custodians in Constant 2016

r agency driven
by technological development, the curriculum covers a range of segments from
immediately applicable workflows for scanning, sharing and using e-books,
over politics and tactics around custodianship of online libraries, to applied
media theory implicit in the practices of amateur librarianship. The proposal is
made with further development, complexification and testing in mind during the

. Memory of the World (2014) https://
• Barok, Dusan. Talks/Public Library. Monoskop (2015) In Solidarity with Library Genesis and
Science Hub (2015)
• Battles, Matthew. Library: An Unquiet History Random
House (2014)
• Harris, Michael H. History of Libra

. Memory of the World (2014) https://
• Barok, Dusan. Talks/Public Library. Monoskop (2015) In Solidarity with Library Genesis and
Science Hub (2015)



• Battles, Matthew. Library: An Unquiet History Random
House (2014)
• Harris, Michael H. Hi

custodians in Mars & Medak 2019

ell Mars he co-edited ‘Public Library’ and ‘Guerrilla
Open Access’.

es to marketization, technological innovation and
financialization in universities and libraries, has prompted the emergence of shadow
libraries as collective disobedient practices of maintenance and custodianship. In their
illegal acts of reversing property into commons, commodification into care, we detect a
radical gesture comparable to that of the historical avant-garde. To better understand how
the univ

maintenance and care of the broken social world left in techno-capitalism’s wake.
Comparably, the university and the public library should be able to claim the radical
those gesture of slowdown and custodianship too, against the imperative of innovation
imposed on them by policymakers and managers., the first letter
On 30 November, 2015 a number of us shadow librarians who advocate, buil

ue to brave the court decisions,
continuously changing their domain names, securing ways of access beyond the
World Wide Web and ensuring robust redundancy of the materials in their
The letter highlights two circumstances in this antagonism
that cut to the core of the contradictions of reproduction within academia in the
present. The first is the contrast between the extractio

rch, their work and their livelihood in
conditions of heightened precarity:
This is the other side of 37% profit margins: our knowledge commons grows in
the fault lines of a broken system. We are all custodians of knowledge, custodians
of the same infrastructures that we depend on for producing knowledge,
custodians of our fertile but fragile commons. To be a custodian is, de facto, to
download, to share, to read, to write, to review, to edit, to digitize, to archive, to
maintain libraries, to make them accessibl

use to, not to make
property of, our knowledge commons.) (, 2015)

Shadow libraries thus perform an inversion that replaces the ability of ownership
to exclude, with the practice of custodianship (notion implying both the labor of
preservation of cultural artifacts and the most menial and invisible labor of daily
maintenance and cleaning of physical structures) that makes one useful to a
resource held in common and the infrastructures that sustain it.
These two circumstances – antagonism between value extraction and precarity
and antagonism between exclusive property and collective custodianship – signal
a deeper-running crisis of two institutions of higher education and research that
are caught in a joint predicament: the university and the library. This crisis is a
reflection of the im

Custodianship and repair
In what follows we will argue against submitting to this imperative of innovation.
Starting from the conditions from which shadow libraries emerge, as laid out in
the first letter, we claim that the historical trajectory of the
university and the library demands that they now embrace a position of
disobedience. They need to go back to their universalizing mission

and universities can stop faking ‘innovativity’, ‘efficiency’ and

article | 361, the second letter
On 30 November, 2016 a second missive was published by
(2016). On the twentieth anniversary of UbuWeb, ‘the single-most important
archive of avant-garde and outsider art’ on the Internet, the drafters of the letter
followed up on their initial

ellectual property, 2) transformative
use of old technologies, and 3) a promise of universal access to knowledge and
education, helping to foster mass intellectuality and critical pedagogy.
The first letter was drafted to voice the need for a collective
disobedience. Standing up openly in public for the illegal acts of piracy, which
are, however, made legitimate by the fact that students, a

, of a mirror –
while dealing institutionally with all the conflicts and challenges that doing this
publicly entails.
362 | article

Marcell Mars and Tomislav Medak

Against innovation

The second letter was drafted to suggest that opportunity:
In a world of money-crazed start-ups and surveillance capitalism, copyright
madness and abuse, Ubu represents an island of culture. It shows what

custodians in Mars & Medak 2017

Therefore, the narrative of us vs. them is not necessarily the most empowering, and
we feel that it requires a complementary strategy that challenges the property
regime as a whole. As our letter at says:
We find ourselves at a decisive moment. This is the time to recognize that the
very existence of our massive knowledge commons is an act of collective
civil disobedience. It is the time t

f resistance. You may feel isolated, but there are many of us.
The anger, desperation and fear of losing our library infrastructures, voiced
across the Internet, tell us that. This is the time for us custodians, being dogs,
humans or cyborgs, with our names, nicknames and pseudonyms, to raise our
voices. Share your writing – digitize a book – upload your files. Don’t let our
knowledge be crushed. Care

roducing the figure of the custodian, we are turning the notion of
property upside down. Paraphrasing the Little Prince, to own something is to be
useful to that which you own (Saint-Exupéry, 1945). Custodians are the political
subjectivity of that disobedient work of care.
Practices of sharing, downloading, and uploading, are massive. So, if we want to
prevent our knowledge commons from being taken away ov

th the mainstream, or act as subversions of the mainstream,
or both? Why?
MM & TM: We are currently developing a more fine-tuned approach to
educational aspects of amateur librarianship. The forms of custodianship over
knowledge commons that underpin the practices behind Monoskop, Public Library,
Aaaaarg, Ubu, Library Genesis, and Science Hub are part and parcel of our
contemporary world – whether you are

capacity to transform a specific situation. Recognizing that
moment, and acting tactfully upon it, is fundamental to building a broad political
This can be illustrated by the aforementioned letter (2015)
that we recently co-authored with a number of our fellow library activists against
the injunction that allows Elsevier to shut down two most important repositories
providing acces

custodians in Medak, Mars & WHW 2015

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 an


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