29 (2): 203–215. doi:10.14506/ca29.2.02.
——— . 2008. Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham, N.C.: Duke
Kelty, Christopher M., et al. 2008. “Anthropology In/of Circulation: a Discussion”. Cultural
Anthropology 23 (3).
Massanari, Adrienne. 2016. “#gamergate and the Fappening: How Reddit’s Algorithm,
Governance, and Culture Support Toxic Technocultures”. New Media & Society 19 (3):
Nafus, Dawn. 2012. “‘Patches don’t have gender’: What is not open in open source
software”. New Media & Society 14, no. 4: 669–683. Visited on 04/01/2014. http://
Rabinow, Paul. 2003. Anthropos Today: Reflections on Modern Equipment. Princeton
Reagle, Joseph. 2013. “"Free As in Sexist?" Free Culture and the Gender Gap”. First
Monday 18 (1). doi:10.5210/fm.v18i1.4291.
³ For example, Platform Cooperativism
See for example the figure from ’Rent
Seeking by Elsevier,’ by Alejandro Posada
and George Chen (http://knowledgegap.
Recursive Publics and Open Access
the contexts we were fleeing from. We made a choice to leave
behind the history, the discourses, the problems and the pain
that accumulated in the books of our library. I knew exactly
what it was I didn’t want to teach to my children once we moved.
So we did not move the books. We pretended that we would
never have to think about what this decision really meant. Up
until today. This year we needed to empty the study with the
shelves. So I’m standing in our library now, the dust covering
my face, my hands, my clothes. In the middle of the floor there
are three big crates and one small box. The small box swallows
what we’ll ultimately take with us, the books I want to show to
my son when he gets older, in case he still wants to read. One of
the big crates will be taken away by the antiquarian. The other
will be given to the school library next door. The third is the
wastebasket, where everything else will ultimately go.
Flow My Tears
My tears cut deep grooves into the dust on my face. Drip, drip,
drop, they hit the floor and disappear among the torn pages
scattered on the floor.
This year it dawned on us that we cannot postpone it any longer:
our personal library has to go. Our family moved countries
more than half a decade ago, we switched cultures, languages,
and chose another future. But the past, in the form of a few
thousand books in our personal library, was still neatly stacked
in our old apartment, patiently waiting, books that we bought
and enjoyed — and forgot; books that we bought and never
opened; books that we inherited from long-dead parents and
half-forgotten friends. Some of them were important. Others
were relevant at one point but no longer, yet they still reminded
us who we once were.
When we moved, we took no more than two suitcases of personal
belongings. The books were left behind. The library was like
a sick child or an ailing parent, it hung over our heads like an
unspoken threat, a curse. It was clear that sooner or later
something had to be done about it, but none of the options
available offered any consolation. It made no sense to move
three thousand books to the other side of this continent. We
decided to emigrate, and not to take our past with us, abandon
Drip, drip, drip, my tears flow as I throw the books into this
last crate, drip, drip, drop. Sometimes I look at my partner,
working next to me, and I can see on her face that she is going
through the same emotions. I sometimes catch the sight of
her trembling hand, hesitating for a split second where a book
should ultimately go, whether we could, whether we should
save that particular one, because… But we either save them all
or we are as ruthless as all those millions of people throughout
history, who had an hour to pack their two suitcases before they
needed to leave. Do we truly need this book? Is this a book we’ll
want to read? Is this book an inseparable part of our identity?
Did we miss this book at all in the last five years? Is this a text
I want to preserve for the future, for potential grandchildren
who may not speak my mother tongue at all? What is the function
of the book? What is the function of this particular book in my
life? Why am I hesitating throwing it out? Why should I hesitate
at all? Drop, drop, drop, a decision has been made. Drop, drop,
drop, books are falling to the bottom of the crates.
We are killers, gutting our library. We are like the half-drown
sailor, who got entangled in the ropes, and went down with the
ship, and who now frantically tries to cut himself free from the
detritus that prevents him to reach the freedom of the surface,
the sunlight and the air.
advantages of a fully digital book future. What I see now is the emergence of a strange
and shapeshifting-hybrid of diverse physical and electronic objects and practices,
where the relative strengths and weaknesses of these different formats nicely
complement each other.
This dawned on me after we had moved into an apartment without a bookshelf. I grew
up in a flat that housed my parents’ extensive book collection. I knew the books by their
cover and from time to time something made me want to take it from the shelf, open
it and read it. This is how I discovered many of my favorite books and writers. With
the e-reader, and some of the best shadow libraries at hand, I felt the same at first. I
felt liberated. I could experiment without cost or risk, I could start—or stop—a book,
I didn’t have to consider the cost of buying and storing a book that was ultimately
not meant for me. I could enjoy the books without having to carry the burden and
responsibility of ownership.
Own Nothing, Have Everything
Do you remember Napster’s slogan after it went legit, trying to transform itself into
a legal music service around 2005? ‘Own nothing, have everything’ – that was the
headline that was supposed to sell legal streaming music. How stupid, I thought. How
could you possibly think that lack of ownership would be a good selling point? What
does it even mean to ‘have everything’ without ownership? And why on earth would
not everyone want to own the most important constituents of their own self, their
own identity? The things I read, the things I sing, make me who I am. Why wouldn’t I
want to own these things?
How revolutionary this idea had been I reflected as I watched the local homeless folks
filling up their sacks with the remains of my library. How happy I would be if I could
have all this stuff I had just thrown away without actually having to own any of it. The
proliferation of digital texts led me to believe that we won’t be needing dead wood
libraries at all, at least no more than we need vinyl to listen to, or collect music. There
might be geeks, collectors, specialists, who for one reason or another still prefer the
physical form to the digital, but for the rest of us convenience, price, searchability, and
all the other digital goodies give enough reason not to collect stuff that collects dust.
Did you notice how deleting an epub file gives you a different feeling than throwing
out a book? You don’t have to feel guilty, you don’t have to feel anything at all.
So I was reading, reading, reading like never before. But at that time my son was too
young to read, so I didn’t have to think about him, or anyone else besides myself. But
as he was growing, it slowly dawned on me: without these physical books how will I be
able to give him the same chance of serendipity, and of discovery, enchantment, and
immersion that I got in my father’s library? And even later, what will I give him as his
heritage? Son, look into this folder of PDFs: this is my legacy, your heritage, explore,
enjoy, take pride in it?
Collections of anything, whether they are art, books, objects, people, are inseparable
from the person who assembled that collection, and when that person is gone, the
collection dies, as does the most important inroad to it: the will that created this
particular order of things has passed away. But the heavy and unavoidable physicality
of a book collection forces all those left behind to make an effort to approach, to
force their way into, and try to navigate that garden of forking paths that is someone
else’s library. Even if you ultimately get rid of everything, you have to introduce
yourself to every book, and let every book introduce itself to you, so you know what
you’re throwing out. Even if you’ll ultimately kill, you will need to look into the eyes of
all your victims.
With a digital collection that’s, of course, not the case.
I was wrong to think that. I now realize that the future is not fully digital, it is more
a physical-digital hybrid, in which the printed book is not simply an endangered
species protected by a few devoted eccentrics who refuse to embrace the obvious
The e-book is ephemeral. It has little past and even less chance to preserve the
fingerprints of its owners over time. It is impersonal, efficient, fast, abundant, like
fast food or plastic, it flows through the hand like sand. It lacks the embodiment, the
materiality which would give it a life in a temporal dimension. If you want to network the
dead and the unborn, as is the ambition of every book, then you need to print and bind,
and create heavy objects that are expensive, inefficient and a burden. This burden
subsiding in the object is the bridge that creates the intergenerational dimension,
that forces you to think of the value of a book.
Own nothing, have nothing. Own everything, and your children will hate you when
I have to say, I’m struggling to find a new balance here. I started to buy books again,
usually books that I’d already read from a stolen copy on-screen. I know what I want
to buy, I know what is worth preserving. I know what I want to show to my son, what
I want to pass on, what I would like to take care of over time. Before, book buying for
me was an investment into a stranger. Now that thrill is gone forever. I measure up
the merchandise well beforehand, I build an intimate relationship, we make love again
and again, before moving in together.
It is certainly a new kind of relationship with the books I bought since I got my e-reader.
I still have to come to terms with the fact that the books I bought this way are rarely
opened, as I already know them, and their role is not to be read, but to be together.
What do I buy, and what do I get? Temporal, existential security? The chance of
serendipity, if not for me, then for the people around me? The reassuring materiality
of the intimacy I built with these texts through another medium?
All of these and maybe more. But in any case, I sense that this library, the physical
embodiment of a physical-electronic hybrid collection with its unopened books and
overflowing e-reader memory cards, is very different from the library I had, and the
library I’m getting rid of at this very moment. The library that I inherited, the library
that grew organically from the detritus of the everyday, the library that accumulated
books similar to how the books accumulated dust, as is the natural way of things, this
library was full of unknowns, it was a library of potentiality, of opportunities, of trips
waiting to happen. This new, hybrid library is a collection of things that I’m familiar with.
I intimately know every piece, they hold little surprise, they offer few discoveries — at
least for me. The exploration, the discovery, the serendipity, the pre-screening takes
place on the e-reader, among the ephemeral, disposable PDFs and epubs.
This new hybrid model is based on the cheap availability of digital books. In my case, the
free availability of pirated copies available through shadow libraries. These libraries
don’t have everything on offer, but they have books in an order of magnitude larger
than I’ll ever have the time and chance to read, so they offer enough, enough for me
to fill up hard drives with books I want to read, or at least skim, to try, to taste. As if I
moved into an infinite bookstore or library, where I can be as promiscuous, explorative,
nomadic as I always wanted to be. I can flirt with books, I can have a quickie, or I can
leave them behind without shedding a single tear.
I don’t know how this hybrid library, and this analogue-digital hybrid practice of reading
and collecting would work without the shadow libraries which make everything freely
accessible. I rely on their supply to test texts, and feed and grow my print library.
E-books are cheaper than their print versions, but they still cost money, carry a
risk, a cost of experimentation. Book-streaming, the flat-rate, the all-you-can-eat
format of accessing books is at the moment only available to audiobooks, but rarely
for e-books. I wonder why.
Did you notice that there are no major book piracy lawsuits?
Have everything, and own a few.
Of course there is the lawsuit against Sci-Hub and Library Genesis in New York, and
there is another one in Canada against aaaaarg, causing major nuisance to those who
have been named in these cases. But this is almost negligible compared to the high
profile wars the music and audiovisual industries waged against Napster, Grokster,
Kazaa, megaupload and their likes. It is as if book publishers have completely given up on
trying to fight piracy in the courts, and have launched a few lawsuits only to maintain
the appearance that they still care about their digital copyrights. I wonder why.
I know the academic publishing industry slightly better than the mainstream popular
fiction market, and I have the feeling that in the former copyright-based business
models are slowly being replaced by something else. We see no major anti-piracy
efforts from publishers, not because piracy is non-existent — on the contrary, it is
global, and it is big — but because the publishers most probably realized that in the
long run the copyright-based exclusivity model is unsustainable. The copyright wars
of the last two decades taught them that law cannot put an end to piracy. As the
Sci-Hub case demonstrates, you can win all you want in a New York court, but this
has little real-world effect as long as the conditions that attract the users to the
shadow libraries remain.
Exclusivity-based publishing business models are under assault from other sides as
well. Mandated open access in the US and in the EU means that there is a quickly
growing body of new research for the access of which publishers cannot charge
money anymore. LibGen and Sci-Hub make it harder to charge for the back catalogue.
Their sheer existence teaches millions on what uncurtailed open access really is, and
makes it easier for university libraries to negotiate with publishers, as they don’t have
to worry about their patrons being left without any access at all.
The good news is that radical open access may well be happening. It is a less and less
radical idea to have things freely accessible. One has to be less and less radical to
achieve the openness that has been long overdue. Maybe it is not yet obvious today
and the victory is not yet universal, maybe it’ll take some extra years, maybe it won’t
ever be evenly distributed, but it is obvious that this genie, these millions of books on
everything from malaria treatments to critical theory, cannot be erased, and open
access will not be undone, and the future will be free of access barriers.
We Are Not Winning at All
But did we really win? If publishers are happy to let go of access control and copyright,
it means that they’ve found something that is even more profitable than selling
back to us academics the content that we have produced. And this more profitable
something is of course data. Did you notice where all the investment in academic
publishing went in the last decade? Did you notice SSRN, Mendeley, Academia.edu,
ScienceDirect, research platforms, citation software, manuscript repositories, library
systems being bought up by the academic publishing industry? All these platforms
and technologies operate on and support open access content, while they generate
data on the creation, distribution, and use of knowledge; on individuals, researchers,
students, and faculty; on institutions, departments, and programs. They produce data
on the performance, on the success and the failure of the whole domain of research
and education. This is the data that is being privatized, enclosed, packaged, and sold
back to us.
Drip, drip, drop, its only nostalgia. My heart is light, as I don’t have to worry about
gutting the library. Soon it won’t matter at all.
Taylorism reached academia. In the name of efficiency, austerity, and transparency,
our daily activities are measured, profiled, packaged, and sold to the highest bidder.
But in this process of quantification, knowledge on ourselves is lost for us, unless we
pay. We still have some patchy datasets on what we do, on who we are, we still have
this blurred reflection in the data-mirrors that we still do control. But this path of
self-enlightenment is quickly waning as less and less data sources about us are freely
available to us.
Who is downloading books and articles? Everyone. Radical open access? We won,
if you like.
I strongly believe that information on the self is the foundation
of self-determination. We need to have data on how we operate,
on what we do in order to know who we are. This is what is being
privatized away from the academic community, this is being
taken away from us.
Radical open access. Not of content, but of the data about
ourselves. This is the next challenge. We will digitize every page,
by hand if we must, that process cannot be stopped anymore.
No outside power can stop it and take that from us. Drip, drip,
drop, this is what I console myself with, as another handful of
books land among the waste.
But the data we lose now will not be so easy to reclaim.
My goal in this paper is to tell the story
of a grass-roots project called Data
that I helped to co-found shortly after,
and in response to, the Trump election
in the USA. Trump’s reputation as
anti-science, and the promise that his
administration would elevate people into
positions of power with a track record
of distorting, hiding, or obscuring the
scientific evidence of climate change
caused widespread concern that
valuable federal data was now in danger.
The Data Refuge project grew from the
work of Professor Bethany Wiggin and
the graduate students within the Penn
Program in Environmental Humanities
(PPEH), notably Patricia Kim, and was
formed in collaboration with the Penn
Libraries, where I work. In this paper, I
will discuss the Data Refuge project, and
call attention to a few of the challenges
inherent in the effort, especially as
they overlap with the goals of this
collective. I am not a scholar. Instead,
I am a librarian, and my perspective as
a practicing informational professional
informs the way I approach this paper,
which weaves together the practical
and technical work of ‘saving data’ with
the theoretical, systemic, and ethical
issues that frame and inform what we
I work as the head of a relatively small and new department within the libraries
of the University of Pennsylvania, in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the
US. I was hired to lead the Digital Scholarship department in the spring of 2016,
and most of the seven (soon to be eight) people within Digital Scholarship joined
the library since then in newly created positions. Our group includes a mapping
and spatial data librarian and three people focused explicitly on supporting the
creation of new Digital Humanities scholarship. There are also two people in the
department who provide services connected with digital scholarly open access
publishing, including the maintenance of the Penn Libraries’ repository of open
access scholarship, and one Data Curation and Management Librarian. This
Data Librarian, Margaret Janz, started working with us in September 2016, and
features heavily into the story I’m about to tell about our work helping to build Data
Refuge. While Margaret and I were the main people in our department involved in
the project, it is useful to understand the work we did as connected more broadly
to the intersection of activities—from multimodal, digital, humanities creation to
open access publishing across disciplines—represented in our department in Penn.
At the start of Data Refuge, Professor Wiggin and her students had already been
exploring the ways that data about the environment can empower communities
through their art, activism, and research, especially along the lower Schuylkill
River in Philadelphia. They were especially attuned to the ways that missing data,
or data that is not collected or communicated, can be a source of disempowerment.
After the Trump election, PPEH graduate students raised the concern that the
political commitments of the new administration would result in the disappearance
of environmental and climate data that is vital to work in cities and communities
around the world. When they raised this concern with the library, together we cofounded Data Refuge. It is notable to point out that, while the Penn Libraries is a
large and relatively well-resourced research library in the United States, it did not
have any automatic way to ingest and steward the data that Professor Wiggin and
her students were concerned about. Our system of acquiring, storing, describing
and sharing publications did not account for, and could not easily handle, the
evident need to take in large quantities of public data from the open web and make
them available and citable by future scholars. Indeed, no large research library
was positioned to respond to this problem in a systematic way, though there was
general agreement that the community would like to help.
The collaborative, grass-roots movement that formed Data Refuge included many
librarians, archivists, and information professionals, but it was clear from the
beginning that my own profession did not have in place a system for stewarding
these vital information resources, or for treating them as ‘publications’ of the
What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?
federal government. This fact was widely understood by various members of our
profession, notably by government document librarians, who had been calling
attention to this lack of infrastructure for years. As Government Information
Librarian Shari Laster described in a blog post in November of 2016, government
documents librarians have often felt like they are ‘under siege’ not from political
forces, but from the inattention to government documents afforded by our systems
and infrastructure. Describing the challenges facing the profession in light of the
2016 election, she commented: “Government documents collections in print are
being discarded, while few institutions are putting strategies in place for collecting
government information in digital formats. These strategies are not expanding in
tandem with the explosive proliferation of these sources, and certainly not in pace
with the changing demands for access from public users, researchers, students,
and more.” (Laster 2016) Beyond government documents librarians, our project
joined efforts that were ongoing in a huge range of communities, including: open
data and open science activists; archival experts working on methods of preserving
born-digital content; cultural historians; federal data producers and the archivists
and data scientists they work with; and, of course, scientists.
the scientific record to fight back, in a concrete way, against
an anti-fact establishment. By downloading data and moving
it into the Internet Archive and the Data Refuge repository,
volunteers were actively claiming the importance of accurate
records in maintaining or creating a just society.
This distributed approach to the work of downloading and saving the data
encouraged people to see how they were invested in environmental and scientific
data, and to consider how our government records should be considered the
property of all of us. Attending Data Rescue events was a way for people who value
Of course, access to data need not rely on its inclusion in
a particular repository. As is demonstrated so well in other
contexts, technological methods of sharing files can make
the digital repositories of libraries and archives seem like a
redundant holdover from the past. However, as I will argue
further in this paper, the data that was at risk in Data Refuge
differed in important ways from the contents of what Bodó
refers to as ‘shadow libraries’ (Bodó 2015). For opening
access to copies of journals articles, shadow libraries work
perfectly. However, the value of these shadow libraries relies
on the existence of the widely agreed upon trusted versions.
If in doubt about whether a copy is trustworthy, scholars
can turn to more mainstream copies, if necessary. This was
not the situation we faced building Data Refuge. Instead, we
were often dealing with the sole public, authoritative copy
of a federal dataset and had to assume that, if it were taken
down, there would be no way to check the authenticity of
other copies. The data was not easily pulled out of systems
as the data and the software that contained them were often
inextricably linked. We were dealing with unique, tremendously
valuable, but often difficult-to-untangle datasets rather than
neatly packaged publications. The workflow we established
was designed to privilege authenticity and trustworthiness
over either the speed of the copying or the easy usability of
the resulting data. 2 This extra care around authenticity was
necessary because of the politicized nature of environmental
data that made many people so worried about its removal
after the election. It was important that our project
supported the strongest possible scientific arguments that
could be made with the data we were ‘saving’. That meant
that our copies of the data needed to be citable in scientific
scholarly papers, and that those citations needed to be
able to withstand hostile political forces who claim that the
science of human-caused climate change is ‘uncertain’. It
What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?
Born from the collaboration between Environmental Humanists and Librarians,
Data Refuge was always an effort both at storytelling and at storing data. During
the first six months of 2017, volunteers across the US (and elsewhere) organized
more than 50 Data Rescue events, with participants numbering in the thousands.
At each event, a group of volunteers used tools created by our collaborators at
the Environmental and Data Governance Initiative (EDGI) (https://envirodatagov.
org/) to support the End of Term Harvest (http://eotarchive.cdlib.org/) project
by identifying seeds from federal websites for web archiving in the Internet
Archive. Simultaneously, more technically advanced volunteers wrote scripts to
pull data out of complex data systems, and packaged that data for longer term
storage in a repository we maintained at datarefuge.org. Still other volunteers
held teach-ins, built profiles of data storytellers, and otherwise engaged in
safeguarding environmental and climate data through community action (see
http://www.ppehlab.org/datarefugepaths). The repository at datarefuge.org that
houses the more difficult data sources has been stewarded by myself and Margaret
Janz through our work at Penn Libraries, but it exists outside the library’s main
was easy to imagine in the Autumn of 2016, and even easier
to imagine now, that hostile actors might wish to muddy the
science of climate change by releasing fake data designed
to cast doubt on the science of climate change. For that
reasons, I believe that the unique facts we were seeking
to safeguard in the Data Refuge bear less similarity to the
contents of shadow libraries than they do to news reports
in our current distributed and destabilized mass media
environment. Referring to the ease of publishing ideas on the
open web, Zeynep Tufecki wrote in a recent column, “And
sure, it is a golden age of free speech—if you can believe your
lying eyes. Is that footage you’re watching real? Was it really
filmed where and when it says it was? Is it being shared by altright trolls or a swarm of Russian bots? Was it maybe even
generated with the help of artificial intelligence? (Yes, there
are systems that can create increasingly convincing fake
videos.)” (Tufekci 2018). This was the state we were trying to
avoid when it comes to scientific data, fearing that we might
have the only copy of a given dataset without solid proof that
our copy matched the original.
If US federal websites cease functioning as reliable stewards
of trustworthy scientific data, reproducing their data
without a new model of quality control risks producing the
very censorship that our efforts are supposed to avoid,
and further undermining faith in science. Said another way,
if volunteers duplicated federal data all over the Internet
without a trusted system for ensuring the authenticity of
that data, then as soon as the originals were removed, a sea of
fake copies could easily render the original invisible, and they
would be just as effectively censored. “The most effective
forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and
attention, not muzzling speech itself.” (Tufekci 2018).
These concerns about the risks of open access to data should
not be understood as capitulation to the current marketdriven approach to scholarly publishing, nor as a call for
continuation of the status quo. Instead, I hope to encourage
continuation of the creative approaches to scholarship
represented in this collective. I also hope the issues raised in
Data Refuge will serve as a call to take greater responsibility for the systems into
which scholarship flows and the structures of power and assumptions of trust (by
whom, of whom) that scholarship relies on.
While plenty of participants in the Data Refuge community posited scalable
technological approaches to help people trust data, none emerged that were
strong enough to risk further undermining faith in science that a malicious attack
might cause. Instead of focusing on technical solutions that rely on the existing
systems staying roughly as they are, I would like to focus on developing networks
that explore different models of trust in institutions, and that honor the values
of marginalized and indigenous people. For example, in a recent paper, Stacie
Williams and Jarrett Drake describe the detailed decisions they made to establish
and become deserving of trust in supporting the creation of an Archive of Police
Violence in Cleveland (Williams and Drake 2017). The work of Michelle Caswell and
her collaborators on exploring post-custodial archives, and on engaging in radical
empathy in the archives provide great models of the kind of work that I believe is
necessary to establish new models of trust that might help inform new modes of
sharing and relying on community information (Caswell and Cifor 2016).
Beyond seeking new ways to build trust, it has become clear that new methods
are needed to help filter and contextualize publications. Our current reliance
on a few for-profit companies to filter and rank what we see of the information
landscape has proved to be tremendously harmful for the dissemination of facts,
and has been especially dangerous to marginalized communities (Noble 2018).
While the world of scholarly humanities publishing is doing somewhat better than
open data or mass media, there is still a risk that without new forms of filtering and
establishing quality and trustworthiness, good ideas and important scholarship will
be lost in the rankings of search engines and the algorithms of social media. We
need new, large scale systems to help people filter and rank the information on the
open web. In our current situation, according to media theorist dana boyd, “[t]he
onus is on the public to interpret what they see. To self-investigate. Since we live
in a neoliberal society that prioritizes individual agency, we double down on media
literacy as the ‘solution’ to misinformation. It’s up to each of us as individuals to
decide for ourselves whether or not what we’re getting is true.” (boyd 2018)
In closing, I’ll return to the notion of Guerrilla warfare that brought this panel
together. While some of our collaborators and some in the press did use the term
‘Guerrilla archiving’ to describe the data rescue efforts (Currie and Paris 2017),
I generally did not. The work we did was indeed designed to take advantage of
tactics that allow a small number of actors to resist giant state power. However,
What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?
if anything, the most direct target of these guerrilla actions in my mind was not
the Trump administration. Instead, the action was designed to prompt responses
by the institutions where many of us work and by communities of scholars and
activists who make up these institutions. It was designed to get as many people as
possible working to address the complex issues raised by the two interconnected
challenges that the Data Refuge project threw into relief. The first challenge,
of course, is the need for new scientific, artistic, scholarly and narrative ways of
contending with the reality of global, human-made climate change. And the second
challenge, as I’ve argued in this paper, is that our systems of establishing and
signaling trustworthiness, quality, reliability and stability of information are in dire
need of creative intervention as well. It is not just publishing but all of our systems
for discovering, sharing, acquiring, describing and storing that scholarship that
need support, maintenance, repair, and perhaps in some cases, replacement. And
this work will rely on scholars, as well as expert information practitioners from a
range of fields (Caswell 2016).
¹ At the time of this writing, we are working
on un-packing and repackaging the data
within Data Refuge for eventual inclusion
in various Research Library Repositories.
Ideally, of course, all federally produced
datasets would be published in neatly
packaged and more easily preservable
containers, along with enough technical
checks to ensure their validity (hashes,
checksums, etc.) and each agency would
create a periodical published inventory of
datasets. But the situation we encountered
with Data Refuge did not start us in
anything like that situation, despite the
hugely successful and important work of
the employees who created and maintained
data.gov. For a fuller view of this workflow,
see my talk at CSVConf 2017 (Allen 2017).
Closing note: The workflow established and used at Data Rescue events was
designed to tackle this set of difficult issues, but needed refinement, and was retired
in mid-2017. The Data Refuge project continues, led by Professor Wiggin and her
colleagues and students at PPEH, who are “building a storybank to document
how data lives in the world – and how it connects people, places, and non-human
species.” (“DataRefuge” n.d.) In addition, the set of issues raised by Data Refuge
continue to inform my work and the work of many of our collaborators.
What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?
Allen, Laurie. 2017. “Contexts and Institutions.” Paper presented at csv,conf,v3, Portland,
Oregon, May 3rd 2017. Accessed May 20, 2018. https://youtu.be/V2gwi0CRYto.
Bodo, Balazs. 2015. “Libraries in the Post - Scarcity Era.” In Copyrighting Creativity:
Creative Values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property,
edited by Porsdam. Routledge.
boyd, danah. 2018. “You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You?” Data & Society: Points.
March 9, 2018. https://points.datasociety.net/you-think-you-want-media-literacy-doyou-7cad6af18ec2.
Caswell, Michelle. 2016. “‘The Archive’ Is Not an Archives: On Acknowledging the
Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies.” Reconstruction: Studies in
Contemporary Culture 16:1 (2016) (special issue “Archives on Fire”),
Caswell, Michelle, and Marika Cifor. 2016. “From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical
Empathy in the Archives.” Archivaria 82 (0): 23–43.
Currie, Morgan, and Britt Paris. 2017. “How the ‘Guerrilla Archivists’ Saved History – and
Are Doing It Again under Trump.” The Conversation (blog). February 21, 2017.
“DataRefuge.” n.d. PPEH Lab. Accessed May 21, 2018.
“DataRescue Paths.” n.d. PPEH Lab. Accessed May 20, 2018.
“End of Term Web Archive: U.S. Government Websites.” n.d. Accessed May 20, 2018.
“Environmental Data and Governance Initiative.” n.d. EDGI. Accessed May 19, 2018.
Laster, Shari. 2016. “After the Election: Libraries, Librarians, and the Government - Free
Government Information (FGI).” Free Government Information (FGI). November 23,
Noble, Safiya Umoja. 2018. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce
Racism. New York: NYU Press.
Tufekci, Zeynep. 2018. “It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech.”
WIRED. Accessed May 20, 2018.
“Welcome - Data Refuge.” n.d. Accessed May 20, 2018. https://www.datarefuge.org/.
Williams, Stacie M, and Jarrett Drake. 2017. “Power to the People: Documenting Police
Violence in Cleveland.” Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1 (2).