monoskop in Adema 2009

Scanners, collectors and aggregators. On the underground movement of (pirated) theory text sharing

# Scanners, collectors and aggregators. On the ‘underground movement’ of
(pirated) theory text sharing

_“But as I say, let’s play a game of science fiction and imagine for a moment:
what would it be like if it were possible to have an academic equivalent to
the peer-to-peer file sharing practices associated with Napster, eMule, and
BitTorrent, something dealing with written texts rather than music? What would
the consequences be for the way in which scholarly research is conceived,
communicated, acquired, exchanged, practiced, and understood?”_

Gary Hall – [Digitize this
book!]( (2008)

web was founded in 1996 by poet [Kenneth
Goldsmith]( "Kenneth Goldsmith")
and has developed from ‘a repository for visual, concrete and (later) sound
poetry, to a site that ‘embraced all forms of the avant-garde and beyond. Its
parameters continue to expand in all directions.’ As
[Wikipedia]( states, Ubu is non-commercial
and operates on a gift economy. All the same - by forming an amazing resource
and repository for the avant-garde movement, and by offering and hosting these
works on its platform, Ubu is violating copyright laws. As they state however:
‘ _should something return to print, we will remove it from our site
immediately. Also, should an artist find their material posted on UbuWeb
without permission and wants it removed, please let us know. However, most of
the time, we find artists are thrilled to find their work cared for and
displayed in a sympathetic context. As always, we welcome more work from
existing artists on site_.’

Where in the more affluent and popular media realms of block buster movies and
pop music the [Piratebay]( and other download sites
(or p2p networks) like [Mininova]( are being sued and
charged with copyright infringement, the major powers to be seem to turn a
blind eye when it comes to Ubu and many other resource sites online that offer
digital versions of hard-to-get-by materials ranging from books to

This is and has not always been the case: in 2002 [Sebastian
Lütgert](http://www.wizards-of- from Berlin/New York
was sued by the "Hamburger Stiftung zur Förderung von Wissenschaft und Kultur"
for putting online two downloadable texts from Theodor W. Adorno on his
website [](
com/biography/), an underground archive for Literature. According to
[this]( Indymedia interview with
Lütgert, was referred to as ‘the Napster for books’ offering about
700 titles, focusing on, as Lütgert states _‘Theorie, Romane, Science-Fiction,
Situationisten, Kino, Franzosen, Douglas Adams, Kritische Theorie, Netzkritik

The interview becomes even more interesting when Lütgert remarks that one can
still easily download both Adorno texts without much ado if one wants to. This
leads to the bigger question of the real reasons underlying the charge against; why was sued? As Lütgert says in the interview: “ _Das
kann man sowieso_ [when referring to the still available Adorno texts] _._
_Aber es gibt schon lange einen klaren Unterschied zwischen offener
Verfügbarkeit und dem Untergrund. Man kann die freie Verbreitung von Inhalten
nicht unterbinden, aber man scheint verhindern zu wollen dass dies allzu offen
und selbstverständlich geschieht. Das ist es was sie stört.”

_![I don't have any

But how can something be truly underground in an online environment whilst
still trying to spread or disseminate texts as widely as possible? This seems
to be the paradox of many - not quite legal and/or copyright protected -
resource sharing and collecting communities and platforms nowadays. However,
multiple scenario’s are available to evade this dilemma: by being frankly open
about the ‘status’ of the content on offer, as Ubu does, or by using little
‘tricks’ like an easy website registration, classifying oneself as a reading
group, or by relieving oneself from responsibility by stating that one is only
aggregating sources from elsewhere (linking) and not hosting the content on
its own website or blog. One can also state the offered texts or multimedia
files form a special issue or collection of resources, emphasizing their
educational and not-for-profit value.

Most of the ‘underground’ text and content sharing communities seem to follow
the concept of (the inevitability of) ‘[information wants to be
free/)’, especially on the Internet. As Lütgert States: “ _Und vor allem sind
die über Walter Benjamin nicht im Bilde, der das gleiche Problem der
Reproduzierbarkeit von Werken aller Art schon zu Beginn des letzten
Jahrhunderts vor sich hatte und erkannt hat: die Massen haben das Recht, sich
das alles wieder anzueignen. Sie haben das Recht zu kopieren, und das Recht,
kopiert zu werden. Jedenfalls ist das eine ganz schön ungemütliche Situation,
dass dessen Nachlass jetzt von solch einem Bürokraten verwaltet wird._ _A:
Glaubst Du es ist überhaupt legitim intellektuellen Inhalt zu "besitzen"? Oder
__Eigentümer davon zu sein?_ _S: Es ist *unmöglich*. "Geistiges" Irgendwas
verbreitet sich immer weiter. Reemtsmas Vorfahren wären nie von den Bäumen
runtergekommen oder aus dem Morast rausgekrochen, wenn sich "geistiges"
Irgendwas nicht verbreitet hätte.”_


What seems to be increasingly obvious, as the interview also states, is that
one can find virtually all Ebooks and texts one needs via p2p networks and
other file sharing community’s (the true
[Darknet](\(file_sharing\)) in a way) –
more and more people are offering (and asking for!) selections of texts and
books (including the ones by Adorno) on openly available websites and blogs,
or they are scanning them and offering them for (educational) use on their
domains. Although the Internet is mostly known for the pirating and
dissemination of pirated movies and music, copyright protected textual content
has (of course) always been spread too. But with the rise of ‘born digital’
text content, and with the help of massive digitization efforts like Google
Books (and accompanying Google Books [download
tools]( accompanied by the
appearance of better (and cheaper) scanning equipment, the movement of
‘openly’ spreading (pirated) texts (whether or not focusing on education and
‘fair use’) seems to be growing fast.

The direct harm (to both the producers and their publishers) of the free
online availability of (in copyright) texts is also maybe less clear than for
instance with music and films. Many feel texts and books will still be
preferred to be read in print, making the online and free availability of text
nothing more than a marketing tool for the sales of the printed version. Once
discovered, those truly interested will find and buy the print book. Also more
than with music and film, it is felt essential to share information, as a
cultural good and right, to prevent censorship and to improve society.

![Piracy by Mikel Casal](

This is one of the reasons the [Open
Access](\(publishing\)) movement for
scientific research has been initiated. But where the amount of people and
institutions supportive of this movement is gradually growing (especially
where it concerns articles and journals in the Sciences), the spread
concerning Open Access (or even digital availability) of monographs in the
Humanities and Social Sciences (of which the majority of the resources on
offer in the underground text sharing communities consists) has only just

This has lead to a situation in which some have decided that change is not
coming fast enough. Instead of waiting for this utopian Open Access future to
come gradually about, they are actively spreading, copying, scanning and
pirating scholarly texts/monographs online. Although many times accompanied by
lengthy disclaimers about why they are violating copyright (to make the
content more widely accessible for one), many state they will take down the
content if asked. Following the
[copyleft]( movement, what has in a way
thus arisen is a more ‘progressive’ or radical branch of the Open Access
movement. The people who spread these texts deem it inevitable they will be
online eventually, they are just speeding up the process. As Lütgert states: ‘
_The desire of an increasingly larger section of the population to 100-percent
of information is irreversible. The only way there can be slowed down in the
worst case, but not be stopped._


Still we have not yet answered the question of why publishers (and their
pirated authors) are not more upset about these kinds of websites and
platforms. It is not a simple question of them not being aware that these kind
of textual disseminations are occurring. As mentioned before, the harm to
producers (scholars) and their publishers (in Humanities and Social Sciences
mainly Not-For-Profit University Presses) is less clear. First of all, their
main customers are libraries (compare this to the software business model:
free for the consumer, companies pay), who are still buying the legal content
and mostly follow the policy of buying either print or both print and ebook,
so there are no lost sales there for the publishers. Next to that it is not
certain that the piracy is harming sales. Unlike in literary publishing, the
authors (academics) are already paid and do not loose money (very little maybe
in royalties) from the online availability. Perhaps some publishers also see
the Open Access movement as something inevitably growing and they thus don’t
see the urge to step up or organize a collaborative effort against scholarly
text piracy (where most of the presses also lack the scale to initiate this).
Whereas there has been some more upsurge and worries about _[textbook
piracy.html)_ (since this is of course the area where individual consumers –
students – do directly buy the material) and websites like
[Scribd](, this mostly has to do with the fact that
these kind of platforms also host non-scholarly content and actively promote
the uploading of texts (where many of the text ‘sharing’ platforms merely
offer downloading facilities). In the case of Scribd the size of the platform
(or the amount of content available on the platform) also has caused concerns
and much [media coverage](

All of this gives a lot of potential power to text sharing communities, and I
guess they know this. Only authors might be directly upset (especially famous
ones gathering a lot of royalties on their work) or in the case of Lütgert,
their beneficiaries, who still do see a lot of money coming directly from
individual customers.

Still, it is not only the lack of fear of possible retaliations that is
feeding the upsurge of text sharing communities. There is a strong ideological
commitment to the inherent good of these developments, and a moral and
political strive towards institutional and societal change when it comes to
knowledge production and dissemination.

![Information Libre](
/information-libre.jpg?w=547)As Adrian Johns states in his
_Piracy as a business force_ , ‘today’s pirate philosophy is a moral
philosophy through and through’. As Jonas Andersson
[states](, the
idea of piracy has mostly lost its negative connotations in these communities
and is seen as a positive development, where these movements ‘have begun to
appear less as a reactive force (i.e. ‘breaking the rules’) and more as a
proactive one (‘setting the rules’). Rather than complain about the
conservatism of established forms of distribution they simply create new,
alternative ones.’ Although Andersson states this kind of activism is mostly
_occasional_ , it can be seen expressed clearly in the texts accompanying the
text sharing sites and blogs. However, copyright is perhaps so much _an issue_
on most of these sites (where it is on some of them), as it is something that
seems to be simply ignored for the larger good of aggregating and sharing
resources on the web. As is stated clearly for instance in an
[interview]( with
Sean Dockray, who maintains AAAARG:

_" The project wasn’t about criticizing institutions, copyright, authority,
and so on. It was simply about sharing knowledge. This wasn’t as general as it
sounds; I mean literally the sharing of knowledge between various individuals
and groups that I was in correspondence with at the time but who weren’t
necessarily in correspondence with each other."_

Back to Lütgert. The files from have been saved and are still
via [The Internet Archive Wayback
Machine]( In the case of, these files contain ’typed out text’, so no scanned contents or
PDF’s. (or better said its shadow or mirror) offers an amazing
collection of texts, including artists statements/manifestos and screenplays
from for instance David Lynch.

The text sharing community has evolved and now knows many players. Two other
large members in this kind of ‘pirate theory base network’ (although – and I
have to make that clear! – they offer many (and even mostly) legal and out of
copyright texts), still active today, are
[Monoskop/Burundi]( and
[AAAARG.ORG]( These kinds of platforms all seem to
disseminate (often even on a titular level) similar content, focusing mostly
on Continental Philosophy and Critical Theory, Cultural Studies and Literary
Theory, The Frankfurter Schule, Sociology/Social Theory, Psychology,
Anthropology and Ethnography, Media Art and Studies, Music Theory, and
critical and avant-garde writers like Kafka, Beckett, Burroughs, Joyce,
Baudrillard, etc.etc.

[Monoskop]( is, as they
state, a collaborative wiki research on the social history of media art or a
‘living archive of writings on art, culture and media technology’. At the
sitemap of their log, or under the categories section, you can browse their
resources on genre: book, journal, e-zine, report, pamphlet etc. As I found
[here](, Burundi originated
in 2003 as a (Slovakian) media lab working between the arts, science and
technologies, which spread out to a European city based cultural network; They
even functioned as a press, publishing the Anthology of New Media Literature
(in Slovak) in 2006, and they hosted media events and curated festivals. It
dissolved in June 2005 although the
[Monoskop]( research wiki on
media art, has continued to run since the dissolving of Burundi.

is stated on their website, AAAARG is a conversation platform, or
alternatively, a school, reading group or journal, maintained by Los Angeles
artist[ Sean Dockray](
"Sean Dockray"). In the true spirit of Critical Theory, its aim is to ‘develop
critical discourse outside of an institutional framework’. Or even more
beautiful said, it operates in the spaces in between: ‘ _But rather than
thinking of it like a new building, imagine scaffolding that attaches onto
existing buildings and creates new architectures between them_.’ To be able to
access the texts and resources that are being ‘discussed’ at AAAARG, you need
to register, after which you will be able to browse the
[library]( From this library, you can download
resources, but you can also upload content. You can subscribe to their
[feed]( (RSS/XML) and [like
Monoskop](, also maintains a [Twitter
account]( on which updates are posted. The most
interesting part though is the ‘extra’ functions the platform offers: after
you have made an account, you can make your own collections, aggregations or
issues out of the texts in the library or the texts you add. This offers an
alternative (thematically ordered) way into the texts archived on the site.
You also have the possibility to make comments or start a discussion on the
texts. See for instance their elaborate [discussion
lists]( The AAAARG community thus serves both
as a sharing and feedback community and in this way operates in a true p2p
fashion, in a way like p2p seemed originally intended. The difference being
that AAAARG is not based on a distributed network of computers, but is based
on one platform, to which registered users are able to upload a file (which is
not the case on Monoskop for instance – only downloading here).

I found the image underneath which depicts AAAARG.ORG's article index
organized as a visual map, showing the connections between the different
texts. This map was created and posted by AAAARG user john, according to

![Connections-v1 by

Where focuses again on the text itself - typed out versions of
books - Monoskop works with more modern versions of textual distribution:
scanned versions or full ebooks/pdf’s with all the possibilities they offer,
taking a lot of content from Google books or (Open Access) publishers’
websites. Monoskop also links back to the publishers’ websites or Google
Books, for information about the books or texts (which again proves that the
publishers should know about their activities). To download the text however,
Monoskop links to [Sharebee](, keeping the actual
text and the real downloading activity away from its platform.

Another part of the text sharing content consists of platforms offering
documentaries and lectures (so multi-media content) online. One example of the
last is the [Discourse Notebook Archive](,
which describes itself as an effort which has as its main goal ‘to make
available lectures in contemporary continental philosophy’ and is maintained
by Todd Kesselman, a PhD Student at The New School for Social Research. Here
you can find lectures from Badiou, Kristeva and Zizek (both audio and video)
and lectures aggregated from the European Graduate School. Kesselman also
links to resources on the web dealing with contemporary continental

![Eule - Society of
control.gif?w=547)Society of Control is a website maintained by [Stephan
an artist living and working in Munich, Germany, offering amongst others an
overview of his work and scientific research. According to
interview conducted by Kristian Ø Dahl and Marit Flåtter his work is a
response to the increased influence of the neo-liberal world order on
education, creating a culture industry that is more than often driven by
commercial interests. He asks the question ‘How can dissidence grow in the
blind spots of the ‘society of control’ and articulate itself?’ His website,
the [Society of Control]( is,
as he states, ‘an independent organization whose profits are entirely devoted
to research into truth and meaning.’

Society of Control has a [library
section]( which contains works from
some of the biggest thinkers of the twentieth century: Baudrillard, Adorno,
Debord, Bourdieu, Deleuze, Habermas, Sloterdijk und so weiter, and so much
more, a lot in German, and all ‘typed out’ texts. The library section offers a
direct search function, a category function and a a-z browse function.
Dillemuth states that he offers this material under fair use, focusing on not
for profit, freedom of information and the maintenance of freedom of speech
and information and making information accessible to all:

_“The Societyofcontrol website site contains information gathered from many
different sources. We see the internet as public domain necessary for the free
flow and exchange of information. However, some of these materials contained
in this site maybe claimed to be copyrighted by various unknown persons. They
will be removed at the copyright holder 's request within a reasonable period
of time upon receipt of such a request at the email address below. It is not
the intent of the Societyofcontrol to have violated or infringed upon any

![Vilem Flusser, Andreas Strohl, Erik Eisel Writings
andreas-strohl-erik-eisel-writings-2002.jpg?w=547)Important in this respect is
that he put the responsibility of reading/using/downloading the texts on his
site with the viewers, and not with himself: _“Anyone reading or looking at
copyright material from this site does so at his/her own peril, we disclaim
any participation or liability in such actions.”_

Fark Yaraları = [Scars of Différance]( and
[Multitude of blogs]( are maintained by
the same author, Renc-u-ana, a philosophy and sociology student from Istanbul.
The first is his personal blog (with also many links to downloadable texts),
focusing on ‘creating an e-library for a Heideggerian philosophy and
Bourdieuan sociology’ on which he writes ‘market-created inequalities must be
overthrown in order to close knowledge gap.’ The second site has a clear
aggregating function with the aim ‘to give united feedback for e-book
publishing sites so that tracing and finding may become easier.’ And a call
for similar blogs or websites offering free ebook content. The blog is
accompanied by a nice picture of a woman warning to keep quiet, very
paradoxically appropriate to the context. Here again, a statement from the
host on possible copyright infringement _: ‘None of the PDFs are my own
productions. I 've collected them from web (e-mule, avax, libreremo, socialist
bros, cross-x, gigapedia..) What I did was thematizing._’ The same goes for
[pdflibrary]( (which seems to be from the
same author), offering texts from Derrida, Benjamin, Deleuze and the likes:
_‘_ _None of the PDFs you find here are productions of this blog. They are
collected from different places in the web (e-mule, avax, libreremo, all
socialist bros, cross-x, …). The only work done here is thematizing and

student from Istanbul lists many text sharing sites on Multitude of blogs,
including [Inishark]( (amongst others Badiou,
Zizek and Derrida), [Revelation](
/keeping-ten-commandments.html) (a lot of history and bible study), [Museum of
accidents]( (many resources relating to
again, critical theory, political theory and continental philhosophy) and
[Makeworlds]( (initiated from the [make world
festival]( 2001).
[Mariborchan]( is mainly a Zizek resource
site (also Badiou and Lacan) and offers next to ebooks also video and audio
(lectures and documentaries) and text files, all via links to file sharing

What is clear is that the text sharing network described above (I am sure
there are many more related to other fields and subjects) is also formed and
maintained by the fact that the blogs and resource sites link to each other in
their blog rolls, which is what in the end makes up the network of text
sharing, only enhanced by RSS feeds and Twitter accounts, holding together
direct communication streams with the rest of the community. That there has
not been one major platform or aggregation site linking them together and
uploading all the texts is logical if we take into account the text sharing
history described before and this can thus be seen as a clear tactic: it is
fear, fear for what happened to and fear for the issue of scale and
fear of no longer operating at the borders, on the outside or at the fringes.
Because a larger scale means they might really get noticed. The idea of
secrecy and exclusivity which makes for the idea of the underground is very
practically combined with the idea that in this way the texts are available in
a multitude of places and can thus not be withdrawn or disappear so easily.

This is the paradox of the underground: staying small means not being noticed
(widely), but will mean being able to exist for probably an extended period of
time. Becoming (too) big will mean reaching more people and spreading the
texts further into society, however it will also probably mean being noticed
as a treat, as a ‘network of text-piracy’. The true strategy is to retain this
balance of openly dispersed subversivity.

Update 25 November 2005: Another interesting resource site came to my
attention recently: [Bedeutung](http://,
a philosophical and artistic initiative consisting of three projects:
and [Bedeutung Blog](, hosts a
section which links to freely downloadable online e-books, articles, audio
recordings and videos.

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### 17 comments on " Scanners, collectors and aggregators. On the
‘underground movement’ of (pirated) theory text sharing"

1. Pingback: [Humanism at the fringe « Snarkmarket](

2. Pingback: [Scanners, collectors and aggregators. On the 'underground movement' of (pirated) theory text sharing « Mariborchan](

3. Mariborchan

September 20, 2009


I took the liberty to pirate this article.

4. [jannekeadema1979](

September 20, 2009


Thanks, it's all about the sharing! Hope you liked it.

5. Pingback: [links for 2009-09-20 « Blarney Fellow](

6. [scars of différance](

September 30, 2009


hi there, I'm the owner of the Scars of Différance blog, I'm grateful for your
reading which nurtures self-reflexivity.

text-sharers phylum is a Tardean phenomena, it works through imitation and
differences differentiate styles and archives. my question was inherited from
aby warburg who is perhaps the first kantian librarian (not books, but the
nomenclatura of books must be thought!), I shape up a library where books
speak to each other, each time fragmentary.

you are right about the "fear", that's why I don't reupload books that are
deleted from mediafire. blog is one of the ways, for ex there are e-mail
groups where chain-sharings happen and there are forums where people ask each
other from different parts of the world, to scan a book that can't be found in
their library/country. I understand publishers' qualms (I also work in a
turkish publishing house and make translations). but they miss a point, it was
the very movement which made book a medium that de-posits "book" (in the
Blanchotian sense): these blogs do indeed a very important service, they save
books from the databanks. I'm not going to make a easy rider argument and
decry technology.what I mean is this: these books are the very bricks which
make up resistance -they are not compost-, it is a sharing "partage" and these
fragmentary impartations (the act in which 'we' emancipate books from the
proper names they bear: author, editor, publisher, queen,…) make words blare.
our work: to disenfranchise.

to get larger, to expand: these are too ambitious terms, one must learn to
stay small, remain finite. a blog can not supplant the non-place of the
friendships we make up around books.

the epigraph at the top of my blog reads: "what/who exorbitates mutates into
its opposite" from a Turkish poet Cahit Zarifoğlu. and this logic is what
generates the slithering of the word. we must save books from its own ends.

thanks again, best.

p.s. I'm not the owner of pdf library.

7. Bedeutung

November 24, 2009


Here, an article that might interest:


8. [jannekeadema1979](

November 24, 2009


Thanks for the link, good article, agree with the contents, especially like
the part 'Could, for instance, the considerable resources that might be
allocated to protecting, policing and, ultimately, sanctioning online file-
sharing not be used for rendering it less financially damaging for the
creative sector?'
I like this kind of pragmatic reasoning, and I know more people do.
By the way, checked Bedeutung, great journal, and love your
section! Will add it to the main article.

9. Pingback: [Borderland › Critical Readings](

10. Pingback: [Mariborchan » Scanners, collectors and aggregators. On the 'underground movement' of (pirated) theory text sharing](

11. Pingback: [Urgh! AAAARG dead? « transversalinflections](

12. [nick knouf](

June 18, 2010


This is Nick, the author of the JJPS project; thanks for the tweet! I actually
came across this blog post while doing background research for the project and
looking for discussions about AAAARG; found out about a lot of projects that I
didn't already know about. One thing that I haven't been able to articulate
very well is that I think there's an interesting relationship between, say,
Kenneth Goldsmith's own poetry and his founding of Ubu Web; a collation and
reconfiguration of the detritus of culture (forgotten works of the avant-
gardes locked up behind pay walls of their own, or daily minutiae destined to
be forgotten), which is something that I was trying to do, in a more
circumscribed space, in JJPS Radio. But the question of distribution of
digital works is something I find fascinating, as there are all sorts of
avenues that we could be investigating but we are not. The issue, as it often
is, is one of technical ability, and that's why one of the future directions
of JJPS is to make some of the techniques I used easier to use. Those who want
to can always look into the code, which is of course freely available, but
that cannot and should not be a prerequisite.

13. [jannekeadema1979](

June 18, 2010


Hi Nick, thanks for your comment. I love the JJPS and it would be great if the
technology you mention would be easily re-usable. What I find fascinating is
how you use another medium (radio) to translate/re-mediate and in a way also
unlock textual material. I see you also have an Open Access and a Cut-up hour.
I am very much interested in using different media to communicate scholarly
research and even more in remixing and re-mediating textual scholarship. I
think your project(s) is a very valuable exploration of these themes while at
the same time being a (performative) critique of the current system. I am in

14. Pingback: [Text-sharing "in the paradise of too many books" – SLOTHROP](

15. [Jason Kennedy](

May 6, 2015


Some obvious fails suggest major knowledge gaps regarding sourcing texts
online (outside of legal channels).

And featuring Scribd doesn't help.

Q: What's the largest pirate book site on the net, with an inventory almost as
large as Amazon?

And it's not L_____ G_____

16. [Janneke Adema](

May 6, 2015


Do enlighten us Jason… And might I remind you that this post was written in

17. Mike Andrews

May 7, 2015


Interesting topic, but also odd in some respects. Not translating the German
quotes is very unthoughtful and maybe even arrogant. If you are interested in
open access accessibility needs to be your top priority. I can read German,
but many of my friends (and most of the world) can't. It take a little effort
to just fix this, but you can do it.

monoskop in Barok 2014

Techniques of Publishing

Techniques of Publishing

Draft translation of a talk given at the seminar Informace mezi komoditou a komunitou [The Information Between Commodity and Community] held at Tranzitdisplay in Prague, Czech Republic, on May 6, 2014

My contribution has three parts. I will begin by sketching the current environment of publishing in general, move on to some of the specificities of publishing
in the humanities and art, and end with a brief introduction to the Monoskop
initiative I was asked to include in my talk.
I would like to thank Milos Vojtechovsky, Matej Strnad and CAS/FAMU for
the invitation, and Tranzitdisplay for hosting this seminar. It offers itself as an
opportunity for reflection for which there is a decent distance from a previous
presentation of Monoskop in Prague eight years ago when I took part in a new
media education workshop prepared by Miloš and Denisa Kera. Many things
changed since then, not only in new media, but in the humanities in general,
and I will try to articulate some of these changes from today’s perspective and
primarily from the perspective of publishing.

I. The Environment of Publishing
One change, perhaps the most serious, and which indeed relates to the humanities
publishing as well, is that from a subject that was just a year ago treated as a paranoia of a bunch of so called technological enthusiasts, is today a fact with which
the global public is well acquainted: we are all being surveilled. Virtually every
utterance on the internet, or rather made by means of the equipment connected
to it through standard protocols, is recorded, in encrypted or unencrypted form,
on servers of information agencies, besides copies of a striking share of these data
on servers of private companies. We are only at the beginning of civil mobilization towards reversal of the situation and the future is open, yet nothing suggests
so far that there is any real alternative other than “to demand the impossible.”
There are at least two certaintes today: surveillance is a feature of every communication technology controlled by third parties, from post, telegraphy, telephony
to internet; and at the same time it is also a feature of the ruling power in all its
variants humankind has come to know. In this regard, democracy can be also understood as the involvement of its participants in deciding on the scale and use of
information collected in this way.
I mention this because it suggests that also all publishing initiatives, from libraries,
through archives, publishing houses to schools have their online activities, back1

ends, shared documents and email communication recorded by public institutions–
which intelligence agencies are, or at least ought to be.
In regard to publishing houses it is notable that books and other publications today are printed from digital files, and are delivered to print over email, thus it is
not surprising to claim that a significant amount of electronically prepared publications is stored on servers in the public service. This means that besides being
required to send a number of printed copies to their national libraries, in fact,
publishers send their electronic versions to information agencies as well. Obviously, agencies couldn’t care less about them, but it doesn’t change anything on
the likely fact that, whatever it means, the world’s largest electronic repository of
publications today are the server farms of the NSA.
Information agencies archive publications without approval, perhaps without awareness, and indeed despite disapproval of their authors and publishers, as an
“incidental” effect of their surveillance techniques. This situation is obviously
radically different from a totalitarianism we got to know. Even though secret
agencies in the Eastern Bloc were blackmailing people to produce miserable literature as their agents, samizdat publications could at least theoretically escape their
This is not the only difference. While captured samizdats were read by agents of
flesh and blood, publications collected through the internet surveillance are “read”
by software agents. Both of them scan texts for “signals”, ie. terms and phrases
whose occurrences trigger interpretative mechanisms that control operative components of their organizations.
Today, publishing is similarly political and from the point of view of power a potentially subversive activity like it was in the communist Czechoslovakia. The
difference is its scale, reach and technique.
One of the messages of the recent “revelations” is that while it is recommended
to encrypt private communication, the internet is for its users also a medium of
direct contact with power. SEO, or search engine optimization, is now as relevant technique for websites as for books and other publications since all of them
are read by similar algorithms, and authors can read this situation as a political
dimension of their work, as a challenge to transform and model these algorithms
by texts.


II. Techniques of research in the humanities literature
Compiling the bibliography
Through the circuitry we got to the audience, readers. Today, they also include
software and algorithms such as those used for “reading” by information agencies
and corporations, and others facilitating reading for the so called ordinary reader,
the reader searching information online, but also the “expert” reader, searching
primarily in library systems.
Libraries, as we said, are different from information agencies in that they are
funded by the public not to hide publications from it but to provide access to
them. A telling paradox of the age is that on the one hand information agencies
are storing almost all contemporary book production in its electronic version,
while generally they absolutely don’t care about them since the “signal” information lies elsewhere, and on the other in order to provide electronic access, paid or
direct, libraries have to costly scan also publications that were prepared for print
A more remarkable difference is, of course, that libraries select and catalogize
Their methods of selection are determined in the first place by their public institutional function of the protector and projector of patriotic values, and it is reflected
in their preference of domestic literature, ie. literature written in official state languages. Methods of catalogization, on the other hand, are characterized by sorting
by bibliographic records, particularly by categories of disciplines ordered in the
tree structure of knowledge. This results in libraries shaping the research, including academic research, towards a discursivity that is national and disciplinary, or
focused on the oeuvre of particular author.
Digitizing catalogue records and allowing readers to search library indexes by their
structural items, ie. the author, publisher, place and year of publication, words in
title, and disciplines, does not at all revert this tendency, but rather extends it to
the web as well.
I do not intend to underestimate the value and benefits of library work, nor the
importance of discipline-centered writing or of the recognition of the oeuvre of
the author. But consider an author working on an article who in the early phase
of his research needs to prepare a bibliography on the activity of Fluxus in central Europe or on the use of documentary film in education. Such research cuts
through national boundaries and/or branches of disciplines and he is left to travel
not only to locate artefacts, protagonists and experts in the field but also to find
literature, which in turn makes even the mere process of compiling bibliography
relatively demanding and costly activity.

In this sense, the digitization of publications and archival material, providing their
free online access and enabling fulltext search, in other words “open access”, catalyzes research across political-geographical and disciplinary configurations. Because while the index of the printed book contains only selected terms and for
the purposes of searching the index across several books the researcher has to have
them all at hand, the software-enabled search in digitized texts (with a good OCR)
works with the index of every single term in all of them.
This kind of research also obviously benefits from online translation tools, multilingual case bibliographies online, as well as second hand bookstores and small
specialized libraries that provide a corrective role to public ones, and whose “open
access” potential has been explored to the very small extent until now, but which
I won’t discuss here further for the lack of time.
The disciplinarity and patriotism are “embedded” in texts themselves, while I repeat that I don’t say this in a pejorative way.
Bibliographic records in bodies of texts, notes, attributions of sources and appended references can be read as formatted addresses of other texts, making apparent a kind of intertextual structure, well known in hypertext documents. However, for the reader these references are still “virtual”. When following a reference
she is led back to a library, and if interested in more references, to more libraries.
Instead, authors assume certain general erudition of their readers, while following references to their very sources is perceived as an exception from the standard
self-limitation to reading only the body of the text. Techniques of writing with
virtual bibliography thus affirm national-disciplinary discourses and form readers
and authors proficient in the field of references set by collections of local libraries
and so called standard literature of fields they became familiar with during their
When in this regime of writing someone in the Czech Republic wants to refer to
the work of Gilbert Simondon or Alexander Bogdanov, to give an example, the
effect of his work will be minimal, since there was practically nothing from these
authors translated into Czech. His closely reading colleague is left to try ordering
books through a library and wait for 3-4 weeks, or to order them from an online
store, travel to find them or search for them online. This applies, in the case of
these authors, for readers in the vast majority of countries worldwide. And we can
tell with certainty that this is not only the case of Simondon and Bogdanov but
of the vast majority of authors. Libraries as nationally and pyramidally situated
institutions face real challenges in regard to the needs of free research.
This is surely merely one aspect of techniques of writing.

Reading texts with “live” references and bibliographies using electronic devices is
today possible not only to imagine but to realise as well. This way of reading
allows following references to other texts, visual material, other related texts of
an author, but also working with occurrences of words in the text, etc., bringing
reading closer to textual analysis and other interesting levels. Due to the time
limits I am going to sketch only one example.
Linear reading is specific by reading from the beginning of the text to its end,
as well as ‘tree-like’ reading through the content structure of the document, and
through occurrences of indexed words. Still, techniques of close reading extend
its other aspect – ‘moving’ through bibliographic references in the document to
particular pages or passages in another. They make the virtual reference plastic –
texts are separated one from another merely by a click or a tap.
We are well familiar with a similar movement through the content on the web
– surfing, browsing, and clicking through. This leads us to an interesting parallel: standards of structuring, composing, etc., of texts in the humanities has been
evolving for centuries, what is incomparably more to decades of the web. From
this stems also one of the historical challenges the humanities are facing today:
how to attune to the existence of the web and most importantly to epistemological consequences of its irreversible social penetration. To upload a PDF online is
only a taste of changes in how we gain and make knowledge and how we know.
This applies both ways – what is at stake is not only making production of the
humanities “available” online, it is not only about open access, but also about the
ways of how the humanities realise the electronic and technical reality of their
own production, in regard to the research, writing, reading, and publishing.
The analogy between information agencies and national libraries also points to
the fact that large portion of publications, particularly those created in software,
is electronic. However the exceptions are significant. They include works made,
typeset, illustrated and copied manually, such as manuscripts written on paper
or other media, by hand or using a typewriter or other mechanic means, and
other pre-digital techniques such as lithography, offset, etc., or various forms of
writing such as clay tablets, rolls, codices, in other words the history of print and
publishing in its striking variety, all of which provide authors and publishers with
heterogenous means of expression. Although this “segment” is today generally
perceived as artists’ books interesting primarily for collectors, the current process
of massive digitization has triggered the revival, comebacks, transformations and

novel approaches to publishing. And it is these publications whose nature is closer
to the label ‘book’ rather than the automated electro-chemical version of the offset
lithography of digital files on acid-free paper.
Despite that it is remarkable to observe a view spreading among publishers that
books created in software are books with attributes we have known for ages. On
top of that there is a tendency to handle files such as PDFs, EPUBs, MOBIs and
others as if they are printed books, even subject to the rules of limited edition, a
consequence of what can be found in the rise of so called electronic libraries that
“borrow” PDF files and while someone reads one, other users are left to wait in
the line.
Whilst, from today’s point of view of the humanities research, mass-printed books
are in the first place archives of the cultural content preserved in this way for the
time we run out of electricity or have the internet ‘switched off’ in some other

III. Monoskop
Finally, I am getting to Monoskop and to begin with I am going to try to formulate
its brief definition, in three versions.
From the point of view of the humanities, Monoskop is a research, or questioning, whose object’s nature renders no answer as definite, since the object includes
art and culture in their widest sense, from folk music, through visual poetry to
experimental film, and namely their history as well as theory and techniques. The
research is framed by the means of recording itself, what makes it a practise whose
record is an expression with aesthetic qualities, what in turn means that the process of the research is subject to creative decisions whose outcomes are perceived
esthetically as well.
In the language of cultural management Monoskop is an independent research
project whose aim is subject to change according to its continual findings; which
has no legal body and thus as organisation it does not apply for funding; its participants have no set roles; and notably, it operates with no deadlines. It has a reach
to the global public about which, respecting the privacy of internet users, there
are no statistics other than general statistics on its social networks channels and a
figure of numbers of people and bots who registered on its website and subscribed
to its newsletter.
At the same time, technically said, Monoskop is primarily an internet website
and in this regard it is no different from any other communication media whose
function is to complicate interpersonal communication, at least due to the fact
that it is a medium with its own specific language, materiality, duration and access.

Contemporary media
Monoskop has began ten years ago in the milieu of a group of people running
a cultural space where they had organised events, workshops, discussion, a festival,
etc. Their expertise, if to call that way the trace left after years spent in the higher
education, varied well, and it spanned from fine art, architecture, philosophy,
through art history and literary theory, to library studies, cognitive science and
information technology. Each of us was obviously interested in these and other
fields other than his and her own, but the praxis in naming the substance whose
centripetal effects brought us into collaboration were the terms new media, media
culture and media art.
Notably, it was not contemporary art, because a constituent part of the praxis was
also non-visual expression, information media, etc., so the research began with the
essentially naive question ‘of what are we contemporary?’. There had been not
much written about media culture and art as such, a fact I perceived as drawback
but also as challenge.
The reflection, discussion and critique need to be grounded in reality, in a wider
context of the field, thus the research has began in-field. From the beginning, the
website of Monoskop served to record the environment, including people, groups,
organizations, events we had been in touch with and who/which were more or
less explicitly affiliated with media culture. The result of this is primarily a social
geography of live media culture and art, structured on the wiki into cities, with
a focus on the two recent decades.
Cities and agents
The first aim was to compile an overview of agents of this geography in their
wide variety, from eg. small independent and short-lived initiatives to established
museums. The focus on the 1990s and 2000s is of course problematic. One of
its qualities is a parallel to the history of the World Wide Web which goes back
precisely to the early 1990s and which is on the one hand the primary recording
medium of the Monoskop research and on the other a relevant self-archiving and–
stemming from its properties–presentation medium, in other words a platform on
which agents are not only meeting together but potentially influence one another
as well.
The records are of diverse length and quality, while the priorities for what they
consist of can be generally summed up in several points in the following order:


1. Inclusion of a person, organisation or event in the context of the structure.
So in case of a festival or conference held in Prague the most important is to
mention it in the events section on the page on Prague.
2. Links to their web presence from inside their wiki pages, while it usually
implies their (self-)presentation.
3. Basic information, including a name or title in an original language, dates
of birth, foundation, realization, relations to other agents, ideally through
links inside the wiki. These are presented in narrative and in English.
4. Literature or bibliography in as many languages as possible, with links to
versions of texts online if there are any.
5. Biographical and other information relevant for the object of the research,
while the preference is for those appearing online for the first time.
6. Audiovisual material, works, especially those that cannot be found on linked
Even though pages are structured in the quasi same way, input fields are not structured, so when you create a wiki account and decide to edit or add an entry, the
wiki editor offers you merely one input box for the continuous text. As is the case
on other wiki websites. Better way to describe their format is thus articles.
There are many related questions about representation, research methodology,
openness and participation, formalization, etc., but I am not going to discuss them
due to the time constraint.
The first research layer thus consists of live and active agents, relations among
them and with them.
Another layer is related to a question about what does the field of media culture
and art stem from; what and upon what does it consciously, but also not fully
consciously, builds, comments, relates, negates; in other words of what it may be
perceived a post, meta, anti, retro, quasi and neo legacy.
An approach of national histories of art of the 20th century proved itself to be
relevant here. These entries are structured in the same way like cities: people,
groups, events, literature, at the same time building upon historical art forms and
periods as they are reflected in a range of literature.
The overviews are organised purposely without any attempts for making relations
to the present more explicit, in order to leave open a wide range of intepretations
and connotations and to encourage them at the same time.
The focus on art of the 20th century originally related to, while the researched
countries were mostly of central and eastern Europe, with foundations of modern
national states, formations preserving this field in archives, museums, collections
but also publications, etc. Obviously I am not saying that contemporary media
culture is necessarily archived on the web while art of the 20th century lies in
collections “offline”, it applies vice versa as well.
In this way there began to appear new articles about filmmakers, fine artists, theorists and other partakers in artistic life of the previous century.
Since then the focus has considerably expanded to more than a century of art and
new media on the whole continent. Still it portrays merely another layer of the
research, the one which is yet a collection of fragmentary data, without much
context. Soon we also hit the limit of what is about this field online. The next
question was how to work in the internet environment with printed sources.
When I was installing this blog five years ago I treated it as a side project, an offshoot, which by the fact of being online may not be only an archive of selected
source literature for the Monoskop research but also a resource for others, mainly
students in the humanities. A few months later I found Aaaarg, then oriented
mainly on critical theory and philosophy; there was also Gigapedia with publications without thematic orientation; and several other community library portals
on password. These were the first sources where I was finding relevant literature
in electronic version, later on there were others too, I began to scan books and catalogues myself and to receive a large number of scans by email and soon came to
realise that every new entry is an event of its own not only for myself. According
to the response, the website has a wide usership across all the continents.
At this point it is proper to mention the copyright. When deciding about whether
to include this or that publication, there are at least two moments always present.
One brings me back to my local library at the outskirts of Bratislava in the early
1990s and asks that if I would have found this book there and then, could it change
my life? Because books that did I was given only later and elsewhere; and here I
think of people sitting behind computers in Belarus, China or Kongo. And even

if not, the latter is a wonder on whether this text has a potential to open up some
serious questions about disciplinarity or national discursivity in the humanities,
while here I am reminded by a recent study which claims that more than half
of academic publications are not read by more than three people: their author,
reviewer and editor. What does not imply that it is necessary to promote them
to more people but rather to think of reasons why is it so. It seems that the
consequences of the combination of high selectivity with open access resonate
also with publishers and authors from whom the complaints are rather scarce and
even if sometimes I don’t understand reasons of those received, I respect them.
Media technology
Throughout the years I came to learn, from the ontological perspective, two main
findings about media and technology.
For a long time I had a tendency to treat technologies as objects, things, while now
it seems much more productive to see them as processes, techniques. As indeed
nor the biologist does speak about the dear as biology. In this sense technology is
the science of techniques, including cultural techniques which span from reading,
writing and counting to painting, programming and publishing.
Media in the humanities are a compound of two long unrelated histories. One of
them treats media as a means of communication, signals sent from point A to the
point B, lacking the context and meaning. Another speaks about media as artistic
means of expression, such as the painting, sculpture, poetry, theatre, music or
film. The term “media art” is emblematic for this amalgam while the historical
awareness of these two threads sheds new light on it.
Media technology in art and the humanities continues to be the primary object of
research of Monoskop.
I attempted to comment on political, esthetic and technical aspects of publishing.
Let me finish by saying that Monoskop is an initiative open to people and future
and you are more than welcome to take part in it.

Dušan Barok
Written May 1-7, 2014, in Bergen and Prague. Translated by the author on May 10-13,
2014. This version generated June 10, 2014.

monoskop in Barok 2018

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._

monoskop in Bodo 2014

A Short History of the Russian Digital Shadow Libraries

Draft Manuscript, 11/4/2014, DO NOT CITE!

A short history of the Russian digital shadow libraries
Balazs Bodo, Institute for Information Law, University of Amsterdam

“What I see as a consequence of the free educational book distribution: in decades generations of people
everywhere in the World will grow with the access to the best explained scientific texts of all times.
[…]The quality and accessibility of education to poors will drastically grow too. Frankly, I'm seeing this as
the only way to naturally improve mankind: by breeding people with all the information given to them at
any time.” – Anonymous admin of Aleph, explaining the reason d’étre of the site

RuNet, the Russian segment of the internet is now the home of the most comprehensive scientific pirate
libraries on the net. These sites offer free access to hundreds of thousands of books and millions of
journal articles. In this contribution we try to understand the factors that led to the development of
these sites, and the sociocultural and legal conditions that enable them to operate under hostile legal
and political conditions. Through the reconstruction of the micro-histories of peer produced online text
collections that played a central role in the history of RuNet, we are able to link the formal and informal
support for these sites to the specific conditions developed under the Soviet and post Soviet times.

(pirate) libraries on the net
The digitization and collection of texts was one of the very first activities enabled by computers. Project
Gutenberg, the first in line of digital libraries was established as early as 1971. By the early nineties, a
number of online electronic text archives emerged, all hoping to finally realize the dream that was
chased by humans every since the first library: the collection of everything (Battles, 2004), the Memex
(Bush, 1945), the Mundaneum (Rieusset-Lemarié, 1997), the Library of Babel (Borges, 1998). It did not
take long to realize that the dream was still beyond reach: the information storage and retrieval
technology might have been ready, but copyright law, for the foreseeable future was not. Copyright
protection and enforcement slowly became one of the most crucial issues around digital technologies.

Electronic copy available at:

Draft Manuscript, 11/4/2014, DO NOT CITE!
And as that happened, the texts, which were archived without authorization were purged from the
budding digital collections. Those that survived complete deletion were moved into the dark, locked
down sections of digital libraries that sometimes still lurk behind the law-abiding public façades. Hopes
for a universal digital library can be built was lost in just a few short years as those who tried it (such as
Google or Hathitrust) got bogged down in endless court battles.
There are unauthorized texts collections circulating on channels less susceptible to enforcement, such as
DVDs, torrents, or IRC channels. But the technical conditions of these distribution channels do not enable
the development of a library. Two of the most essential attributes of any proper library: the catalogue
and the community are hard to provide on such channels. The catalog doesn’t just organize the
knowledge stored in the collection; it is not just a tool of searching and browsing. It is a critical
component in the organization of the community of “librarians” who preserve and nourish the
collection. The catalog is what distinguishes an unstructured heap of computer files from a wellmaintained library, but it is the same catalog, which makes shadow libraries, unauthorized texts
collections an easy target of law enforcement. Those few digital online libraries that dare to provide
unauthorized access to texts in an organized manner, such as, a*.org, monoskop or Gigapedia/, all had their bad experiences with law enforcement and rights holder dismay.
Of these pirate libraries, Gigapedia—later called—was the largest at the turn of the 2010’s. At
its peak, it was several orders of magnitudes bigger than its peers, offering access to nearly a million
English language documents. It was not just size that made Gigapedia unique. Unlike most sites, it
moved beyond its initial specialization in scientific texts to incorporate a wide range of academic
disciplines. Compared to its peers, it also had a highly developed central metadata database, which
contained bibliographic details on the collection and also, significantly, on gaps in the collection, which
underpinned a process of actively solicited contributions from users. With the ubiquitous
scanner/copiers, the production of book scans was as easy as copying them, thus the collection grew
Gigapedia’s massive catalog made the site popular, which in turn made it a target. In early 2012, a group
of 17 publishers was granted an injunction against the site (now called; and against—
the hosting site that stored most of’s content). Unlike the record and movie companies,
which had collaborated on dozens of lawsuits over the past decade, the injunction and lawsuit
were the first coordinated publisher actions against a major file-sharing site, and the first to involve
major university publishers in particular. Under the injunction, the adminstrators closed the
site. The collection disappeared and the community around it dispersed. (Liang, 2012)
Gigapedia’s collection was integrated into Aleph’s predominantly Russian language collection before the
shutdown, making Aleph the natural successor of Gigapedia/

Libraries in the RuNet

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The search soon zeroed in on a number of sites with strong hints to their Russian origins. Sites like Aleph,
[sc], [fi], [os] are open, completely free to use, and each offers access to a catalog comparable to the late
The similarity of these seemingly distinct services is no coincidence. These sites constitute a tightly knit
network, in which Aleph occupies the central position. Aleph, as its name suggests, is the source library,
it aims to seed of all scientific digital libraries on the net. Its mission is simple and straightforward. It
collects free-floating scientific texts and other collections from the Internet and consolidates them (both
content and metadata) into a single, open database. Though ordinary users can search the catalog and
retrieve the texts, its main focus is the distribution of the catalog and the collection to anyone who
wants to build services upon them. Aleph has regularly updated links that point to its own, neatly packed
source code, its database dump, and to the terabytes worth of collection. It is a knowledge infrastructure
that can be freely accessed, used and built upon by anyone. This radical openness enables a number of
other pirate libraries to offer Aleph’s catalogue along with books coming from other sources. By
mirroring Aleph they take over tasks that the administrators of Aleph are unprepared or unwilling to do.
Handling much of the actual download traffic they relieve Aleph from the unavoidable investment in
servers and bandwidth, which, in turn puts less pressure on Aleph to engage in commercial activities to
finance its operation. While Aleph stays in the background, the network of mirrors compete for
attention, users and advertising revenue as their design, business model, technical sophistication is finetuned to the profile of their intended target audience.
This strategy of creating an open infrastructure serves Aleph well. It ensures the widespread distribution
of books while it minimizes (legal) exposure. By relinquishing control, Aleph also ensures its own longterm survival, as it is copied again and again. In fact, openness is the core element in the philosophy of
Aleph, which was summed up by one of its administrators as to:
“- collect valuable science/technology/math/medical/humanities academic literature. That is,
collect humanity's valuable knowledge in digital form. Avoid junky books. Ignore "bestsellers".
- build a community of people who share knowledge, improve quality of books, find good and
valuable books, and correct errors.
- share the files freely, spreading the knowledge altruistically, not trying to make money, not
charging money for knowledge. Here people paid money for many books that they considered
valuable and then shared here on [Aleph], for free. […]
This is the true spirit of the [Aleph] project.”


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Reading, publishing, censorship and libraries in Soviet-Russia
“[T]he library of the Big Lubyanka was unique. In all probability it had been assembled out of confiscated
private libraries. The bibliophiles who had collected those books had already rendered up their souls to
God. But the main thing was that while State Security had been busy censoring and emasculating all the
libraries of the nation for decades, it forgot to dig in its own bosom. Here, in its very den, one could read
Zamyatin, Pilnyak, Panteleimon Romanov, and any volume at all of the complete works of Merezhkovsky.
(Some people wisecracked that they allowed us to read forbidden books because they already regarded
us as dead. But I myself think that the Lubyanka librarians hadn't the faintest concept of what they were
giving us—they were simply lazy and ignorant.)”
(Solzhenitsyn, 1974)
In order to properly understand the factors that shaped Russian pirate librarians’ and their wider
environments’ attitudes towards bottom-up, collaborative, copyright infringing open source digital
librarianship, we need to go back nearly a century and take a close look at the specific social and political
conditions of the Soviet times that shaped the contemporary Russian intelligentsia’s attitudes towards

The communist ideal of a reading nation
Russian culture always had a reverence for the printed word, and the Soviet state, with its Leninist
program of mass education further stressed the idea of the educated, reading public. As Stelmach (1993)
put it:
Reading almost transplanted religion as a sacred activity: in the secularized socialist state, where the
churches were closed, the free press stifled and schools and universities politicized, literature became the
unique source of moral truth for the population. Writers were considered teachers and prophets.
The Soviet Union was a reading culture: in the last days of the USSR, a quarter of the adult population
were considered active readers, and almost everyone else categorized as an occasional reader. Book
prices were low, alternative forms of entertainment were scarce, and people were poor, making reading
one of the most attractive leisure activities.
The communist approach towards intellectual property protection reflected the idea of the reading
nation. The Soviet Union inherited a lax and isolationist copyright system from the tsarist Russia. Neither
the tsarist Russian state nor the Soviet state adhered to international copyright treaties, nor did they
enter into bilateral treaties. Tsarist Russia’s refusal to grant protection to foreign authors and
translations had primarily an economic rationale. The Soviet regime added a strong ideological claim:
granting exclusive ownership to authors was against the interests of the reading public, and “the cultural
development of the masses,” and only served the private interests of authors and heirs.
“If copyright had an economic function, that was only as a right of remuneration for his contribution to
the extension of the socialist art heritage. If copyright had a social role, this was not to protect the author


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from the economically stronger exploiter, but was one of the instruments to get the author involved in
the great communist educational project.” (Elst, 2005, p 658)
The Soviet copyright system, even in its post-revolutionary phase, maintained two persistent features
that served as important instruments of knowledge dissemination. First, the statutorily granted
“freedom of translation” meant that translation was treated as an exception to copyright, which did not
require rights holder authorization. This measure dismantled a significant barrier to access in a
multicultural and multilingual empire. By the same token, the denial of protection to foreign authors and
rights holders eased the imports of foreign texts (after, of course the appropriate censorship review).
Due to these instruments:
“[s]oon after its founding, the Soviet Union became as well the world's leading literary pirate, not only
publishing in translation the creations of its own citizens but also publishing large numbers of copies of
the works of Western authors both in translation and in the original language.” (Newcity, 1980, p 6.)
Looking simply at the aggregate numbers of published books, the USSR had an impressive publishing
industry on a scale appropriate to a reading nation. Between 1946 and 1970 more than 1 billion copies of
over 26 thousand different work were published, all by foreign authors (Newcity, 1978). In 1976 alone,
more than 1.7 billion copies of 84,304 books were printed. (Friedberg, Watanabe, & Nakamoto, 1984, fn
Of course these impressive numbers reflected neither a healthy public sphere, nor a well-functioning
print ecology. The book-based public sphere was both heavily censored and plagued by the peculiar
economic conditions of the Soviet, and later the post-Soviet era.

The totalitarian Soviet state had many instruments to control the circulation of literary and scientific
works. 1 Some texts never entered official circulation in the first hand: “A particularly harsh
prepublication censorship [affected] foreign literature, primarily in the humanities and socioeconomic
disciplines. Books on politics, international relations, sociology, philosophy, cybernetics, semiotics,
linguistics, and so on were hardly ever published.” (Stelmakh, 2001, p 145.)
Many ‘problematic’ texts were only put into severely limited circulation. Books were released in small
print runs; as in-house publications, or they were only circulated among the trustworthy few. As the
resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of June 4, 1959, stated: “Writings by
bourgeois authors in the fields of philosophy, history, economics, diplomacy, and law […] are to be
published in limited quantities after the excision from them of passages of no scholarly or practical


We share Helen Freshwater’s (2003) approach that censorship is a more complex phenomenon than the state just
blocking the circulation of certain texts. Censorship manifested itself in more than one ways and its dominant
modus operandi, institutions, extent, focus, reach, effectiveness showed extreme variations over time. This short
chapter however cannot go into the intricate details of the incredibly rich history of censorship in the Soviet Union.
Instead, through much simplification we try to demonstrate that censorship did not only affect literary works, but
extended deep into scholarly publishing, including natural science disciplines.


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interest. They are to be supplied with extensive introductions and detailed annotations." (quoted in
Friedberg et al., 1984)
Truncation and mutilation of texts was also frequent. Literary works and texts from humanities and
social sciences were obvious subjects of censorship, but natural sciences and technical fields did not
“In our film studios we received an American technical journal, something like Cinema, Radio and
Television. I saw it on the chief engineer's desk and noticed that it had been reprinted in Moscow.
Everything undesirable, including advertisements, had been removed, and only those technical articles
with which the engineer could be trusted were retained. Everything else, even whole pages, was missing.
This was done by a photo copying process, but the finished product appeared to be printed.” (Dewhirst &
Farrell, 1973, p. 127)
Mass cultural genres were also subject to censorship and control. Women's fiction, melodrama, comics,
detective stories, and science fiction were completely missing or heavily underrepresented in the mass
market. Instead, “a small group of officially approved authors […] were published in massive editions
every year, [and] blocked readers' access to other literature. […]Soviet literature did not fit the formula
of mass culture and was simply bad literature, but it was issued in huge print-runs.” (Stelmakh, 2001, p.
Libraries were also important instruments of censorship. When not destroyed altogether, censored
works ended up in the spetskhrans, limited access special collections established in libraries to contain
censored works. Besides obvious candidates such as anti-Soviet works and western ‘bourgeois’
publications, many scientific works from the fields of biology, nuclear physics, psychology, sociology,
cybernetics, and genetics ended up in these closed collections (Ryzhak, 2005). Access to the spetskhrans
was limited to those with special permits issued by their employers. “Only university educated readers
were enrolled and only those holding positions of at least junior scientific workers were allowed to read
the publications kept by the spetskhran” (Ryzhak, 2005). In the last years of the USSR, the spetskhran of
the Russian State Library—the largest of them with more than 1 million items in the collection—had 43
seats for its roughly 4500 authorized readers. Yearly circulation was around 200,000 items, a figure that
included “the history and literature of other countries, international relations, science of law, technical
sciences and others.” (Ryzhak, 2005)
Librarians thus played a central role in the censorship machinery. They did more than guard the contents
of limited-access collections and purge the freely accessible stocks according to the latest Party
directives. As the intermediaries between the readers and the closed stacks, their task was to carefully
guide readers’ interests:
“In the 1970s, among the staff members of the service department of the Lenin State Library of the
U.S.S.R., there were specially appointed persons-"politcontrollers"-who, apart from their regular
professional functions, had to perform additional control over the literature lent from the general stocks
(not from the restricted access collections), thus exercising censorship over the percolation of avant-garde


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aesthetics to the reader, the aesthetics that introduced new ways of thinking and a new outlook on life
and social behavior.” (Stelmakh, 2001)
Librarians also used library cards and lending histories to collect and report information on readers and
suspicious reading habits.
Soviet economic dysfunction also severely limited access to printed works. Acute and chronic shortages
of even censor-approved texts were common, both on the market and in libraries. When the USSR
joined its first first international copyright treaty in its history in 1973 (the UNESCO-backed Universal
Copyright Convention), which granted protection to foreign authors and denied “freedom of
translation,” the access problems only got worse. Soviet concern that granting protection to foreign
authors would result in significant royalty payments to western rightsholders proved valid. By 1976, the
yearly USSR trade deficit in publishing reached a million rubles (~5.5 million current USD) (Levin, 1983, p.
157). This imbalance not only affected the number of publications that were imported into the cashpoor country, but also raised the price of translated works to the double that of Russian-authored books
(Levin, 1983, p. 158).

The literary and scientific underground in Soviet times
Various practices and informal institutions evolved to address the problems of access. Book black
markets flourished: “In the 1970s and 1980s the black market was an active part of society. Buying books
directly from other people was how 35 percent of Soviet adults acquired books for their own homes, and
68 percent of families living in major cities bought books only on the black market.” (Stelmakh, 2001, p
146). Book copying and hoarding was practiced to supplement the shortages:
“People hoarded books: complete works of Pushkin, Tolstoy or Chekhov. You could not buy such things.
So you had the idea that it is very important to hoard books. High-quality literary fiction, high quality
science textbooks and monographs, even biographies of famous people (writers, scientists, composers,
etc.) were difficult to buy. You could not, as far as I remember, just go to a bookstore and buy complete
works of Chekhov. It was published once and sold out and that's it. Dostoyevsky used to be prohibited in
the USSR, so that was even rarer. Lots of writers were prohibited, like Nabokov. Eventually Dostoyevsky
was printed in the USSR, but in very small numbers.
And also there were scientists who wanted scientific books and also could not get them. Mathematics
books, physics - only very few books were published every year, you can't compare this with the market in
the U.S. Russian translations of classical monographs in mathematics were difficult to find.
So, in the USSR, everyone who had a good education shared the idea that hoarding books is very, very
important, and did just that. If someone had free access to a Xerox machine, they were Xeroxing
everything in sight. A friend of mine had entire room full of Xeroxed books.”2
From the 1960s onwards, the ever-growing Samizdat networks tried to counterbalance the effects of
censorship and provide access to both censored classics and information on the current state of Soviet


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society. Reaching a readership of around 200,000, these networks operated in a networked, bottom-up
manner. Each node in the chain of distribution copied the texts it received, and distributed the copies.
The nodes also carried information backwards, towards the authors of the samizdat publications.
In the immediate post-Soviet political turmoil and economic calamity, access to print culture did not get
any easier. Censorship officially ended, but so too did much of the funding for the state-funded
publishing sector. Mass unemployment, falling wages, and the resulting loss of discretionary income did
not facilitate the shift toward market-based publishing models. The funding of libraries also dwindled,
limiting new acquisitions (Elst, 2005, p. 299-300). Economic constraints took the place of political ones.
But in the absence of political repression, self-organizing efforts to address these constraints acquired
greater scope of action. Slowly, the informal sphere began to deliver alternative modes of access to
otherwise hard-to-get literary and scientific works.
Russian pirate libraries emerged from these enmeshed contexts: communist ideologies of the reading
nation and mass education; the censorship of texts; the abused library system; economic hardships and
dysfunctional markets, and, most importantly, the informal practices that ensured the survival of
scholarship and literary traditions under hostile political and economic conditions. The prominent place
of Russian pirate libraries in the larger informal media economy—and of Russian piracy of music, film,
and other copyrighted work more generally—cannot be understood outside this history.

The emergence of DIY digital libraries in RuNet
The copying of censored and uncensored works (by hand, by typewriters, by photocopying or by
computers), the hoarding of copied texts, the buying and selling of books on the black market, and the
informal, peer-to-peer distribution of samizdat material were integral parts of the everyday experience
of much of educated Soviet and post-Soviet readers. The building and maintenance of individual
collections and the participation in the informal networks of exchange offered a sense of political,
economic and cultural agency—especially as the public institutions that supported the core professions
of the intelligentsia fell into sustained economic crisis.
Digital technologies were embraced by these practices as soon as they appeared:
"From late 1970s, when first computers became used in the USSR and printers became available,
people started to print forbidden books, or just books that were difficult to find, not necessarily
forbidden. I have seen myself a print-out on a mainframe computer of a science fiction novel,
printed in all caps! Samizdat was printed on typewriters, xeroxed, printed abroad and xeroxed, or
printed on computers. Only paper circulated, files could not circulate until people started to have
PCs at home. As late as 1992 most people did not have a PC at home. So the only reason to type
a big text into a computer was to print it on paper many times.”3
People who worked in academic and research institutions were well positioned in this process: they had
access to computers, and many had access to the materials locked up in the spetskhrans. Many also had

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the time and professional motivations to collect and share otherwise inaccessible texts. The core of
current digital collections was created in this late-Soviet/early post-Soviet period by such professionals.
Their home academic and scientific institutions continued to play an important role in the development
of digital text collections well into the era of home computing and the internet.
Digitized texts first circulated in printouts and later on optical/magnetic storage media. With the
emergence of digital networking these texts quickly found their way to the early Internet as well. The
first platform for digital text sharing was the Russian Fidonet, a network of BBS systems similar to
Usenet, which enabled the mass distribution of plain text files. The BBS boards, such as the Holy Spirit
BBS’ “SU.SF & F.FANDOM” group whose main focus was Soviet-Russian science fiction and fantasy
literature, connected fans around emerging collections of shared texts. As an anyonmous interviewee
described his experience in the early 1990s…
“Fidonet collected a large number of plaintext files in literature / fiction, mostly in Russian, of course.
Fidonet was almost all typed in by hand. […] Maybe several thousand of the most important books,
novels that "everyone must read" and such stuff. People typed in poetry, smaller prose pieces. I have
myself read a sci-fi novel printed on a mainframe, which was obviously typed in. This novel was by
Strugatski brothers. It was not prohibited or dissident, but just impossible to buy in the stores. These
were culturally important, cult novels, so people typed them in. […] At this point it became clear that
there was a lot of value in having a plaintext file with some novels, and the most popular novels were first
digitized in this way.”
The next stage in the text digitization started around 1994. By that time growing numbers of people had
computers, scanning peripherals, OCR software. Russian internet and PC penetration while extremely
low overall in the 1990s (0.1% of the population having internet access in 1994, growing to 8.3% by
2003), began to make inroads in educational and scientific institutions and among Moscow and
St.Petersburg elites, who were often the critical players in these networks. As access to technologies
increased a much wider array of people began to digitize their favorite texts, and these collections began
to circulate, first via CD-ROMs, later via the internet.
One of such collection belonged to Maxim Moshkov, who published his library under the name in
1994. Moshkov was a graduate of the Moscow State University Department of Mechanics and
Mathematics, which played a large role in the digitization of scientific works. After graduation, he started
to work for the Scientific Research Institute of System Development, a computer science institute
associated with the Russian Academy of Sciences. He describes the early days of his collection as follows:
“ I began to collect electronic texts in 1990, on a desktop computer. When I got on the Internet in 1994, I
found lots of sites with texts. It was like a dream came true: there they were, all the desired books. But
these collections were in a dreadful state! Incompatible formats, different encodings, missing content. I
had to spend hours scouring the different sites and directories to find something.
As a result, I decided to convert all the different file-formats into a single one, index the titles of the books
and put them in thematic directories. I organized the files on my work computer. I was the main user of
my collection. I perfected its structure, made a simple, fast and convenient search interface and


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developed many other useful functions and put it all on the Internet. Soon, people got into the habit of
visiting the site. […]
For about 2 years I have scoured the internet: I sought out and pulled texts from the network, which were
lying there freely accessible. Slowly the library grew, and the audience increased with it. People started
to send books to me, because they were easier to read in my collection. And the time came when I
stopped surfing the internet for books: regular readers are now sending me the books. Day after day I get
about 100 emails, and 10-30 of them contain books. So many books were sent in, that I did not have time
to process them. Authors, translators and publishers also started to send texts. They all needed the
library.”(Мошков, 1999)

In the second half of the 1990’s, the Russian Internet—RuNet—was awash in book digitization projects.
With the advent of scanners, OCR technology, and the Internet, the work of digitization eased
considerably. Texts migrated from print to digital and sometimes back to print again. They circulated
through different collections, which, in turn, merged, fell apart, and re-formed. Digital libraries with the
mission to collect and consolidate these free-floating texts sprung up by the dozens.
Such digital librarianship was the antithesis of official Soviet book culture: it was free, bottom-up,
democratic, and uncensored. It also offered a partial remedy to problems created by the post-Soviet
collapse of the economy: the impoverishment of libraries, readers, and publishers. In this context, book
digitization and collecting also offered a sense of political, economic and cultural agency, with parallels
to the copying and distribution of texts in Soviet times. The capacity to scale up these practices coincided
with the moment when anti-totalitarian social sentiments were the strongest, and economic needs the
The unprecedented bloom of digital librarianship is the result of the superimposition of multiple waves
of distinct transformations: technological, political, economical and social. “Maksim Moshkov's Library”
was ground zero for this convergence and soon became a central point of exchange for the community
engaged in text digitization and collection:
[At the outset] there were just a couple of people who started scanning books in large quantities. Literally
hundreds of books. Others started proofreading, etc. There was a huge hole in the market for books.
Science fiction, adventure, crime fiction, all of this was hugely in demand by the public. So was to a
large part the response, and was filled by those books that people most desired and most valued.
For years, integrated as much as it could of the different digital libraries flourishing in the RuNet. By
doing so, it preserved the collections of the many short-lived libraries.
This process of collection slowed in the early 2000’s. By that time, had all of the classics, resulting
in a decrease in the flow of new digitized material. By the same token, the Russian book market was
finally starting to offer works aimed at the popular mainstream, and was flooded by cheap romances,
astrology, crime fiction, and other genres. Such texts started to appear in, and would soon flood
Many contributors, including Moshkov, were concerned that such ephemera would dilute the original

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library. And so they began to disaggregate the collection. Self-published literature, “user generated
content,” and fan fiction was separated into the aptly named, which housed original texts
submitted by readers. Popular fiction--“low-brow literature”—was copied from the relevant subsections
of and split off. Sites specializing in those genres quickly formed their own ecosystem. [L], the first
of its kind, now charges a monthly fee to provide access to the collection. The [f] community split off
from [L] the same way that [L] split off from, to provide free and unrestricted access to a
fundamentally similar collection. Finally, some in the community felt the need to focus their efforts on a
separate collection of scientific works. This became Kolhoz collection.

The genesis of a million book scientific library
A Kolhoz (Russian: колхо́ з) was one of the types of collective farm that emerged in the early Soviet
period. In the early days, it was a self-governing, community-owned collaborative enterprise, with many
of the features of a commons. For the Russian digital librarians, these historical resonances were
The kolhoz group was initially a community that scanned and processed scientific materials: books and,
occasionally, articles. The ethos was free sharing. Academic institutes in Russia were in dire need of
scientific texts; they xeroxed and scanned whatever they could. Usually, the files were then stored on the
institute's ftp site and could be downloaded freely. There were at least three major research institutes
that did this, back in early 2000s, unconnected to each other in any way, located in various faraway parts
of Russia. Most of these scans were appropriated by the kolhoz group and processed into DJVU4.
The sources of files for kolhoz were, initially, several collections from academic institutes (downloaded
whenever the ftp servers were open for anonymous access; in one case, from one of the institutes of the
Chinese academy of sciences, but mostly from Russian academic institutes). At that time (around 2002),
there were also several commercialized collections of scanned books on sale in Russia (mostly, these were
college-level textbooks on math and physics); these files were also all copied to kolhoz and processed into
DJVU. The focus was on collecting the most important science textbooks and monographs of all time, in
all fields of natural science.
There was never any commercial support. The kolhoz group never had a web site with a database, like
most projects today. They had an ftp server with files, and the access to ftp was given by PM in a forum.
This ftp server was privately supported by one of the members (who was an academic researcher, like
most kolhoz members). The files were distributed directly by burning files on writable DVDs and giving the


DJVU is a file format that revolutionized online book distribution the way mp3 revolutionized the online music
distribution. For books that contain graphs, images and mathematical formulae scanning is the only digitization
option. However, the large number of resulting image files is difficult to handle. The DJVU file format allows for the
images of scanned book pages to be stored in the smallest possible file size, which makes it the perfect medium for
the distribution of scanned e-books.


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DVDs away. Later, the ftp access was closed to the public, and only a temporary file-swapping ftp server
remained. Today the kolhoz DVD releases are mostly spread via torrents.” 5
Kolhoz amassed around fifty thousand documents, the mexmat collection of the Moscow State
University Department of Mechanics and Mathematics (Moshkov’s alma mater) was around the same
size, the “world of books” collection (mirknig) had around thirty thousand files, and there were around a
dozen other smaller archives, each with approximately 10 thousand files in their respective collections.
The Kolhoz group dominated the science-minded ebook community in Russia well into the late 2000’s.
Kolhoz, however, suffered from the same problems as the early Fidonet-based text collections. Since it
was distributed in DVDs, via ftp servers and on torrents, it was hard to search, it lacked a proper catalog
and it was prone to fragmentation. Parallel solutions soon emerged: around 2006-7, an existing book site
called Gigapedia copied the English books from Kolhoz, set up a catalog, and soon became the most
influential pirate library in the English speaking internet.
Similar cataloguing efforts soon emerged elsewhere. In 2007, someone on, a Russian BBS
focusing on file sharing, posted torrent links to 91 DVDs containing science and technology titles
aggregated from various other Russian sources, including Kolhoz. This massive collection had no
categorization or particular order. But it soon attracted an archivist: a user of the forum started the
laborious task of organizing the texts into a usable, searchable format—first filtering duplicates and
organizing existing metadata first into an excel spreadsheet, and later moving to a more open, webbased database operating under the name Aleph.
Aleph inherited more than just books from Kolhoz and Moshkov’s It inherited their elitism with
regard to canonical texts, and their understanding of librarianship as a community effort. Like the earlier
sites, Aleph’s collections are complemented by a stream of user submissions. Like the other sites, the
number of submissions grew rapidly as the site’s visibility, reputation and trustworthiness was
established, and like the others it later fell, as more and more of what was perceived as canonical
literature was uploaded:
“The number of mankind’s useful books is about what we already have. So growth is defined by newly
scanned or issued books. Also, the quality of the collection is represented not by the number of books but
by the amount of knowledge it contains. [ALEPH] does not need to grow more and I am not the only one
among us who thinks so. […]
We have absolutely no idea who sends books in. It is practically impossible to know, because there are a
million books. We gather huge collections which eliminate any traces of the original uploaders.
My expectation is that new arrivals will dry up. Not completely, as I described above, some books will
always be scanned or rescanned (it nowadays happens quite surprisingly often) and the overall process of
digitization cannot and should not be stopped. It is also hard to say when the slowdown will occur: I
expected it about a year ago, but then got shut down and things changed dramatically in many
respects. Now we are "in charge" (we had been the largest anyways, just now everyone thinks we are in

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charge) and there has been a temporary rise in the book inflow. At the moment, relatively small or
previously unseen collections are being integrated into [ALEPH]. Perhaps in a year it will saturate.
However, intuition is not a good guide. There are dynamic processes responsible for eBook availability. If
publishers massively digitize old books, they'll obviously be harvested and that will change the whole
picture.” 6
Aleph’s ambitions to create a universal library are limited , at least in terms of scope. It does not want to
have everything, or anything. What it wants is what is thought to be relevant by the community,
measured by the act of actively digitizing and sharing books. But it has created a very interesting strategy
to establish a library which is universal in terms of its reach. The administrators of Aleph understand that
Gigapedia’s downfall was due to its visibility and they wish to avoid that trap:
“Well, our policy, which I control as strictly as I can, is to avoid fame. Gigapedia's policy was to gain as
much fame as possible. Books should be available to you, if you need them. But let the rest of the world
stay in its equilibrium. We are taking great care to hide ourselves and it pays off.”7
They have solved the dilemma of providing access without jeopardizing their mission by open sourcing
the collection and thus allowing others to create widely publicized services that interface with the
public.They let others run the risk of getting famous.

Mirrors and communities
Aleph serves as a source archive for around a half-dozen freely accessible pirate libraries on the net. The
catalog database is downloadable, the content is downloadable, even the server code is downloadable.
No passwords are required to download and there are no gatekeepers. There are no obstacle to setting
up a similar library with a wider catalog, with improved user interface and better services, with a
different audience or, in fact, a different business model.
This arrangement creates a two-layered community. The core group of the Aleph admins maintains the
current service, while a loose and ever changing network of ‘mirror sites’ build on the Aleph
“The unspoken agreement is that the mirrors support our ideas. Otherwise we simply do not interact with
them. If the mirrors do support this, they appear in the discussions, on the Web etc. in a positive context.
This is again about building a reputation: if they are reliable, we help with what we can, otherwise they
should prove the World they are good on their own. We do not request anything from them. They are free
to do anything they like. But if they do what we do not agree with, it'll be taken into account in future
relations. If you think for a while, there is no other democratic way of regulation: everyone expresses his
own views and if they conform with ours, we support them. If the ideology does not match, it breaks


Anonymous source #1
Anonymous source #2
Anonymous source #1


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The core Aleph team claims to exclusively control only two critical resources: the BBS that is the home of
the community, and the book-uploading interface. That claim is, however, not entirely accurate. For the
time being, the academic minded e-book community indeed gathers on the BBS managed by Aleph, and
though there is little incentive to move on, technically nothing stands in the way of alternatives to spring
up. As for the centralization of the book collection: many of the mirrors have their own upload pages
where one can contribute to a mirror’s collection, and it is not clear how or whether books that land at
one of the mirrors find their way back to the central database. Aleph also offers a desktop library
management tool, which enables dedicated librarians to see the latest Aleph database on their desktop
and integrate their local collections with the central database via this application. Nevertheless, it seems
that nothing really stands in the way of the fragmentation of the collection, apart from the willingness of
uploaders to contribute directly to Aleph rather than to one of its mirrors (or other sites).
Funding for Aleph comes from the administrators’ personal resources as well as occasional donations
when there is a need to buy or rent equipment or services:
“[W]e've been asking and getting support for this purpose for years. […] All our mirrors are supported
primarily from private pockets and inefficient donation schemes: they bring nothing unless a whole
campaign is arranged. I asked the community for donations 3 or 4 times, for a specific purpose only and
with all the budget spoken for. And after getting the requested amount of money we shut down the
Mirrors, however, do not need to be non-commercial to enjoy the support of the core Aleph community,
they just have to provide free access. Ad-supported business models that do not charge for individual
access are still acceptable to the community, but there has been serious fallout with another site, which
used the Aleph stock to seed its own library, but decided to follow a “collaborative piracy” business
“To make it utmost clear: we collaborate with anyone who shares the ideology of free knowledge
distribution. No conditions. [But] we can't suddenly start supporting projects that earn money. […]
Moreover, we've been tricked by commercial projects in the past when they used the support of our
community for their own benefit.”10
The site in question, [e], is based on a simple idea: If a user cannot find a book in its collection, the
administrators offer to purchase a digital or print copy, rip it, and sell it to the user for a fraction of the
original price—typically under $1. Payments are to be made in Amazon gift cards which make the
purchases easy but the de-anonymization of users difficult. [e] recoups its investment, in principle,
through resale. While clearly illegal, the logic is not that different from that of private subscription
libraries, which purchase a resource and distribute the costs and benefits among club members.


BBS comment posted on Jan 15, 2013
BBS comment posted on Jan 15, 2013



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Although from the rights holders’ perspective there is little difference between the two approaches,
many participants in the free access community draw a sharp line between the two, viewing the sales
model as a violation of community norms.
“[e] is a scam. They were banned in our forum. Yes, most of the books in [e] came from [ALEPH], because
[ALEPH] is open, but we have nothing to do with them... If you wish to buy a book, do it from legal
sources. Otherwise it must be free.[…]
What [e] wants:
- make money on ebook downloads, no matter what kind of ebooks.
- get books from all the easy sources - spend as little effort as possible on books - maximize profit.
- no need to build a community, no need to improve quality, no need to correct any errors - just put all
files in a big pile - maximize profit.
- files are kept in secret, never given away, there is no listing of files, there is no information about what
books are really there or what is being done.
There are very few similarities in common between [e]and [ALEPH], and these similarities are too
superficial to serve as a common ground for communication. […]
They run an illegal business, making a profit.”11
Aleph administrators describe a set of values that differentiates possible site models. They prioritize the
curatorial mission and the provision of long term free access to the collection with all the costs such a
position implies, such as open sourcing the collection, ignoring takedown requests, keeping a low profile,
refraining from commercial activities, and as a result, operating on a reduced budget . [e] prioritizes the
expansion of its catalogue on demand but that implies a commercial operation, a larger budget and the
associated high legal risk. Sites carrying Aleph’s catalogue prioritize public visibility, carry ads to cover
costs but respond to takedown requests to avoid as much trouble as they can. From the perspective of
expanding access, these are not easy or straightforward tradeoffs. In Aleph’s case, the strong
commitment to the mission of providing free access comes with significant sacrifices, the most important
of which is relinquishing control over its most valuable asset: its collection of 1.2 million scientific books.
But they believe that these costs are justified by the promise, that this way the fate of free access is not
tied to the fate of Aleph.
The fact that piratical file sharing communities are willing to make substantial sacrifices (in terms of selfrestraint) to ensure their long term survival has been documented in a number of different cases. (Bodó,
2013) Aleph is unique, however in its radical open source approach. No other piratical community has
given up all the control over itself entirely. This approach is rooted in the way how it regards the legal
status of its subject matter, i.e. scholarly publications in the first place. While norms of openness in the
field of scientific knowledge production were first formed in the Enlightenment period, Aleph’s

BBS comments posted on Jul 02, 2013, and Aug 25, 2013


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copynorms are as much shaped by the specificities of post-Soviet era as by the age old realization that in
science we can see further if we are allowed “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

Copyright and copynorms around Russian pirate libraries
The struggle to re-establish rightsholders’ control over digitized copyrighted works has defined the
copyright policy arena since Napster emerged in 1999. Russia brought a unique history to this conflict. In
Russia, digital libraries and their emerged in a period a double transformation: the post-Soviet copyright
system had to adopt global norms, while the global norms struggled to adapt to the emergence of digital
The first post-Soviet decade produced new copyright laws that conformed with some of the international
norms advocated by Western rightsholders, but little legal clarity or enforceability (Sezneva & Karaganis,
2011). Under such conditions, informally negotiated copynorms set in to fill the void of non-existent,
unreasonable, or unenforceable laws. The pirate libraries in the RuNet are as much regulated by such
norms as by the actual laws themselves.
During most of the 1990’s user-driven digitization and archiving was legal, or to be more exact, wasn’t
illegal. The first Russian copyright law, enacted in 1993, did not cover “internet rights” until a 2006
amendment (Budylin & Osipova, 2007; Elst, 2005, p. 425). As a result, many argued (including the
Moscow prosecutor’s office), that the distribution of copyrighted works via the internet was not
copyright infringement. Authors and publishers, who saw their works appear in digital form, and
circulated via CD-ROMs and the internet, had to rely on informal norms, still in development, to establish
control over their texts vis-à-vis enthusiastic collectors and for-profit entrepreneurs.
The HARRYFAN CD was one of the early examples of a digital text collection in circulation before internet
access was widespread. The CD contained around ten thousand texts, mostly Russian science fiction. It
was compiled in 1997 by Igor Zagumenov, a book enthusiast, from the texts that circulated on the Holy
Spirit BBS. The CD was a non-profit project, planned to be printed and sold in around 1000 copies.
Zagumenov did get in touch with some of the authors and publishers, and got permission to release
some of their texts, but the CD also included many other works that were uploaded to the BBS without
authorization. The CD included the following copyright notice, alongside the name and contact of
Zagumenov and those who granted permission:
Texts on this CD are distributed in electronic format with the consent of the copyright holders or their
literary agent. The disk is aimed at authors, editors, translators and fans SF & F as a compact reference
and information library. Copying or reproduction of this disc is not allowed. For the commercial use of
texts please refer directly to the copyright owners at the following addresses.
The authors whose texts and unpublished manuscripts appeared in the collection without authorization
started to complain to those whose contact details were in the copyright notice. Some complained
about the material damage the collection may have caused to them, but most complaints focused on
moral rights: unauthorized publication of a manuscript, the mutilation of published works, lack of
attribution, or the removal of original copyright and contact notices. Some authors had no problem

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appearing in non-commercially distributed collections but objected to the fact that the CDs were sold
(and later overproduced in spite of Zagumenov’s intentions).
The debate, which took place in the book-related fora of Fidonet, had some important points.
Participants again drew a significant distinction between free access provided first by Fidonet (and later
by, which integrated some parts of the collection) and what was perceived as Zagumenov’s forprofit enterprise—despite the fact that the price of the CD only covered printing costs. The debate also
drew authors’ and publishers’ attention to the digital book communities’ actions, which many saw as
beneficial as long as it respected the wishes of the authors. Some authors did not want to appear online
at all, others wanted only their published works to be circulated. of course integrated the parts of the HARRYFAN CD into its collection. Moshkov’s policy towards
authors’ rights was to ask for permission, if he could contact the author or publisher. He also honored
takedown requests sent to him. In 1999 he wrote on copyright issues as follows:
The author’s interests must be protected on the Internet: the opportunity to find the original copy, the
right of attribution, protection from distorting the work. Anyone who wants to protect his/her rights,
should be ready to address these problems, ranging from the ability to identify the offending party, to the
possibility of proving infringement.[…]
Meanwhile, it has become a stressing question how to protect authors-netizens' rights regarding their
work published on the Internet. It is known that there are a number of periodicals that reprint material
from the Internet without the permission of the author, without payment of a fee, without prior
arrangement. Such offenders need to be shamed via public outreach. The "Wall of shame" website is one
of the positive examples of effective instruments established by the networked public to protect their
rights. It manages to do the job without bringing legal action - polite warnings, an indication of potential
trouble and shaming of the infringer.
Do we need any laws for digital libraries? Probably we do, but until then we have to do without. Yes, of
course, it would be nice to have their status established as “cultural objects” and have the same rights as
a "real library" to collect information, but that might be in the distant future. It would also be nice to
have the e-library "legal deposits" of publications in electronic form, but when even Leninka [the Russian
State Library] cannot always afford that, what we really need are enthusiastic networkers. […]
The policy of the library is to take everything they give, otherwise they cease to send books. It is also to
listen to the authors and strictly comply with their requirements. And it is to grow and prosper. […] I
simply want the books to find their readers because I am afraid to live in a world where no one reads
books. This is already the case in America, and it is speeding up with us. I don’t just want to derail this
process, I would like to turn it around.”


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Moshkov played a crucial role in consolidating copynorms in the Russian digital publishing domain. His
reputation and place in the Russian literary domain is marked by a number of prizes12, and the library’s
continued existence. This place was secured by a number of closely intertwined factors:

Framing and anchoring the digitization and distribution practice in the library tradition.
The non-profit status of the enterprise.
Respecting the wishes of the rights holders even if he was not legally obliged to do so.
Maintaining active communication with the different stakeholders in the community,
including authors and readers.
Responding to a clear gap in affordable, legal access.
Conservatism with regard to the book, anchored in the argument that digital texts are not
substitutes for printed matter.

Many other digital libraries tried to follow Moshkov’s formula, but the times were changing. Internet and
computer access left the sub-cultural niches and became mainstream; commercialization became a
viable option and thus an issue for both the community and rightsholders; and the legal environment
was about to change.

Formalization of the IP regime in the 2000s
As soon as the 1993 copyright law passed, the US resumed pressure on the Russian government for
further reform. Throughout the period—and indeed to the present day—US Trade Representative
Special 301 reports cited inadequate protections and lack of enforcement of copyright. Russia’s plans to
join the WTO, over which the US had effective veto power, also became leverage to bring the Russian
copyright regime into compliance with US norms.
Book piracy was regularly mentioned in Special 301 reports in the 2000s, but the details, alleged losses,
and analysis changed little from year to year. The estimated $40M USD losses per year throughout this
period were dwarfed by claims from the studios and software vendors, and clearly were not among the
top priorities of the USTR. For most of the decade, the electronic availability of bestsellers and academic
textbooks was seen in the context of print substitution, rather than damage to the non-existent
electronic market. And though there is little direct indication, the Special 301 reports name sites which
(unlike were serving audiences beyond the RuNet, indicating that the focus of enforcement was
not to protect US interests in the Russian market, but to prevent sites based in Russia to cater for
demand in the high value Western-European and US markets.
A 1998 amendment to the 1993 copyright law extended the legal framework to encompass digital rights,
though in a fashion that continued to produce controversy. After 1998, digital services had to license
content from collecting societies, but those societies needed no permission from rightsholders provided
they paid royalites. The result was a proliferation of collective management organizations, competing to
license the material to digital services (Sezneva and Karaganis, 2011), which under this arrangement

ROTOR, the International Union of Internet Professionals in Russia voted as the “literary site of the year” in
1999,2001 and 2003, “electronic library of the year” in 2004,2006,2008,2009, and 2010, “programmer of the year”
in 1999, and “man of the year” in 2004 and 2005.


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were compliant with Russian law, but were regarded as illegal by Western rights holders who claimed
that the Russian collecting societies were not representing them.
The best known of dispute from this time was the one around the legality of, a site that
sold music from western record labels at prices far below those iTunes or other officially licensed
vendors. claimed that it was licensed by ROMS, the Russian Society for Multimedia and
Internet (Российское общество по мультимедиа и цифровым сетям (НП РОМС)), but despite of that
became the focal point of US (and behind them, major label) pressure, leading to an unsuccessful
criminal prosecution of the site owner and eventual closure of the site in 2007. Although had
some direct agreements with authors, it also licensed much of its collection from ROMS, and thus was in
the same legal situation as . avoided the attention of foreign rightholders and Russian state pressure and even benefited from
state support during the period, the receiving a $30,000 grant from the Federal Agency for Press and
Mass Communications to digitize the most important works from the 1930’s. But the chaotic licensing
environment that governed their legal status also came back to haunt them. In 2005, a lawsuit was
brought against Moshkov by KM Online (KMO), an online vendor that sold digital texts for a small fee.
Although the KMO collection—like every other collection—had been assembled from a wide range of
sources on the Internet, KMO claimed to pay a 20% royalty on its income to authors. In 2004 KMO
requested that take down works by several authors with whom (or with whose heirs) KMO claimed
to be in exclusive contract to distribute their texts online. KMO’s claims turned out to be only partly true.
KMO had arranged contracts with a number of the heirs to classics of the Soviet period, who hoped to
benefit from an obscure provision in the 1993 Russian copyright law that granted copyrights to the heirs
of politically prosecuted and later rehabilitated Soviet-era authors. Moshkov, in turn, claimed that he
had written or oral agreements with many of the same authors and heirs, in addition to his agreement
with ROMS.
The lawsuit was a true public event. It generated thousands of news items both online and in the
mainstream press. Authors, members of the publishing industry, legal professionals, librarians, internet
professionals publicly supported Moshkov, while KMO was seen as a rogue operator that would lie to
make easy money on freely-available digital resources.
Eventually, the court ruled that KMO indeed had one exclusive contract with Eduard Gevorgyan, and that
the publication of his texts by Moshkov infringed the moral (but not the economic) rights of the author.
Moshkov was ordered to pay 3000 Rubles (approximately $100) in compensation.
The lawsuit was a sign of a slow but significant transformation in the Russian print ecosystem. The idea
of a viable market for electronic books began to find a foothold. Electronic versions of texts began to be
regarded as potential substitutes for the printed versions, not advertisements for them or supplements
to them. More and more commercial services emerged, which regard the well-entrenched free digital
libraries as competitors. As Russia continued to bring its laws into closer conformance with WTO
requirements, ahead of Russia’s admission in 2012, western rightsholders gained enough power to
demand enforcement against RuNet pirate sites. The kinds of selective enforcement for political or


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business purposes, which had marked the Russian IP regime throughout the decade (Sezneva &
Karaganis, 2011), slowly gave way to more uniform enforcement.

Closure of the Legal Regime
The legal, economic, and cultural conditions under which Aleph and its mirrors operate today are very
different from those of two decades earlier. The major legal loopholes are now closed, though Russian
authorities have shown little inclination to pursue Aleph so far:
I can't say whether it's the Russian copyright enforcement or the Western one that's most dangerous for
Aleph; I'd say that Russian enforcement is still likely to tolerate most of the things that Western
publishers won't allow. For example, and [L] and other unofficial Russian e-libraries are tolerated
even though far from compliant with the law. These kinds of e-libraries could not survive at all in western
Western publishers have been slow to join record, film, and software companies in their aggressive
online enforcement campaigns, and academic publishers even more so. But such efforts are slowly
increasing, as the market for digital texts grows and as publishers benefit from the enforcement
precedents set or won by the more aggressive rightsholder groups. The domain name of [os], one of the
sites mirroring the Aleph collection was seized, apparently due to the legal action taken by a US
rightholder, and it also started to respond to DMCA notices, removing links to books reported to be
infringing. Aleph responds to this with a number of tactical moves:
We want books to be available, but only for those who need them. We do not want [ALEPH] to be visible.
If one knows where to get books, there are here for him or her. In this way we stay relatively invisible (in
search engines, e.g.), but all the relevant communities in the academy know about us. Actually, if you
question people at universities, the percentage of them is quite low. But what's important is that the
news about [ALEPH] is spread mostly by face-to-face communication, where most of the unnecessary
people do not know about it. (Unnecessary are those who aim profit)14
The policy of invisibility is radically different from Moshkov’s policy of maximum visibility. Aleph hopes
that it can recede into the shadows where it will be protected by the omerta of academics sharing the
sharing ethos:
In Russian academia, [Aleph] is tacitly or actively supported. There are people that do not want to be
included, but it is hard to say who they are in most cases. Since there are DMCA complaints, of course
there are people who do not want stuff to appear here. But in our experience the complainers are only
from the non-scientific fellows. […] I haven't seen a single complaint from the authors who should
constitute our major problem: professors etc. No, they don't complain. Who complains are either of such
type I have mentioned or the ever-hungry publishers.15


Anonymous source #1
Anonymous source #1
Anonymous source #1


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The protection the academic community has to offer may not be enough to fend off the publishers’
enforcement actions. The option to recede further into the darknets and hide behind the veil of privacy
technologies is one option the Aleph site has: the first mirror on I2P, an anonymizing network designed
to hide the whereabouts and identity of web services is already operational. But
[i]f people are physically served court invitations, they will have to close the site. The idea is, however,
that the entire collection is copied throughout the world many times over, the database is open, the code
for the site is open, so other people can continue.16

On methodology
We tried to reconstruct the story behind Aleph by conducting interviews and browsing through the BBS
of the community. Access to the site and community members was given under a strict condition of
anonymity. We thus removed any reference to the names and URLs of the services in question.
At one point we shared an early draft of this paper with interested members and asked for their
feedback. Beyond access and feedback, community members were helping the writing of this article by
providing translations of some Russian originals, as well as reviewing the translations made by the
author. In return, we provided financial contributions to the community, in the value of 100 USD.
We reproduced forum entries without any edits to the language, we, however, edited interviews
conducted via IM services to reflect basic writing standards.


Anonymous source #1


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monoskop in Constant 2016

Mondotheque: A Radiated Book





• Mondotheque::a radiated book/un livre irradiant/een
irradiërend boek
◦ Property:Person (agents + actors)
◦ EN Introduction
◦ FR Préface
◦ NL Inleiding
• Embedded hierarchies
◦ FR+NL+EN A radiating interview/Un entrevue irradiant/Een irradiërend gesprek
◦ EN Amateur Librarian - A Course in Critical Pedagogy TOMISLAV MEDAK &
MARCELL MARS (Public Library project)
◦ FR Bibliothécaire amateur - un cours de pédagogie critique TOMISLAV MEDAK


A bag but is language nothing of words MICHAEL MURTAUGH
A Book of the Web DUSAN BAROK
Une lecture-écriture du livre sur le livre ALEXIA DE VISSCHER

• Disambiguation
◦ EN An experimental transcript SÎNZIANA PĂLTINEANU
◦ EN+FR LES UTOPISTES and their common logos/et leurs logos communs


A Pre-emptive History of the Google Cultural Institute GERALDINE



Une histoire préventive du Google Cultural Institute GERALDINE JUÁREZ

• Location, location, location
◦ EN From Paper Mill to Google Data Center SHINJOUNG YEO
◦ EN House, City, World, Nation, Globe NATACHA ROUSSEL
◦ EN The Smart City - City of Knowledge DENNIS POHL
◦ FR La ville intelligente - Ville de la connaissance DENNIS POHL
◦ EN The Itinerant Archive
• Cross-readings
◦ EN Les Pyramides
◦ EN Transclusionism
◦ EN Reading list
◦ FR+EN+NL Colophon/Colofon



Meet the cast of historical, contemporary and fictional people that populate La

Unknown man,Andrew
Warden Boyd Carnegie
Rayward, Françoise
Levie, Alex Wright

André CanonneArni Jonsson , Barack ObamaBernard Otlet Bernard Otlet, Bernard Otlet, Bill Echikson
Sauli Niinistö
Lafontaine Lafontaine

Bill Echikson, Delphine JenartDelphine Jenart,
Elio Di Rupo Unknown man,Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo, Sylvia Van
Delphine Jenart
Nooka Kiili ,
Elio Di Rupo, Sylvia Van Sylvia Van Thierry GeertsPeteghem, Elio
Joyce Proot
Roi Albert II, Peteghem
Di Rupo, JeanJean-Claude
Paul Deplus

Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo Alexander De Elio Di Rupo, Nicolas Sarkozy,
Eric E. SchmidtErnest de Potter
Thierry Geerts,Guy Quaden , Rudy Demotte
Croo, Elio Di Unknown man,Eric E. Schmidt
Unknown man Yves Vasseur
Roi Albert II,



Alexia de Visscher,
Femke Snelting,Robert M. Nicolas Malevé,
Manfroid, Femke
Michael Murtaugh,
Dennis Pohl, Ochshorn, JanMichael
Manfroid, Femke
Manfroid, Femke
Snelting, Dick Femke Snelting,Alexia de
Gerber , FemkeMurtaugh, Alexia
Snelting, Natacha
Snelting, Natacha
Visscher, Andre
Snelting, Marcell
de Visscher, Roussel, Dick Roussel, Dick
Mars, Sebastian
Femke Snelting,Reckard
Păltineanu, Nicolas
Luetgert , Donatella
Portoghese Păltineanu


Gustave AbeelsHarm Post

Henri La

Henri La

Henri La

Mathilde Lhoest,
Henri La
Henri La

Igor PlatounoffWilhelmina
Coops, Igor

Annie Besant, Jean François Jean Otlet Jr. Bill Echikson, Jean-Paul Deplus
Annie Besant, Louis Masure,Unidentified Woman,
Marcel Flamion
Jean Delville Fueg
Jean-Paul Deplus
Mademoiselle Poels,
Mademoiselle Poels
Krishnamurti Mademoiselle de

Marie-Louise Paul Otlet, Paul Otlet
Madame Taupin
, Pierre

Paul Otlet

Wilhelmina Paul Otlet
Coops, Paul

Marie Van Paul Otlet, Cato
Paul Otlet, Cato
Mons , Paul van Nederhasselt
van Nederhasselt

Unidentified Wilhelmina Paul Otlet
Woman, Paul Coops, Paul

Paul Otlet

Jiddu Krishnamurti
Paul Otlet
, Paul Otlet, Jean

Unidentified Paul Otlet
Woman, Paul
Otlet, Georges


Paul Otlet


Cato van
Le Corbusier, Paul Otlet,
Nederhasselt, Paul
Paul Otlet, Georges
Hélène de

Unidentified Paul Otlet, Henri
Paul Otlet
Woman, Jean La Fontaine,
Delville, Paul Mathilde Lhoest
Otlet, Henri La

Unidentified Unidentified Paul Otlet, Unidentified Paul Otlet,
Woman, Paul Woman, Paul Mathilde La Woman, W.E.B.
Otlet, GeorgesFontaine , Henri
Du Bois, Paul Woman
La Fontaine Otlet, Henri La
Fontaine, Jean

Paul Panda, Unidentified Paul Otlet
Unidentified Woman, Paul
Woman, HenriOtlet
Fontaine, Cato van
Nederhasselt, Paul
Otlet, W.E.B. Du
Bois, Blaise Diagne
, Mathilde Lhoest

Unidentified Woman,
Paul Otlet, Cato
Nederhasselt, Georges
Lorphèvre, André
Colet, Thea Coops,
Broese van Groenou

Steve Crossan Stéphanie

Sylvia Van

Thea Coops Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified
Woman, LouisWoman
Woman, LouisWoman

Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Vint Cerf, Chris
Vint Cerf


Vint Cerf






Yves Bernard

This Radiated Book started three years ago with an e-mail from the Mundaneum archive
center in Mons. It announced that Elio di Rupo, then prime minister of Belgium, was about
to sign a collaboration agreement between the archive center and Google. The newsletter
cited an article in the French newspaper Le Monde that coined the Mundaneum as 'Google
on paper' [1]. It was our first encounter with many variations on the same theme.
The former mining area around Mons is also where Google has installed its largest
datacenter in Europe, a result of negotiations by the same Di Rupo[2]. Due to the re-branding
of Paul Otlet as ‘founding father of the Internet’, Otlet's oeuvre finally started to receive
international attention. Local politicians wanting to transform the industrial heartland into a
home for The Internet Age seized the moment and made the Mundaneum a central node in
their campaigns. Google — grateful for discovering its posthumous francophone roots — sent
chief evangelist Vint Cerf to the Mundaneum. Meanwhile, the archive center allowed the
company to publish hundreds of documents on the website of Google Cultural Institute.
While the visual resemblance between a row of index drawers and a server park might not
be a coincidence, it is something else to conflate the type of universalist knowledge project
imagined by Paul Otlet and Henri Lafontaine with the enterprise of the search giant. The
statement 'Google on paper' acted as a provocation, evoking other cases in other places
where geographically situated histories are turned into advertising slogans, and cultural
infrastructures pushed into the hands of global corporations.
An international band of artists, archivists and activists set out to unravel the many layers of
this mesh. The direct comparison between the historical Mundaneum project and the mission
of Alphabet Inc[3] speaks of manipulative simplification on multiple levels, but to de-tangle its
implications was easier said than done. Some of us were drawn in by misrepresentations of
the oeuvre of Otlet himself, others felt the need to give an account of its Brussels' roots, to reinsert the work of maintenance and caretaking into the his/story of founding fathers, or joined
out of concern with the future of cultural institutions and libraries in digital times.
We installed a Semantic MediaWiki and named it after the Mondotheque, a device
imagined by Paul Otlet in 1934. The wiki functioned as an online repository and frame of
reference for the work that was developed through meetings, visits and presentations[4]. For
Otlet, the Mondotheque was to be an 'intellectual machine': at the same time archive, link
generator, writing desk, catalog and broadcast station. Thinking the museum, the library, the
encyclopedia, and classificatory language as a complex and interdependent web of relations,
Otlet imagined each element as a point of entry for the other. He stressed that responses to



displays in a museum involved intellectual and social processes that where different from
those involved in reading books in a library, but that one in a sense entailed the other. [5]. The
dreamed capacity of his Mondotheque was to interface scales, perspectives and media at the
intersection of all those different practices. For us, by transporting a historical device into the
future, it figured as a kind of thinking machine, a place to analyse historical and social
locations of the Mundaneum project, a platform to envision our persistent interventions
together. The speculative figure of Mondotheque enabled us to begin to understand the
situated formations of power around the project, and allowed us to think through possible
forms of resistance. [6]
The wiki at grew into a labyrinth of images, texts, maps and semantic
links, tools and vocabularies. MediaWiki is a Free software infrastructure developed in the
context of Wikipedia and comes with many assumptions about the kind of connections and
practices that are desirable. We wanted to work with Semantic extensions specifically
because we were interested in the way The Semantic Web[7] seemed to resemble Otlet's
Universal Decimal Classification system. At many moments we felt ourselves going down
rabbit-holes of universal completeness, endless categorisation and nauseas of scale. It made
the work at times uncomfortable, messy and unruly, but it allowed us to do the work of
unravelling in public, mixing political urgency with poetic experiments.
This Radiated Book was made because we wanted to create a moment, an incision into that
radiating process that allowed us to invite many others a look at the interrelated materials
without the need to provide a conclusive document. As a salute to Otlet's ever expanding
Radiated Library, we decided to use the MediaWiki installation to write, edit and generate
the publication which explains some of the welcome anomalies on the very pages of this
The four chapters that we propose each mix fact and fiction, text and image, document and
catalogue. In this way, process and content are playing together and respond to the specific
material entanglements that we encountered. Mondotheque, and as a consequence this
Radiated book, is a multi-threaded, durational, multi-scalar adventure that in some way
diffracts the all-encompassing ambition that the 19th century Utopia of Mundaneum stood
Embedded hierarchies addresses how classification systems, and the dream of their universal
application actually operate. It brings together contributions that are concerned with
knowledge infrastructures at different scales, from disobedient libraries, institutional practices
of the digital archive, meta-data structures to indexing as a pathological condition.
Disambiguation dis-entangles some of the similarities that appear around the heritage of Paul
Otlet. Through a close-reading of seemingly similar biographies, terms and vocabularies it relocates ambiguity to other places.

Location, location, location is an account of geo-political layers at work. Following the
itinerant archive of Mundaneum through the capital of Europe, we encounter local, national
and global Utopias that in turn leave their imprint on the way the stories play out. From the
hyperlocal to the global, this chapter traces patterns in the physical landscape.
Cross-readings consists of lists, image collections and other materials that make connections
emerge between historical and contemporary readings, unearthing possible spiritual or
mystical underpinnings of the Mundaneum, and transversal inclusions of the same elements in
between different locations.
The point of modest operations such as Mondotheque is to build the collective courage to
persist in demanding access to both the documents and the intellectual and technological
infrastructures that interface and mediate them. Exactly because of the urgency of the
situation, where the erosion of public institutions has become evident, and all forms of
communication seem to feed into neo-liberal agendas eventually, we should resist
simplifications and find the patience to build a relation to these histories in ways that makes
sense. It is necessary to go beyond the current techno-determinist paradigm of knowledge
production, and for this, imagination is indispensable.

Paul Otlet, design for Mondotheque (Mundaneum archive center, Mons)

1. Jean-Michel Djian, Le Mundaneum, Google de papier, Le Monde Magazine, 19 december 2009



2. « À plusieurs
reprises, on a eu chaud, parce qu’il était prévu qu’au moindre couac sur ce point, Google arrêtait tout » Libre Belgique, 27 april
3. Sergey and I are seriously in the business of starting new things. Alphabet will also include our X lab, which incubates new
efforts like Wing, our drone delivery effort. We are also stoked about growing our investment arms, Ventures and Capital, as
part of this new structure. Alphabet Inc. will replace Google Inc. as the publicly-traded entity (...) Google will become a whollyowned subsidiary of Alphabet
5. The Mundaneum is an Idea, an Institution, a Method, a Body of workmaterials and Collections, a Building, a Network. Paul
Otlet, Monde (1935)
6. The analyses of these themes are transmitted through narratives -- mythologies or fictions, which I have renamed as "figurations"
or cartographies of the present. A cartography is a politically informed map of one's historical and social locations, enabling the
analysis of situated formations of power and hence the elaboration of adequate forms of resistance Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic
Theory (2011)
7. Some people have said, "Why do I need the Semantic Web? I have Google!" Google is great for helping people find things, yes!
But finding things more easily is not the same thing as using the Semantic Web. It's about creating things from data you've
complied yourself, or combining it with volumes (think databases, not so much individual documents) of data from other sources
to make new discoveries. It's about the ability to use and reuse vast volumes of data. Yes, Google can claim to index billions of
pages, but given the format of those diverse pages, there may not be a whole lot more the search engine tool can reliably do.
We're looking at applications that enable transformations, by being able to take large amounts of data and be able to run models
on the fly - whether these are financial models for oil futures, discovering the synergies between biology and chemistry researchers
in the Life Sciences, or getting the best price and service on a new pair of hiking boots. Tim Berners-Lee interviewed in
Consortium Standards Bulletin, 2005





Stéphanie Manfroid and Raphaèle Cornille are responsible for the
Mundaneum archives in Mons. We speak with them about the relationship
between the universe of Otlet and the concrete practice of scanning, meta-data
and on-line publishing, and the possibilities and limitations of their work with
Google. How to imagine a digital archive that could include the multiple
relationships between all documents in the collection? How the make visible
the continuous work of describing, maintaining and indexing?


The interview is part of a series of interviews with Belgian knowledge
institutions and their vision on digital information sharing. The voices of Sylvia
Van Peteghem and Dries Moreels (Ghent University), Églantine Lebacq and
Marc d'Hoore (Royal library of Belgium) resonate on the following pages.
We hear from them about the differences and similarities in how the three
institutions deal with the unruly practice of digital heritage.

The full interviews with the Royal Library of Belgium and Ghent University
Library can be found in the on-line publication.

• RC = Raphaèle Cornille (Mundaneum archive center, responsable des collections
• SM = Stéphanie Manfroid (Mundaneum archive center, responsable des archives)
• ADV = Alexia de Visscher
• FS = Femke Snelting

Mons, 21 avril 2016

ADV : Dans votre politique de numérisation, quelle infrastructure d’accès envisagez-vous et
pour quel type de données et de métadonnées ?
RC : On numérise depuis longtemps au Mundaneum, depuis 1995. À l’époque, il y avait
déjà du matériel de numérisation. Forcément pas avec les même outils que l’on a aujourd’hui,
on n’imaginait pas avoir accès aux bases de données sur le net. Il y a eu des évolutions
techniques, technologiques qui ont été importantes. Ce qui fait que pendant quelques années
on a travaillé avec le matériel qui était toujours présent en interne, mais pas vraiment avec un
plan de numérisation sur le long terme. Juste pour répondre à des demandes, soit pour nous,
parce qu’on avait des publications ou des expositions ou parce qu’on avait des demandes
extérieures de reproductions.
L’objectif évidemment c’est de pouvoir mettre à la disposition du public tout ce qui a été
numérisé. Il faut savoir que nous avons une base de données qui s’appelle Pallas[1] qui a été
soutenue par la Communauté Française depuis 2003. Malheureusement, le logiciel nous
pose pas mal de problème. On a déjà tenté des intégrations d’images et ça ne s’affiche pas
toujours correctement. Parfois on a des fiches descriptives mais nous n’avons pas l’image qui
SM : Les archives soutenues par la Communauté française, mais aussi d’autres centres, ont
opté pour Pallas. C’est ainsi que ce système permettait une compréhension des archives en
Belgique et en Communauté française notamment.

L’idée c’est que les centres d’archives utilisent tous un même système. C’est une belle
initiative, et dans ce cadre là, c’était l’idée d’avoir une plateforme générale, où toutes les
sources liées aux archives publiques, enfin les archives soutenues par la Communauté
Française - qui ne sont pas publiques d’ailleurs - puissent être accessibles à un seul et même
RC : Il y avait en tout cas cette idée par la suite, d’avoir une plate-forme commune, qui
s’appelle numé[2]. Malheureusement, ce qu’on trouve sur ne
correspond au contenu sur Pallas, ce sont deux structures différentes. En gros, si on veut
diffuser sur les deux, c’est deux fois le travail.
En plus, ils n’ont pas configuré numé pour qu’il puisse être moissonné par
Europeana[3]. Il y a des normes qui ne correspondent pas encore.
SM : Ce sont des choix politiques là. Et nous on dépend de ça. Et nous, nous dépendons de
choix généraux. Il est important que l’on comprenne bien la situation d'centre d’archives
comme le nôtre. Sa place dans le paysage patrimoniale belge et francophone également.
Notre intention est de nous situer tant dans ce cadre qu’à un niveau européen mais aussi
international. Ce ne sont pas des combinaisons si aisées que cela à mettre en place pour ces
différents publics ou utilisateurs par exemple.
RC : Soit il y a un problème technique, soit il y a un problème d’autorisation. Il faut savoir
que c’est assez complexe au niveau des métadonnées, il y a pas mal de choses à faire. On a
pendant tout un temps numérisé, mais on a généré les métadonnées au fur et à mesure, donc
il y aussi un gros travail à réaliser par rapport à ça. Normalement, pour le début 2017 on
envisagera le passage à Europeana avec des métadonnées correctes et le fait qu’on puisse
verser des fichiers corrects.
C’est assez lourd comme travail parce que nous devons générer les métadonnées à chaque
fois. Si vous prenez le Dublin Core[4], c’est à chaque fois 23 champs à remplir par document.
On essaye de remplir le maximum. De temps en temps, ça peut être assez lourd quand

FS : Pouvez-vous nous parler du détail de la lecture des documents d’Otlet et de la rédaction
de leur description, le passage d’un document « Otletien » à une version numérisée ?



RC : Il faut déjà au minimum avoir un inventaire. Il faut
que les pièces soient numérotées, sinon c’est un peu
difficile de retracer tout le travail. Parfois, ça passe par
une petite phase de restauration parce qu’on a des
documents poussiéreux et quand on scanne ça se voit.
Parfois, on doit faire des mises à plat, pour les journaux
par exemple, parce qu’ils sont pliés dans les boîtes. Ça
prend déjà un petit moment avant de pouvoir les
numériser. Ensuite, on va scanner le document, ça c’est la
partie la plus facile. On le met sur le scanner, on appuie
sur un bouton, presque.
Si c’est un manuscrit, on ne va pas pouvoir océriser. Par
contre, si c’est un document imprimé, là, on va l’océriser
en sachant qu’il va falloir le revérifier par la suite, parce
qu’il y a toujours un pourcentage d’erreur. Par exemple,
dans les journaux, en fonction de la typographie, si vous
avez des mots qui sont un peu effacés avec le temps, il
faut vérifier tout ça. Et puis, on va générer les
métadonnées Dublin Core. L’identifiant, un titre, tout ce
qui concerne les contributeurs : éditeurs, illustrateurs,
imprimeurs etc . c’est une description, c’est une
indexation par mots clefs, c’est une date, c’est une
localisation géographique, si il y en a une. C’est aussi,
faire des liens avec soit des ressources en interne soit des
ressources externes. Donc par exemple, moi si je pense à
une affiche, si elle a été dans une exposition si elle a été
publiée, il faut mettre toutes les références.

From Voor elk boek is een gebruiker:
SVP: Wij scannen op een totaal
andere manier. Bij Google gaat het
om massa-productie. Wij kiezen zelf
voor kleinere projecten. We hebben
een vaste ploeg, twee mensen die
voltijds scannen en beelden
verwerken, maar daarmee begin je
niet aan een project van 250.000
boeken. We doen wel een scan-ondemand of selecteren volledige
collecties. Toen we al onze
2.750.000 fiches enkele jaren
geleden door een externe firma lieten
scannen had ik medelijden met de
meisjes die de hele dag de
invoerscanner bedienden. Hopeloos
From X = Y:
According to the ideal image
described in "Traité", all the tasks of
collecting, translating, distributing,
should be completely automatic,
seemingly without the necessity of
human intervention. However, the
Mundaneum hired dozens of women
to perform these tasks. This humanrun version of the system was not
considered worth mentioning, as if it
was a temporary in-between phase
that should be overcome as soon as
possible, something that was staining
the project with its vulgarity.

SM : La vie de la pièce.
RC : Et faire le lien par exemple vers d’autres fonds, une autre lettre… Donc, vous avez
vraiment tous les liens qui sont là. Et puis, vous avez la description du fichier numérique en
lui-même. Nous on a à chaque fois quatre fichiers numériques : Un fichier RAW, un fichier
Tiff en 300 DPI, un JPEG en 300 DPI et un dernier JPE en 72 DPI, qui sont en fait les
trois formats qu’on utilise le plus. Et puis, là pareil, vous remettez un titre, une date, vous
avez aussi tout ce qui concerne les autorisations, les droits… Pour chaque document il y a
tout ces champs à remplir.
SM : Face à un schéma d’Otlet, on se demandait parfois ce que sont tous ces gribouillons.
On ne comprend pas tout de suite grand chose.
FS : Qui fait la description ? Plusieurs personnes ou quelqu’un qui travaille seul ?

RC : Ça demande quand même une certaine discipline, de la concentration et du temps pour
pouvoir le faire bien.
RC : Généralement c’est quelqu’un seul qui décrit. Là c’est un texte libre, donc c’est encore
assez facile. Maintenant quand vous devez indexer, il faut utiliser des Thesaurus existants, ce
qui n’est pas toujours facile parce que parfois ce sont des contraintes, et que ce n’est pas tout
à fait le vocabulaire que vous avez l’habitude d’utiliser.
SM : On a rencontré une firme, effectivement, quelqu’un qui pensait qu’on allait pouvoir
automatiser la chaîne de description des archives avec la numérisation y compris. Il ne
comprenait pas que c’était une tâche impossible. C’est une tâche humaine. Et franchement,
toute l’expérience qu’on peut avoir par rapport à ça aide énormément. Je ne pense pas, là
maintenant, qu’un cerveau humain puisse être remplacé par une machine dans ce cadre. Je
n’y crois pas.

FS : Votre travail touche très intimement à la pratique d’Otlet même. En fait, dans les
documents que nous avons consultés, nous avons vus plusieurs essais d’indexation, plusieurs
niveaux de systèmes de classement. Comment cela se croise-t-il avec votre travail de
numérisation ? Gardez-vous une trace de ces systèmes déjà projetés sur les documents euxmêmes ?
SM : Je crois qu’il y a deux éléments. Ici, si la question portait sur les étapes de la
numérisation, on part du document lui-même pour arriver à un nommage de fichier et il y a
une description avec plusieurs champs. Si finalement la pièce qui est numérisée, elle a sa
propre vie, sa propre histoire et c’est ça qu’on comprend. Par contre, au départ, on part du
principe que le fond est décrit, il y a un inventaire. On va faire comme si c’était toujours le
cas, ce n’est pas vrai d’ailleurs, ce n’est pas toujours le cas.
Et autre chose, aujourd’hui nous sommes un centre d’archives. Otlet était dans une
conception d’ouverture à la documentation, d’ouverture à l’Encyclopédie, vraiment quelque
chose de très très large. Notre norme de travail c’est d’utiliser la norme de description
générale des archives[5], et c’est une autre contrainte. C’est un gros boulot ça aussi.
On doit pouvoir faire des relations avec d’autres éléments qui se trouvent ailleurs, d’autres
documents, d’autres collections. C’est une lecture, je dirais presque en réseau des documents.
Évidemment c’est intéressant. Mais d’un autre côté, nous sommes archivistes, et c’est pas
qu’on n’aime pas la logique d’Otlet, mais on doit se faire à une discipline qui nous impose
aussi de protéger le patrimoine ici, qui appartient à la Communauté Française et qui donc
doit être décrit de manière normée comme dans les autres centres d’archives.



C’est une différence de dialogues. Pour moi ce n’est pas un détail du tout. Le fait que par
exemple, certains vont se dire « vous ne mettez pas l’indice CDU dans ces champs » ... vous
n’avez d’ailleurs pas encore posé cette question … ?
ADV : Elle allait venir !
SM : Aujourd’hui on ne cherche pas par indice CDU, c’est tout. Nous sommes un centre
d’archives, et je pense que ça a été la chance pour le Mundaneum de pouvoir mettre en
avant la protection de ce patrimoine en tant que tel et de pouvoir l’ériger en tant que
patrimoine réel, important pour la communauté.
RC : En fait la classification décimale n’étant pas une méthode d’indexation standardisée,
elle n’est pas demandée dans ces champs. Pour chaque champ à remplir dans le Dublin
Core, vous avez des normes à utiliser. Par exemple, pour les dates, les pays et la langue vous
avez les normes ISO, et la CDU n’est pas reconnue comme une norme.
Quand je décris dans Pallas, moi je mets l’indice CDU. Parce que les collections
iconographiques sont classées par thématique. Les cartes postales géographiques sont
classées par lieu. Et donc, j’ai à chaque fois l’indice CDU, parce que là, ça a un sens de le
FS : C’est très beau d’entendre cela mais c’est aussi tragique dans un sens. Il y a eu tellement
d’efforts faits à cette époque là pour trouver un standard ...

SM : La question de la légitimité du travail d’Otlet se place sur un débat contemporain qui
est amené sur la gestion des bases de données, en gros. Ça c’est un axe qui est de
communication, ce n’est pas le seul axe de travail de fond dans nos archives. Il faut distinguer
des éléments et la politique de numérisation, je ne suis pas en train de vouloir dire : « Tiens,
on est dans la gestion de méga-données chez nous. »
Nous ne gérons pas de grandes quantités de données. Le Big Data ne nous concerne pas
tout à fait, en terme de données conservées chez nous. Le débat nous intéresse au même titre
que ce débat existait sous une autre forme fin du 19e siècle avec l’avènement de la presse
périodique et la multiplication des titres de journaux ainsi que la diffusion rapide d’une
RC : Le fait d’avoir eu Paul Otlet reconnu comme père de l’internet etcetera, d’avoir pu le
rattacher justement à des éléments actuels, c’était des sujets porteurs pour la communication.
Ça ne veut pas dire que nous ne travaillons que là dessus. Il en a fait beaucoup plus que ça.
C’était un axe porteur, parce qu’on est à l’ère de la numérisation, parce qu’on nous demande

de numériser, de valoriser. On est encore à travailler sur les archives, à dépouiller les
archives, à faire des inventaires et donc on est très très loin de ces réflexions justement Big
Data et tout ça.
FS : Est-il imaginable qu’Otlet ait inventé le World Wide Web ?
SM : Franchement, pour dire les choses platement : C’est impossible, quand on a un regard
historique, d’imaginer qu’Otlet a imaginé… enfin il a imaginé des choses, oui, mais est-ce
que c’est parce que ça existe aujourd’hui qu’on peut dire « il a imaginé ça » ?. C’est ce qu’on
appelle de l’anachronisme en Histoire. Déontologiquement, ce genre de choses un historien
ne peut pas le faire. Quelqu’un d’autre peut se permettre de le faire. Par exemple, en
communication c’est possible. Réduire à des idées simples est aussi possible. C’est même un
avantage de pouvoir le faire. Une idée passera donc mieux.
RC : Il y a des concepts qu’il avait déjà compris.
From Voor elk boek is een gebruiker:
Maintenant, en fonction de l’époque, il n’a pas pu tout
Dus in de 19e eeuw wou Vander
mettre en place mais, il y a des choses qu’il avait
Haeghen een catalogus, en Otlet een
comprises dès le départ. Par exemple, standardiser les
bibliografie. En vandaag heeft Google
alles samen met de volledige tekst
choses pour pouvoir les changer. Ça il le comprend dès
erbij die dan nog op elk woord
le départ, c’est pour ça, la rédaction des fiches, c’est
doorzoekbaar is. Dat is de droom van
standardisé, vous ne pouvez pas rédiger n’importe
zowel Vander Haeghen als Otlet
méér dan verder zetten. Vanuit die
comment. C’est pour ça qu’il développe la CDU, il faut
gedachte zijn wij vanzelfsprekend
un langage qui soit utilisable par tous. Il imagine avec les
meegegaan. We hebben aan de
Google onderhandelaars gevraagd:
moyens de communications qu’il a à l’époque, il imagine
waarom doet Google dit? Het
déjà un moment pouvoir les combiner, sans doute parce
antwoord was: “Because it's in the
qu’il a vu un moment l’évolution des techniques et qu’il
heart of the founders”. Moesten wij de
idealen van Vander Haeghen en
pense pouvoir aller plus loin. Il pense à la
Otlet niet als voorbeeld hebben
dématérialisation quand il utilise des microfilms, il se dit
gehad, dan was er misschien twijfel
« attention la conservation papier, il y a un soucis. Il faut
geweest, maar nu niet.
conserver le contenu et donc il faut le passer sur un autre
support ». D’abord il va essayer sur des plaques
photographiques, il calcule le nombre de pages qu’il peut mettre sur une plaque et voilà. Il
transforme ça en autre support.
Je pense qu’il a imaginé des choses, parce qu’il avait cette envie de communiquer le savoir,
ce n’est pas quelqu’un qui a un moment avait envie de collectionner sans diffuser, non. C’était
toujours dans cette idée de diffuser, de communiquer quelques soient les personnes, quelque
soit le pays. C’est d’ailleurs pour ça qu’il adapte le Musée International, pour que tout le
monde puisse y aller, même ceux qui ne savaient pas lire avaient accès aux salles et
pouvaient comprendre, parce qu’il avait organisé les choses de telles façons. Il imagine à
chaque fois des outils de communication qui vont lui servir pour diffuser ses idées, sa pensée.



Qu’il ait imaginé à un moment donné qu’on puisse lire des choses à l’autre bout du monde ?
Il a du y penser, mais maintenant, techniquement et technologiquement, il n’a pas pu
concevoir. Mais je suis sûre qu’il avait envisagé le concept.

SM : Otlet, à son époque, a par moments réussi à se faire détester par pas mal de gens,
parce qu’il y avait une sorte de confusion au niveau des domaines dans lesquels il exerçait. À
la fois, cette fascination de créer une cité politique qui est la Cité Mondiale, et le fait de
vouloir mélanger les genres, de ne pas être dans une volonté de standardisation avec des
spécialistes, mais aussi une volonté de travailler avec le monde de l’industrie, parce que c’est
ce qu’il a réussi. C’est un réel handicap à cette époque là parce que vous avez une
spécialisation dans tous les domaines de la connaissance et finalement celui qui fait un peu de
tout, il le fait un peu mal moins bien. Dans certains milieux ou après une lecture très
superficielle du travail mené par Otlet, on comprend que le personnage bénéficie d’un a
priori négatif car il a mélangé les genres ou les domaines. Par exemple, Otlet s’est attaqué à
différentes institutions pour leur manque d’originalité en terme de bibliographie. La
Bibliothèque Royale en a fait les frais. Ça peut laisser quelques traces inattendues dans
l’histoire. L’héritage d’Otlet en matière bibliographique n’est pas forcément mis en évidence
dans un lieu tel que la bibliothèque nationale. C’est on le comprend difficile d’imaginer une
institution qui explique certains engagements de manière aussi personnalisée ou
individualisée. On va plutôt parler d’un service et de son histoire dans une période plus
longue. On évite ainsi d’entrer dans des détails tels que ceux-là.
Effectivement, il y a à la fois le Monsieur dans son époque, la vision que les scientifiques vont
en garder aujourd’hui et des académiques. Et puis, il y a la fascination de tout un chacun.
Notre travail à nous, c’est de faire de tout. C’est à la fois de faire en sorte que les archives
soient disponibles pour le tout un chacun, mais aussi que le scientifique qui a envie d’étudier,
dans une perspective positive ou négative, puisse le faire.

FS : Le travail d’Otlet met en relation l’organisation du savoir et de la communication.
Comment votre travail peut-il, dans un centre d’archives qui est aussi un lieu de rencontre et
un musée, être inspiré - ou pas - par cette mission qu’Otlet s’était donné ?
SM : Il y a quand même un chose qui est essentielle, c’est qu’on est pas dans l’Otletaneum
ici, on n’est pas dans la fondation Otlet.

Nous sommes un centre d’archives spécialisé, qui a conservé toutes les archives liées à une
institution. Cette institution était animée par des hommes et des femmes. Et donc, ce qui les
animaient, c’était différentes choses, dont le désir de transmission. Et quand à Otlet, on a
identifié son envie de transmettre et il a imaginé tous les moyens. Il n’était pas ingénieur non
plus, il ne faut pas rire. Et donc, c’est un peu comme Jules Verne, il a rêvé le monde, il a
imaginé des choses différentes, des instruments. Il s’est mis à rêver à certaines choses, à des
applications. C’est un passionné, c’est un innovateur et je pense qu’il a passionné des gens
autour de lui. Mais, autour de lui, il y avait d’autres personnes, notamment Henri La
Fontaine, qui n’est pas moins intéressant. Il y avait aussi le Baron Descamps et d’autres
personnes qui gravitaient autour de cette institution. Il y avait aussi tout un contexte
particulier lié notamment à la sociologie, aux sciences sociales, notamment Solvay, et voilà.
Tout ceux qu’on retrouve et qui ont traversé une quarantaine d’années.
Aujourd’hui, nous sommes un centre d’archives avec des supports différents, avec cette
volonté encyclopédique qu’ils ont eu et qui a été multi supports, et donc l’œuvre phare n’a
pas été uniquement Le Traité de Documentation. C’était intéressant de comprendre sa
genèse avec les visites que vous aviez fait, mais il y d’autres fonds, notamment des fonds liés
au pacifisme, à l’anarchisme et au féminisme. Et aussi tout ce département iconographique
avec ces essais un peu particuliers qui ne sont pas super connus.
Donc on n’est pas dans l’Otletaneum et nous ne sommes pas dans le sanctuaire d’Otlet.
ADV : La question est plutôt : comment s’emparer de sa vision dans votre travail ?
SM : J’avais bien compris la question.
En rendant accessible ses archives, son patrimoine et en participant à la meilleure
compréhension à travers nos efforts de valorisation : des publications, visites guidées mais
aussi le programme d’activités qui permettent de mieux comprendre son travail. Ce travail
s’effectue notamment à travers le label du Patrimoine Européen mais aussi dans le cadre de
Mémoire du Monde[6].
RC : Ce n’est pas parce que Otlet a écrit que La Fontaine n’a pas travaillé sur le projet. Ce
n’était pas du tout les mêmes personnalités.
SM : On est sur des stéréotypes.
ADV : Otlet a tout de même énormément écrit ?
SM : Otlet a beaucoup synthétisé, diffusé et lu. Il a été un formidable catalyseur de son
RC : C’est plutôt perdre la pensée d’Otlet en allant dans un seul sens, parce que lui il voulait
justement brasser des savoirs, diffuser l’ensemble de la connaissance. Pour nous l’objectif



c’est vraiment de pouvoir tout exploiter, tous les sujets, tous les supports, toutes les
thématiques… Quand on dit qu’il a préfiguré internet, c’est juste deux schémas d’Otlet et on
tourne autour de deux schémas depuis 2012, même avant d’ailleurs, ces deux schémas A4.
Ils ne sont pas grands.
SM : Ce qui n’est pas juste non plus, c’est le caractère réducteur par lequel on passe quand
on réduit le Mundaneum à Otlet et qu’on ne réduit Otlet qu’à ça. Et d’un autre côté, ce que
je trouve intéressant aussi, c’est les autres personnalités qui ont décidé de refaire aussi le
monde par la fiche et là, notre idée était évidemment de mettre en évidence toutes ces
personnes et les compositions multiformes de cette institution qui avait beaucoup d’originalité
et pas de s’en tenir à une vision « La Fontaine c’est le prix Nobel de la paix, Otlet c’est
monsieur Internet, Léonie La Fontaine c’est Madame féminisme, Monsieur Hem Day[7] c’est
l’anarchiste … » On ne fait pas l’Histoire comme ça, en créant des catégories.
RC : Je me souviens quand je suis arrivée ici en 2002 : Paul Otlet c’était l’espèce de savant
fou qui avait voulu créer une cité mondiale et qui l’avait proposée à Hitler. Les gens avaient
oublié tout ce qu’il avait fait avant.
Vous avez beaucoup de bibliothèques qui aujourd’hui encore classent au nom de la CDU
mais ils ne savent pas d’où ça vient. Tout ce travail on l’a fait et ça remettait, quand même,
les choses à leur place et on l’a ouvert quand même au public. On a eu des ouvertures avec
des différents publics à partir de ce moment là.
SM : C’est aussi d’avoir une vision globale sur ce que les uns et les autres ont fait et aussi de
ce qu’a été l’institution, ce qui est d’ailleurs l’une des plus grosse difficulté qui existe. C’est de
s’appeler Mundaneum dans l’absolu.
On est le « Mundaneum Centre d’archives » depuis 1993. Mais le Mundaneum c’est une
institution qui nait après la première guerre mondiale, dont le nom est postérieur à l'IIB.
Dans ses gênes, elle est bibliographique et peut-être que ce sont ces différentes notions qu’il
faut essayer d’expliquer aux gens.
Mais c’est quand même formidable de dire que Paul Otlet a inventé internet, pourquoi pas.
C’est une formule et je pense que dans l’absolu la formule marque les gens. Maintenant, il
n’a pas inventé Google. J’ai bien dit Internet.

FS : Qu’est ce que votre collaboration avec Google vous a-t-elle apportée ? Est-ce qu'ils vous
ont aidé à numériser des documents?

RC : C’est nous qui avons numérisé. C’est moi qui met les images en ligne sur Google.
Google n’a rien numérisé.
ADV : Mais donc vous vous transmettez des images et des métadonnées à Google mais le
public n’a pas accès à ces images … ?
RC : Ils ont accès, mais ils ne peuvent pas télécharger.
FS : Les images que vous avez mises sur Google Cultural Institute sont aujourd’hui dans le
domaine public et donc en tant que public, je ne peux pas voir que les images sont libres de
droit, parce qu’elles sont toutes sous la licence standard de Google.
RC : Ils ont mis « Collection de la Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles » à chaque fois. Puisque
ça fait partie des métadonnées qui sont transmises avec l’image.
ADV : Le problème, actuellement, comme il n’y a pas de catalogue en ligne, c’est qu’il n’y a
pas tant d’autres accès. À part quelques images sur, quand on tape « Otlet »
sur un moteur de recherche, on a l’impression que ce n’est que via le Google Cultural Institute
par lequel on a accès et en réalité c’est un accès limité.
SM : C’est donc une impression.
RC : Vous avez aussi des images sur Wikimedia commons. Il y a la même chose que sur
Google Cultural Institute. C’est moi qui les met des deux cotés, je sais ce que je mets. Et là
je suis encore en train d’en uploader dessus, donc allez y. Pour l’instant, c’est de nouveau des
schémas d’Otlet, en tout cas des planches qui sont mises en ligne.
Sur Wikimédia Commons je sais pas importer les métadonnées automatiquement. Enfin
j’importe un fichier et puis je dois entrer les données moi-même. Je ne peux pas importer un
fichier Excel. Dans Google je fais ça, j’importe les images et ça se fait tout seul.
AV : Et vous pouvez pas trouver une collaboration avec les gens de Wikimédia Commons ?
RC : En fait, ils proposent des systèmes d’importations mais qui ne fonctionnent pas ou alors
qui ne fonctionnent pas avec Windows. Et donc, moi je ne vais pas commencer à installer un
PC qui fonctionne avec Linux ou Ubuntu juste pour pouvoir uploader sur Wikimédia.
AV : Mais eux peuvent le faire ?
RC : On a eu la collaboration sur Le traité de Documentation, puisque c’est eux qui ont
travaillés. Ils ont tout retranscrit.
Aussi, il faut dédommager les bénévoles. Ça je peux vous garantir. Ils sont bénévoles jusqu’à
un certain point. Mais si vous leur confiez du travail comme ça … Ils sont bénévoles parce



que quand ils retravaillent des fiches sur Wikipédia, parce que c’est leur truc, ils en ont envie,
c’est leur volonté.
Je ne mets pas plus sur Google Cultural Institute que sur Wikipédia. Je ne favorise pas
Google. Ce qu’il y a sur le Cultural Institute, c’est qu’on a la possibilité de réaliser des
expositions virtuelles et quand j’upload là, c’est parce qu’on a une exposition qui va être faite.
On essaye de faire des expositions virtuelles. C’est vrai que ça fonctionne bien pour nous en
matière de communication pour les archives. Ça, il ne faut pas s’en cacher. J’ai beaucoup de
demandes qui arrivent, des demandes d’images, par ce biais là. Ça nous permet de valoriser
des fonds et des thématiques qu’on ne pourrait pas faire dans l’espace.
On a fait une exposition sur Léonie Lafontaine, qui a permis de mettre en ligne une centaine
de documents liés au féminisme, ça n’avait jamais été fait avant. C’était très intéressant et ça
a eu un bon retour pour les autres expositions aussi. Moi, c’est plutôt comme ça que j’utilise
Google Cultural Institute. Je ne suis pas pro Google mais là, j’ai un outil qui me permet de
valoriser les archives.
ADV : Google serait-il la seule solution pour valoriser vos archives ?
SM : Notre solution c’est d’avoir un logiciel à nous. Pourquoi avoir cette envie d’alimenter
d’autres sites ? Parce qu’on ne l’a pas sur le nôtre. Pour rappel, on travaille pour la
Communauté Française qui est propriétaire des collections et avec laquelle on est
conventionné. Elle ne nous demande pas d’avoir un logiciel externe. Elle demande qu’on ait
notre propre produit aussi. Et c’est là dessus que l’on travaille depuis 2014, pour le
remplacement de Pallas, parce que ça fait des années qu’ils nous disent qu’ils ne vont plus
soutenir. C’est plutôt ça qui nous met dans une situation complètement incompréhensible.
Comment voulez vous qu’on puisse faire transparaître ce que nous avons si on n’a pas un
outil qui permette aux chercheurs, quels qu’ils soient, scientifiques ou non, pour qu’ils
puissent être autonomes dans leur recherches ? Et pour nous, le travail que nous avons fait
en terme d’inventaire et de numérisation, qu’il soit exploitable de manière libre ?
Moi, franchement, je me demande, si cette question et cette vision que vous avez, elle ne se
poserait pas si finalement nous étions déjà sur autre chose que Pallas. On est dans un
inconfort de travail de base.
Je pense aussi que l’information à donner de notre part c’est de dire « il y a tout ceci qui
existe, venez le voir ».
On arrive à sensibiliser aussi sur les collections qu’il y a au centre d’archives et c’est bien,
c’est tout à fait intéressant. Maintenant ce serait bien aussi de franchir une autre étape et
d’éduquer sur l'ouverture au patrimoine. C’est ça aussi notre mission.

Donc Google a sa propre politique. Nous avons mis à disposition quelques expositions et
ceci en est l’intérêt. Mais on a quand même tellement de partenaires différents avec lesquels
on a travaillé. On ne privilégie pas un seul partenaire. Aujourd’hui, certaines firmes viennent
vers nous parce qu’elles ont entendu parler justement plus de Google que du Mundaneum et
en même temps du Mundaneum par l’intermédiaire de Google.
Ce sont des éléments qui nous permettent d’ouvrir peut-être le champ du dialogue avec
d’autres partenaires mais qui ne permettent pas d’aller directement en profondeur dans les
archives, enfin, dans le patrimoine réel que l’on a.
Je veux dire, on aura beau dire qu’on fait autre chose, on ne verra que celui là parce que
Google est un mastodonte et parce que ça parle à tout le monde. On est dans une aire de
communication particulière.
RC : Maintenant la collaboration Google et l’image que vous en avez et bien nous on en
pâtit énormément au niveau des archives. Et encore, parce que souvent les gens nous disent
« mais vous avez un gros mécène »
SM : Ils nous réduisent à ça. Pour la caricature c’est sympa. Pour la réalité moins.
FS : Quand on parle aux gens de l’Université de Gand, c’est clair que leur collaboration avec
Google Books a eu une autre fonction. Ce ne sont que des livres, des objets qui sont scannés
de manière assez brutes. Il n’y a pas de métadonnées complexes, c’est plutôt une question de
SM : La politique de numérisation de l’Université de
Gand, je pense, est plus en lien avec ce que Google
imagine. C’est-à-dire quelle est la plus value que ça leur
apporte de pouvoir travailler à la fois une bibliothèque
universitaire telle que la bibliothèque de l’Université de
Gand, et le fait de l’associer avec le Mundaneum ?
FS : C’est aussi d'autres besoins, un autre type d’accès ?
Dans une bibliothèque les livres sont là pour être lus, j’ai
l’impression que ce n’est pas la même vision pour un
centre d’archives.
SM : C’est bien plus complexe dans d’autres endroits.

From Voor elk boek is een gebruiker:
SVP: Maar ... je kan niet bij Google
gaan aankloppen, Google kiest jou.
Wij hebben wel hun aandacht
gevraagd voor het Mundaneum met
de link tussen Vander Haeghen en
Otlet. Als Google België iets
organiseert, proberen ze ons altijd te
betrekken, omdat wij nu eenmaal een
universiteit zijn. U heeft het
Mundaneum gezien, het is een zeer
mooi archief, maar dat is het ook.
Voor ons zou dat enkel een stuk van
een collectie zijn. Ze worden ook op
een totaal andere manier gesteund
door Google dan wij.

Notre intention en terme de numérisation n’est pas celle
là, et nous ne voyons pas notre action, nous, uniquement
par ce biais là. À Gand, ils ont numérisé des livres. C’est leur choix soutenu par la Région
flamande. De notre côté, nous poursuivons une même volonté d’accès pour le public et les



chercheurs mais avec un matériel un patrimoine, bien différent de livres publiés uniquement !
Le travail avec Google a permis de collaborer plusieurs fois avec l’Université mais nous
l’avions déjà fait avant de se retrouver avec Google sur certaines activités et l’accueil de
conférenciers. Donc, il y a un partenariat avec l’Université gantoise qui est intéressée par
l’histoire d’Otlet, l’histoire des idées mais aussi de l’internationalisme, de l’architecture de la
schématique. C’est d’ailleurs très enrichissant comme réflexion.

FS : J’ai entendu quelqu’un se demander « pourquoi ne pas numériser toutes les fiches
bibliographiques qui sont dans les tiroirs » ?
RC : Ça ne sert à rien. Toutes les fiches ça n’aurait pas de sens. Maintenant, ce serait
intéressant d’en étudier quelques-unes.
Il y avait un réseau aussi autour du répertoire. C’est à dire que si on a autant de fiches, ce
n'est pas seulement parce qu’on a des fiches qui ont été rédigées à Bruxelles, on a des fiches
qui viennent du monde entier. Dans chaque pays il y avait des institutions responsables de
réaliser des bibliographies et de les renvoyer à Bruxelles.
Ça serait intéressant d’avoir un échantillon de toutes ces institutions ou de toutes ces fiches
qui existent. Ça permettrait aussi de retrouver la trace de certaines institutions qui n’existent
plus aujourd’hui. On a quand même eu deux guerres, il y a eu des révolutions etcetera. Ils
ont quand même travaillé avec des institutions russes qui n’existent plus aujourd’hui. Par ce
biais là, on pourrait retrouver leur trace. Même chose pour des ouvrages. Il y a des ouvrages
qui n’existent plus et pour lesquels on pourrait retrouver la trace. Il faut savoir qu’après la
deuxième guerre mondiale, en 46-47, le président du Mundaneum est Léon Losseau. Il est
avocat, il habite Mons, sa maison d’ailleurs est au 37 rue de Nimy, pas très loin. Il collabore
avec le Mundaneum depuis ses débuts et donc vu que les deux fondateurs sont décédés
pendant la guerre, à ce moment là il fait venir l’UNESCO à Bruxelles. Parce qu’on est dans
une phase de reconstruction des bibliothèques, beaucoup de livres ont été détruits et on
essaye de retrouver leur traces. Il leur dit « venez à Bruxelles, nous on a le répertoire de tous
ces bouquins, venez l’utiliser, nous on a le répertoire pour reconstituer toutes les
bibliothèques ».
Donc, tout numériser, non. Mais numériser certaines choses pour montrer le mécanisme de
ce répertoire, sa constitution, les différents répertoires qui existaient dans ce répertoire et de
pouvoir retrouver la trace de certains éléments, oui.
Si on numérise tout, cela permettrait d’avoir un état des lieux des sources d’informations qui
existaient à une époque pour un sujet.
SM : Le cheminement de la pensée.

Il y a des pistes très intéressantes qui vont nous permettre d’atteindre des aspects
protéiformes de l’institution, mais c’est vaste.

FS : Nous étions très touchées par les fiches annotées de la CDU que vous nous avez
montrées la dernière fois que nous sommes venues.
RC : Le travail sur le système lui-même.
SM : C’est fantastique effectivement, avec l’écriture d’Otlet.
SM : Autant on peut dire qu'Otlet est un maître du marketing, autant il utilisait plusieurs
termes pour décrire une même réalité. C’est pour ça que ne s’attacher qu’à sa vision à lui
c’est difficile. Comme classer ses documents, c’est aussi difficile.
ADV : Otlet n’a-t-il pas laissé suffisamment de documentation ? Une documentation qui
explicite ses systèmes de classement ?
RC : Quand on a ouvert les boîtes d'Otlet en 2002, c’était des caisses à bananes non
classées, rien du tout. En fonction de ce qu’on connaissait de l’histoire du Mundaneum à
l’époque on a pu déterminer plus ou moins des frontières et donc on avait l'Institut
international de bibliographie, la CDU, la Cité Mondiale aussi, le Musée International.
SM : Du pacifisme ...
RC : On a appelé ça « Mundapaix » parce qu’on ne savait pas trop comment le mettre dans
l’histoire du Mundaneum, c’était un peu bizarre. Le reste, on l'avait mis de côté parce qu’on
n'était pas en mesure, à ce moment là, de les classer dans ce qu’on connaissait. Puis, au fur
et à mesure qu’on s’est mis à lire les archives, on s’est mis à comprendre des choses, on a
découvert des institutions qui avaient été créées en plus et ça nous a permis d’aller
rechercher ces choses qu’on avait mises de coté.
Il y avait tellement d’institutions qui ont été créées, qui ont pu changer de noms, on ne sait
pas si elles ont existé ou pas. Il faisait une note, il faisait une publication où il annonçait :
« l’office centrale de machin chose » et puis ce n'est même pas sûr qu’il ait existé quelque



Parfois, il reprend la même note mais il change certaines
choses et ainsi de suite … rien que sa numérotation c’est
pas toujours facile. Vous avez l’indice CDU, mais
ensuite, vous avez tout le système « M » c’est la référence
aux manuels du RBU. Donc il faut seulement aller
comprendre comment le manuel du RBU est organisé.
C’est à dire trouver des archives qui correspondent pour
pouvoir comprendre cette classification dans le « M ».
RC : On n’a pas trouvé un moment donné, et on aurait
bien voulu trouver, un dossier avec l’explication de son
classement. Sauf qu’il ne nous l’a pas laissé.
SM : Peut-être qu’il est possible que ça ait existé, et je
me demande comment cette information a été expliquée
aux suivants. Je me demande même si George Lorphèvre
savait, parce qu'il n’a pas pu l’expliquer à Boyd
Rayward. En tout cas, les explications n’ont pas été

From De Indexalist:
"Bij elke verwijzing stond weer een
andere verwijzing, de één nog
interessanter dan de ander. Elk
vormde de top van een piramide van
weer verdere literatuurstudie, zwanger
met de dreiging om af te dwalen. Elk
was een strakgespannen koord dat
indien niet in acht genomen de auteur
in de val van een fout zou lokken, een
vondst al uitgevonden en
From The Indexalist:
“At every reference stood another
reference, each more interesting than
the last. Each the apex of a pyramid
of further reading, pregnant with the
threat of digression, each a thin high
wire which, if not observed might lead
the author into the fall of error, a
finding already found against and
written up.”

L’équipe du Mundaneum a développé une expérience
de plusieurs années et une compréhension sur les archives et leur organisation. Nous avons
par exemple découvert l’existence de fichiers particuliers tels que les fichiers « K ». Ils sont
liés à l’organisation administrative interne. Il a fallu montrer les éléments et archives sur
lesquels nous nous sommes basés pour bien prouver la démarche qui était la nôtre. Certains
documents expliquaient clairement cela. Mais si vous ne les avez jamais vu, c’est difficile de
croire un nouvel élément inconnu !
RC : On n’a pas beaucoup d’informations sur l’origine des collections, c’est-à-dire sur
l’origine des pièces qui sont dans les collections. Par hasard, je vais trouver un tiroir où il est
mis « dons » et à l’intérieur, je ne vais trouver que des fiches écrites à la main comme « dons
de madame une telle de deux drapeaux pour le Musée International » et ainsi de suite.
Il ne nous a pas laissé un manuel à la fin de ses archives et c’est au fur et à mesure qu’on lit
les archives qu’on arrive à faire des liens et à comprendre certains éléments. Aujourd’hui,
faire une base de données idéale, ce n’est pas encore possible, parce qu’il y a encore
beaucoup de choses que nous-mêmes on ne comprend pas. Qu’on doit encore découvrir.
ADV : Serait-il imaginable de produire une documentation issue de votre cheminement dans
la compréhension progressive de cette classification ? Par exemple, des textes enrichis donnant
une perception plus fine, une trace de la recherche. Est-ce que c’est quelque chose qui pourrait
exister ?
RC : Oui, ce serait intéressant.

Par exemple si on prend le répertoire bibliographique. Déjà, il n’y a pas que des références
bibliographiques dedans. Vous avez deux entrées : entrée par matière, entrée par auteur,
donc vous avez le répertoire A et le répertoire B. Si vous regardez les étiquettes, parfois,
vous allez trouver autre chose. Parfois, on a des étiquettes avec « ON ». Vous savez ce que
c’est ? C’est « catalogue collectif des bibliothèque de Belgique ». C’est un travail qu’ils ont
fait à un moment donné. Vous avez les « LDC » les « Bibliothèques collectifs de sociétés
savantes ». Chaque société ayant un numéro, vous avez tout qui est là. Le « K » c’est tout ce
qui est administratif donc à chaque courrier envoyé ou reçu, ils rédigeaient une fiche. On a
des fiches du personnel, on sait au jour le jour qui travaillait et qui a faisait quoi… Et ça, il
ne l’a pas laissé dans les archives.
SM : C’est presque la mémoire vive de l’institution.
On a eu vraiment cette envie de vérifier dans le répertoire cette façon de travailler, le fait
qu’il y ait des informations différentes. Effectivement, c’était un peu avant 2008, qu’on l'a su
et cette information s’est affinée avec des vérifications. Il y a eu des travaux qui ont pu être
faits avec l’identification de séries particulières des dossiers numérotés que Raphaèle a
identifié. Il y avait des correspondances et toute une structuration qu’on a identifié aussi. Ce
sont des sections précises qui ont permis d’améliorer, à la fois la CDU, au départ de faire la
CDU, de faire le répertoire et puis de créer d’autres sections, comme la section féministe,
comme la section chasse et pêche comme la section iconographique. Et donc, par rapport à
ça, je pense qu’il y a vraiment tout un travail qui doit être mis en relation à partir d’une
observation claire, à partir d’une réflexion claire de ce qu’il y a dans le répertoire et dans les
archives. Et ça, c’est un travail qui se fait étape par étape. J’espère qu’on pourra quand
même bien avancer là dessus et donner des indications qui permettront d’aller un peu plus
loin, je ne suis pas sûre qu’on verra le bout.
C’est au moins de transmettre une information, de faire en sorte qu’elle soit utilisable et que
certains documents et ces inventaires soient disponibles, ceux qui existent aujourd’hui. Et que
ça ne se perde pas dans le temps.
FS : Un jour, pensez-vous pouvoir dire « voilà, maintenant c’est fini, on a compris » ?
SM : Je ne suis pas sûre que ce soit si impossible que ça.
Ça dépend de notre volonté et dialogue autour de ces documents. Un dialogue entre les
chercheurs de tout type et l’équipe du Mundaneum enrichit la compréhension. Plus on est
nombreux autour de certains points, plus la compréhension s’élargit. Ça implique bien
entendu une implication de partenaires externes également.
Aujourd’hui on est passé à une politique de numérisation par un matériel, par une
spécialisation du personnel. Et je pense que cette spécialisation nous a permis, depuis des
années, d’aller un peu plus profondément dans les archives et donc de mieux les comprendre.



Il y a un historique que l’on comprend véritablement bien aussi, il ne demande qu’à se
déployer. Il y a à comprendre comment on va pouvoir valoriser cela autour de journées,
autour de publications, autour d’outils qui sont à notre disposition. Et donc, autour de
catalogues en ligne, notamment, et de notre propre catalogue en ligne.

FS : Les méthodes et les standards de documentation changent, l’histoire institutionnelle et les
temps changent, les chercheurs passent… vous avez vécu avec tout ça depuis longtemps. Je
me demande comment le faire transparaître, le faire ressentir?
SM : C’est vrai qu’on aimerait bien pouvoir axer aussi la communication de l’institution sur
ces différents aspects. C’est bien ça notre rêve en fait, ou notre aspiration. Pour l’instant, on
est plutôt en train de se demander comment on va mieux communiquer, sur ce que nous
faisons nous ?
RC : Est-ce que ce serait uniquement en mettant en ligne des documents ? Ou imaginer une
application qui permettrait de les mettre en œuvre? Par exemple, si je prends la
correspondance, moi j’ai lu à peu près 3000 courriers. En les lisant, on se rend vraiment
compte du réseau. C’est-à-dire qu’on se rend compte qu’il a de la correspondance à peu près
partout dans le monde. Que ce soit avec des particuliers, avec des bibliothèques, avec des
universités, avec des entreprises et donc déjà rien qu’avec cet échantillon-là, ça donne une
masse d’informations. Maintenant, si on commence à décrire dans une base de données,
lettre par lettre, je ne suis pas sûre que cela apporte quelque chose. Par contre, si on imagine
une application qui permette de faire ressortir sur une carte à chaque fois le nom des
correspondants, là, ça donne déjà une idée et ça peut vraiment mettre en œuvre toute cette
correspondance. Mais prise seule juste comme ça, est-ce que c’est vraiment intéressant ?
Dans une base de données dite « classique », c’est ça aussi le problème avec nos archives, le
Mundaneum n'étant pas un centre d’archives comme les autres de par ses collections, c’est
parfois difficile de nous adapter à des standards existants.
ADV : Il n’y aurait pas qu’un seul catalogue ou pas une seule manière de montrer les
données. C’est bien ça ?
RC : Si vous allez sur Pallas vous avez la hiérarchie du fond Otlet. Est-ce que ça parle à
quelqu’un, à part quelqu’un qui veut faire une recherche très spécifique ? Mais sinon ça ne
lui permet pas de vraiment visualiser le travail qui a été fait, et même l’ampleur du travail.
Nous, on ne peut pas se conformer à une base de donnée comme ça. Il faut que ça existe
mais ça ne transparaît pas le travail d'Otlet et de La Fontaine. Une vision comme ça, ce n'est
pas Mundaneum.

SM : Il n’y a finalement pas de base de données qui arrive à la cheville de ce qu’ils ont
imaginés en terme de papier. C’est ça qu’il faut imaginer.
FS : Pouvez-vous nous parler de cette vision d’un catalogue possible ? Si vous aviez tout
l’argent et tout le temps du monde ?
SM : On ne dort plus alors, c’est ça ?
Il y a déjà une bonne structure qui est là, et l’idée c’est vraiment de pouvoir lier les
documents, les descriptions. On peut aller plus loin dans les inventaires et numériser les
documents qui sont peut-être les plus intéressants et peut-être les plus uniques. Maintenant,
le rêve serait de numériser tout, mais est-ce que ce serait raisonnable de tout numériser ?
FS : Si tous les documents étaient disponibles en ligne ?
RC : Je pense que ça serait difficile de pouvoir transposer la pensée et le travail d'Otlet et
La Fontaine dans une base de données. C’est à dire, dans une base de données, c’est
souvent une conception très carrée : vous décrivez le fond, la série, le dossier, la pièce. Ici
tout est lié. Par exemple, la collection d’affiches, elle dépend de l’Institut International de
Photographie qui était une section du Mundaneum, c’était la section qui conserve l’image.
Ça veut dire que je dois d’abord comprendre tous les développements qui ont eu lieu avec le
concept de documentation pour ensuite lier tout le reste. Et c’est comme ça pour chaque
collection parce que ce ne sont pas des collections qui sont montées par hasard, elles
dépendaient à chaque fois d’une section spécialisée. Et donc, transposer ça dans une base de
données, je ne sais pas comment on pourrait faire.
Je pense aussi qu’aujourd’hui on n’est pas encore assez loin dans les inventaires et dans toute
la compréhension parce qu’en fait à chaque fois qu’on se plonge dans les archives, on
comprend un peu mieux, on voit un peu plus d’éléments, un peu plus de complexité, pour
vraiment pouvoir lier tout ça.
SM : Effectivement nous n’avons pas encore tout compris, il y a encore tous les petits
offices : office chasse, office pêche et renseignements…
RC : À la fin de sa vie, il va aller vers tout ce qui est standardisation, normalisation. Il va être
membre d’associations qui travaillent sur tout ce qui est norme et ainsi de suite. Il y a cet
aspect là qui est intéressant parce que c’est quand même une grande évolution par rapport au
Avec le Musée International, c’est la muséographie et la muséologie qui sont vraiment une
grosse innovation à l’époque. Il y a déjà des personnes qui s’y sont intéressé mais peut-être
pas suffisamment.



Je rêve de pouvoir reconstituer virtuellement les salles d’expositions du Musée International,
parce que ça devait être incroyable de voyager là dedans. On a des plans, des photos. Même
si on n’a plus d’objets, on a suffisamment d’informations pour pouvoir le faire. Et il serait
intéressant de pouvoir étudier ce genre de salle même pour aujourd’hui, pour la
muséographie d’aujourd’hui, de reprendre exemple sur ce qu’il a fait.
FS : Si on s’imagine le Mundaneum virtuel, vraiment, si on essaye de le reconstruire à partir
des documents, c’est excitant !
SM : On en parle depuis 2010, de ça.
FS : C’est pas du tout comme le scanner hig-tech de Google Art qui passe devant le Mona
Lisa …
SM : Non. C’est un autre travail
FS : Ce n’est pas ça le musée virtuel.
RC : C’est un autre boulot.

1. Logiciel fourni par la Communauté française aux centres d’archives privées. « Pallas permet de décrire, de gérer et de consulter
des documents de différents types (archives, manuscrits, photographies, images, documents de bibliothèques) en tenant compte
des conditions de description spécifiques à chaque type de document. »
2. « Images et histoires des patrimoines numérisés » [1]
3. « Notre mission : On transforme le monde par la culture! Nous voulons construire sur le riche héritage culturel européen et
donner aux gens la possibilité de le réutiliser facilement, pour leur travail, pour leur apprentissage personnel ou tout simplement
pour s’amuser. »
4. « The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) supports shared innovation in metadata design and best practices across a
broad range of purposes and business models. »
5. La norme générale et internationale de description archivistique, ISAD(G)


6. « L'UNESCO a mis en place le Programme Mémoire du monde en 1992. Cette mise en oeuvre est d'abord née de la prise
de conscience de l'état de préservation alarmant du patrimoine documentaire et de la précarité de son accès dans différentes
régions du monde. »


7. Marcel Dieu dit Hem Day

Tomislav Medak & Marcell Mars (Public Library project)

A proposal for a curriculum in amateur librarianship, developed through the
activities and exigencies of the Public Library project. Drawing from a historic
genealogy of public library as the institution of access to knowledge, the
proletarian tradition of really useful knowledge and the amateur 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
future activities of the Public Library and affiliated organizations.

Public libraries have historically achieved as an institutional space of exemption from the
commodification and privatization of knowledge. A space where works of literature and
science are housed and made accessible for the education of every member of society
regardless of their social or economic status. If, as a liberal narrative has it, education is a
prerequisite for full participation in a body politic, it is in this narrow institutional space that
citizenship finds an important material base for its universal realization.



The library as an institution of public access and popular literacy, however, did not develop
before a series of transformations and social upheavals unfolded in the course of 18th and
19th century. These developments brought about a flood of books and political demands
pushing the library to become embedded in an egalitarian and democratizing political
horizon. The historic backdrop for these developments was the rapid ascendancy of the book
as a mass commodity and the growing importance of the reading culture in the aftermath of
the invention of the movable type print. Having emerged almost in parallel with capitalism, by
the early 18th century the trade in books was rapidly expanding. While in the 15th century
the libraries around the monasteries, courts and universities of Western Europe contained no
more than 5 million manuscripts, the output of printing presses in the 18th century alone
exploded to formidable 700 million volumes.[1] And while this provided a vector for the
emergence of a bourgeois reading public and an unprecedented expansion of modern
science, the culture of reading and Enlightenment remained largely a privilege of the few.
Two social upheavals would start to change that. On 2 November 1789 the French
revolutionary National Assembly passed a decision to seize all library holdings from the
Church and aristocracy. Millions of volumes were transferred to the Bibliothèque Nationale
and local libraries across France. At the same time capitalism was on the rise, particularly in
England. It massively displaced the impoverished rural population into growing urban
centres, propelled the development of industrial production and, by the mid-19th century,
introduced the steam-powered rotary press into the commercial production of books. As
books became more easily 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
After the failed attempt to introduce universal suffrage
and end the system of political representation based on
property entitlements through the Reform Act of 1832,
the English Chartist movement started to open reading
rooms and cooperative lending libraries that would
quickly become a popular hotbed of social exchange
between the lower classes. In the aftermath of the
revolutionary upheavals of 1848, the fearful ruling
classes finally consented to the demand for tax-financed
public libraries, hoping that the access to literature and
edification would after all help educate skilled workers
that were increasingly in demand and ultimately
hegemonize the working class for the benefits of
capitalism's culture of self-interest and competition.[2]

management hierarchies, and national
security issues. Various sets of these
conditions that are at work in a
particular library, also redefine the
notion of publishing and of the
publication, and in turn the notion of

From Bibliothécaire amateur un cours de pédagogie
Puisqu'il était de plus en plus facile de
produire des livres en masse, les
bibliothèques privées payantes, au
service des catégories privilégiées de
la société, ont commencé à se
répandre. Ce phénomène a mis en
relief la question de la classe dans la
demande naissante pour un accès
public aux livres.


It's no surprise that the Chartists, reeling from a political defeat, had started to open reading
rooms and cooperative lending libraries. The education provided to the proletariat and the
poor by the ruling classes of that time consisted, indeed, either of a pious moral edification
serving political pacification or of an inculcation of skills and knowledge useful to the factory
owner. Even the seemingly noble efforts of the Society for the Diffusion of the Useful
Knowledge, a Whig organization aimed at bringing high-brow learning to the middle and
working classes in the form of simplified and inexpensive publications, were aimed at dulling
the edge of radicalism of popular movements.[4]
These efforts to pacify the downtrodden masses pushed them to seek ways of self-organized
education that would provide them with literacy and really useful knowledge – not applied,
but critical knowledge that would allow them to see through their own political and economic
subjection, develop radical politics and innovate shadow social institutions of their own. The
radical education, reliant on meagre resources and time of the working class, developed in the
informal setting of household, neighbourhood and workplace, but also through radical press
and communal reading and discussion groups.[5]
The demand for really useful knowledge encompassed a critique of “all forms of ‘provided’
education” and of the liberal conception “that ‘national education’ was a necessary condition
for the granting of universal suffrage.” Development of radical “curricula and pedagogies”
formed a part of the arsenal of “political strategy as a means of changing the world.”[6]

This is the context of the emergence of the public library. A historical compromise between a
push for radical pedagogy and a response to dull its edge. And yet with the age of
digitization, where one would think that the opportunities for access to knowledge have
expanded immensely, public libraries find themselves increasingly limited in their ability to
acquire and lend both digital and paper editions. It is a sign of our radically unequal times
that the political emancipation finds itself on a defensive fighting again for this material base of
pedagogy against the rising forces of privatization. Not only has mass education become
accessible only under the condition of high fees, student debt and adjunct peonage, but the
useful knowledge that the labour market and reproduction of the neoliberal capitalism
demands has become the one and only rationale for education.



No wonder that over the last 6-7 years we have seen self-education, shadow libraries and
amateur librarians emerge again to counteract the contraction of spaces of exemption that
have been shrunk by austerity and commodity.
The project Public Library was initiated with the counteraction in mind. To help everyone
learn to use simple tools to be able to act as an Amateur Librarian – to digitize, to collect, to
share, to preserve books and articles that were unaffordable, unavailable, undesirable in the
troubled corners of the Earth we hail from.
Amateur Librarian played an important role in the narrative of Public Library. And it seems
it was successful. People easily join the project by 'becoming' a librarian using Calibre[7] and
[let’s share books].[8] Other aspects of the Public Library narrative add a political articulation
to that simple yet disobedient act. Public Library detects an institutional crisis in education,
an economic deadlock of austerity and a domination of commodity logic in the form of
copyright. It conjures up the amateur librarians’ practice of sharing books/catalogues as a
relevant challenge against the convergence of that crisis, deadlock and copyright regime.
To understand the political and technological assumptions and further develop the strategies
that lie behind the counteractions of amateur librarians, we propose a curriculum that is
indebted to a tradition of critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy is a productive and theoretical
practice rejecting an understanding of educational process that reduces it to a technique of
imparting knowledge and a neutral mode of knowledge acquisition. Rather, it sees the
pedagogy as a broader “struggle over knowledge, desire, values, social relations, and, most
important, modes of political agency”, “drawing attention to questions regarding who has
control over the conditions for the production of knowledge.”[9]

No industry in the present demonstrates more the
asymmetries of control over the conditions of production
of knowledge than the academic publishing. The denial
of access to outrageously expensive academic
publications for many universities, particularly in the
Global South, stands in stark contrast to the super-profits
that a small number of commercial publishers draws from
the free labour of scientists who write, review and edit
contributions and the extortive prices their institutional
libraries have to pay for subscriptions. It is thus here that
the amateur librarianship attains its poignancy for a
critical pedagogy, inviting us to closer formulate and
unfold its practices in a shared process of discovery.

Public library is:
• free access to books for every member of society,
• library catalogue,
• librarian.

The curriculum in amateur librarianship develops aspects
and implications of this definition. Parts of this curriculum
have evolved over a number of workshops and talks
previously held within the Public Library project, parts of
it are yet to evolve from a process of future research,
exchange and knowledge production in the education
process. While schematic, scaling from the immediately
practical, over strategic and tactical, to reflexive registers
of knowledge, there are actual – here unnamed – people
and practices we imagine we could be learning from.
The first iteration of this curriculum could be either a
summer academy rostered with our all-star team of
librarians, designers, researchers and teachers, or a small
workshop with a small group of students delving deeper
into one particular aspect of the curriculum. In short it is
an open curriculum: both open to educational process
and contributions by others. We welcome comments,
derivations and additions.

From Bibliothécaire

amateur un cours de pédagogie
Actuellement, aucune industrie ne
montre plus d'asymétries au niveau du
contrôle des conditions de production
de la connaissance que celle de la
publication académique. Refuser
l'accès à des publications
académiques excessivement chères
pour beaucoup d'universités, en
particulier dans l'hémisphère sud,
contraste ostensiblement avec les
profits énormes qu'un petit nombre
d'éditeurs commerciaux tirent du
travail bénévole de scientifiques qui
écrivent, révisent et éditent des
contributions et avec les prix
exorbitants des souscriptions que les
bibliothèques institutionnelles doivent
From Voor elk boek is een
FS: Hoe gaan jullie om met boeken
en publicaties die al vanaf het begin
digitaal zijn? DM: We kopen e-books
en e-tijdschriften en maken die
beschikbaar voor onderzoekers. Maar
dat zijn hele andere omgevingen,
omdat die content niet fysiek binnen
onze muren komt. We kopen toegang
tot servers van uitgevers of de
aggregator. Die content komt nooit bij
ons, die blijft op hun machines staan.
We kunnen daar dus eigenlijk niet
zoveel mee doen, behalve verwijzen
en zorgen dat het evengoed vindbaar
is als de print.



• from book to e-book
◦ digitizing a book on a
book scanner
◦ removing DRM and
converting e-book
• from clutter to catalogue
◦ managing an e-book
library with Calibre
◦ finding e-books and
articles on online
• from reference to bibliography
◦ annotating in an ebook reader device or
◦ creating a scholarly
bibliography in Zotero
• from block device to network device
◦ sharing your e-book
library on a local
network to a reading
◦ sharing your e-book
library on the
internet with [let’s
share books]
• from private to public IP space
◦ using [let’s share
books] &
◦ using logan & jessica
◦ using Science Hub
◦ using Tor

• from developmental subordination to subaltern disobedience
◦ uneven development &
political strategies
◦ strategies of the
developed v strategies
of the
underdeveloped : open
access v piracy
• from property to commons
◦ from property to
◦ copyright, scientific
publishing, open
◦ shadow libraries,
• from collection to collective action
◦ critical pedagogy &
◦ archive, activation &
collective action

• from linear to computational
◦ library &
catalogue, search,
discovery, reference
◦ print book v e-book:
page, margin, spine
• from central to distributed
◦ deep librarianship &
amateur librarians



◦ network infrastructure
(s)/topologies (ruling
class studies)
• from factual to fantastic
◦ universe as library as

• Mars, Marcell; Vladimir, Klemo. Download & How to:
Calibre & [let’s share books]. Memory of the World (2014)
• Buringh, Eltjo; Van Zanden, Jan Luiten. 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 (2009) http://
• Mattern, Shannon. Library as Infrastructure. Places Journal
• Antonić, Voja. Our beloved bookscanner. Memory of the
World (2012)
• Medak, Tomislav; Sekulić, Dubravka; Mertens, An. How to:
Bookscanning. 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 Libraries of the Western World.
Scarecrow Press (1999)
• MayDay Rooms. Activation (2015) http://
• Krajewski, Markus. Paper Machines: About Cards &
Catalogs, 1548-1929. MIT Press (2011) https://

For updates:

1. 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.
2. For the social history of public library see Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (Random House, 2014) chapter 5:
“Books for all”.
3. For this concept we remain indebted to the curatorial collective What, How and for Whom/WHW, who have presented the
work of Public Library within the exhibition Really Useful Knowledge they organized at Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid,
October 29, 2014 – February 9, 2015.
4. “Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, June 25, 2015, https://

5. Richard Johnson, “Really Useful Knowledge,” in CCCS Selected Working Papers: Volume 1, 1 edition, vol. 1 (London u.a.:
Routledge, 2014), 755.
6. Ibid., 752.
9. Henry A. Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy (Bloomsbury Academic, 2011), 5.



- un
cours de
Tomislav Medak & Marcell Mars (Public Library project)

Proposition de programme d'études de bibliothécaire amateur développé à
travers les activités et les exigences du projet Public Library. Prenant pour
base la généalogie historique de la bibliothèque publique en tant qu'institution
permettant l'accès à la connaissance, la tradition prolétaire de la connaissance
réellement utile et la puissance de l'amateur motivée par le développement
technologique, le programme couvre différents secteurs : depuis les flux de
travail directement applicables comme la numérisation, le partage et l'utilisation
de livres électroniques, à la politique et la tactique de conservation des
bibliothèques en ligne, en passant par la théorie médiatique appliquée qui est
implicite dans les pratiques du bibliothécaire amateur. La proposition est plus
amplement développée, complexifiée et sera testée durant les futures activités
de Public Library et des organisations affiliées.

Historiquement, les bibliothèques publiques sont parvenues à être un espace institutionnel
exempté de la marchandisation et de la privatisation de la connaissance. Un espace dans
lequel les œuvres littéraires et scientifiques sont abritées et rendues accessibles pour
l'éducation de chaque membre de la société, quel que soit son statut social ou économique.
Si, du point de vue libéral, l'éducation est un prérequis à la véritable participation au corps

politique, c'est dans cet espace institutionnel étroit que la citoyenneté trouve une base
matérielle importante à sa réalisation universelle.
Si aujourd'hui elle est une institution d'accès public et de savoir populaire, il a fallu une série
de transformations et de bouleversements sociaux au 18e et 19e siècle pour que la
bibliothèque se développe. Ces développements ont provoqué l'arrivée d'un flot de livres et
d'exigences politiques qui ont encouragé la bibliothèque à s'intégrer dans un horizon politique
démocratisant et égalitaire. En toile de fond historique de ces développements, il y eut
l'ascendance rapide du livre en tant que commodité de masse et l'importance croissante de la
culture de la lecture suite à l'invention des caractères d'imprimerie mobiles. Ayant émergé à
la même époque que le capitalisme, au début du 18e siècle le commerce des livres, était en
pleine expansion. Alors qu'au 15e siècle, en Europe occidentale, les bibliothèques qui se
trouvaient autour des monastères, des tribunaux et des universités ne contenaient pas plus de
cinq millions de manuscrits, la production de l'imprimerie a atteint 700 millions de volumes,
et ce, au 18e siècle seulement.[1] Et alors que cela a offert un vecteur à l'émergence d'un
public de lecteurs bourgeois et contribué à une expansion sans précédent de la science
moderne, la culture de la lecture et des Lumières restait alors principalement le privilège
d'une minorité.
Deux bouleversements sociaux allaient commencer à changer cela. Le 2 novembre 1789,
l'Assemblée nationale de la Révolution française a approuvé la saisie de tous les biens
bibliothécaires de l'Église et de l'aristocratie. Des millions de volumes ont été transférés à la
Bibliothèque Nationale ainsi qu'aux bibliothèques régionales, à travers la France. Au même
moment, le capitalisme progressait, en particulier en Angleterre. Ce mouvement a
massivement déplacé une population rurale pauvre dans les centres urbains en pleine
croissance et propulsé le développement de la production industrielle. À la moitié du 19e
siècle, il a également a introduit la presse typographique à vapeur dans la production
commerciale de livres. Puisqu'il était de plus en plus facile de produire des livres en masse,
les bibliothèques privées payantes, au service des
catégories privilégiées de la société, ont commencé à se
répandre. Ce phénomène a mis en relief la question de la
classe dans la demande naissante pour un accès public
aux livres.
Après une tentative ratée d'introduction du suffrage
universel en vue d'en finir avec le système de
représentation politique basée sur les droits de propriété à
travers l'Acte de réforme de 1832, le mouvement anglais
du chartisme a commencé à ouvrir des salles de lectures
et des bibliothèques de prêts coopératifs qui allaient
bientôt devenir un foyer pour l'échange social entre les
classes populaires. Suite aux mouvements
révolutionnaires de 1848, les classes dirigeantes



apeurées ont fini par accepter de répondre à la demande qui réclamait des librairies financées
par l'argent public. Elles espéraient qu'un accès à la littérature et à l'édification favoriserait
l'éducation des travailleurs qualifiés qui étaient de plus en plus en demande, mais
souhaitaient aussi maintenir l'hégémonie sur la classe ouvrière au profit de la culture du
capitalisme, de l'intérêt personnel et de la compétition.[2]

Sans surprise, les chartistes, qui s'étaient retrouvés chancelants après une défaite politique,
avaient commencé à ouvrir des salles de lecture et des bibliothèques de prêts coopératifs. En
effet, à l'époque, l'éducation proposée au prolétariat et aux pauvres par les classes dirigeantes
consistait, soit à une édification morale pieuse au service de la pacification politique, soit à
l'inculcation de qualifications ou de connaissances qui seraient utiles au propriétaire de
l'usine. Même les efforts aux allures nobles de la Society for the Diffusion of the Useful
Knowledge, une organisation du parti whig cherchant à apporter un apprentissage intellectuel
à la classe ouvrière et à la classe moyenne sous la forme de publications bon marché et
simplifiées, avaient pour objectif l'atténuation de la tendance radicale des mouvements
Ces efforts de pacification des masses opprimées les ont poussées à chercher des manières
d'organiser par elles-mêmes une éducation qui leur apporterait l'alphabétisation et une
connaissance réellement utile : une connaissance non pas appliquée, mais critique qui leur
permettrait de voir à travers leur propre soumission politique et économique, de développer
une politique radicale et d'innover leurs propres institutions sociales d'opposition. L'éducation
radicale, dépendante du peu de ressources et du manque de temps de la classe ouvrière, s'est
développée dans les cadres informels des foyers, des quartiers et des lieux de travail, mais
également à travers une presse radicale, une lecture commune et des groupes de discussion.[5]
La demande pour une connaissance réellement utile comprenait une critique de « toute
forme d'éducation “fournie” » et de la conception libérale selon laquelle « une “éducation
nationale” était une condition nécessaire à la garantie du suffrage universel ». Un
développement de « programmes et de pédagogies » radicaux constituait une part de l'arsenal
de « stratégie politique comme moyen de changer le monde »[6]

L'émergence de la bibliothèque publique a donc eu lieu dans le contexte d'un compromis
historique entre la formation des fondements d'une pédagogie radicale et une réaction visant
à l'atténuer. Pourtant, à l'âge de la numérisation dans lequel nous pourrions penser que les
opportunités pour un accès à la connaissance se sont largement étendues, les bibliothèques

publiques se retrouvent particulièrement limitées dans leurs possibilités d'acquérir et de prêter
des éditions aussi bien sous une forme papier que numérique. Cette difficulté est un signe de
l'inégalité radicale de notre époque : une fois encore, l'émancipation politique se bat de
manière défensive pour une base matérielle pédagogique contre les forces croissantes de la
privatisation. Non seulement l'éducation de masse est devenue accessible à prix d'or
uniquement, entrainant la dette étudiante et la servitude qui y est associée, mais la
connaissance utile exigée par le marché du travail et la reproduction du capitalisme néolibéral
sont devenues la seule logique de l'éducation.
Sans surprise, au cours des six-sept dernières années, nous avons vu l'apprentissage
autodidacte, les bibliothèques de l'ombre et les bibliothécaires amateurs émerger pour contrer
la contraction des espaces d'exemption réduits par l'austérité et la commodification. Le projet
Public Library a été initié dans l'idée de contrer ce phénomène. Pour aider tout le monde à
apprendre l'utilisation d'outils simples permettant d'agir en tant qu'Amateur Librarian :
numériser, rassembler, partager, préserver des livres, des articles onéreux, introuvables ou
indésirables dans les coins mouvementés de notre planète.
Amateur Librarian a joué un rôle important dans le système narratif de Public Library. Un
rôle qui semble avoir porté ses fruits. Les gens rejoignent facilement le projet en « devenant »
bibliothécaire grâce à l'outil Calibre[7] et [let’s share books].[8] D'autres aspects du narratif de
Public Library ajoutent une articulation politique à cet acte simple, mais désobéissant. Public
Library perçoit une crise institutionnelle dans l'éducation, une impasse économique
d'austérité et une domination de la logique de commodité sous la forme du droit d'auteur.
Elle fait apparaitre la pratique du partage de livres et de catalogues des bibliothécaires
amateurs comme un défi pertinent à l'encontre de la convergence de cette crise, de cette
impasse et du régime du droit d'auteur.
Pour comprendre les hypothèses politiques et technologiques et développer plus en
profondeur les stratégies sur lesquelles les réactions des bibliothécaires amateurs se basent,
nous proposons un programme issu de la tradition pédagogique critique. La pédagogie
critique est une pratique productive et théorique qui rejette la définition du procédé
éducationnel comme réduit à une simple technique de communication de la connaissance et
présentée comme un mode d'acquisition neutre. Au contraire, la pédagogie est perçue plus
largement comme « une lutte pour la connaissance, le désir, les valeurs, les relations sociales,
et plus important encore, les modes d'institution politique », « une attention portée aux
questions relatives au contrôle des conditions de production de la connaissance. »[9]



Actuellement, aucune industrie ne montre plus
d'asymétries au niveau du contrôle des conditions de
production de la connaissance que celle de la publication
académique. Refuser l'accès à des publications
académiques excessivement chères pour beaucoup
d'universités, en particulier dans l'hémisphère sud,
contraste ostensiblement avec les profits énormes qu'un
petit nombre d'éditeurs commerciaux tirent du travail
bénévole de scientifiques qui écrivent, révisent et éditent
des contributions et avec les prix exorbitants des
souscriptions que les bibliothèques institutionnelles
doivent payer. C'est donc ici que la bibliothèque amateur
atteint le sommet de son intensité en matière de
pédagogie critique : elle nous invite à formuler et à narrer
plus précisément sa pratique à travers un processus
partagé de découverte.

Une bibliothèque publique, c'est :
• un libre accès aux livres pour tous les membres de la
• un catalogue de bibliothèque,
• un bibliothécaire.

From Amateur

Librarian - A
Course in Critical Pedagogy:
No industry in the present
demonstrates more the asymmetries of
control over the conditions of
production of knowledge than the
academic publishing. The denial of
access to outrageously expensive
academic publications for many
universities, particularly in the Global
South, stands in stark contrast to the
super-profits that a small number of
commercial publishers draws from the
free labour of scientists who write,
review and edit contributions and the
extortive prices their institutional
libraries have to pay for subscriptions.
From Voor elk boek is een
FS: Hoe gaan jullie om met boeken
en publicaties die al vanaf het begin
digitaal zijn? DM: We kopen e-books
en e-tijdschriften en maken die
beschikbaar voor onderzoekers. Maar
dat zijn hele andere omgevingen,
omdat die content niet fysiek binnen
onze muren komt. We kopen toegang
tot servers van uitgevers of de
aggregator. Die content komt nooit bij
ons, die blijft op hun machines staan.
We kunnen daar dus eigenlijk niet
zoveel mee doen, behalve verwijzen
en zorgen dat het evengoed vindbaar
is als de print.

Le programme de bibliothécaire amateur développe
plusieurs aspects et implications d'une telle définition.
Certaines parties du programme ont été construites à
partir de différents ateliers et exposés qui se déroulaient précédemment dans le cadre du
projet Public Library. Certaines parties de ce programme doivent encore évoluer s'appuyant
sur un processus de recherche futur, d'échange et de production de connaissance dans le
processus éducatif. Tout en restant schématique en allant de la pratique immédiate, à la
stratégie, la tactique et au registre réflectif de la
connaissance, il existe des personnes et pratiques - non
citées ici - desquelles nous imaginons pouvoir apprendre.
La première itération de ce programme pourrait aussi
bien être une académie d'été avec notre équipe
sélectionnée de bibliothécaires, concepteurs, chercheurs,
professeurs, qu'un petit atelier avec un groupe restreint
d'étudiants se plongeant dans un aspect précis du
programme. En résumé, ce programme est ouvert, aussi

bien au processus éducationnel qu'aux contributions des autres. Nous sommes ouverts aux
commentaires, aux dérivations et aux ajouts.
• du livre au livre électronique
◦ numériser un livre
avec un scanner de
◦ supprimer la gestion
des droits numériques
et convertir au format
livre numérique
• du désordre au catalogue
◦ gérer une bibliothèque
de livres numériques
avec Calibre
◦ trouver des livres
numériques et des
articles dans des
bibliothèques en ligne
• de la référence à la bibliographie
◦ annoter à partir d'une
application ou d'un
appareil de lecture de
livres électroniques
◦ créer une
académique sur Zotero
• du dispositif de bloc au périphérique réseau
◦ partager votre
bibliothèque de livres
numériques d'un
périphérique local à
un appareil de lecture
◦ partager votre
bibliothèque de livres
numériques sur
internet avec [let’s
share books]



• de l'espace IP privé à l'espace IP public
◦ utiliser [let’s share
books] et
◦ utiliser logan &
◦ utiliser Science Hub
◦ utiliser Tor

• du développement de la subordination à la désobéissance
◦ développement inégal
et stratégies
◦ stratégies de
développement contre
les stratégies de sous
développement : accès
ouvert contre piratage
• de la propriété au commun
◦ de la propriété au
◦ droit d'auteur,
scientifique, accès
◦ bibliothèque de
l'ombre, piratage,
• de la collection à l'action collective
◦ pédagogie critique et
◦ archive, activation et
action collective

• du linéaire à l'informatique
◦ bibliothèque

◦ livre imprimé et livre
numérique : page,
marge, dos
• du central au distribué
◦ bibliothécaires
professionnels et
◦ infrastructure(s) de
(études des classes
• du factuel au fantastique
◦ l'univers pour
bibliothèque, la
bibliothèque pour

• Mars, Marcell; Vladimir, Klemo. Download & How to:
Calibre & [let’s share books]. Memory of the World (2014)
• Buringh, Eltjo; Van Zanden, Jan Luiten. 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 (2009) http://
• Mattern, Shannon. Library as Infrastructure. Places Journal
• Antonić, Voja. Our beloved bookscanner. Memory of the
World (2012)
• Medak, Tomislav; Sekulić, Dubravka; Mertens, An. How to:
Bookscanning. 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 Libraries of the Western World.
Scarecrow Press (1999)
• MayDay Rooms. Activation (2015) http://
• Krajewski, Markus. Paper Machines: About Cards &
Catalogs, 1548-1929. MIT Press (2011) https://

Dernière version:

1. 1. Pour une histoire économique du livre en Europe occidentale, voir Eltjo Buringh et 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, n°. 02 (juin 2009) : 409–45, doi :10.1017/S0022050709000837, en
particulier les tableaux 1-5.
2. 2. Pour une histoire sociale de la bibliothèque publique, voir Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (Random House,
2014) chapitre 5 : “Books for all”.
3. 3. Pour ce concept, nous sommes redevables au collectif de curateurs What, How and for Whom/WHW, qui a présenté le
travail de Public Library dans le cadre de l'exposition Really Useful Knowledge qu'ils ont organisée au Museo Reina Sofía à
Madrid, entre 29 octobre 2014 et le 9 février 2015.
4. 4. « Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, » Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Juin 25, 2015, https://

5. 5. Richard Johnson, « Really Useful Knowledge, » dans CCCS Selected Working Papers: Volume 1, 1 édition, vol. 1
(Londres u.a. : Routledge, 2014), 755.
6. Ibid., 752.
9. Henry A. Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy (Bloomsbury Academic, 2011), 5.

A bag
but is
of words
(language is nothing but a bag of words)

In text indexing and other machine reading applications the term "bag of
words" is frequently used to underscore how processing algorithms often
represent text using a data structure (word histograms or weighted vectors)
where the original order of the words in sentence form is stripped away. While
"bag of words" might well serve as a cautionary reminder to programmers of
the essential violence perpetrated to a text and a call to critically question the
efficacy of methods based on subsequent transformations, the expression's use
seems in practice more like a badge of pride or a schoolyard taunt that would
go: Hey language: you're nothin' but a big BAG-OF-WORDS.

In information retrieval and other so-called machine-reading applications (such as text
indexing for web search engines) the term "bag of words" is used to underscore how in the
course of processing a text the original order of the words in sentence form is stripped away.
The resulting representation is then a collection of each unique word used in the text,
typically weighted by the number of times the word occurs.
Bag of words, also known as word histograms or weighted term vectors, are a standard part
of the data engineer's toolkit. But why such a drastic transformation? The utility of "bag of
words" is in how it makes text amenable to code, first in that it's very straightforward to
implement the translation from a text document to a bag of words representation. More



significantly, this transformation then opens up a wide collection of tools and techniques for
further transformation and analysis purposes. For instance, a number of libraries available in
the booming field of "data sciences" work with "high dimension" vectors; bag of words is a
way to transform a written document into a mathematical vector where each "dimension"
corresponds to the (relative) quantity of each unique word. While physically unimaginable
and abstract (imagine each of Shakespeare's works as points in a 14 million dimensional
space), from a formal mathematical perspective, it's quite a comfortable idea, and many
complementary techniques (such as principle component analysis) exist to reduce the
resulting complexity.
What's striking about a bag of words representation, given is centrality in so many text
retrieval application is its irreversibility. Given a bag of words representation of a text and
faced with the task of producing the original text would require in essence the "brain" of a
writer to recompose sentences, working with the patience of a devoted cryptogram puzzler to
draw from the precise stock of available words. While "bag of words" might well serve as a
cautionary reminder to programmers of the essential violence perpetrated to a text and a call
to critically question the efficacy of methods based on subsequent transformations, the
expressions use seems in practice more like a badge of pride or a schoolyard taunt that would
go: Hey language: you're nothing but a big BAG-OF-WORDS. Following this spirit of the
term, "bag of words" celebrates a perfunctory step of "breaking" a text into a purer form
amenable to computation, to stripping language of its silly redundant repetitions and foolishly
contrived stylistic phrasings to reveal a purer inner essence.

Lieber's Standard Telegraphic Code, first published in 1896 and republished in various
updated editions through the early 1900s, is an example of one of several competing systems
of telegraph code books. The idea was for both senders and receivers of telegraph messages
to use the books to translate their messages into a sequence of code words which can then be
sent for less money as telegraph messages were paid by the word. In the front of the book, a
list of examples gives a sampling of how messages like: "Have bought for your account 400
bales of cotton, March delivery, at 8.34" can be conveyed by a telegram with the message
"Ciotola, Delaboravi". In each case the reduction of number of transmitted words is
highlighted to underscore the efficacy of the method. Like a dictionary or thesaurus, the book
is primarily organized around key words, such as act, advice, affairs, bags, bail, and bales,
under which exhaustive lists of useful phrases involving the corresponding word are provided
in the main pages of the volume. [1]





[...] my focus in this chapter is on the inscription technology that grew parasitically
alongside the monopolistic pricing strategies of telegraph companies: telegraph code
books. Constructed under the bywords “economy,” “secrecy,” and “simplicity,”

telegraph code books matched phrases and words with code letters or numbers. The
idea was to use a single code word instead of an entire phrase, thus saving money by
serving as an information compression technology. Generally economy won out over
secrecy, but in specialized cases, secrecy was also important.

In Katherine Hayles' chapter devoted to telegraph code books she observes how:
The interaction between code and language shows a steady movement away from a
human-centric view of code toward a machine-centric view, thus anticipating the
development of full-fledged machine codes with the digital computer.

Aspects of this transitional moment are apparent in a notice included prominently inserted in
the Lieber's code book:
After July, 1904, all combinations of letters that do not exceed ten will pass as one
cipher word, provided that it is pronounceable, or that it is taken from the following
languages: English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese or Latin -[4]
International Telegraphic Conference, July 1903

Conforming to international conventions regulating telegraph communication at that time, the
stipulation that code words be actual words drawn from a variety of European languages
(many of Lieber's code words are indeed arbitrary Dutch, German, and Spanish words)



underscores this particular moment of transition as reference to the human body in the form
of "pronounceable" speech from representative languages begins to yield to the inherent
potential for arbitrariness in digital representation.
What telegraph code books do is remind us of is the relation of language in general to
economy. Whether they may be economies of memory, attention, costs paid to a
telecommunicatons company, or in terms of computer processing time or storage space,
encoding language or knowledge in any form of writing is a form of shorthand and always
involves an interplay with what one expects to perform or "get out" of the resulting encoding.
Along with the invention of telegraphic codes comes a paradox that John Guillory has
noted: code can be used both to clarify and occlude. Among the sedimented structures
in the technological unconscious is the dream of a universal language. Uniting the
world in networks of communication that flashed faster than ever before, telegraphy
was particularly suited to the idea that intercultural communication could become
almost effortless. In this utopian vision, the effects of continuous reciprocal causality
expand to global proportions capable of radically transforming the conditions of human
life. That these dreams were never realized seems, in retrospect, inevitable.



Far from providing a universal system of encoding messages in the English language,
Lieber's code is quite clearly designed for the particular needs and conditions of its use. In
addition to the phrases ordered by keywords, the book includes a number of tables of terms
for specialized use. One table lists a set of words used to describe all possible permutations of
numeric grades of coffee (Choliam = 3,4, Choliambos = 3,4,5, Choliba = 4,5, etc.); another
table lists pairs of code words to express the respective daily rise or fall of the price of coffee
at the port of Le Havre in increments of a quarter of a Franc per 50 kilos ("Chirriado =
prices have advanced 1 1/4 francs"). From an archaeological perspective, the Lieber's code
book reveals a cross section of the needs and desires of early 20th century business
communication between the United States and its trading partners.
The advertisements lining the Liebers Code book further situate its use and that of
commercial telegraphy. Among the many advertisements for banking and law services, office
equipment, and alcohol are several ads for gun powder and explosives, drilling equipment
and metallurgic services all with specific applications to mining. Extending telegraphy's
formative role for ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship communication for reasons of safety,
commercial telegraphy extended this network of communication to include those parties
coordinating the "raw materials" being mined, grown, or otherwise extracted from overseas
sources and shipped back for sale.

Tim Berners-Lee: [...] Make a beautiful website, but
first give us the unadulterated data, we want the data.
We want unadulterated data. OK, we have to ask for
raw data now. And I'm going to ask you to practice
that, OK? Can you say "raw"?
Audience: Raw.
Tim Berners-Lee: Can you say "data"?
Audience: Data.
TBL: Can you say "now"?
Audience: Now!
TBL: Alright, "raw data now"!

From La ville intelligente - Ville de la
Étant donné que les nouvelles formes
modernistes et l'utilisation de
matériaux propageaient l'abondance
d'éléments décoratifs, Paul Otlet
croyait en la possibilité du langage
comme modèle de « données brutes »,
le réduisant aux informations
essentielles et aux faits sans ambiguïté,
tout en se débarrassant de tous les
éléments inefficaces et subjectifs.
From The Smart City - City of
As new modernist forms and use of
materials propagated the abundance
of decorative elements, Otlet believed
in the possibility of language as a
model of 'raw data', reducing it to
essential information and
unambiguous facts, while removing all
inefficient assets of ambiguity or

So, we're at the stage now where we have to do this -the people who think it's a great idea. And all the
people -- and I think there's a lot of people at TED
who do things because -- even though there's not an
immediate return on the investment because it will only really pay off when everybody
else has done it -- they'll do it because they're the sort of person who just does things
which would be good if everybody else did them. OK, so it's called linked data. I want
you to make it. I want you to demand it.

As graduate students at Stanford, Sergey Brin and Lawrence (Larry) Page had an early
interest in producing "structured data" from the "unstructured" web. [7]
The World Wide Web provides a vast source of information of almost all types,
ranging from DNA databases to resumes to lists of favorite restaurants. However, this
information is often scattered among many web servers and hosts, using many different
formats. If these chunks of information could be extracted from the World Wide Web
and integrated into a structured form, they would form an unprecedented source of
information. It would include the largest international directory of people, the largest
and most diverse databases of products, the greatest bibliography of academic works,
and many other useful resources. [...]



2.1 The Problem
Here we define our problem more formally:
Let D be a large database of unstructured information such as the World Wide Web

In a paper titled Dynamic Data Mining Brin and Page situate their research looking for rules
(statistical correlations) between words used in web pages. The "baskets" they mention stem
from the origins of "market basket" techniques developed to find correlations between the
items recorded in the purchase receipts of supermarket customers. In their case, they deal
with web pages rather than shopping baskets, and words instead of purchases. In transitioning
to the much larger scale of the web, they describe the usefulness of their research in terms of
its computational economy, that is the ability to tackle the scale of the web and still perform
using contemporary computing power completing its task in a reasonably short amount of
A traditional algorithm could not compute the large itemsets in the lifetime of the
universe. [...] Yet many data sets are difficult to mine because they have many
frequently occurring items, complex relationships between the items, and a large
number of items per basket. In this paper we experiment with word usage in documents
on the World Wide Web (see Section 4.2 for details about this data set). This data set
is fundamentally different from a supermarket data set. Each document has roughly
150 distinct words on average, as compared to roughly 10 items for cash register
transactions. We restrict ourselves to a subset of about 24 million documents from the
web. This set of documents contains over 14 million distinct words, with tens of
thousands of them occurring above a reasonable support threshold. Very many sets of
these words are highly correlated and occur often.

In programming, I've encountered a recurring "problem" that's quite symptomatic. It goes
something like this: you (the programmer) have managed to cobble out a lovely "content
management system" (either from scratch, or using any number of helpful frameworks)
where your user can enter some "items" into a database, for instance to store bookmarks.
After this ordered items are automatically presented in list form (say on a web page). The
author: It's great, except... could this bookmark come before that one? The problem stems
from the fact that the database ordering (a core functionality provided by any database)
somehow applies a sorting logic that's almost but not quite right. A typical example is the
sorting of names where details (where to place a name that starts with a Norwegian "Ø" for
instance), are language-specific, and when a mixture of languages occurs, no single ordering
is necessarily "correct". The (often) exascerbated programmer might hastily add an
additional database field so that each item can also have an "order" (perhaps in the form of a
date or some other kind of (alpha)numerical "sorting" value) to be used to correctly order
the resulting list. Now the author has a means, awkward and indirect but workable, to control

the order of the presented data on the start page. But one might well ask, why not just edit
the resulting listing as a document? Not possible! Contemporary content management
systems are based on a data flow from a "pure" source of a database, through controlling
code and templates to produce a document as a result. The document isn't the data, it's the
end result of an irreversible process. This problem, in this and many variants, is widespread
and reveals an essential backwardness that a particular "computer scientist" mindset relating
to what constitutes "data" and in particular it's relationship to order that makes what might be
a straightforward question of editing a document into an over-engineered database.
Recently working with Nikolaos Vogiatzis whose research explores playful and radically
subjective alternatives to the list, Vogiatzis was struck by how from the earliest specifications
of HTML (still valid today) have separate elements (OL and UL) for "ordered" and
"unordered" lists.
The representation of the list is not defined here, but a bulleted list for unordered lists,
and a sequence of numbered paragraphs for an ordered list would be quite appropriate.
Other possibilities for interactive display include embedded scrollable browse panels.

Vogiatzis' surprise lay in the idea of a list ever being considered "unordered" (or in
opposition to the language used in the specification, for order to ever be considered
"insignificant"). Indeed in its suggested representation, still followed by modern web
browsers, the only difference between the two visually is that UL items are preceded by a
bullet symbol, while OL items are numbered.
The idea of ordering runs deep in programming practice where essentially different data
structures are employed depending on whether order is to be maintained. The indexes of a
"hash" table, for instance (also known as an associative array), are ordered in an
unpredictable way governed by a representation's particular implementation. This data
structure, extremely prevalent in contemporary programming practice sacrifices order to offer
other kinds of efficiency (fast text-based retrieval for instance).

In announcing Google's impending data center in Mons, Belgian prime minister Di Rupo
invoked the link between the history of the mining industry in the region and the present and
future interest in "data mining" as practiced by IT companies such as Google.
Whether speaking of bales of cotton, barrels of oil, or bags of words, what links these subjects
is the way in which the notion of "raw material" obscures the labor and power structures
employed to secure them. "Raw" is always relative: "purity" depends on processes of
"refinement" that typically carry social/ecological impact.



Stripping language of order is an act of "disembodiment", detaching it from the acts of writing
and reading. The shift from (human) reading to machine reading involves a shift of
responsibility from the individual human body to the obscured responsibilities and seemingly
inevitable forces of the "machine", be it the machine of a market or the machine of an
The computer scientists' view of textual content as
"unstructured", be it in a webpage or the OCR scanned
pages of a book, reflect a negligence to the processes and
labor of writing, editing, design, layout, typesetting, and
eventually publishing, collecting and cataloging [11].

From X = Y:
Still, it is reassuring to know that the
products hold traces of the work, that
even with the progressive removal of
human signs in automated processes,
the workers' presence never
disappears completely. This presence
is proof of the materiality of
information production, and becomes
a sign of the economies and
paradigms of efficiency and
profitability that are involved.

"Unstructured" to the computer scientist, means nonconformant to particular forms of machine reading.
"Structuring" then is a social process by which particular
(additional) conventions are agreed upon and employed.
Computer scientists often view text through the eyes of
their particular reading algorithm, and in the process
(voluntarily) blind themselves to the work practices which have produced and maintain these
Berners-Lee, in chastising his audience of web publishers to not only publish online, but to
release "unadulterated" data belies a lack of imagination in considering how language is itself
structured and a blindness to the need for more than additional technical standards to connect
to existing publishing practices.

1. Benjamin Franklin Lieber, Lieber's Standard Telegraphic Code, 1896, New York;
2. Katherine Hayles, "Technogenesis in Action: Telegraph Code Books and the Place of the Human", How We Think: Digital
Media and Contemporary Technogenesis, 2006
3. Hayles
4. Lieber's
5. Hayles
6. Tim Berners-Lee: The next web, TED Talk, February 2009
7. "Research on the Web seems to be fashionable these days and I guess I'm no exception." from Brin's Stanford webpage
8. Extracting Patterns and Relations from the World Wide Web, Sergey Brin, Proceedings of the WebDB Workshop at EDBT
9. Dynamic Data Mining: Exploring Large Rule Spaces by Sampling; Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, 1998; p. 2 http://
10. Hypertext Markup Language (HTML): "Internet Draft", Tim Berners-Lee and Daniel Connolly, June 1993, http://

A Book
of the

Is there a vital difference between publishing in print versus online other than
reaching different groups of readers and a different lifespan? Both types of texts
are worth considering preserving in libraries. The online environment has
created its own hybrid form between text and library, which is key to
understanding how digital text produces difference.
Historically, we have been treating texts as discrete units, that are distinguished by their
material properties such as cover, binding, script. These characteristics establish them as
either a book, a magazine, a diary, sheet music and so on. One book differs from another,
books differ from magazines, printed matter differs from handwritten manuscripts. Each
volume is a self-contained whole, further distinguished by descriptors such as title, author,
date, publisher, and classification codes that allow it to be located and referred to. The
demarcation of a publication as a container of text works as a frame or boundary which
organises the way it can be located and read. Researching a particular subject matter, the
reader is carried along by classification schemes under which volumes are organised, by
references inside texts, pointing to yet other volumes, and by tables of contents and indexes of
subjects that are appended to texts, pointing to places within that volume.
So while their material properties separate texts into distinct objects, bibliographic information
provides each object with a unique identifier, a unique address in the world of print culture.
Such identifiable objects are further replicated and distributed across containers that we call
libraries, where they can be accessed.
The online environment however, intervenes in this condition. It establishes shortcuts.
Through search engine, digital texts can be searched for any text sequence, regardless of
their distinct materiality and bibliographic specificity. This changes the way they function as a
library, and the way its main object, the book, should be rethought.
(1) Rather than operate as distinct entities, multiple texts are simultaneously accessible
through full-text search as if they are one long text, with its portions spread across the



web, and including texts that had not been considered as candidates for library
(2) The unique identifier at hand for these text portions is not the bibliographic
information, but the URL.
(3) The text is as long as web-crawlers of a given search engine are set to reach,
refashioning the library into a storage of indexed data.

These are some of the lines along which online texts appear to produce difference. The first
contrasts the distinct printed publication to the machine-readable text, the second the
bibliographic information to the URL, and the third the library to the search engine.
The introduction of full-text search has created an
environment in which all machine-readable online
documents in reach are effectively treated as one single
document. For any text-sequence to be locatable, it
doesn't matter in which file format it appears, nor whether
its interface is a database-powered website or mere
directory listing. As long as text can be extracted from a
document, it is a container of text sequences which itself
is a sequence in a 'book' of the web.
Even though this is hardly news after almost two decades
of Google Search ruling, little seems to have changed
with respect to the forms and genres of writing. Loyal to
standard forms of publishing, most writing still adheres to
the principle of coherence, based on units such as book
chapters, journal papers, newspaper articles, etc., that are
designed to be read from beginning to end.

From Voor elk boek is een gebruiker:
FS: Maar het gaat toch ook over de
manier waarop jullie toegang bieden,
de bibliotheek als interface? Online
laten jullie dat nu over aan Google.
SVP: De toegang gaat niet meer
over: “deze instelling heeft dit, deze
instelling heeft iets anders”, al die
instellingen zijn via dezelfde interface
te bereiken. Je kan doorheen al die
collecties zoeken en dat is ook weer
een stukje van die originele droom van
Otlet en Vander Haeghen, het idee
van een wereldbibliotheek. Voor elk
boek is er een gebruiker, de
bibliotheek moet die maar gaan
Wat ik intrigerend vind is dat alle
boeken één boek geworden zijn
doordat ze op hetzelfde niveau
doorzoekbaar zijn, dat is ongelooflijk
opwindend. Dat is een andere manier
van lezen die zelfs Otlet zich niet had
kunnen voorstellen. Ze zouden zot
worden moesten ze dit weten.

Still, the scope of textual forms appearing in search
results, and thus a corpus of texts in which they are being
brought into, is radically diversified: it may include
discussion board comments, product reviews, private emails, weather information, spam etc., the type of content
that used to be omitted from library collections. Rather than being published in a traditional
sense, all these texts are produced onto digital networks by mere typing, copying, OCR-ing,
generated by machines, by sensors tracking movement, temperature, etc.
Even though portions of these texts may come with human or non-human authors attached,
authors have relatively little control over discourses their writing gets embedded in. This is
also where the ambiguity of copyright manifests itself. Crawling bots pre-read the internet
with all its attached devices according to the agenda of their maintainers, and the decisions

about which, how and to whom the indexed texts are served in search results is in the code of
a library.
Libraries in this sense are not restricted to digitised versions of physical public or private
libraries as we know them from history. Commercial search engines, intelligence agencies,
and virtually all forms of online text collections can be thought of as libraries.
Acquisition policies figure here on the same level with crawling bots, dragnet/surveillance
algorithms, and arbitrary motivations of users, all of which actuate the selection and
embedding of texts into structures that regulate their retrievability and through access control
produce certain kinds of communities or groups of readers. The author's intentions of
partaking in this or that discourse are confronted by discourse-conditioning operations of
retrieval algorithms. Hence, Google structures discourse through its Google Search
differently from how the Internet Archive does with its Wayback Machine, and from how the
GCHQ does it with its dragnet programme.
They are all libraries, each containing a single 'book' whose pages are URLs with
timestamps and geostamps in the form of IP address. Google, GCHQ, JStor, Elsevier –
each maintains its own searchable corpus of texts. The decisions about who, to which
sections and under which conditions is to be admitted are
From Amateur Librarian - A Course
informed by a mix of copyright laws, corporate agendas,
in Critical Pedagogy:
management hierarchies, and national security issues.
As books became more easily massVarious sets of these conditions that are at work in a
produced, the commercial
subscription libraries catering to the
particular library, also redefine the notion of publishing
better-off parts of society blossomed.
and of the publication, and in turn the notion of public.
This brought the class aspect of the
Corporate journal repositories exploit publicly funded
research by renting it only to libraries which can afford it;
intelligence agencies are set to extract texts from any
moving target, basically any networked device, apparently
in public interest and away from the public eye; publiclyfunded libraries are being prevented by outdated
copyright laws and bureaucracy from providing digitised
content online; search engines create a sense of giving
access to all public record online while only a few know
what is excluded and how search results are ordered.


nascent demand for public access to
books to the fore.
From Bibliothécaire amateur - un
cours de pédagogie critique:
Puisqu'il était de plus en plus facile de
produire des livres en masse, les
bibliothèques privées payantes, au
service des catégories privilégiées de
la société, ont commencé à se
répandre. Ce phénomène a mis en
relief la question de la classe dans la
demande naissante pour un accès
public aux livres.


It is within and against this milieu that libraries such as
the Internet Archive, Wikileaks, Aaaaarg, UbuWeb,
Monoskop, Memory of the World, Nettime, TheNextLayer
and others gain their political agency. Their countertechniques for negotiating the publicness of publishing
include self-archiving, open access, book liberation,
leaking, whistleblowing, open source search algorithms
and so on.
Digitization and posting texts online are interventions in
the procedures that make search possible. Operating
online collections of texts is as much about organising
texts within libraries, as is placing them within books of
the web.

Originally written 15-16 June 2015 in Prague, Brno
and Vienna for a talk given at the Technopolitics seminar in Vienna on 16 June 2015.
Revised 29 December 2015 in Bergen.


I first spoke to the patient in the last week of that August. That evening the sun was tender in
drawing its shadows across the lines of his face. The eyes gazed softly into a close middle
distance, as if composing a line upon a translucent page hung in the middle of the air, the
hands tapping out a stanza or two of music on legs covered by the brown folds of a towelling
dressing gown. He had the air of someone who had seen something of great amazement but
yet lacked the means to put it into language. As I got to know the patient over the next few
weeks I learned that this was not for the want of effort.
In his youth he had dabbled with the world-speak
language Volapük, one designed to do away with the
incompatibility of tongues, to establish a standard in
which scientific intercourse might be conducted with
maximum efficiency and with minimal friction in
movement between minds, laboratories and publications.
Latin biological names, the magnificent table of elements,
metric units of measurement, the nomenclature of celestial
objects from clouds to planets, anatomical parts and
medical conditions all had their own systems of naming
beyond any specific tongue. This was an attempt to bring
reason into speech and record, but there were other
means to do so when reality resisted these early

The dabbling, he reflected, had become a little more than
that. He had subscribed to journals in the language, he
wrote letters to colleagues and received them in return. A
few words of world-speak remained readily on his tongue, words that he spat out regularly
into the yellow-wallpapered lounge of the sanatorium with a disgust that was lugubriously
According to my records, and in piecing together the notes of previous doctors, there was
something else however, something more profound that the language only hinted at. Just as
the postal system did not require the adoption of any language in particular but had its



formats that integrated them into addressee, address line, postal town and country, something
that organised the span of the earth, so there was a sense of the patient as having sustained
an encounter with a fundamental form of organisation that mapped out his soul. More thrilling
than the question of language indeed was that of the system of organisation upon which
linguistic symbols are inscribed. I present for the reader’s contemplation some statements
typical of those he seemed to mull over.
“The index card system spoke to my soul. Suffice it to say that in its use I enjoyed the
highest form of spiritual pleasure, and organisational efficiency, a profound flowering of
intellect in which every thought moved between its enunciation, evidence, reference and
articulation in a mellifluous flow of ideation and the gratification of curiosity.” This sense of
the soul as a roving enquiry moving across eras, across forms of knowledge and through the
serried landscapes of the vast planet and cosmos was returned to over and over, a sense that
an inexplicable force was within him yet always escaping his touch.
“At every reference stood another reference, each more
interesting than the last. Each the apex of a pyramid of
further reading, pregnant with the threat of digression,
each a thin high wire which, if not observed might lead
the author into the fall of error, a finding already found
against and written up.” He mentions too, a number of
times, the way the furniture seemed to assist his thoughts
- the ease of reference implied by the way in which the
desk aligned with the text resting upon the pages of the
off-print, journal, newspaper, blueprint or book above
which further drawers of cards stood ready in their
cabinet. All were integrated into the system. And yet,
amidst these frenetic recollections there was a note of
mourning in his contemplative moods, “The superposition
of all planes of enquiry and of thought in one system
repels those for whom such harmonious speed is
suspicious.” This thought was delivered with a stare that
was not exactly one of accusation, but that lingered with
the impression that there was a further statement to follow
it, and another, queued up ready to follow.

As I gained the trust of the patient, there was a sense in
which he estimated me as something of a junior
collaborator, a clerk to his natural role as manager. A
lucky, if slightly doubtful, young man whom he might
mentor into efficiency and a state of full access to
information. For his world, there was not the corruption and tiredness of the old methods.
Ideas moved faster in his mind than they might now across the world. To possess a register of

thoughts covering a period of some years is to have an asset, the value of which is almost
incalculable. That it can answer any question respecting any thought about which one has
had an enquiry is but the smallest of its merits. More important is the fact that it continually
calls attention to matters requiring such attention.
Much of his discourse was about the optimum means of arrangement of the system, there
was an art to laying out the cards. As the patient further explained, to meet the objection that
loose cards may easily be mislaid, cards may be tabbed with numbers from one to ten. When
arranged in the drawer, these tabs proceed from left to right across the drawer and the
absence of a single card can thus easily be detected. The cards are further arranged between
coloured guide cards. As an alternative to tabbed cards, signal flags may be used. Here,
metal clips may be attached to the top end of the card and that stand out like guides. For use
of the system in relation to dates of the month, the card is printed with the numbers 1 to 31
at the top. The metal clip is placed as a signal to indicate the card is to receive attention on
the specified day. Within a large organisation a further card can be drawn up to assign
responsibility for processing that date’s cards. There were numerous means of working the
cards, special techniques for integrating them into any type of research or organisation, means
by which indexes operating on indexes could open mines of information and expand the
knowledge and capabilities of mankind.
As he pressed me further, I began to experiment with such methods myself by withdrawing
data from the sanatorium’s records and transferring it to cards in the night. The advantages of
the system are overwhelming. Cards, cut to the right mathematical degree of accuracy,
arrayed readily in drawers, set in cabinets of standard sizes that may be added to at ease,
may be apportioned out amongst any number of enquirers, all of whom may work on them
independently and simultaneously. The bound book, by contrast, may only be used by one
person at a time and that must stay upon a shelf itself referred to by an index card system. I
began to set up a structure of rows of mirrors on chains and pulleys and a set of levered and
hinged mechanical arms to allow me to open the drawers and to privately consult my files
from any location within the sanatorium. The clarity of the image is however so far too much
effaced by the diffusion of light across the system.
It must further be borne in mind that a system thus capable of indefinite expansion obviates
the necessity for hampering a researcher with furniture or appliances of a larger size than are
immediately required. The continuous and orderly sequence of the cards may be extended
further into the domain of furniture and to the conduct of business and daily life. Reasoning,
reference and the order of ideas emerging as they embrace and articulate a chaotic world and
then communicate amongst themselves turning the world in turn into something resembling
the process of thought in an endless process of consulting, rephrasing, adding and sorting.
For the patient, ideas flowed like a force of life, oblivious to any unnatural limitation. Thought
became, with the proper use of the system, part of the stream of life itself. Thought moved
through the cards not simply at the superficial level of the movement of fingers and the
mechanical sliding and bunching of cards, but at the most profound depths of the movement



between reality and our ideas of it. The organisational grace to be found in arrangement,
classification and indexing still stirred the remnants of his nervous system until the last day.




Note: The editor has had the good fortune of finding a whole box of
handwritten index cards and various folded papers (from printed screenshots to
boarding passes) in the storage space of an institute. Upon closer investigation,
it has become evident that the mixed contents of the box make up one single
document. Difficult to decipher due to messy handwriting, the manuscript
poses further challenges to the reader because its fragments lack a preestablished order. Simply uploading high-quality facsimile images of the box
contents here would not solve the problems of legibility and coherence. As an
intermediary solution, the editor has opted to introduce below a selection of
scanned images and transcribed text from the found box. The transcript is
intended to be read as a document sample, as well as an attempt at manuscript
reconstruction, following the original in the author's hand as closely as possible:
pencilled in words in the otherwise black ink text are transcribed in brackets,
whereas curly braces signal erasures, peculiar marks or illegible parts on the
index cards. Despite shifts in handwriting styles, whereby letters sometimes
appear extremely rushed and distorted in multiple idiosyncratic ways, the
experts consulted unanimously declared that the manuscript was most likely
authored by one and the same person. To date, the author remains unknown.

I've been running with a word in my mouth, running with this burning untitled shape, and I
just can't spit it out. Spit it with phlegm from a balcony, kiss it in a mirror, brush it away one
morning. I've been running with a word in my mouth, running...

… it must have been only last month that I began half-chanting-half-mumbling this looped
sequence of sentences on the staircase I regularly take down to work and back up to dream,
yet it feels as if it were half a century ago. Tunneling through my memory, my tongue begins
burning again and so I recollect that the subject matter was an agonizing, unutterable
obsession I needed to sort out most urgently. Back then I knew no better way than to keep
bringing it up obliquely until it would chemically dissolve itself into my blood or evaporate
through the pores of my skin. To whisper the obsession away, I thought not entirely so
naïvely, following a peculiar kind of vengeful logic, by emptying words of their pocket
contents on a spiraling staircase. An anti-incantation, a verbal overdose, a semantic dilution or
reduction – for the first time, I was ready to inflict harm on words! [And I am sure, the
thought has crossed other lucid minds, too.]

During the first several days, as I was rushing up and down the stairs like a Tasmanian devil,
swirling those same sentences in my expunction ritual, I hardly noticed that the brown
marbled staircase had a ravenous appetite for all my sound making and fuss: it cushioned the
clump of my footsteps, it absorbed the vibrations of my vocal chords and of my fingers
drumming on the handrail. All this unusual business must have carried on untroubled for
some time until that Wed. [?] morning when I tried approaching the employee at the
reception desk in the hideously large building where I live with a question about elevator
safety. I may take the elevator once in a blue moon, but I could not ignore the new
disquieting note I had been reading on all elevator doors that week:
m a k e / s u r e / t h e / e l e v a t o r / c a r / i s / s t a t i o n e d / o n / y o u r / f l
o o r / b e f o r e / s t e p p i n g / i n




Walking with a swagger, I entered the incandescent light field around the fancy semicircular,
brown reception desk, pressed down my palms on it, bent forward and from what I found to
be a comfortable inquiry angle, launched question mark after question mark: “Is everything
alright with the elevators? Do you know how worrisome I find the new warning on the
elevator doors? Has there been an accident? Or is this simply an insurance disclaimer-trick?”
Too many floors, too many times reading the same message against my will, must have
inflated my concern, so I breathed out the justification of my anxiety and waited for a
reassuring head shake to erase the imprint of the elevator shaft from my mind. Oddly, not the
faintest or most bored acknowledgment of my inquiry or presence came from across the desk.
From where I was standing, I performed a quick check to see if any cables came out of the
receptionist's ears. Nothing. Channels unobstructed, no ear mufflers, no micro-devices.
Suspicion eliminated, I waved at him, emitted a few other sounds – all to no avail. My
tunnel-visioned receptionist rolled his chair even closer to one of the many monitors under his
hooked gaze, his visual field now narrowed to a very acute angle, sheltered by his high desk.
How well I can still remember that at that exact moment I wished my face would turn into
the widest, most expensive screen, with an imperative, hairy ticker at the bottom –
h e y t o u c h m y s c r e e n m y m u s t a c h e s c r e e n e l e v a t o r t o u c h d o w n s
c r e a m


That's one of the first red flags I remember in this situation (here, really starting to come
across more or less as a story): a feeling of being silenced by the building I inhabited. [Or to
think about it the other way around: it's also plausible and less paranoid that upon hearing
my flash sentences the building manifested a sense of phonophobia and consequently
activated a strange defense mechanism. In any case, t]hat day, I had been forewarned, but I
failed to understand. As soon as I pushed the revolving door and left the building with a wry
smile [on my face], the traffic outside wolfed down the warning.

The day I resigned myself to those forces – and I assume, I had unleashed them upon myself
through my vengeful desire to hxxx {here, a 3-cm erasure} words until I could see carcass
after carcass roll down the stairs [truth be said, a practice that differed from other people's
doings only in my heightened degree of awareness, which entailed a partially malevolent but
perhaps understandable defensive strategy on my part] – that gloomy day, the burning
untitled shape I had been carrying in my mouth morphed into a permanent official of my
cavity – a word implant in my jaw! No longer do I feel pain on my tongue, only a tinge of
volcanic ash as an aftermath of this defeat.


I've been running with a word in my mouth, running with this burning untitled shape, and I
just can't spit it out. Spit it with phlegm from a balcony, kiss it in a mirror, brush it away one
morning. It has become my tooth, rooted in my nervous system. My word of mouth.

Since then, my present has turned into an obscure hole, and I can't climb out of it. Most of
the time, I'm sitting at the bottom of this narrow oubliette, teeth in knees, scribbling notes with
my body in a terribly twisted position. And when I'm not sitting, I'm forced to jump.
Agonizing thoughts numb my limbs so much so that I feel my legs turning to stone. On some
days I look up, terrified. I can't even make out whether the diffuse opening is egg- or squareshaped, but there's definitely a peculiar tic-tac sequence interspersed with neighs that my
pricked ears are picking up on. A sound umbrella, hovering somewhere up there, high above
my imploded horizon.
{illegible vertical lines resembling a bar code}
Hypotheses scanned and merged, I temporarily conclude that a horse-like creature with
metal intestines must be galloping round and round the hole I'm in. When I first noticed the
sound, its circular cadence was soft and unobtrusive, almost protective, but now the more laps
the clock-horse is running, the deeper the ticking and the neighing sounds are drilling into the
hole. I picture this as an ever rotating metal worm inside a mincing machine. If I point my
chin up, it bores through my throat!



What if, in returning to that red flag in my reconstructive undertaking [instead of “red flag”,
whose imperialist connotations strike me today, we cross it out and use “pyramid” to refer to
such potentially revealing frames, when intuitions {two words crossed out, but still legible:
seem to} give the alarm and converge before thoughts do], we posit that an elevator accident
occurred not long after my unanswered query at the High Reception Desk, and that I –
exceptionally – found myself in the elevator car that plummeted. Following this not entirely
bleak hypothesis, the oubliette I'm trapped in translates to an explainable state of blackout
and all the ticking and the drilling could easily find their counterparts in the host of medical
devices (and their noise-making) that support a comatose person. What if what I am
experiencing now is another kind of awareness, inside a coma, which will be gone once I
wake up in a few hours or days on a hospital bed, flowers by my side, someone crying / loud
as a horse / in the other corner of the room, next to a child's bed?
[Plausible as this scenario might be, it's still strange how the situation calls for reality-like
insertions to occur through “what if”s...]

Have I fallen into a lucid coma or am I a hallucination, made in 1941 out of gouache and
black pencil, paper, cardboard and purchased in 1966?
[To visualize the equation of my despair, the following elements are given: the abovewhispered question escalates into a desperate shout and multiplies itself over a considerable
stretch of time at the expense of my vocal chords. After all, I am not made of black pencil or
cardboard or paper. Despite this conclusion, the effort has left me sulking for hours without
being able to scribble anything, overwhelmed by a sensation of being pinched and pulled
sideways by dark particles inside the mineral dampness of this open tomb. What's the use of
a vertical territory if you can't sniff it all the way up?]
{several overlapping thumbmarks in black ink, lower right corner}

/ one gorgeous whale \
my memory's biomorphic shadow
can anyone write in woodworm language?

how to teach the Cyrillic alphabet to woodworms?
how many hypotheses to /re-stabilize\ one's situation?
how many pyramids one on top of the other to the \coma/ surface?
the denser the pyramid net, the more confusing the situation. true/false\fiction


Hasty recordings of several escape attempts. A slew of tentacle-thoughts are rising towards
the ethereal opening and here I am / hopeful and unwashed \ just beneath a submundane
landscape of groping, shimmering arms, hungry to sense and to collect every memory detail in
an effort of sense making, to draw skin over hypotheses and hypotheses over bones. It might
be morning, it might be yesterday's morning out there or any other time in the past, when as I
cracked the door to my workplace, I entered my co-workers' question game and paraverbal
Puckered lips open: “Listen, whose childhood dream was it to have one of their eye-bulbs
replaced with a micro fish-eye lens implant?” Knitted eyebrows: “Someone whose neural
pathways zigzagged phrenologist categories?” Microexpressionist: “How many semioticiandentists and woodworm-writers have visited the Chaos Institute to date?” A ragged mane:
“The same number as the number of neurological tools for brain mapping that the Institute
owns?” {one lengthy word crossed out, probably a name}: “Would your brain topography get
upset and wrinkle if you imagined all the bureaucrats' desks from the largest country on earth
[by pop.] piled up in a pyramid?” Microexpressionist again: “Who wants to draft the call for
asemic writers?” Puckered lips closes {sic} the door.

It's a humongous workplace, with a blue entrance door, cluttered with papers on both sides.
See? Left hand on the entrance door handle, the woman presses it and the three of them
[guiding co-worker, faceless cameraman, scarlet-haired interviewer] squeeze themselves



inside all that paper. [Door shuts by itself.] Doesn't it feel like entering a paper sculpture? [,
she herself appearing for a split second to have undergone a material transformation, to have
turned into paper, the left side of her face glowing in a retro light. It's still her.] This is where
we work, a hybrid site officially called The Institute for Chaos and Neuroplasticity – packed
with folders, jammed with newspapers, stacks of private correspondence left and right,
recording devices, boxes with photographs, xeroxed documents on shelves, {several pea-sized
inkblots} printed screenshots and boarding passes – we keep it all, everything that museums
or archives have no interest in, all orphaned papers, photographic plates and imperiled books
or hard disks relatives might want to discard or even burn after someone's death. Exploring
leftovers around here can go up and down to horrifying and overwhelming sensorial levels...

{a two-centimeter line of rust from a pin in the upper left corner of the index card}
Sociological-intelligence rumors have it that ours is the bureau for studying psychological
attachment to “garbage” (we very much welcome researchers), while others refer to the
Institute as the chaos-brewing place in the neighborhood because we employ absolutely no
classification method for storing papers or other media. The chances of finding us? [Raised
eyebrows and puckered lips as first responses to the scarlet-haired question.] Well, the
incidence is just as low as finding a document or device you're looking for in our storage.
Things are not lost; there are just different ways of finding them. A random stroll, a lucky find
– be that on-line or off-line –, or a seductive word of mouth may be the entrance points into
this experiential space, a manifesto for haphazardness, emotional intuitions, subversion of
neural pathways, and non-productive attitudes. A dadaist archive? queried Scarlet Hair.
Ours is definitely not an archive, there's no trace of pyramidal bureaucracy or taxonomy
here, no nation state at its birth. Hence you won't find a reservoir for national or racial
histories in here. Just imagine we changed perception scales, imagine a collective cut-up
project that we, chaos workers, are bringing together without scissors or screwdrivers because
all that gets through that blue door [and that is the only condition and standard] has already
been shaped and fits in here. [Guiding co-worker speaks in a monotonous and plain GPS
voice. Interview continues, but she forgets to mention that behind the blue door, in this very
big box 1. everyone is an authorized user and 2. time rests unemployed.]

Lately, several trucks loaded with gray matter have been adding extra hours of induced
chaos to everyone's content. Although it is the Institute's policy to accept paper donations
only from private individuals, it occasionally makes exceptions and takes on leftovers from
nonprofit organizations.

Each time this happens, an extended rite of passage follows so as to slightly delay and
thereby ease the arrival of chaos bits: the most reliable chaos worker, Microexpressionist by
metonymically selected feature, supervises the transfer of boxes at the very beginning of a
long hallway [eyeballs moving left to right, head planted in an incredibly stiff neck]. Then,
some fifty meters away, standing in front of the opened blue door, Puckered Lips welcomes
newcomers into the chaos, his gestures those of a marshaller guiding a plane into a parking
position. But once the gray [?] matter has passed over the threshold, once the last full
suitcase or shoe box with USB sticks has landed, directions are no longer provided.
Everyone's free to grow limbs and choose temporal neighbors.

… seated cross-legged at the longest desk ever, Ragged Mane is randomly extracting
photodocuments from the freshest chaos segment with a metallic extension of two of her
fingers [instead of a pince-nez, she's the one to carry a pair of tweezers in a small pocket at
all times]. “Look what I've just grabbed,” and she pushes a sepia photograph in front of
Knitted Eyebrows, whose otherwise deadpan face instantaneously gets stamped this time
with a question mark: “What is it?” “Another capture, of course! Two mustaches, one hat,
three pairs of glasses, some blurred figures in the background, and one most fascinating
detail!” – [… takes out a magnifying glass and points with one of her flashy pink fingers to
the handheld object under the gaze of four eyes on the left side of the photo. Then, Ragged
Mane continues:] “That raised right index finger above a rectangular-shaped object... you see
it?” “You mean [00:00 = insertion of a lengthy time frame = 00:47] could this mustachioed
fellow be holding a touchscreen mobile phone in his left hand?” For several unrecorded
skeptical moments, they interlock their eyes and knit their eyebrows closer together.
Afterward, eyes split again and roll on the surface of the photograph like black-eyed peas on
a kitchen table. “It's all specks and epoch details,” a resigned voice breaks from the chaos
silence, when, the same thought crosses their minds, and Ragged Mane and Knitted
Eyebrows turn the photo over, almost certain to find an answer. [A simultaneous hunch.] In
block letters it most clearly reads: “DOCUMENTING THE FILMING OF
SWITZERLAND / 17.05.2008”



/ meanwhile, the clock-horse has grown really nervous out there – it's drawing smaller and
smaller circles / a spasmodic and repetitive activity causing dislocation / a fine powder
begins to float inside the oubliette in the slowest motion possible / my breathing has already
been hampered, but now my lungs and brain get filled with an asphyxiating smell of old
paper / hanging on my last tentacle-thought, on my tiptoes, refusing to choke and disintegrate
/ NOT READY TO BE RECYCLED / {messiest handwriting}
A Cyrillic cityscape is imagining how one day all the bureaucrats' desks from the largest
country on earth get piled up in a pyramid. “This new shape is deflating the coherence of my
horizon. [the cityscape worries] No matter!” Once the last desk is placed at the very top, the
ground cracks a half-open mouth, a fissure the length of Rxssxx. On the outside it's spotted
with straddled city topographies, inside, it's filled with a vernacular accumulation of anational
dust without a trace of usable pasts.
{violent horizontal strokes over the last two lines, left and right from the hole at the bottom of
the index card; indecipherable}

“What's on TV this afternoon?” This plain but beautifully metamorphosed question has just
landed with a bleep on the chaos couch, next to Ragged Mane, who usually loses no chance
to retort [that is, here, to admonish too hard a fall]: “Doucement!” Under the weight of a
short-lived feeling of guilt, {name crossed out} echoes back in a whisper – d – o – u – c – e
– m – e – n – t –, and then, as if after a palatable word tasting, she clicks her tongue and
with it, she searches for a point of clarification: “Doucement is an anagram for documenté –
which one do you actually mean?” [All conversations with {name crossed out} would suffer
unsettling Meaning U-turns because she specialized in letter permutation.]


Gurgling sounds from a not-so-distant corner of the chaos dump make heads simultaneously
rotate in the direction of the TV screen, where a documentary has just started with a drone'seye view over a city of lined-up skyscrapers. Early on, the commentator breaks into unwitty
superlatives and platitudes, while the soundtrack unnecessarily dramatizes a 3D layering of
the city structure. Despite all this, the mood on the couch is patient, and viewers seem to
absorb the vignetted film. “A city like no other, as atypical as Cappadocia,” explains the low
trepid voice from the box, “a city whose peculiarity owes first to the alignment of all its
elements, where street follows street in a parallel fashion like in linear writing. Hence, reading
the city acquires a literal dimension, skyscrapers echo clustered block letters on a line, and
the pedestrian reader gets reduced to the size of a far-sighted microbe.”
[Woodworm laughs]

Minutes into the documentary, the micro-drone camera zooms into the silver district/chapter
of the city to show another set of its features: instead of steel and glass, what from afar
appeared to be ordinary skyscrapers turn out to be “300-meter-tall lofty towers of mailboxlike constructs of dried skin, sprayed on top with silver paint for rims, and decorated with
huge love padlocks. A foreboding district for newlyweds?” [nauseating atmosphere] Unable
to answer or to smell, the mosquito-sized drone blinks in the direction of the right page, and it
speedily approaches another windowless urban variation: the vastest area of city towers – the
Wood Drawers District. “Despite its vintage (here and there rundown) aura, the area is an
exquisite, segregated space for library aficionados, designed out of genetically-engineered
trees that grow naturally drawer-shaped with a remarkable capacity for self-(re)generation. In
terms of real proportions, the size of a mailbox- or a drawer-apartment is comparable to that



of a shipping container, from the alternative but old housing projects…” bla bla the furniture
bla... [that chaos corner, so remote and so coal black / that whole atmosphere with blurred
echoes beclouds my reasoning / and right now, I'm feeling nauseous and cursed with all the
words in an unabridged dictionary / new deluxe edition, with black covers and golden

In front of the place where, above a modest skyline, every single morning [scholars'] desks
conjoin in the shape of a multi-storied pyramid, there's a sign that reads: right here you can
bend forward, place your hands on your back, press down your spine with your thumbs and
throw up an index card, throw out a reality version, take out a tooth. In fact, take out all that
you need and once you feel relieved, exchange personas as if in an emergency situation.
Then, behind vermillion curtains, replace pronouns at will.
[Might this have been a pipe dream? An intubated wish for character replacement? {Name
crossed out} would whisper C E E H I N N O R T as place name]

[“gray – …
Other Color Terms –
argentine, cerise, cerulean, cyan, ocher, perse, puce, taupe, vermillion”]
To be able to name everything and everyone, especially all the shades in a gray zone, and
then to re-name, re-narrate/re-count, and re-photograph all of it. To treat the ensuing
multilayered landscape with/as an infinitive verb and to scoop a place for yourself in the
accordion of surfaces. For instance, take the first shot – you're being stared at, you're under
the distant gaze of three {words crossed out; illegible}. Pale, you might think, how pallid and
lifeless they appear to be, but try to hold their gaze and notice how the interaction grows
uncomfortable through persistence. Blink, if you must. Move your weight from one leg to the
other, and become aware of how unflinching their concentration remains, as if their eyes are
lured into a screen. And as you're trying to draw attention to yourself by making ampler,
pantomimic gestures, your hands touch the dark inner edges of the monitor you're [boxed] in.
Look out and around again and again...


Some {Same?} damned creature made only of arms and legs has been leaving a slew of
black dots all over my corridors and staircases, ashes on my handrails, and larger spots of
black liquid in front of my elevator doors on the southern track – my oldest and dearest
vertically mobile installation, the one that has grown only ten floors high. If I were in shape,
attuned and wired to my perception angles and sensors, I could identify beyond precision that
it is a 403 cabal plotting I begin fearing. Lately, it's all been going really awry. Having failed
at the character recognition of this trickster creature, the following facts can be enumerated in
view of overall [damage] re-evaluation, quantification, and intruder excision: emaciating
architectural structure, increasingly deformed spiraling of brown marbled staircases, smudged
finger- and footprints on all floors, soddened and blackened ceilings, alongside thousands of
harrowing fingers and a detection of an insidious and undesirable multiplication of {word
crossed out: white} hands [tbc].

Out of the blue, the clock-horse dislocated particles expand in size, circle in all directions like
giant flies around a street lamp, and then in the most predictable fashion, they collide with my
escapist reminiscences multiple times until I lose connection and the landscape above comes
to a [menacing] stillness. [How does it look now? a scarlet-haired question.] I'm blinking, I'm
moving my weight from one leg to the other, before I can attempt a description of the earth
balls that stagnate in the air among translucent tentacles [they're almost gone] and floating
dioramas of miniatures. Proportions have inverted, scraped surfaces have commingled and
my U-shaped. reality. and. vision. are. stammering... I can't find my hands!



-- Ospal ( talk ) 09:27, 19 November 2015 (CET) Here is where the transcript ENDS,
where the black text lines dribble back into the box. For information on document location or
transcription method, kindly contact the editor.



In itself this list is just a bag of words that orders the common terms used in the works of
Le Corbusier and Paul Otlet with the help of text comparison. The quantity of similar words
relates to the word-count of the texts, which means that each appearance has a different
weight. Taken this into account, the appearance of the word esprit for instance, is more
significant in Vers une Architecture (127 times) than in Traité de documentation (240
times), although the total amount of appearances is almost two times higher.
Beyond the mere quantified use of a common language, this list follows the intuition that
there is something more to elaborate in the discourse between these two utopians. One
possible reading can be found in The Smart City, an essay that traces their encounter.

Cette liste n'est en elle même qu'un sac de mots qui organisent les termes les plus
communs utilisés dans les travaux de Le Corbusier et Paul Otlet en utilisant un comparateur
de texte. Le nombre de mots similaires rapotés par le comptage automatique des mots du
texte, ceci signifie que chaque occurence a une valeur différente. Prenons l'exemple des
aparitions du mot esprit par exemple sont plus significatives dans Vers une Architecture (127



fois) plutot que dans le Traité de documentation (240 fois), et ceci bien que le nombre
d'occurences est pratiquement 2 fois plus élevé.
Au delà de simplement comptabiliser la pratique d'un langage commun, mais cette liste suit
une intuition qu'il y a quelque chose qui mériterait une recherche plus approfondie sur le
discours de ces deux utopistes. Une proposition pour une telle recherche peut être trouvée
dans La Ville Intelligente, un essai qui retrace leur rencontre.
Books taken into consideration/Livres prise en compte:
• Le Corbusier, Vers une Architecture, Paris: les éditions G. Crès, 1923. Wordcount: 32733.
• Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique, Bruxelles:
Mundaneum, Palais Mondial, 1934. Word-count: 356854.
• Le Corbusier, Urbanisme, Paris: les éditions G. Crès, 1925. Word-count: 37699.
• Paul Otlet, Monde: essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du Monde, Sentiment du
Monde, Action organisee et Plan du Monde, Bruxelles: Editiones Mundeum 1935.
Word-count: 140209.

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43 times in Traité de

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165 times in Traité de 38 times in
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appears 7 times in Vers une 89 times in Traité de

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appears 17 times in Vers
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91 times in Traité de

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Urbanisme and

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appears 199 times in Vers
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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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appears 5 times in Vers une 83 times in Traité de


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Urbanisme and

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appears 8 times in Vers une 22 times in Traité de


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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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329 times in Traité de 14 times in
Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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appears 127 times in Vers
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240 times in Traité de 36 times in
Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and


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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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202 times in Traité de 82 times in
Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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189 times in Traité de 66 times in
Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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Urbanisme and

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The PR imagery produced by and around the
Mundaneum (disambiguation: the institution in
Mons) often suggests, through a series of
'samenesses', an essential continuity between
Otlet's endeavour and Internet-related products
and services, in particular Google's. A good
example is a scene from the video "From
industrial heartland to the Internet age",
published by The Mundaneum, 2014 , where the drawers of Mundaneum
(disambiguation: Otlet's Utopia) morph into the servers of one of Google's
data centres.
This approach is not limited to images: a recurring discourse that shapes some of the
exhibitions taking place in the Mundaneum maintains that the dream of the Belgian utopian
has been kept alive in the development of internetworked communications, and currently
finds its spitiual successor in the products and services of Google. Even though there are
many connections and similarities between the two endeavours, one has to acknowledge that
Otlet was an internationalist, a socialist, an utopian, that his projects were not profit oriented,
and most importantly, that he was living in the temporal and cultural context of modernism at
the beginning of the 20th century. The constructed identities and continuities that detach
Otlet and the Mundaneum from a specific historical frame, ignore the different scientific,
social and political milieus involved. It means that these narratives exclude the discording or
disturbing elements that are inevitable when considering such a complex figure in its entirety.
This is not surprising, seeing the parties that are involved in the discourse: these types of
instrumental identities and differences suit the rhetorical tone of Silicon Valley. Newly
launched IT products for example, are often described as groundbreaking, innovative and
different from anything seen before. In other situations, those products could be advertised
exactly the same, as something else that already exists[1]. While novelty and difference
surprise and amaze, sameness reassures and comforts. For example, Google Glass was
marketed as revolutionary and innovative, but when it was attacked for its blatant privacy

issues, some defended it as just a camera and a phone joined together. The samenessdifference duo fulfils a clear function: on the one hand, it suggests that technological
advancements might alter the way we live dramatically, and we should be ready to give up
our old-fashioned ideas about life and culture for the sake of innovation. On the other hand, it
proposes we should not be worried about change, and that society has always evolved
through disruptions, undoubtedly for the better. For each questionable groundbreaking new
invention, there is a previous one with the same ideal, potentially with just as many critics...
Great minds think alike, after all. This sort of a-historical attitude pervades techno-capitalist
milieus, creating a cartoonesque view of the past, punctuated by great men and great
inventions, a sort of technological variant of Carlyle's Great Man Theory. In this view, the
Internet becomes the invention of a few father/genius figures, rather than the result of a long
and complex interaction of diverging efforts and interests of academics, entrepreneurs and
national governments. This instrumental reading of the past is largely consistent with the
theoretical ground on which the Californian Ideology[2] is based, in which the conception of
history is pervaded by various strains of technological determinism (from Marshall McLuhan
to Alvin Toffler[3]) and capitalist individualism (in generic neoliberal terms, up to the fervent
objectivism of Ayn Rand).
The appropriation of Paul Otlet's figure as Google's grandfather is a historical simplification,
and the samenesses in this tale are not without fundament. Many concepts and ideals of
documentation theories have reappeared in cybernetics and information theory, and are
therefore present in the narrative of many IT corporations, as in Mountain View's case. With
the intention of restoring a historical complexity, it might be more interesting to play the
exactly the same game ourselves, rather than try to dispel the advertised continuum of the
Google on paper. Choosing to focus on other types of analogies in the story, we can maybe
contribute a narrative that is more respectful to the complexity of the past, and more telling
about the problems of the present.
What followings are three such comparisons, which focus on three aspects of continuity
between the documentation theories and archival experiments Otlet was involved in, and the
cybernetic theories and practices that Google's capitalist enterprise is an exponent of. The
First one takes a look at the conditions of workers in information infrastructures, who are
fundamental for these systems to work but often forgotten or displaced. Next, an account of
the elements of distribution and control that appear both in the idea of a Reseau Mundaneum
, and in the contemporary functioning of data centres, and the resulting interaction with other
types of infrastructures. Finally, there is a brief analysis of the two approaches to the
'organization of world's knowledge', which examines their regimes of truth and the issues that



come with them. Hopefully these three short pieces can provide some additional ingredients
for adulterating the sterile recipe of the Google-Otlet sameness.

In a drawing titled Laboratorium Mundaneum, Paul
Otlet depicted his project as a massive factory, processing
books and other documents into end products, rolled out
by a UDC locomotive. In fact, just like a factory,
Mundaneum was dependent on the bureaucratic and
logistic modes of organization of labour developed for
industrial production. Looking at it and at other written
and drawn sketches, one might ask: who made up the
workforce of these factories?
In his Traité de Documentation, Otlet describes
extensively the thinking machines and tasks of intellectual
work into which the Fordist chain of documentation is
broken down. In the subsection dedicated to the people
who would undertake the work though, the only role
described at length is the Bibliotécaire. In a long chapter
that explains what education the librarian should follow, which characteristics are required,
and so on, he briefly mentions the existence of “Bibliotecaire-adjoints, rédacteurs, copistes,
gens de service”[4]. There seems to be no further description nor depiction of the staff that
would write, distribute and search the millions of index cards in order to keep the archive
running, an impossible task for the Bibliotécaire alone.
A photograph from around 1930, taken in the Palais
Mondial, where we see Paul Otlet together with the rest
of the équipe, gives us a better answer. In this beautiful
group picture, we notice that the workforce that kept the
archival machine running was made up of women, but we
do not know much about them. As in telephone switching
systems or early software development[5], gender
stereotypes and discrimination led to the appointment of
female workers for repetitive tasks that required specific
knowledge and precision. According to the ideal image described in "Traité", all the tasks of
collecting, translating, distributing, should be completely
automatic, seemingly without the necessity of human
intervention. However, the Mundaneum hired dozens of
women to perform these tasks. This human-run version of RC : Il faut déjà au minimum avoir
the system was not considered worth mentioning, as if it
was a temporary in-between phase that should be
overcome as soon as possible, something that was staining the project with its vulgarity.
Notwithstanding the incredible advancement of information technologies and the automation
of innumerable tasks in collectiong, processing and distributing information, we can observe
the same pattern today. All automatic repetitive tasks that technology should be able to do for
us are still, one way or another, relying on human labour. And unlike the industrial worker
who obtained recognition through political movements and struggles, the role of many
cognitive workers is still hidden or under-represented. Computational linguistics, neural
networks, optical character recognition, all amazing machinic operations are still based on
humans performing huge amounts of repetitive intellectual tasks from which software can
learn, or which software can't do with the same efficiency. Automation didn't really free us
from labour, it just shifted the where, when and who of labour.[6]. Mechanical turks, content
verifiers, annotators of all kinds... The software we use requires a multitude of tasks which
are invisible to us, but are still accomplished by humans. Who are they? When possible,
work is outsourced to foreign English-speaking countries with lower wages, like India. In the
western world it follows the usual pattern: female, lower income, ethnic minorities.
An interesting case of heteromated labour are the socalled Scanops[7], a set of Google workers who have a
different type of badge and are isolated in a section of the
Mountain View complex secluded from the rest of the
workers through strict access permissions and fixed time
schedules. Their work consists of scanning the pages of
printed books for the Google Books database, a task that
is still more convenient to do by hand (especially in the
case of rare or fragile books). The workers are mostly
women and ethnic minorities, and there is no mention of
them on the Google Books website or elsewhere; in fact
the whole scanning process is kept secret. Even though
the secrecy that surrounds this type of labour can be
justified by the need to protect trade secrets, it again
conceals the human element in machine work. This is
even more obvious when compared to other types of
human workers in the project, such as designers and
programmers, who are celebrated for their creativity and
However, here and there, evidence of the workforce shows up in the result of their labour.
Photos of Google Books employee's hands sometimes mistakenly end up in the digital
version of the book online[8].
Whether the tendency to hide the human presence is due to the unfulfilled wish for total
automation, to avoid the bad publicity of low wages and precarious work, or to keep an aura
of mystery around machines, remains unclear, both in the case of Google Books and the



Palais Mondial. Still, it is reassuring to know that the products hold traces of the work, that
even with the progressive removal of human signs in
automated processes, the workers' presence never
disappears completely. This presence is proof of the
materiality of information production, and becomes a sign
in a webpage or the OCR scanned
pages of a book, reflect a negligence
to the processes and labor of writing,
editing, design, layout, typesetting, and
eventually publishing, collecting and
cataloging .

In 2013, while Prime Minister Di Rupo was celebrating the beginning of the second phase
of constructing the Saint Ghislain data centre, a few hundred kilometres away a very similar
situation started to unroll. In the municipality of Eemsmond, in the Dutch province of
Groningen, the local Groningen Sea Ports and NOM development were rumoured to have
plans with another code named company, Saturn, to build a data centre in the small port of
A few months later, when it was revealed that Google
was behind Saturn, Harm Post, director of Groningen
Sea Ports, commented: "Ten years ago Eemshaven
became the laughing stock of ports and industrial
development in the Netherlands, a planning failure of the
previous century. And now Google is building a very
large data centre here, which is 'pure advertisement' for
Eemshaven and the data port."[10] Further details on tax
cuts were not disclosed and once finished, the data centre will provide at most 150 jobs in
the region.
Yet another territory fortunately chosen by Google, just like Mons, but what are the selection
criteria? For one thing, data centres need to interact with existing infrastructures and flows of
various type. Technically speaking, there are three prerequisites: being near a substantial
source of electrical power (the finished installation will consume twice as much as the whole
city of Groningen); being near a source of clean water, for the massive cooling demands;
being near Internet infrastructure that can assure adequate connectivity. There is also a
whole set of non-technical elements, that we can sum up as the social, economical and
political climate, which proved favourable both in Mons and Eemshaven.
The push behind constructing new sites in new locations, rather expanding existing ones, is
partly due to the rapid growth of the importance of Software as a service, so-called cloud
computing, which is the rental of computational power from a central provider. With the rise
of the SaaS paradigm the geographical and topological placement of data centres becomes of
strategic importance to achieve lower latencies and more stable service. For this reason,

Google has in the last 10 years been pursuing a policy of end-to-end connection between its
facilities and user interfaces. This includes buying leftover fibre networks[11], entering the
business of underwater sea cables[12] and building new data centres, including the ones in
Mons and Eemshaven.
The spread of data centres around the world, along the main network cables across
continents, represents a new phase in the diagram of the Internet. This should not be
confused with the idea of decentralization that was a cornerstone value in the early stages of
interconnected networks.[13] During the rapid development of the Internet and the Web, the
new tenets of immediacy, unlimited storage and exponential growth led to the centralization
of content in increasingly large server farms. Paradoxically, it is now the growing
centralization of all kind of operations in specific buildings, that is fostering their distribution.
The tension between centralization and distribution and the dependence on neighbouring
infrastructures as the electrical grid is not an exclusive feature of contemporary data storage
and networking models. Again, similarities emerge from the history of the Mundaneum,
illustrating how these issues relate closely to the logistic organization of production first
implemented during the industrial revolution, and theorized within modernism.
Centralization was seen by Otlet as the most efficient way to organize content, especially in
view of international exchange[14] which already caused problems related to space back then:
the Mundaneum archive counted 16 million entries at its peak, occupying around 150
rooms. The cumbersome footprint, and the growing difficulty to find stable locations for it,
concurred to the conviction that the project should be included in the plans of new modernist
cities. In the beginning of the 1930s, when the Mundaneum started to lose the support of the
Belgian government, Otlet thought of a new site for it as part of a proposed Cité Mondiale,
which he tried in different locations with different approaches.
Between various attempts, he participated in the competition for the development of the Left
Bank in Antwerp. The most famous modernist urbanists of the time were invited to plan the
development from scratch. At the time, the left bank was completely vacant. Otlet lobbied for
the insertion of a Mundaneum in the plans, stressing how it would create hundreds of jobs for
the region. He also flattered the Flemish pride by insisting on how people from Antwerp
were more hard working than the ones from Brussels, and how they would finally obtain their
deserved recognition, when their city would be elevated to World City status.[15] He partly
succeeded in his propaganda; aside from his own proposal, developed in collaboration with
Le Corbusier, many other participants included Otlet's Mundaneum as a key facility in their
plans. In these proposals, Otlet's archival infrastructure was shown in interaction with the
existing city flows such as industrial docks, factories, the
railway and the newly constructed stock market.[16]The
modernist utopia of a planned living environment implied
that methods similar to those employed for managing the
flows of coal and electricity could be used for the
organization of culture and knowledge.

From From Paper Mill to Google
Data Center:
In a sense, data centers are similar to
the capitalist factory system; but


The Traité de Documentation, published in 1934, includes an extended reflection on a
Universal Network of Documentation, that would coordinate the transfer of knowledge
between different documentation centres such as libraries or the Mundaneum[17]. In fact the
existing Mundaneum would simply be the first node of a wide network bound to expand to
the rest of the world, the Reseau Mundaneum. The nodes of this network are explicitly
described in relation to "post, railways and the press, those three essential organs of modern
life which function unremittingly in order to unite men, cities and nations."[18] In the same
period, in letter exchanges with Patrick Geddes and Otto Neurath, commenting on the
potential of heliographies as a way to distribute knowledge, the three imagine the White Link
, a network to distribute copies throughout a series of Mundaneum nodes[19]. As a result, the
same piece of information would be serially produced and logistically distributed, described
as a sort of moving Mundaneum idea, facilitated by the railway system[20]. No wonder that
future Mundaneums were foreseen to be built next to a train station.
In Otlet's plans for a Reseau Mundaneum we can already detect some of the key
transformations that reappear in today's data centre scenario. First of all, a drive for
centralization, with the accumulation of materials that led to the monumental plans of World
Cities. In parallel, the push for international exchange, resulting in a vision of a distribution
network. Thirdly, the placement of the hypothetic network nodes along strategic intersections
of industrial and logistic infrastructure.
While the plan for Antwerp was in the end rejected in favour of more traditional housing
development, 80 years later the legacy of the relation between existing infrastructural flows
and logistics of documentation storage is highlighted by the data ports plan in Eemshaven.
Since private companies are the privileged actors in these types of projects, the circulation of
information increasingly respond to the same tenets that regulate the trade of coal or
electricity. The very different welcome that traditional politics reserve for Google data centres
is a symptom of a new dimension of power in which information infrastructure plays a vital
role. The celebrations and tax cuts that politicians lavish on these projects cannot be
explained with 150 jobs or economic incentives for a depressed region alone. They also
indicate how party politics is increasingly confined to the periphery of other forms of power
and therefore struggle to assure themselves a strategic positioning.
C. 025.45UDC; 161.225.22; 004.659GOO:004.021PAG.

The Universal Decimal Classification[21] system, developed by Paul Otlet and Henri
Lafontaine on the basis of the Dewey Decimal Classification system is still considered one of
their most important realizations as well as a corner-stone in Otlet's overall vision. Its
adoption, revision and use until today demonstrate a thoughtful and successful approach to
the classification of knowledge.

The UDC differs from Dewey and other bibliographic systems as it has the potential to
exceed the function of ordering alone. The complex notation system could classify phrases
and thoughts in the same way as it would classify a book, going well beyond the sole function
of classification, becoming a real language. One could in fact express whole sentences and
statements in UDC format[22]. The fundamental idea behind it [23]was that books and
documentation could be broken down into their constitutive sentences and boiled down to a
set of universal concepts, regulated by the decimal system. This would allow to express
objective truths in a numerical language, fostering international exchange beyond translation,
making science's work easier by regulating knowledge with numbers. We have to understand
the idea in the time it was originally conceived, a time shaped by positivism and the belief in
the unhindered potential of science to obtain objective universal knowledge. Today,
especially when we take into account the arbitrariness of the decimal structure, it sounds
doubtful, if not preposterous.
However, the linguistic-numeric element of UDC which enables to express fundamental
meanings through numbers, plays a key role in the oeuvre of Paul Otlet. In his work we learn
that numerical knowledge would be the first step towards a science of combining basic
sentences to produce new meaning in a systematic way. When we look at Monde, Otlet's
second publication from 1935, the continuous reference to multiple algebraic formulas that
describe how the world is composed suggests that we could at one point “solve” these
equations and modify the world accordingly.[24] Complementary to the Traité de
Documentation, which described the systematic classification of knowledge, Monde set the
basis for the transformation of this knowledge into new meaning.
Otlet wasn't the first to envision an algebra of thought. It has been a recurring topos in
modern philosophy, under the influence of scientific positivism and in concurrence with the
development of mathematics and physics. Even though one could trace it back to Ramon
Llull and even earlier forms of combinatorics, the first to consistently undertake this scientific
and philosophical challenge was Gottfried Leibniz. The German philosopher and
mathematician, a precursor of the field of symbolic logic, which developed later in the 20th
century, researched a method that reduced statements to minimum terms of meaning. He
investigated a language which “... will be the greatest instrument of reason,” for “when there
are disputes among persons, we can simply say: Let us calculate, without further ado, and
see who is right”.[25] His inquiry was divided in two phases. The first one, analytic, the
characteristica universalis, was a universal conceptual language to express meanings, of which
we only know that it worked with prime numbers. The second one, synthetic, the calculus
ratiocinator, was the algebra that would allow operations between meanings, of which there is
even less evidence. The idea of calculus was clearly related to the infinitesimal calculus, a
fundamental development that Leibniz conceived in the field of mathematics, and which
Newton concurrently developed and popularized. Even though not much remains of
Leibniz's work on his algebra of thought, it was continued by mathematicians and logicians in
the 20th century. Most famously, and curiously enough around the same time Otlet



published Traité and Monde, logician Kurt Godel used the same idea of a translation into
prime numbers to demonstrate his incompleteness theorem.[26] The fact that the characteristica
universalis only made sense in the fields of logics and mathematics is due to the fundamental
problem presented by a mathematical approach to truth beyond logical truth. While this
problem was not yet evident at the time, it would emerge in the duality of language and
categorization, as it did later with Otlet's UDC.
The relation between organizational and linguistic aspects of knowledge is also one of the
open issues at the core of web search, which is, at first sight, less interested in objective
truths. At the beginning of the Web, around the mid '90s, two main approaches to online
search for information emerged: the web directory and web crawling. Some of the first search
engines like Lycos or Yahoo!, started with a combination of the two. The web directory
consisted of the human classification of websites into categories, done by an “editor”; crawling
in the automatic accumulation of material by following links with different rudimentary
techniques to assess the content of a website. With the exponential growth of web content on
the Internet, web directories were soon dropped in favour of the more efficient automatic
crawling, which in turn generated so many results that quality has become of key importance.
Quality in the sense of the assessment of the webpage content in relation to keywords as well
as the sorting of results according to their relevance.
Google's hegemony in the field has mainly been obtained by translating the relevance of a
webpage into a numeric quantity according to a formula, the infamous PageRank algorithm.
This value is calculated depending on the relational importance of the webpage where the
word is placed, based on how many other websites link to that page. The classification part is
long gone, and linguistic meaning is also structured along automated functions. What is left is
reading the network formation in numerical form, capturing human opinions represented by
hyperlinks, i.e. which word links to which webpage, and which webpage is generally more
important. In the same way that UDC systematized documents via a notation format, the
systematization of relational importance in numerical format brings functionality and
efficiency. In this case rather than linguistic the translation is value-based, quantifying network
attention independently from meaning. The interaction with the other infamous Google
algorithm, Adsense, adds an economic value to the PageRank position. The influence and
profit deriving from how high a search result is placed, means that the relevance of a wordwebsite relation in Google search results translates to an actual relevance in reality.
Even though both Otlet and Google say they are tackling the task of organizing knowledge,
we could posit that from an epistemological point of view the approaches that underlie their
respective projects, are opposite. UDC is an example of an analytic approach, which
acquires new knowledge by breaking down existing knowledge into its components, based on
objective truths. Its propositions could be exemplified with the sentences “Logic is a
subdivision of Philosophy” or “PageRank is an algorithm, part of the Google search engine”.
PageRank, on the contrary, is a purely synthetic one, which starts from the form of the
network, in principle devoid of intrinsic meaning or truth, and creates a model of the

network's relational truths. Its propositions could be exemplified with “Wikipedia is of the
utmost relevance” or “The University of District Columbia is the most relevant meaning of
the word 'UDC'”.
We (and Google) can read the model of reality created by the PageRank algorithm (and all
the other algorithms that were added during the years[27]) in two different ways. It can be
considered a device that 'just works' and does not pretend to be true but can give results
which are useful in reality, a view we can call pragmatic, or instead, we can see this model as
a growing and improving construction that aims to coincide with reality, a view we can call
utopian. It's no coincidence that these two views fit the two stereotypical faces of Google, the
idealistic Silicon Valley visionary one, and the cynical corporate capitalist one.
From our perspective, it is of relative importance which of the two sides we believe in. The
key issue remains that such a structure has become so influential that it produces its own
effects on reality, that its algorithmic truths are more and more considered as objective truths.
While the utility and importance of a search engine like Google are out of the question, it is
necessary to be alert about such concentrations of power. Especially if they are only
controlled by a corporation, which, beyond mottoes and utopias, has by definition the single
duty of to make profits and obey its stakeholders.
1. A good account of such phenomenon is described by David Golumbia.
2. As described in the classic text looking at the ideological ground of Silicon Valley culture.
3. For an account of Toffler's determinism, see .
4. Otlet, Paul. Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique. Editiones Mundaneum, 1934: 393-394.
6. This process has been named “heteromation”, for a more thorough analysis see: Ekbia, Hamid, and Bonnie Nardi.
“Heteromation and Its (dis)contents: The Invisible Division of Labor between Humans and Machines.” First Monday 19, no.
6 (May 23, 2014).
7. The name scanops was first introduce by artist Andrew Norman Wilson when he found out about this category of workers
during his artistic residency at Google in Mountain View. See
8. As collected by Krissy Wilson on her .
10. .
11. .
12. .
13. See Baran, Paul. “On Distributed Communications.” Product Page, 1964.
RM3420.html .
14. Pierce, Thomas. Mettre des pierres autour des idées. Paul Otlet, de Cité Mondiale en de modernistische stedenbouw in de jaren
1930. PhD dissertation, KULeuven, 2007: 34.
15. Ibid: 94-95.
16. Ibid: 113-117.
17. Otlet, Paul. Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique. Editiones Mundaneum, 1934.
18. Otlet, Paul. Les Communications MUNDANEUM, Documentatio Universalis, doc nr. 8438
19. Van Acker, Wouter. “Internationalist Utopias of Visual Education: The Graphic and Scenographic Transformation of the
Universal Encyclopaedia in the Work of Paul Otlet, Patrick Geddes, and Otto Neurath.” Perspectives on Science 19, no. 1
(January 19, 2011): 68-69.
20. Ibid: 66.



21. The Decimal part in the name means that any records can be further subdivided by tenths, virtually infinitely, according to an
evolving scheme of depth and specialization. For example, 1 is “Philosophy”, 16 is “Logic”, 161 is “Fundamentals of Logic”,
161.2 is “Statements”, 161.22 is “Type of Statements”, 161.225 is “Real and ideal judgements”, 161.225.2 is “Ideal
Judgements” and 161.225.22 is “Statements on equality, similarity and dissimilarity”.
22. “The UDC and FID: A Historical Perspective.” The Library Quarterly 37, no. 3 (July 1, 1967): 268-270.
23. TEMP: described in french by the word depouillement,
24. Otlet, Paul. Monde, essai d’universalisme: connaissance du monde, sentiment du monde, action organisée et plan du monde.
Editiones Mundaneum, 1935: XXI-XXII.
25. Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, The Art of Discovery 1685, Wiener: 51.
27. A fascinating list of all the algorithmic components of Google search is at .



When I arrived in Brussels that autumn, I was still very young. I thought that as an au-pair
I would be helping out in the house, but instead I ended up working with the professor on
finishing his book. At the time I arrived, the writing was done but his handwriting was so
hard to decipher that the printer had a difficult time working with the manuscript. It became
my job to correct the typeset proofs but often there were words that neither the printer nor I
could decipher, so we had to ask. And the professor often had no time for us. So I did my
best to make the text as comprehensible as possible.
On the title page of the final proofs from the printer, the professor wrote me:

After five months of work behind the same table, here it is. Now it is your turn to sow the
good seed of documentation, of institution, and of Mundaneum, through the pre-book and the
spoken word[1]

Toen ik die herfst in Brussel arriveerde was ik nog heel jong. Ik dacht dat ik als au-pair in
de huishouding zou helpen, maar in plaats daarvan moest ik de professor helpen met het
afmaken van zijn boek. Toen ik aankwam was het schrijven al afgerond, maar de drukker
worstelde nog met het manuscript omdat het handschrift moeilijk te ontcijferen was. Het
werd mijn taak om de drukproeven te corrigeren. Er waren veel woorden die de drukker en
ik niet konden ontcijferen, dus dan moesten we het navragen. Maar vaak had de professor
geen tijd voor ons. Ik deed dan mijn best om de tekst zo leesbaar mogelijk te maken.
Op de titelpagina van de definitieve drukproef schreef de professor me:



Na vijf maanden gewerkt te hebben aan dezelfde tafel is hier het resultaat. Nu is het jouw
beurt om via het boek, het voor-boek, het woord, het goede zaad te zaaien van documentatie,
instituut en Mundaneum.[2]

She serves us coffee from a ceramic coffee pot and also a cake bought at the bakery next
door. It's all written in the files she reminds us repeatedly, and tells us about one day in the
sixties, when her husband returned home, telling her excitedly that he discovered the
Mundaneum at Chaussée de Louvain in Brussels. Ever since, he would return to the same
building, making friends with the friends of the Palais Mondial, those dedicated caretakers of
the immense paper heritage.
I haven't been there so often myself, she says. But I do remember there were cats, to keep the
mice away from the paper. And my husband loved cats. So in the eighties, when he was
finally in a position to save the archives, the cats had to be taken care of too." Hij wanted to
write the cats were written into the inventory.
We finish our coffee and she takes us behind a curtain that separates the salon from a small
office. She shows us four green binders that contain the meticulously filed papers of her late
husband pertaining to the Mundaneum. In the third is the Donation act that describes the
transfer of the archives from the Friends of the Palais Mondial to the Centre de Lecture
Public of the French community.
In the inventory, the cats are nowhere to be found.[3]

Ze schenkt ons koffie uit een keramieken koffiepot en serveert gebak dat ze bij de
naburige bakkerij kocht. Herhaaldelijk herinnert ze ons eraan dat 'het allemaal geschreven
staat in de documenten'. Ze vertelt ons dat in de jaren zestig, haar man op een dag
thuiskwam en opgewonden vertelde dat hij het Mundaneum ontdekt had op de Leuvense
Steenweg in Brussel. Sindsdien keerde hij daar regelmatig terug om de vrienden van het
Palais Mondial te ontmoeten: de toegewijde verzorgers van die immense papieren erfenis.
Ik ben er zelf niet zo vaak geweest, zegt ze. Maar ik herinner me dat er katten waren om de
muizen weg te houden van al het papier. En mijn man hield van katten. In de jaren tachtig,
toen hij eindelijk een positie had die hem in staat stelde om de archieven te redden, moest er
ook voor de katten worden gezorgd. Hij wilde de katten opnemen in de inventaris.
We drinken onze koffie op en ze neemt ons mee achter een gordijn dat de salon van een
klein kantoor scheidt. Ze toont ons vier groene mappen met de keurig geordende papieren
van haar voormalige echtgenoot over het Mundaneum. In de derde map bevindt zich de akte

die de overdracht van de archieven beschrijft van de Vrienden van het Palais Mondial aan
het Centre de Lecture Public van de Franse Gemeenschap (CLPCF).
In de inventaris is geen spoor van de katten te vinden.[4]

In a margarine box, between thousands of notes, tickets, postcards, letters, all folded to the
size of an index card, we find this:

Paul, leave me the key to mythe house, I forgot mine. Put it on your desk, in the small index
card box.[5]

In een grote margarinedoos, tussen duizenden bonnetjes, aantekeningen, briefkaarten, en
brieven, allemaal gevouwen op maat van een indexkaart, vinden we een bericht:

Paul, laat je de sleutel van mijnhet huis voor mij achter, ik ben de mijne vergeten. Stop hem in
het kleine indexkaartdoosje op je bureau.[6]




1. EN
Wilhelmina Coops came from The Netherlands to Brussels in 1932 to learn French. She was instrumental in transforming
Le Traité de Documentation into a printed book.
2. NL
Wilhelmina Coops kwam in 1932 uit Nederland naar Brussel om Frans te leren. Ze hielp het manuscript voor Le Traité de
Documentation omzetten naar een gedrukt boek.
3. EN
The act is dated April 4 1985. Madame Canonne is a librarian, widow of André Canonne († 1990). She is custodian of
the documents relating to the wanderings of The Mundaneum in Brussels.
4. NL
De akte is gedateerd op 4 april 1985. Madame Canonne is bibliothecaresse en weduwe van André Canonne († 1990).
Ze is de bewaarster van documenten die gerelateerd zijn aan de omzwervingen van het Mundaneum in Brussel.
5. EN
Cato van Nederhasselt, second wife of Paul Otlet, collaborated with her husband on many projects. Her family fortune kept
the Mundaneum running after other sources had dried up.
6. NL
Cato van Nederhasselt, de tweede vrouw van Paul Otlet, werkte met haar man aan vele projecten. Nadat alle andere
bronnen waren uitgeput hield haar familiefortuin het Mundaneum draaiende.

A Preemptive
of the


Six years ago, Google, an Alphabet company, launched a new project: The Google Art
Project. The official history, the one written by Google and distributed mainly through
tailored press releases and corporate news bits, tells us that it all started as “a 20% project
within Google in 2010 and had its first public showing in 2011. It was 17 museums,
coming together in a very interesting online platform, to allow users to essentially explore art
in a very new and different way."[1] While Google Books faced legal challenges and the
European Commission launched its antitrust case against Google in 2010, the Google Art
Project, not coincidentally, scaled up gradually, resulting in the Google Cultural Institute with
headquarters in Paris, “whose mission is to make the world's culture accessible online.”[2]
The Google Cultural Institute is strictly divided in Art Project, Historical Moments and
World Wonders, roughly corresponding to fine art, world history and material culture.
Technically, the Google Cultural Institute can be described as a database that powers a
repository of high-resolution images of fine art, objects, documents and ephemera, as well as
information about and from their ‘partners’ - the public museums, galleries and cultural
institutions that provide this cultural material - such as 3D tour views and street-view maps.
So far and counting, the Google Cultural Institute hosts 177 digital reproductions of selected
paintings in gigapixel resolution and 320 3D versions of different objects, together with
multiple thematic slide shows curated in collaboration with their partners or by their users.



According to their website, in their ‘Lab’ they develop the “new technology to help partners
publish their collections online and reach new audiences, as seen in the Google Art Project,
Historic Moments and World Wonders initiatives.” These services are offered – not by
chance – as a philanthropic service to public institutions that increasingly need to justify their
existence in face of cuts and other managerial demands of the austerity policies in Europe
and elsewhere.
The Google Cultural Institute “would be unlikely, even unthinkable, absent the chronic and
politically induced starvation of publicly funded cultural institutions even throughout the
wealthy countries”[3]. It is important to understand that what Google is really doing is
bankrolling the technical infrastructure and labour needed to turn culture into data. In this
way it can be easily managed and feed all kind of products needed in the neoliberal city to
promote and exploit these cultural ‘assets’, in order to compete with other urban centres in
the global stage, but also, to feed Google’s unstoppable accumulation of information.
The head of the Google Cultural Institute knows there are a lot of questions about their
activities but Alphabet chose to label legitimate critiques as misunderstandings: “This is our
biggest battle, this constant misunderstanding of why the Cultural Institute actually exists.”[4]
The Google Cultural Institute, much like many other cultural endeavours of Google like
Google Books and their Digital Revolution art exhibition, has been subject to a few but
much needed critiques, such as Powered by Google: Widening Access and Tightening
Corporate Control (Schiller & Yeo 2014), an in-depth account of the origins of this cultural
intervention and its role in the resurgence of welfare capitalism, “where people are referred to
corporations rather than states for such services as they receive; where corporate capital
routinely arrogates to itself the right to broker public discourse; and where history and art
remain saturated with the preferences and priorities of elite social classes.”[5]
Known as one, if not the first essay that dissects Google's use of information and the rhetoric
of democratization behind it to reorganize cultural public institutions as a “site of profitmaking”, Schiller & Yeo’s text is fundamental to understand the evolution of the Google
Cultural Institute within the historical context of digital capitalism, where the global
dependency in communication and information technologies is directly linked to the current
crisis of accumulation and where Google's archive fever “evinces a breath-taking cultural and
ideological range.”[6]

The Google Cultural Institute is a complex subject of interest since it reflects the colonial
impulses embedded in the scientific and economic desires that formed the very collections
which the Google Cultural Institute now mediates and accumulates in its database.

Who colonizes the colonizers? It is a very difficult issue which I have raised before in an
essay dedicated to the Google Cultural Institute, Alfred Russel Wallace and the colonial
impulse behind archive fevers from the 19th but also the 21st century. I have no answer yet.
But a critique of the Google Cultural Institute where their motivations are interpreted as
merely colonialist, would be misleading and counterproductive. It is not their goal to slave and
exploit whole populations and its resources in order to impose a new ideology and civilise
barbarians in the same sense and way that European countries did during the Colonization.
Additionally, it would be unfair and disrespectful to all those who still have to deal with the
endless effects of Colonization, that have exacerbated with the expansion of economic
The conflation of technology and science that has produced the knowledge to create such an
entity as Google and its derivatives, such as the Cultural Institute, together with the scale of
its impact on a society where information technology is the dominant form of technology,
makes technocolonialism a more accurate term to describe Google's cultural interventions
from my perspective.
Although technocolonization shares many traits and elements with the colonial project,
starting with the exploitation of materials needed to produce information and media
technologies – and the related conflicts that this produces –, information technologies still
differ from ships and canons. However, the commercial function of maritime technologies is
the same as the free – as in free trade – services deployed by Google or Facebook’s drones
beaming internet in Africa, although the networked aspect of information technologies is
significantly different at the infrastructure level.
There is no official definition of technocolonialism, but it is important to understand it as a
continuation of the idea of Enlightenment that gave birth to the impulse to collect, organise
and manage information in the 19th century. My use of this term aims to emphasize and
situate contemporary accumulation and management of information and data within a
technoscientific landscape driven by “profit above else” as a “logical extension of the surplus
value accumulated through colonialism and slavery.”[7]
Unlike in colonial times, in contemporary technocolonialism the important narrative is not the
supremacy of a specific human culture. Technological culture is the saviour. It doesn’t matter
if the culture is Muslim, French or Mayan, the goal is to have the best technologies to turn it
into data, rank it, produce content from it and create experiences that can be monetized.
It only makes sense that Google, a company with a mission of to organise the world’s
information for profit, found ideal partners in the very institutions that were previously in
charge of organising the world’s knowledge. But as I pointed out before, it is paradoxical that
the Google Cultural Institute is dedicated to collect information from museums created under
Colonialism in order to elevate a certain culture and way of seeing the world above others.
Today we know and are able to challenge the dominant narratives around cultural heritage,



because these institutions have an actual record in history and not only a story produced for
the ‘about’ section of a website, like in the case of the Google Cultural Institute.
“What museums should perhaps do is make visitors aware that this is not the only way of
seeing things. That the museum – the installation, the arrangement, the collection – has a
history, and that it also has an ideological baggage”[8]. But the Google Cultural Institute is
not a museum, it is a database with an interface that enables to browse cultural content.
Unlike the prestigious museums it collaborates with, it lacks a history situated in a specific
cultural discourse. It is about fine art, world wonders and historical moments in a general
sense. The Google Cultural Institute has a clear corporate and philanthropic mission but it
lacks a point of view and a defined position towards the cultural material that it handles. This
is not surprising since Google has always avoided to take a stand, it is all techno-determinism
and the noble mission of organising the world’s information to make the world better. But
“brokering and hoarding information are a dangerous form of techno-colonialism.”[8]
Looking for a cultural narrative beyond the Californian ideology, Alphabet's search engine
found in Paul Otlet and the Mundaneum the perfect cover to insert their philanthropic
services in the history of information science beyond Silicon Valley. After all, they
understand that “ownership over the historical narratives and their material correlates
becomes a tool for demonstrating and realizing economic claims”.[9]
After establishing a data centre in the Belgian city of Mons, home of the Mundaneum
archive center, Google lent its support to "the Mons 2015 adventure, in particular by
working with our longtime partners, the Mundaneum archive. More than a century ago, two
visionary Belgians envisioned the World Wide Web’s architecture of hyperlinks and
indexation of information, not on computers, but on paper cards. Their creation was called
the Mundaneum.”[10]

On the occasion of the 147th birthday of Paul Otlet, a Doodle in the homepage of the
Alphabet spelled the name of its company using the ‘drawers of the Mundaneum’ to form the
words G O O G L E: “Today’s Doodle pays tribute to Paul’s pioneering work on the

Mundaneum. The collection of knowledge stored in the Mundaneum’s drawers are the
foundational work for everything that happens at Google. In early drafts, you can watch the
concept come to life.”[11]

The dematerialisation of public collections using infrastructure and services bankrolled by
private actors like the GCI needs to be questioned and analyzed further in the context of
heterotopic institutions, to understand the new forms taken by the endless tension between
knowledge/power at the core of contemporary archivalism, where the architecture of the
interface replaces and acts on behalf of the museum, and the body of the visitor is reduced to
the fingers of a user capable of browsing endless cultural assets.
At a time when cultural institutions should be decolonised instead of googlified, it is vital to
discuss a project such as the Google Cultural Institute and its continuous expansion – which
is inversely proportional to the failure of the governments and the passivity of institutions
seduced by gadgets[12].
However, the dialogue is fragmented between limited academic accounts, corporate press
releases, isolated artistic interventions, specialised conferences and news reports. Femke
Snelting suggests that we must “find the patience to build a relation to these histories in ways
that make sense.” To do so, we need to excavate and assemble a better account of the
history of the Google Cultural Institute. Building upon Schiller & Yeo’s seminal text, the
following timeline is my contribution to this task and an attempt to put together the pieces, by
situating them in a broader economic and political context beyond the official history told by
the Google Cultural Institute. A closer inspection of the events reveals that the escalation of



Alphabet's cultural interventions often emerge after a legal challenge against their economic
hegemony in Europe was initiated.

A news report from the Wall Street Journal[13] as well as an AP report on Youtube[14] confirm
the new Google venture in the field of historical collections. The executive chairman of
Alphabet declared: “I can think of no better use of our time and our resources to make the
images and ideas from your civilization, from the very beginning of time, available to a billion
people worldwide.”
A detailed account and reflection of this visit, its background and agenda can be found in
Powered by Google: Widening Access and Tightening Corporate Control. (Schiller & Yeo

In relation to the Google Books dispute in Europe, Reuters reported in 2009 that France's
ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy “pledged hundreds of millions of euros toward a separate
digitization program, saying he would not permit France to be “stripped of our heritage to the
benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is.”[15]

Although the reactionary and nationalistic agenda of Sarkozy should not be celebrated, it is
important to note that the first open attack on Google’s cultural agenda came from the French
government. Four years later, the Google Cultural Institute establishes its headquarters in

The European Commission has decided to open an antitrust investigation into
allegations that Google Inc. has abused a dominant position in online search, in
violation of European Union rules (Article 102 TFEU). The opening of formal
proceedings follows complaints by search service providers about unfavourable
treatment of their services in Google's unpaid and sponsored search results coupled
with an alleged preferential placement of Google's own services. This initiation of
proceedings does not imply that the Commission has proof of any infringements. It
only signifies that the Commission will conduct an in-depth investigation of the case as
a matter of priority.

According to the Guardian[17], and other news reports, Google's cultural project is started by
passionate art “googlers”.

Referring to France as one of the most important centres for culture and technology, Google
CEO Eric Schmidt formally announces the creation of a centre "dedicated to technology,
especially noting the promotion of past, present and future European cultures."[18]

In February the new ‘product’ is officially presented. The introduction[19] emphasises that it
started as a 20% project, meaning a project that lacked corporate mandate.
According to the “Our Story”[20] section of the Google Cultural Institute, the history of the
Google Art Project starts with the integration of 140,000 assets from the Yad Vashem
World Holocaust Centre, followed by the inclusion of the Nelson Mandela Archives in the
Historical Moments section of the Google Cultural Institute.



Later in August, Eric Schmidt declares that education should bring art and science together
just like in “the glory days of the Victorian Era”.[21]

At the request of the French authorities, the European Union initiates an investigation against
Google, related to the breach of data privacy due to the new terms of use published by
Google on 1 March 2012.[22]

According to the Google Cultural Institute website, 151 partners join the Google Art
Project including France's Musée D’Orsay. The World Wonders section is launched
including partnerships with the likes of UNESCO. By October, the platform is rebranded
and re-launched including over 400+ partners.

On 10 December, the new French headquarters open in 8 rue de Londres. The French
Minister Aurélie Filippetti cancels her attendance as she doesn’t “wish to appear as a
guarantee for an operation that still raises a certain number of questions."[23]

HM Customs and Revenue Committee inquiry brands Google's tax operations in the UK
via Ireland as "devious, calculated and, in my view, unethical".[24]

The controversial ruling holds search engines responsible for the personal data that it handles
and under European Law the court ruled “that the operator is, in certain circumstances,
obliged to remove links to web pages that are published by third parties and contain
information relating to a person from the list of results displayed following a search made on

the basis of that person’s name. The Court makes it clear that such an obligation may also
exist in a case where that name or information is not erased beforehand or simultaneously
from those web pages, and even, as the case may be, when its publication in itself on those
pages is lawful.”[25]

Google sponsors the exhibition Digital Revolution[26] and commission artworks under the
brand “Dev-art: art made with code.[27]”. The exhibition later tours to the Tekniska Museet in

“Here creative experts and technology come together share ideas and build new ways to
experience art and culture.”[29]

A press release from Google[30] describes the new partnership with the Belgian city of Mons
as a result of their position as local employer and investor in the city, since one of their two
major data centres in Europe is located there.

The European Commission has sent a Statement of Objections to Google alleging the
company has abused its dominant position in the markets for general internet search
services in the European Economic Area (EEA) by systematically favouring its own
comparison shopping product in its general search results pages.”

Google rejects the accusations as “wrong as a matter of fact, law and economics”.[32]

The Commission will assess if, by entering into anticompetitive agreements and/or by
abusing a possible dominant position, Google has illegally hindered the development
and market access of rival mobile operating systems, mobile communication
applications and services in the European Economic Area (EEA). This investigation
is distinct and separate from the Commission investigation into Google's search

According to the ‘Our Story’ section of the Google Cultural Institute, the Street Art project
now has 10,000 assets. A new extension displays art from the Google Art Project in the
Chrome browser and “art lovers can wear art on their wrists via Android art”. By August,



the project has more than 850 partners using their tools, 4.7 million assets in its collection
and more than 1500 curated exhibitions.


“Alphabet Inc. (commonly known as Alphabet) is an American multinational conglomerate
created in 2015 as the parent company of Google and several other companies previously
owned by or tied to Google.”[35]

Google creates a doodle for their homepage on the occasion of the 147th birthday of Paul
Otlet[36] and produces the slide shows Towards the Information Age, Mapping Knowledge
and The 100th Anniversary of a Nobel Peace Prize, all hosted by the Google Cultural
“The Mundaneum and Google have worked closely together to curate 9 exclusive online
exhibitions for the Google Cultural Institute. The team behind the reopening of the

Mundaneum this year also worked with the Cultural Institute engineers to launch a dedicated
mobile app.”[37]

The British Museum announce a “unique partnership” where over 4,500 assets can be
“seen online in just a few clicks”. In the official press release, the director of the museum,
Neil McGregor, said “The world today has changed, the way we access information has
been revolutionised by digital technology. This enables us to gives the Enlightenment ideal
on which the Museum was founded a new reality. It is now possible to make our collection
accessible, explorable and enjoyable not just for those who physically visit, but to everybody
with a computer or a mobile device. ”[38]

Over 60 performing arts (dance, drama, music, opera) organizations and performers join the
assets collection of the Google Cultural Institute [39]

The Google Culture Institute has quietly changed the name of its platform to “Google Art &
Culture”. The website has been also restructured, and categories have been simplified into
“Arts”, “History” and “Wonders”. Its partners and projects are placed at the top of their
“Menu”. It is now possible to browse artists and mediums trough time and by color. The site



offers a daily digest of art and history, but also cityscapes, galleries and street art views are
only one click away.

An important aspect of this make-over is the way in which it reveals its own instability as a
cultural archive. Before the upgrade, the link would take you to "The origins of the
Internet in Europe”, the page dedicated to the Mundaneum and Paul Otlet. Now it takes
you to a 404 error page. No timestamp, no redirect. No archived copy recorded in the
Wayback Machine. The structure of the new link for this "exhibition" still hints at some sort
of beta state: . How
long can we rely on this cultural institute/beta link?
Should the “curator of the world”[40], as Amit Sood is described in media, take some
responsibility over the reliability of the structure in which Google Arts & Culture displays the
cultural material extracted from public institutions and, that unlike Google, need to do so by
mandate? Or should we all just take his word and look away: “I fell into this by mistake.”[41]?


1. Caines, Matthew. “Arts head: Amit Sood, director, Google Cultural Institute” The Guardian. Dec 3, 2013. http:// sood-google-culturalinstitute-art-project
2. Google Paris. Accessed Dec 22, 2016

3. Schiller, Dan & Yeo, Shinjoung. “Powered By Google: Widening Access And Tightening Corporate Control.” (In Aceti, D.
L. (Ed.). Red Art: New Utopias in Data Capitalism: Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Vol. 20, No. 1. London: Goldsmiths
University Press. 2014):48
4. Down, Maureen. “The Google Art Heist”. The New York Times. Sept 12, 2015
5. Schiller, Dan & Shinjoung Yeo. “Powered By Google: Widening Access And Tightening Corporate Control.”, 48
6. Schiller, Dan & Yeo, Shinjoung. “Powered By Google: Widening Access And Tightening Corporate Control.”, 48
7. Davis, Heather & Turpin, Etienne, eds. Art in the Antropocene (London: Open Humanities Press. 2015), 7
8. Bush, Randy. On techno-colonialism. (blog) June 13, 2015. Accessed Dec 22, 2015
9. Starzmann, Maria Theresia. “Cultural Imperialism and Heritage Politics in the Event of Armed Conflict: Prospects for an
‘Activist Archaeology’”. Archeologies. Vol. 4 No. 3 (2008):376
10. Echikson, William. Partnering in Belgium to create a capital of culture (blog) March 20, 2014. Accessed Dec 22, 2015
11. Google. Mundaneum co-founder Paul Otlet's 147th Birthday (blog) August 23, 2015. Accessed Dec 22, 2015 http://
12. eg.
13. Lavallee, Andrew. “Google CEO: A New Iraq Means Business Opportunities.” Wall Street Journal. Nov 24, 2009 http://
14. Associated Press. Google Documents Iraqi Museum Treasures (on-line video November 24, 2009) https://
15. Jarry, Emmanuel. “France's Sarkozy takes on Google in books dispute.” Reuters. December 8, 2009. http://
16. European Commission. Antitrust: Commission probes allegations of antitrust violations by Google (Brussels 2010) http://
17. Caines, Matthew. “Arts head: Amit Sood, director, Google Cultural Institute” The Guardian. December 3, 2013. http:// sood google-culturalinstitute-art-project
18. Cyrus, Farivar. "Google to build R&D facility and 'European cultural center' in France.” Deutsche Welle. September 9,
19. Google Art Project. Art Project V1 - Launch Event at Tate Britain. (on-line video February 1, 2011) https://
20. Google Cultural Institute. Accessed Dec 18, 2015.
21. Robinson, James. “Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, condemns British education system” The Guardian. August 26, 2011
22. European Commission. Letter addressed to Google by the Article 29 Group (Brussels 2012)
23. Willsher, Kim. “Google Cultural Institute's Paris opening snubbed by French minister.” The Guardian. December 10, 2013
24. Bowers, Simon & Syal, Rajeev. “MP on Google tax avoidance scheme: 'I think that you do evil'”. The Guardian. May 16,
2013. you-do-do-evil
25. Court of Justice of the European Union. Press-release No 70/14 (Luxembourg, 2014)
26. Barbican. “Digital Revolution.” Accessed December 15, 2015
27. Google. “Dev Art”. Accessed December 15, 2015
28. Tekniska Museet. “Digital Revolution.” Accessed December 15, 2015
29. Google Cultural Institute. Accessed December 15, 2015.
30. Echikson,William. Partnering in Belgium to create a capital of culture (blog) March 20, 2014. Accessed Dec 22, 2015
31. European Commission. Antitrust: Commission sends Statement of Objections to Google on comparison shopping service;
opens separate formal investigation on Android. (Brussels 2015)
32. Yun Chee, Foo. “Google rejects 'unfounded' EU antitrust charges of market abuse” Reuters. (August 27, 2015) http://
33. European Commission. Antitrust: Commission sends Statement



34. Transparency International. Lobby meetings with EU policy-makers dominated by corporate interests (blog) June 24, 2015.
Accessed December 22, 2015.
35. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. s.v. “Alphabet Inc,” (accessed Jan 25, 2016,
36. Google. Mundaneum co-founder Paul Otlet's 147th Birthday (blog) August 23, 2015. Accessed Dec 22, 2015 http://
37. Google. Mundaneum co-founder Paul Otlet's 147th Birthday
38. The British Museum. The British Museum’s unparalleled world collection at your fingertips. (blog) November 12, 2015.
Accessed December 22, 2015.
39. Sood, Amit. Step on stage with the Google Cultural Institute (blog) December 1, 2015. Accessed December 22, 2015.
40. Sam Sundberg “Världsarvet enligt Google”. Svenska Dagbladet. March 27, 2016
41. TED. Amit Sood: Every piece of art you've ever wanted to see up close and searchable. (on-line video February 2016)



Il y a six ans, Google, une entreprise d'Alphabet a lancé un nouveau projet : le Google Art
Project. L'histoire officielle, celle écrite par Google et distribuée principalement à travers des
communiqués de presse sur mesure et de brèves informations commerciales, nous dit que
tout a commencé « en 2010, avec un projet ou Google intervenait à 20%, qui fut présenté
au public pour la première fois en 2011. Il s'agissait de 17 musées réunis dans une
plateforme en ligne très intéressante afin de permettre aux utilisateurs de découvrir l'art d'une
manière tout à fait nouvelle et différente. »[1] Tandis que Google Books faisait face à des
problèmes d'ordre légal et que la Commission européenne lançait son enquête antitrust
contre Google en 2010, le Google Art Project prenait, non pas par hasard, de l'ampleur.
Cela conduisit à la création du Google Art Institute dont le siège se trouve à Paris et « dont
la mission est de rendre la culture mondiale accessible en ligne ».[2]
Le Google Cultural Institute est clairement divisé en sections : Art Project, Historical
Moments et World Wonders. Cela correspond dans les grandes lignes à beaux-arts, histoire
du monde et matériel culturel. Techniquement, le Google Cultural Institute peut être décrit
comme une base de données qui alimente un dépositaire d'images haute résolution
représentant des objets d'art, des objets, des documents, des éphémères ainsi que
d'informations à propos, et provenant, de leurs « partenaires » - les musées publics, les



galeries et les institutions culturelles qui offrent ce matériel culturel -des visites en 3D et des
cartes faites à partir de "street view". Pour le moment, le Google Cultural Institute compte
177 reproductions numériques d'une sélection de peintures dans une résolution de l'ordre
des giga pixels et 320 différents objets en 3D ainsi que de multiples diapositives thématiques
choisies en collaboration avec leurs partenaires ou par leurs utilisateurs.
Selon leur site, dans leur « Lab », ils développent une « nouvelle technologie afin d'aider
leurs partenaires à publier leurs collections en ligne et à toucher de nouveaux publics, comme
l'ont fait les initiatives du Google Art Project, Historic Moments et Words Wonders. » Ce
n'est pas un hasard que ces services soient proposés comme une oeuvre philanthropique aux
institutions publiques qui sont de plus en plus amenées à justifier leur existence face aux
réductions budgétaires et aux autres exigences en matière de gestion des politiques
d'austérité en Europe et ailleurs. « Il est peu probable et même impensable que [le Google
Cultural Institute] fasse disparaitre la famine chronique des institutions culturelles de service
public causée par la politique et présente même dans les pays riches »[3]. Il est important de
comprendre que Google est réellement en train de financer l'infrastructure technique et le
travail nécessaire à la transformation de la culture en données. De cette manière, Google
s'assure que la culture peut être facilement gérée et nourrir toute sortes de produits
nécessaires à la ville néolibérale, afin de promouvoir et d'exploiter ces « biens » culturels, et
de soutenir la compétition avec d'autres centres urbains au niveau mondial, mais également
l'instatiable apétit d'informations de Google.
Le dirigeant du Google Cultural Institute est conscient qu'il existe un grand nombre
d'interrogations autour de leurs activités, cependant, Alphabet a choisi d'appeler les critiques
légitimes: des malentendus ; « Notre plus grand combat est ce malentendu permanent sur les
raisons de l'existence du Cultural Institute »[4] Le Google Cultural Institute, comme beaucoup
d'autres efforts culturels de Google, tels que Google Books et leur exposition artistique
Digital Revolution, a été le sujet de quelques critiques bien nécessaires, comme Powered by
Google: Widening Access and Tightening Corporate Control (Schiller & Yeo 2014); un
compte rendu détaillé des origines de cette intervention culturelle et de son rôle dans la
résurgence du capitalisme social: « là où les gens sont renvoyés aux corporations plutôt
qu'aux États pour des services qu'ils reçoivent ; là où le capital des entreprises a l'habitude
de se donner le droit de négocier le discours public ; et où l'histoire et l'art restent saturés par
les préférences et les priorités des classes de l'élite sociale. »[5]
Connu comme l'un, peut-être le seul essai d'analyse de l'utilisation des informations par
Google et de la rhétorique de démocratisation se trouvant en amont pour réorganiser les
institutions publiques culturelles en un « espace de profit », le texte de Schiller & Yeo est
fondamental pour la compréhension de l'évolution du Google Cultural Institute dans le
contexte historique du capitalisme numérique, où la dépendance mondiale aux technologies
de l'information est directement liée à la crise actuelle d'accumulation et, où la fièvre
d'archivage de Google « évince sa portée culturelle et idéologique à couper le souffle ».[6]


Le Google Cultural Institute est un sujet de débat intéressant puisqu'il reflète les pulsions
colonialistes ancrées dans les désirs scientifiques et économiques qui ont formé ces mêmes
collections que le Google Cultural Institute négocie et accumule dans sa base de données.
Qui colonise les colons ? C'est une problématique très difficile que j'ai soulevée
précédemment dans un essai dédié au Google Cultural Institute, Alfred Russel Wallace et
les pulsions colonialistes derrière les fièvres d'archivage du 19e et du 20e siècles. Je n'ai pas
encore de réponse. Pourtant, une critique du Google Cultural Institute dans laquelle ses
motivations sont interprétées comme simplement colonialistes serait trompeuse et contreproductive. Leur but n'est pas d'asservir et d'exploiter la population tout entière et ses
ressources afin d'imposer une nouvelle idéologie et de civiliser les barbares dans la même
optique que celle des pays européens durant la colonisation. De plus, cela serait injuste et
irrespectueux vis-à-vis de tous ceux qui subissent encore les effets permanents de la
colonisation, exacerbés par l'expansion de la mondialisation économique.
Selon moi, l'assemblage de la technologie et de la science qui a produit le savoir à l'origine
de la création d'entités telles que Google et de ses dérivés, comme le Cultural Institute; ainsi
que la portée de son impact sur une société où la technologie de l'information est la forme de
technologie dominante, font de "technocolonialisme" un terme plus précis pour décrire les
interventions culturelles de Google. Même si la technocolonilisation partage de nombreux
traits et éléments avec le projet colonial, comme l'exploitation des matériaux nécessaires à la
production d'informations et de technologies médiatiques - ainsi que les conflits qui en
découlent - les technologies de l'information sont tout de même différentes des navires et des
canons. Cependant, la fonction commerciale des technologies maritimes est identique aux
services libres - comme dans libre échange - déployés par les drones de Google ou Facebook
qui fournissent internet à l'Afrique, même si la mise en réseau des technologies de
l'information est largement différent en matière d'infrastructure.
Il n'existe pas de définition officielle du technocolonialisme, mais il est important de le
comprendre comme une continuité des idées des Lumières qui a été à l'origine du désir de
rassembler, d'organiser et de gérer les informations au 19e siècle. Mon utilisation de ce
terme a pour objectif de souligner et de situer l'accumulation contemporaine, ainsi que la
gestion de l'information et des données au sein d'un paysage scientifique dirigé par l'idée « du
profit avant tout » comme une « extension logique de la valeur du surplus accumulée à
travers le colonialisme et l'esclavage ».[7]
Contrairement à l'époque coloniale, dans le technocolonialisme contemporain, la narration
n'est pas la suprématie d'une culture humaine spécifique. La culture technologique est le
sauveur. Peu importe que vous soyez musulman, français ou maya, l'objectif est d'obtenir les
meilleures technologies pour transformer la vie en données, les classifier, produire un contenu
à partir de celles-ci et créer des expériences pouvant être monétisées.



En toute logique, pour Google, une entreprise dont la mission est d'organiser les informations
du monde en vue de générer un profit, les institutions qui étaient auparavant chargées de
l'organisation de la connaissance du monde constituent des partenaires idéaux. Cependant,
comme indiqué plus tôt, l'engagement du Google Cultural Institute à rassembler les
informations des musées créés durant la période coloniale afin d'élever une certaine culture et
une manière supérieure de voir le monde est paradoxal. Aujourd'hui, nous sommes au
courant et nous sommes capables de défier les narrations dominantes autour du patrimoine
culturel, car ces institutions ont un véritable récit de l'histoire qui ne se limite pas à la
production de la section « à propos » d'un site internet, comme celui du Google Cultural
Institute. « Ce que les musées devraient peut-être faire, c'est amener les visiteurs à prendre
conscience que ce n'est pas la seule manière de voir les choses. Que le musée, à savoir
l'installation, la disposition et la collection, possède une histoire et qu'il dispose également
d'un bagage idéologique »[8]. Cependant, le Google Cultural Institute n'est pas un musée,
c'est une base de données disposant d'une interface qui permet de parcourir le contenu
culturel. Contrairement aux prestigieux musées avec lesquels il collabore, il manque d'une
histoire située dans un discours culturel spécifique. Il s'agit d'objets d'art, de merveilles du
monde et de moments historiques au sens large. La mission du Google Cultural Institute est
clairement commerciale et philanthropique, mais celui-ci manque d'un point de vue et d'une
position définie vis-à-vis du matériel culturel qu'il traite. Ce n'est pas surprenant puisque
Google a toujours évité de prendre position, tout est question de technodéterminisme et de la
noble mission d'organiser les informations du monde afin de le rendre meilleur. Cependant,
« la négociation et le rassemblement d'informations sont une forme dangereuse de
technocolonialisme ».[8]
En cherchant une narration culturelle dépassant l'idéologie californienne, le moteur de
recherche d'Alphabet a trouvé dans Paul Otlet et le Mundaneum la couverture parfaite pour
intégrer ses services philanthropiques dans l'histoire de la science de l'information, au-delà de
la Silicon Valley. Après tout, ils comprennent que « la possession des narrations historiques
et de leurs corrélats matériels devient un outil de manifestation et de réalisation des
revendications économiques ».[9]
Après avoir établi un centre de données dans la ville belge de Mons, ville du Mundaneum,
Google a offert son soutien à « l'aventure Mons 2015, en particulier en travaillant avec nos
partenaires de longue date, les archives du Mundaneum. Plus d'un siècle auparavant, deux
visionnaires belges ont imaginé l'architecture du World Wide Web d'hyperliens et

d'indexation de l'information, non pas sur des ordinateurs, mais sur des cartes de papier.
Leur création était appelée Mundaneum. »[10]

À l'occasion du 147e anniversaire de Paul Otlet, un Doodle sur la page d'Alphabet épelait
le nom de son entreprise en utilisant « les tiroirs du Mundaneum » pour former le mot G O
O G L E : « Aujourd'hui, Doodle rend hommage au travail pionnier de Paul sur le
Mundaneum. La collection de connaissances emmagasinées dans les tiroirs du Mundaneum
constituent un travail fondamental pour tout ce qui se fait chez Google. Dès les premiers
essais, vous pouvez voir ce concept prendre vie. »[11]

La dématérialisation des collections publiques à l'aide d'une infrastructure et de services
financés par des acteurs privés, tels que le GCI, doit être questionnée et analysée plus en
profondeur par des institutions hétérotopes pour comprendre les nouvelles formes prises par
une tension infinie entre connaissance/pouvoir au cœur d'un archivage contemporain, où
l'architecture de l'interface remplace et agit au nom du musée et où le visiteur est réduit aux
doigts d'un utilisateur capable de parcourir un nombre infini de biens culturels. À l'époque
où les institutions culturelles devraient être décolonisées plutôt que googlifiées, il est capital
d'aborder la question d'un projet tel que le Google Cultural Institute et son expansion
continue et inversement proportionnelle à l'échec des gouvernements et à la passivité des
institutions séduites par les gadgets[12].
Cependant, le dialogue est fragmenté entre les comptes rendus académiques, les
communiqués de presse, les interventions artistiques isolées, les conférences spécialisées et
les bulletins d'informations. Selon Femke Snelting, nous devons « trouver la patience de
construire une relation à ces théories de manière cohérente ». Pour ce faire, nous devons
approfondir et assembler un meilleur compte rendu de l'histoire du Google Cultural Institute.
Construite à partir du texte phare de Schiller & Yeo, la ligne du temps suivante est ma
contribution à cette tâche et à une tentative d'assembler des morceaux en les situant dans un
contexte politique et économique plus large allant au-delà de l'histoire officielle racontée par



le Google Cultural Institute. Une inspection plus minutieuse des événements révèle que
l'escalade des interventions culturelles d'Alphabet se produit généralement après l'apparition
d'un défi juridique pour l'hégémonie économique en Europe.

Un bulletin d'informations du Wall Street Journal[13] ainsi qu'un rapport de l'AP Youtube[14]
confirment le nouveau projet de Google dans le domaine de collections historiques. Le
président exécutif d'Alphabet déclare : « je ne peux pas imaginer une meilleure manière
d'utiliser notre temps et nos ressources qu'en rendant disponibles les images et les idées de
notre civilisation, depuis son origine, pour un milliard de personnes à travers le monde. »
Un compte rendu détaillé de la réflexion de cette visite, son contexte et son programme se
trouvent dans Powered by Google: Widening Access and Tightening Corporate Control.
(Schiller & Yeo 2014)

Concernant le conflit impliquant Google Books en Europe, Reuters a déclaré qu'en 2009,
l'ancien président français, Nicolas Sarkozy « avait promis des centaines de millions d'euros à
un programme de numérisation distinct, disant qu'il ne permettrait pas à la France “d'être

dépouillée de son patrimoine au profit d'une grande entreprise, peu importe si celle-ci était
sympathique, grande ou américaine.” »[15]
Cependant, même si le programme réactionnaire et nationaliste de Nicolas Sarkozy ne doit
pas être félicité, il est important de noter que la première attaque ouverte à l'encontre du
programme culturel de Google est venue du gouvernement français. Quatre ans plus tard, le
Google Cultural Institute établissait son siège à Paris.

La Commission européenne a décidé d'ouvrir une enquête antitrust à partir des
allégations selon lesquelles Google Inc. aurait abusé de sa position dominante de
moteur de recherche, en violation avec le règlement de l'Union européenne (Article
102 TFUE). L'ouverture de procédures formelles fait suite aux plaintes déposées par
des fournisseurs de service de recherche relatives à un traitement défavorable de leurs
services dans les résultats de recherche gratuits et payants de Google, ainsi qu'au
placement préférentiel des propres services de Google. Le lancement des procédures ne
signifie pas que la Commission dispose d'une quelconque preuve d'infraction. Cela
signifie seulement que la Commission va mener une enquête poussée et prioritaire sur

D'après The Guardian[17], ainsi que d'autres bulletins d'informations, le projet culturel de
Google a été lancé par des « googleurs » passionnés d'art.

Faisant référence à la France comme à l'un des plus importants centres pour la culture et la
technologie, le PDG de Google, Eric Schmidt, a annoncé officiellement la création d'un
centre « dédié à la technologie, particulièrement en faveur de la promotion des cultures
européennes passées, présentes et futures ».[18]

En février, le nouveau « produit » a été officiellement présenté. La présentation[19] souligne
que l'idée a commencé avec un projet 20 %, un projet qui n'émanait donc pas d'un mandat



D'après la section « Our Story »[20] du Google Cultural Institute, l'histoire du Google Art
Project commence avec l'intégration de 140 000 pièces du Yad Vashem World Holocaust
Centre, suivie de l'intégration des archives de Nelson Mandela dans la section "Historical
Moments" du Google Cultural Institute.
Plus tard au mois d'août, Eric Schmidt déclara que l'éducation devrait rassembler l'art et la
science comme lors des « jours glorieux de l'époque victorienne ».[21]

À la demande des autorités françaises, l'Union européenne lance une enquête à l'encontre
de Google concernant une violation des données privées causée par les nouveaux termes
d'utilisation publiés par Google le 1er mars 2012.[22]

D'après le site du Google Cultural Institute, 151 partenaires ont rejoint le Google Art
Project, y compris le Musée d'Orsay en France. La section World of Wonders est lancée
avec des partenariats comme celui de l'UNESCO. Au mois d'octobre, la plateforme avait
changé d'image et était relancée avec plus de 400 partenaires.

Le 10 décembre, le nouveau siège français ouvre au numéro 8 rue de Londres. La ministre
française, Aurélie Filippetti, annule sa participation à l'événement, car elle « ne souhaite pas
apparaitre comme une garantie à une opération qui soulève encore un certain nombre de
questions ».[23]

L'enquêteur du HM Customs and Revenue Committee estime que les opérations fiscales de
Google au Royaume-Uni réalisées via l'Irlande sont « fourbes, calculées et, selon moi,
contraires à l'éthique ».[24]


La décision controversée tient les moteurs de recherche responsables des données
personnelles qu'ils gèrent. Conformément à la loi européenne, la Cour a statué « que
l'opérateur est, dans certaines circonstances, obligé de retirer des liens vers des sites internet
publiés par un parti tiers et contenant des informations liées à une personne et apparaissant
dans la liste des résultats suite à une recherche basée sur le nom de cette personne. La Cour
établit clairement qu'une telle obligation peut également exister dans un cas où le nom, ou
l'information, n'est pas effacé préalablement de ces pages internet, et même, comme cela peut
être le cas, lorsque leur publication elle-même est légale. »[25]

Google sponsorise l'exposition Digital Revolution[26] et les œuvres commissionnées sous le
nom « Dev-art: art made with code.[27] ». Le Tekniska Museet à Stockholm a ensuite
accueilli l'exposition.[28] « The Lab » du Google Cultural Institute ouvre « Ici, les experts
créatifs et la technologie se rassemblent pour partager des idées et construire de nouvelles
manières de profiter de l'art et de la culture. »[29]

Un communiqué de presse de Google[30] décrit le nouveau partenariat avec la ville belge de
Mons comme le résultat de leur position d'employeur local et d'investisseur dans la ville où
se situe l'un de leurs deux principaux centres de données en Europe.

La Commission européenne a envoyé une communication des griefs à Google, déclarant
que :
« l'entreprise avait abusé de sa position dominante sur les marchés des services
généraux de recherches internet dans l'espace économique européen en favorisant
systématiquement son propre produit de comparateur d'achats dans les pages de
résultats généraux de recherche. »

Google rejette les accusations, les jugeant « erronées d'un point de vue factuel, légal et
économique ».[32]




La Commission déterminera si, en concluant des accords anti-compétitifs et/ou en abusant
d'une possible position dominante, Google a :
illégalement entravé le développement et l'accès au marché de systèmes mobiles
d'exploitation, d'applications mobiles de communication et des services de ses rivaux
dans l'espace économique européen. Cette enquête est distincte et séparée du travail
d'investigation sur le commerce de la recherche de Google.

D'après la section « Our Story » du Google Cultural Institute, le projet Street Art contient à
présent 10 000 pièces. Une nouvelle extension affiche les oeuvres d'art du Google Art
Project dans le navigateur Chrome et « les amateurs d'art peuvent porter une œuvre au
poignet grâce à l'art Android ». Au mois d'août, le projet disposait de 850 partenaires
utilisant ses outils, de 4,7 millions de pièces dans sa collection et de plus de 1 500
expositions organisées.


« Alphabet Inc. (connu sous le nom d'Alphabet) est un conglomérat multinational américain
créé en 2015 pour être la société mère de Google et de plusieurs entreprises appartenant
auparavant à Google ou y étant liées. »[35]

Google crée un doodle pour sa page d'accueil à l'occasion du 147e anniversaire de Paul
Otlet[36] et des projections de diapositives Towards the Information Age, Mapping
Knowledge et The 100th Anniversary of a Nobel Peace Prize, toutes organisées par le
Google Cultural Institute.
« Le Mundaneum et Google ont étroitement collaboré pour organiser neuf expositions
en ligne exclusives pour le Google Cultural Institute. Cette année, l'équipe dans les
coulisses de la réouverture du Mundaneum a travaillé avec les ingénieurs du Cultural
Institute pour lancer une application mobile qui y est consacrée. »

Le British Museum annonce un « partenariat unique » à travers lequel plus de 4 500 pièces
pourront être « visionnées en ligne en seulement quelques clics ». Dans le communiqué de
presse officiel, le directeur du musée, Neil McGregor, a déclaré « le monde a changé
aujourd'hui, notre manière d'accéder à l'information a été révolutionnée par la technologie
numérique. Cela permet de donner une nouvelle réalité à l'idéal des Lumières sur lequel le
Museum a été fondé. Il est à présent possible d'accéder à notre collection, d'explorer et de
profiter non seulement pour ceux qui la visitent en personne, mais pour tous ceux qui
disposent d'un ordinateur ou d'un appareil mobile. »[38]

Plus de 60 organisations et interprètes d'art du spectacle (danse, théâtre, musique, opéra)
rejoignent la collection Google Cultural Institute[39]


1. Caines, Matthew. « Arts head: Amit Sood, director, Google Cultural Institute »The Guardian. 3 décembre 2013. http:// sood-google-culturalinstitute-art-project
2. Google Paris. Consulté le 22 décembre 2016



3. Schiller, Dan & Yeo, Shinjoung. « Powered By Google: Widening Access And Tightening Corporate Control. » (In Aceti, D.
L. (Éd.). Red Art: New Utopias in Data Capitalism: Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Vol. 20, No. 1. Londres : Goldsmiths
University Press. 2014): 48
4. Down, Maureen. « The Google Art Heist ». The New York Times. 12 septembre 2015 http://
5. Schiller, Dan & Shinjoung Yeo. « Powered By Google: Widening Access And Tightening Corporate Control. », 48
6. 6. Schiller, Dan & Yeo, Shinjoung. « Powered By Google: Widening Access And Tightening Corporate Control. », 48
7. Davis, Heather & Turpin, Etienne, eds. Art in the Antropocene (Londres : Open Humanities Press. 2015), 7
8. Bush, Randy. On techno-colonialism. (blog) 13 juin 2015. Consulté le 22 décembre 2015
9. Starzmann, Maria Theresia. « Cultural Imperialism and Heritage Politics in the Event of Armed Conflict: Prospects for an
‘Activist Archaeology’ ». Archeologies. Vol. 4 n° 3 (2008):376
10. Echikson,William. Partnering in Belgium to create a capital of culture (blog) 10 mars 2014. Consulté le 22 décembre 2015
11. Google. Mundaneum co-founder Paul Otlet's 147th Birthday (blog) 23 août, 2015. Consulté le 22 décembre 2015 http://
12. ex.
13. 13. Lavallee, Andrew. « Google CEO: A New Iraq Means Business Opportunities. » Wall Street Journal. 24 novembre
14. 14. Associated Press. Google Documents Iraqi Museum Treasures (vidéo en ligne 24 novembre 2009) https://
15. Jarry, Emmanuel. « France's Sarkozy takes on Google in books dispute. » Reuters. 8 décembre 2009. http://
16. European Commission. Antitrust: Commission probes allegations of antitrust violations by Google (Bruxelles 2010) http://
17. Caines, Matthew. “Arts head: Amit Sood, director, Google Cultural Institute »The Guardian. 3 décembre 2013. http:// sood google-culturalinstitute-art-project
18. Cyrus, Farivar. « Google to build R&D facility and 'European cultural center' in France. » Deutsche Welle. 9 septembre
19. 19. Google Art Project. Art Project V1 - Launch Event at Tate Britain. (vidéo en ligne le 1er février 2011) https://
20. Google Cultural Institute. Consulté le 18 décembre 2015.
21. Robinson, James. « Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, condemns British education system » The Guardian. 26 août 2011
22. European Commission. Letter addressed to Google by the Article 29 Group (Bruxelles 2012)
23. Willsher, Kim. « Google Cultural Institute's Paris opening snubbed by French minister. » The Guardian. 10 décembre, 2013
24. 24. Bowers, Simon & Syal, Rajeev. « MP on Google tax avoidance scheme: 'I think that you do evil' ». The Guardian. 16
mai 2013. you-do-do-evil
25. Court of Justice of the European Union. Press-release No 70/14 (Luxembourg, 2014)
26. Barbican. « Digital Revolution. » Consulté le 15 décembre 2015
27. Google. « Dev Art ». Consulté le 15 décembre 2015
28. Tekniska Museet. « Digital Revolution. » Consulté le 15 décembre 2015
29. Google Cultural Institute. Consulté le 15 décembre 2015.
30. Echikson,William. Partnering in Belgium to create a capital of culture (blog) 10 mars 2014. Consulté le 22 décembre 2015
31. European Commission. Antitrust: Commission sends Statement of Objections to Google on comparison shopping service;
opens separate formal investigation on Android. (Bruxelles 2015)
32. Yun Chee, Foo. « Google rejects 'unfounded' EU antitrust charges of market abuse » Reuters. (27 août 2015) http://
33. European Commission. Antitrust: Commission sends Statement

34. Transparency International. Lobby meetings with EU policy-makers dominated by corporate interests (blog) 24 juin 2015.
Consulté le mardi 22 décembre 2015.
35. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. s.v. “Alphabet Inc,” (consulté le 25 janvier 2016,
36. Google. Mundaneum co-founder Paul Otlet's 147th Birthday (blog) 23 août, 2015. Consulté le 22 décembre 2015 http://
37. Google. Mundaneum co-founder Paul Otlet's 147th Birthday
38. The British Museum. The British Museum’s unparalleled world collection at your fingertips. (blog) Novembre 12, 2015.
Consulté le mardi 22 décembre 2015.
39. Sood, Amit. Step on stage with the Google Cultural Institute (blog) 1er décembre 2015. Consulté le mardi 22 décembre



The following is a list of all disambiguation pages on Mondotheque.
A page is treated as a disambiguation page if it contains the tag __DISAMBIG__ (or an
equivalent alias).
Showing below up to 15 results in range #1 to #15.
View (previous 50 | next 50) (20 | 50 | 100 | 250 | 500)
1. Biblion may refer to:
◦ Biblion (category), a subcategory of the category: Index Traité de
◦ Biblion (Traité de documentation), term used by Paul
Otlet to define all categories of books and documents in a section of Traité de
◦ Biblion (unity), the smallest document or intellectual unit
2. Cultural Institute may refer to:
◦ A Cultural Institute (organisation) , such as The
Mundaneum Archive Center in Mons
◦ Cultural Institute (project), a critical interrogation of
cultural institutions in neo-liberal times, developed by amongst others
Geraldine Juárez
◦ The Google Cultural Institute, a project offering
"Technologies that make the world’s culture accessible to anyone, anywhere."
3. L'EVANGELISTE may refer to:
◦ Vint Cerf, so-called 'internet evangelist', or 'father of the internet',
◦ Jiddu Krishnamurti, priest at the 'Order of the Star', a theosophist
splinter group that Paul Otlet related to
◦ Sir Tim Berners Lee, 'open data evangelist', heading the World Wide
Web consortium (W3C)

4. L'UTOPISTE may refer to:
◦ Paul Otlet, documentalist, universalist, internationalist, indexalist. At
times considered as the 'father of information science', or 'visionary inventor of
the internet on paper'
◦ Le Corbusier, architect, universalist, internationalist. Worked with Paul
Otlet on plans for a City of knowledge
◦ Otto Neurath , philosopher of science, sociologist, political economist.
Hosted a branch of Mundaneum in The Hague
◦ Ted Nelson , technologist, philosopher, sociologist. Coined the terms
hypertext, hypermedia, transclusion, virtuality and intertwingularity
5. LA CAPITALE may refer to:
◦ Brussels, capital of Flanders and Europe
◦ Genève , world civic center
6. LA MANAGER may refer to:
◦ Delphine Jenart, assistant director at the Mundaneum Archive Center
in Mons.
◦ Bill Echikson, former public relations officer at Google, coordinating
communications for the European Union, and for all of Southern, Eastern
Europe, Middle East and Africa. Handled the company’s high profile
antitrust and other policy-related issues in Europe.
7. LA MÉGA-ENTREPRISE may refer to:
◦ Google inc, or Alphabet, sometimes referred to as "Crystal
Computing", "Project02", "Saturn" or "Green Box Computing"
◦ Carnegie Steel Company, supporter of the Mundaneum in Brussels
and the Peace Palace in The Hague
8. LA RÉGION may refer to:
◦ Wallonia (Belgium), or La Wallonie. Former mining area, homebase of former prime minister Elio di Rupo, location of two Google
datacenters and the Mundaneum Archive Center
◦ Groningen (The Netherlands), future location of a Google data
center in Eemshaven
◦ Hamina (Finland), location of a Google data center



9. LE BIOGRAPHE is used for persons that are instrumental in constructing the
narrative of Paul Otlet. It may refer to:
◦ André Canonne, librarian and director of the Centre de Lecture
publique de la Communauté française (CLPCF). Discovers the
Mundaneum in the 1960s. Publishes a facsimile edition of the Traité de
documentation (1989) and prepares the opening of Espace Mundaneum in
Brussels at Place Rogier (1990)
◦ Warden Boyd Rayward, librarian scientist, discovers the Mundaneum
in the 1970s. Writes the first biography of Paul Otlet in English: The
Universe of Information: the Work of Paul Otlet for Documentation and
international Organization (1975)
◦ Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten , comics-writers and
scenographers, discover the Mundaneum in the 1980s. The archivist in the
graphic novel Les Cités Obscures (1983) is modelled on Paul Otlet
◦ Françoise Levie, filmmaker, discovers the Mundaneum in the 1990s.
Author of the fictionalised biography The man who wanted to classify the
world (2002)
◦ Alex Wright, writer and journalist, discovers the Mundaneum in 2003.
Author of Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information
Age (2014)
10. LE DIRECTEUR may refer to:
◦ Harm Post, director of Groningen Sea Ports, future location of a Google
data center
◦ Andrew Carnegie, director of Carnegy Steel Company, sponsor of the
◦ André Canonne, director of the Centre de Lecture publique de la
Communauté française (CLPCF) and guardian of the Mundaneum. See
◦ Jean-Paul Deplus, president of the current Mundaneum association,
but often referred to as LE DIRECTEUR
◦ Amid Sood, director (later 'founder') of the Google Cultural Institute and
Google Art Project
◦ Steve Crossan, director (sometimes 'founder' or 'head') of the Google
Cultural Institute
11. LE POLITICIEN may refer to:
◦ Elio di Rupo, former prime minister of Belgium and mayor of Mons

◦ Henri Lafontaine, Belgium lawyer and statesman, working with Paul
Otlet to realise the Mundaneum
◦ Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France, negotiating deals with
12. LE ROI may refer to:
◦ Leopold II, reigned as King of the Belgians from 1865 until 1909.
Exploited Congo as a private colonial venture. Patron of the Mundaneum
◦ Albert II, reigned as King of the Belgians from 1993 until his
abdication in 2013. Visited LA MÉGA-ENTREPRISE in 2008
13. Monde may refer to:
◦ Monde (Univers) means world in French and is used in many
drawings and schemes by Paul Otlet. See for example: World + Brain and
◦ Monde (Publication), Essai d'universalisme. Last book published
by Paul Otlet (1935)
◦ Mondialisation , Term coined by Paul Otlet (1916)
14. Mundaneum may refer to:
◦ Mundaneum (Utopia) , a project designed by Paul Otlet and Henri
◦ Mundaneum (Archive Centre) , a cultural institution in Mons,
housing the archives of Paul Otlet and Henri Lafontaine since 1993
15. Urbanisme may refer to:
◦ Urban planning, a technical and political process concerned with the
use of land, protection and use of the environment, public welfare, and the
design of the urban environment, including air, water, and the infrastructure
passing into and out of urban areas such as transportation, communications,
and distribution networks.
◦ Urbanisme (Publication), a book by Le Corbusier (1925).
View (previous 50 | next 50) (20 | 50 | 100 | 250 | 500)




Mill to

Every second of every day, billions of people around the world are googling, mapping, liking,
tweeting, reading, writing, watching, communicating, and working over the Internet.
According to Cisco, global Internet traffic will surpass one zettabyte – nearly a trillion
gigabytes! – in 2016, which equates to 667 trillion feature-length films.[1] Internet traffic is
expected to double by 2019[2] as the internet ever increasingly weaves itself into the very
fabric of many people’s daily lives.
Internet search giant Google – since August, 2015 a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.[3] – is one
of the major conduits of our social activities on the Web. It processes over 3.3 billion
searches each and every day, 105 billon searches per month or 1.3 trillion per year,[4] and is
responsible for over 88% Internet search activity around the globe.[5] Predicating its business
on people’s everyday information activity – search – in 2015, Google generated $74.54
billion dollars,[6] equivalent to or more than the GDP of some countries. The vast majority of
Google’s revenue – $ 67.39 billion dollars[7] – from advertising on its various platforms
including Google search, YouTube, AdSense products, Chrome OS, Android etc.; the
company is rapidly expanding its business to other sectors like cloud services, health,
education, self-driving cars, internet of things, life sciences, and the like. Google’s lucrative
internet business does not only generate profits. As Google’s chief economist Hal Varian
…it also generates torrents of data about users’ tastes and habits, data that Google
then sifts and processes in order to predict future consumer behavior, find ways to
improve its products, and sell more ads. This is the heart and soul of Googlenomics.
It’s a system of constant self-analysis: a data-fueled feedback loop that defines not only
Google’s future but the future of anyone who does business online.



Google’s business model is emblematic of the “new economy” which is primarily built around
data and information. The “new economy” – the term popularized in the 1990s during the
first dot-com boom – is often distinguished by the mainstream discourse from the traditional
industrial economy that demands large-scale investment of physical capital and produces
material goods and instead emphasizes the unique nature of information and purports to be
less resource-intensive. Originating in the 1960s, post-industrial theorists asserted the
emergence of the “new” economy, claiming that the increase of highly-skilled information
workers, widespread application of information technologies, along with the decrease of
manual labor, would bring a new mode of production and fundamental changes in
exploitative capitalist social relations.[9]
Has the “new” economy challenged capitalist social relations and transcended the material
world? Google and other Internet companies have been investing heavily in industrial-scale
real estate around the world and continue to build large-scale physical infrastructure in the
way of data centers where the world’s bits and bytes are stored, processed and delivered.
The term “tube” or “cloud” or “weightless” often gives us a façade that our newly marketed
social and cultural activities over the Internet transcend the physical realm and occur in the
vapors of the Internet; far from this perception, however, every bit of information in the “new
economy” is transmitted through and located in physical space, on very real and very large
infrastructure encomapssing existing power structures from phone lines and fiber optics to
data centers to transnatonal underseas telecommunication cables.
There is much boosterism and celebration that the “new economy” holds the keys to
individual freedom, liberty and democratic participation and will free labor from exploitation;
however, the material/physical base that supports the economy and our everyday lives tells a
very different story. My analysis presents an integral piece of the physical infrastructure
behind the “new economy” and the space embedded in that infrastructure in order to
elucidate that the “new economy” does not occur in an abstract place but rather is manifested
in the concrete material world, one deeply embedded in capitalist development which
reproduces structural inequality on a global scale. Specifically, the analysis will focus on
Google’s growing large-scale data center infrastructure that is restructuring and reconfiguring
previously declining industrial cities and towns as new production places within the US and
around the world.
Today, data centers are found in nearly every sector of the economy: financial services,
media, high-tech, education, retail, medical, government etc. The study of the development of
data centers in each of these sectors could be separate projects in and of themselves;
however, for this project, I will only look at Google as a window into the “new” economy, the

company which has led the way in the internet sector in building out and linking up data
centers as it expands its territory of profit.[10]

The concepts of “spatial fix” by critical geographer David Harvey[11] and “digital capitalism”
by historian of communication and information Dan Schiller[12] are useful to contextualize and
place the emergence of large-scale data centers within capitalist development. Harvey
illustrates the notion of spatial fix to explicate and situate the geographical dynamics and crisis
tendency of capitalism with over-accumulation and under-consumption. Harvey’s spatial fix
has dual meanings. One meaning is that it is necessary for capital to have a fixed space –
physical infrastructure (transportation, communications, highways, power etc.) as well as a
built environment – in order to facilitate capital’s geographical expansion. The other meaning
is a fix or solution for capitalists’ crisis through geographical expansion and reorganization of
space as capital searches for new markets and temporarily relocates to more profitable space
– new accumulation sites and territories. This temporal spatial fix will lead capital to leave
behind existing physical infrastructure and built environments as it shifts to new temporal
fixed spaces in order to cultivate new markets.
Building on Harvey’s work, Schiller introduced the concept of digital capitalism in response
to the 1970’s crisis of capitalism in which information became that “spatial-temporal fix” or
“pole of growth.”[13] To renew capitalist crisis from the worst economic downturn of the
1970s, a massive amount of information and communication technologies were introduced
across the length and breadth of economic sectors as capitalism shifted to a more informationintensive economy – digital capitalism. Today digital capitalism grips every sector, as it has
expanded and extended beyond information industries and reorganized the entire economy
from manufacturing production to finance to science to education to arts and health and
impacts every iota of people’s social lives.[14] Current growth of large-scale data centers by
Internet companies and their reoccupation of industrial towns needs to be situated within the
context of the development of digital capitalism.

Large-scale data centers – sometimes called “server farms” in an oddly quaint allusion to the
pre-industrial agrarian society – are centralized facilities that primarily contain large numbers
of servers and computer equipment used for data processing, data storage, and high-speed
telecommunications. In a sense, data centers are similar to the capitalist factory system; but
instead of a linear process of input of raw materials to
output of material goods for mass consumption, they input
mass data in order to facilitate and expand the endless
cycle of commodification – an Ouroboros-like machine.
As the factory system enables the production of more


From X = Y:
In these proposals, Otlet's archival


goods at a lower cost through automation and control of labor to maximize profit, data centers
have been developed to process large quantities of bits and bytes as fast as possible and at as
low a cost as possible through automation and centralization. The data center is a hyperautomated digital factory system that enables the operation of hundreds of thousands of
servers through centralization in order to conduct business around the clock and around the
globe. Compared to traditional industrial factories that produce material goods and generally
employ entire towns if not cities, large-scale data centers each generally employ fewer than
100 full-time employees – most of these employees are either engineers or security guards.
In a way, data centers are the ultimate automated factory. Moreover, the owner of a
traditional factory needs to acquire/purchase/extract raw materials to produce commodities;
however, much of the raw data for a data center are freely drawn from the labor and
everyday activities of Internet users without a direct cost to the data center. The factory
system is to industrial capitalism what data centers are becoming to digital capitalism.

Today, there is a growing arms race among leading Internet companies – Google, Microsoft,
Amazon, Facebook, IBM – in building out large-scale data centers around the globe.[16]
Among these companies, Google has so far been leading in terms of scale and capital
investment. In 2014, the company spent $11 billion for real estate purchases, production
equipment, and data center construction,[17] compared to Amazon which spent $4.9 billion
and Facebook with $1.8 billion in the same year.[18]
Until 2002, Google rented only one collocation facility in Santa Clara, California to house
about 300 servers.[19] However, by 2003 the company had started to purchase entire
collocation buildings that were cheaply available due to overexpansion during the
era. Google soon began to design and build its own data centers containing thousands of
custom-built servers as Google expanded its services and global market and responded to
competitive pressures. Initially, Google was highly secretive about its data center locations
and related technologies; a former Google employee called this Google’s “Manhattan
project.” However, in 2012, Google began to open up its data centers. While this seems
like Google’s had a change of heart and wants to be more transparent about their data
centers to the public, it is in reality more about Google’s self-serving public relations
onslaught to show how its cloud infrastructure is superior to Google’s competitors and to
secure future cloud clients.[20]
As of 2016, Google has data centers in 14 locations around the globe – eight in Americas,
two in Asia and four in Europe – with an unknown number of collocated centers – ones in
which space, servers, and infrastructure are shared with other companies – in undisclosed
locations. The sheer size of Google’s data centers is reflected in its server chip consumption.
In all, Google supposedly accounts for 5% of all server chips sold in the world,[21] and it is
even affecting the price of chips as the company is one of biggest chip buyers. Google’s
recent allying with Qualcomm for its new chip has become a threat to Intel – Google has

been the largest customer of the world’s largest chip maker for quite some time.[22] According
to Steven Levy, Google admitted that, “it is the largest computing manufacturer in the world
– making its own servers requires it to build more units every year than the industry giants
HP, Dell, and Lenovo.”[23] Moreover, Google has been amassing cheap “dark fibre” – fibre
optic cables that were laid down during the 1990s boom by now-defunct telecom
firms betting on increased internet traffic[24] - constructing Google’s fibre optic cables in US
cities,[25] and investing in building massive undersea cables to maintain its dominance and
expand its markets by controlling Internet infrastructure.[26]
With its own customized servers and software, Google is building a massive data center
network infrastructure, delivering its service at unprecedented speeds around the clock and
around the world. According to one report, Google’s global network of data centers, with a
capacity to deliver 1-petabit-per-second bandwidth, is powerful enough to read all of the
scanned books in the Library of Congress in a fraction of a second.[27] New York Times
columnist Pascal Zachary once reported:
…I believe that the physical network is Google’s “secret sauce,” its premier competitive
advantage. While a brilliant lone wolf can conceive of a dazzling algorithm, only a
super wealthy and well-managed organization can run what is arguably the most
valuable computer network on the planet. Without the computer network, Google is

Where then is Google’s secret sauce physically located? Despite its massiveness, Google’s
data center infrastructure and locations have been invisible to millions of everyday Google
users around the globe – users assume that Google is ubiquitous, the largest cloud in the
‘net.’ However, this infrastructure is no longer unnoticed since the infrastructure needed to
support the “new economy” is beginning to occupy and transform our landscapes and
building a new fixed network of global digital production space.

While Google’s data traffic and exchange extends well beyond geographic boundaries, its
physical plants are fixed in places where digital goods and services are processed and
produced. For the production of material goods, access to cheap labor has long been one of
the primary criteria for companies to select their places of production; but for data centers, a
large quantity of cheap labor is not as important since they require only a small number of
employees. The common characteristics necessary for data center sites have so far been:
good fiber-optic infrastructure; cheap and reliable power sources for cooling and running
servers, geographical diversity for redundancy and speed, cheap land, and locations close to
target markets.[29] Today, if one finds geographical areas in the world with some combination
of these factors, there will likely be data centers there or in the planning stages for the near



Given these criteria, there has been an emerging trend of reconfiguration and conversion to
data centers of former industrial sites such as paper mills, printing plants, steel plants, textile
mills, auto plants, aluminum plants and coal plants. In the United States, and in particular rust
belt regions of the upper Northeast, Great Lakes and Midwest regions – previously hubs of
manufacturing industries and heart lands of both industrial capitalism and labor movements –
are turning (or attempting to turn) into hotspots for large-scale data centers for Internet
companies.[30] These cities are the remains of past crises of industrial capitalism as well as of
long labor struggles.
The reasons that former industrial sites in the US and other parts of the world are attractive
for data center conversion is that, starting in the 1970s, many factories had closed or moved
their operations overseas in search of ever-cheaper labor and concomitantly weak or
nonexistent labor laws, leaving behind solid physical plants and industrial infrastructures of
power, water and cooling systems once used to drive industrial machines and production lines
and now perfectly fit for data center development.[31] Especially, finding cheap energy is
crucial for companies like Google since data center energy costs are a major expenditure.
Moreover, many communities surrounding former industrial sites have struggled and become
distressed with increasing poverty, high unemployment and little labor power. Thus, under
the guise of “economic development,” many state and local governments have been eager to
lure data centers by offering lavish subsidies for IT companies. For at least the last five years,
state after state has legislated tax breaks for data centers and about a dozen states have
created customized incentives programs for data center operations.[32] State incentives range
from full or partial exemptions of sales/use taxes on equipment, construction materials, and in
some cases purchases of electricity and backup fuel.[33] This kind of corporate-centric
economic development is far from the construction of democratic cities that prioritize social
needs and collective interests, and reflects the environmental and long-term sustainability of
communities; but rather the goal is to, “create a good business climate and therefore to
optimize conditions for capital accumulation no matter what the consequences for
employment or social and environmental well-being.”[34]
Google’s first large-scale data center site is located in one of these struggling former industrial
towns. In 2006, Google opened its first data center in The Dalles – now nicknamed
Googleville – a town of a little over 15,000 located alongside the Columbia River and
about 80 miles east of Portland, Oregon. It is an ideal site in the sense that it is close to a
major metropolitan corridor (Seattle-Tacoma-Portland) to serve business interests and large
urban population centers; yet, cheap land, little organized labor, and the promise of cheap
electrical power from the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal governmental agency,
as well as a 15-year property tax exemption. In addition, The Dalles had already built a
fiber-optic loop as part of its economic development hoping to attract the IT industry.[35]
Not long ago, the residents of The Dalles and communities up and down the Columbia
River gorge relied on the aluminum industry, an industry which required massive amounts of

– in this case hydroelectric – power. Energy makes up 40 percent of the cost of aluminum
production[36] and was boosted by the war economies of World War II and the Korean war
as aluminum was used for various war products, especially aircraft. However, starting in
1980, aluminum smelter plants began to close and move out of the area, laid off their
workers and left their installed infrastructure behind.
Since then, The Dalles, like other industrial towns, has suffered from high unemployment,
poverty, aging population and budget-strapped schools, etc. Thus, the decision for Google to
build a data center the size of two football fields (68,680-square-foot storage buildings) in
order to take advantage of the preinstalled fiber optic infrastructure, relatively cheap
hydropower from the Dalles Dam, and tax benefits was presented as the new hope
for the
distressed town and a large employment opportunity for the town’s population.
There was much community excitement that Google’s arrival would mean an economic
revival for the struggling city and a better life for the poor , but no one could discuss about it
at the time of negotiations with Google because local officials involved in negotiations had all
signed nondisclosure agreements (NDAs);[38] they were required not to mention Google in
any way but were instead instructed to refer to the project as “Project 02.”[39] Google insisted
that the information it shared with representatives of The Dalles not be subject to public
records disclosures.[40] While public subsidies were a necessary precondition of building the
data center,[41] there were no transparency or open public debates on alternative visions of
development that reflects collective community interests.
Google’s highly anticipated data center in The Dalles opened in 2006, but it “opened” only
in the sense that it became operational. To this day, Google’s data center site is off-limits to
the community and is well-guarded, including multiple CCTV cameras which survey the
grounds around the clock. Google might boast of its corporate culture as “open” and “nonhierarchical” but this does not extend to the data centers within the community where Google
benefits as it extracts resources. Not only was the building process secretive, but access to the
data center itself is highly restricted. Data centers are well secured with several guards, gates
and checkpoints. Google’s data center has reshaped the landscape into a pseudo-militarized
zone as it is not far off from a top-secret military compound – access denied.
This kind of landscape is reproduced in other parts of the US as well. New data center hubs
have begun to emerge in other rural communities; one of them is in southwestern North
Carolina where the leading tech giants – Google, Facebook, Apple, Disney and American
Express – have built data centers in close proximity to each other. The cluster of data
centers is referred to as the “NC Data Center Corridor,”[42] a neologism used to market the
At one time, the southwestern part of North Carolina had heavy concentration of highly
labor-intensive textiles and furniture industries that exploited the region’s cheap labor supply
and where workers fought long and hard for better working conditions and wages. However,
over the last 25 years, factories have closed and slowly moved out of the area and been



relocated to Asia and Latin America.[43] As a result – and mirroring the situation in The
Dalles – the area has suffered a series of layoffs, chronically high unemployment rates and
poverty, but now is being rebranded as a center of the “new economy” geared toward
attracting high-tech industries. For many towns, abandoned manufacturing plants are no
longer an eyesore but rather are becoming major selling points to the IT industry. Rich
Miller, editor of Data Center Knowledge, stated, “one of the things that’s driving the
competitiveness of our area is the power capacity built for manufacturers in the past 50
In 2008, Google opened a $600 million data center in Lenoir, NC, a town in Caldwell
County (population 18,228[45]). Lenoir was once known as the furniture capital of the South
but lost 1,120 jobs in 2006.[46] More than 300,000 furniture jobs moved away from the
United States during 2000 as factories relocate to China for cheaper labor and operational
costs.[47] In order to lure Google, Caldwell County and the City of Lenoir gave Google a
100 percent waiver on business property taxes, an 80 percent waiver on real estate property
taxes over the next 30 years,[48] and various other incentives. Former NC Governor Mike
Easley announced that, “this company will provide hundreds of good-paying, knowledgebased jobs that North Carolina’s citizens want;”[49] yet, he addressed neither the cost of
attracting Google for taxpayers – including those laid-off factory workers – nor the
environmental impact of the data center. In 2013, Google expanded its operation in Lenoir
with an additional $600 million investment, and as of 2015, it has 250 employees in its
220-plus acre data center site.[50]
The company continues its crusade of giving “hope” to distressed communities and now
“saving” the environment from the old coal-fueled industrial economy. Google’s latest project
in the US is in Widows Creek, Alabama where the company is converting a coal burning
power plant commissioned in 1952 – which has been polluting the area for years – to its 14
th data center powered by renewable power. Shifting from coal to renewable energy seems to
demonstrate how Google has gone “green” and is being a different kind of corporation that
cares for the environment. However, this is a highly calculated business decision given that
relying on renewable energy is more economical over the long term than coal – which is
more volatile as commodity prices greatly fluctuate.[51] Google is gobbling up renewable
energy deals around the world to procure cheap energy and power its data centers.[52]
However, Google’s “green” public relations also camouflage environmental damages that are
brought by the data center’s enormous power consumption, e-waste from hardware, rare
earth mining and the environmental damage over the entire supply chain.[53]
The trend of reoccupation of industrial sites by data centers is not confined to the US.
Google’s Internet business operates across territories and more than 50% of its revenues
come from outside the US. As Google’s domestic search market share has stabilized at
around 60% share, the company has aggressively moved to build data centers around the
world for its global expansion. One of Google’s most ambitious data center projects outside
the US was in Hamina, Finland where Google converted a paper mill to a data center.

In 2008, Stora Enso, the Finnish paper maker, in which the Finnish Government held 16%
of the company’s shares and controlled 34% of the company, shut down its Summa paper
mill on the site close to the city of Hamina in Southeastern Finland despite workers’
resistance against the closure.[54] The company shed 985 jobs including 485 from the
Summa plant.[55] Shortly after closing the plant, Stora Enso sold the 53 year-old paper mill
site to Google for roughly $52 million which included 410 acres of land and the paper mill
and its infrastructure itself.
Whitewashing the workers’ struggles, the Helsinki Times reported that, “everyone was
excited about Google coming to Finland. The news that the Internet giant had bought the old
Stora Enso mill in Hamina for a data centre was great news for a community stunned by job
losses and a slowing economy.”[56] However, the local elites recognized that jobs created by
Google would not drastically affect the city’s unemployment rate or alleviate the economic
plight for many people in the community, so they justified their decision by arguing that
connecting Google’s logo to the city’s image would result in increased investments in the
area.[57] The facility had roughly 125 full-time employees when Google announced its
Hamina operation’s expansion in 2013.[58] The data center is monitored by Google’s
customary CCTV cameras and motion detectors; even Google staff only have access to the
server halls after passing biometric authentication using iris recognition scanners.[59]
Like Google’s other data centers, Google’s decision to build a data center in Hamina is not
merely because of favorable existing infrastructure or natural resources. The location of
Hamina as its first Nordic data center is vital and strategic in terms of extending Google’s
reach into geographically dispersed markets, speed and management of data traffic. Hamina
is located close to the border with Russia and the area has long been known for good
Internet connectivity via Scandinavian telecommunications giant TeliaSonera, whose services
and international connections run right through the area of Hamina and reach into Russia as
well as to Sweden and Western Europe.[60] Eastern Europe has a growing Internet market
and Russia is one of the few countries where Google does not dominate the search market.
Yandex, Russia’s native language search engine, controls the Russian search market with
over 60% share.[61] By locating its infrastructure in Hamina, Google is establishing its
strategic global digital production beach-head for both the Nordic and Russian markets.
As Google is trying to maintain its global dominance and expand its business, the company
has continued to build out its data center operations on European soil. Besides Finland,
Google has built data centers in Dublin, Ireland, and St. Ghislain and Mons in Belgium,
which respectively had expanded their operations after their initial construction. However,
the stories of each of these data centers is similar: aluminum smelting plant town The Dalles,
Oregon and Lenoir North Carolina in the US, paper mill town Hamina, Finland, coalmining town Ghislain–Mons, Belgium and a warehouse converted data center in Dublin,
Ireland. Each of these were once industrial production sites and/or sites for the extraction of
environmental resources turned into data centers creating temporal production spaces to
accelerate digital capitalism. Google’s latest venture in Europe is in a seaport town of



Eemshaven, Netherlands which hosts several power stations as well as the transatlantic fiberoptic cable which links the US and Europe.
To many struggling communities around the world, the building of Google’s large-scale data
centers has been presented by the company and by political elites as an opportunity to
participate in the “new economy” – as well as a veiled threat of being left behind from the
“new economy” – as if this would magically lead to the creation of prosperity and equality. In
reality, these cities and towns are being reorganized and reoccupied for corporate interests,
re-integrated into sites of capital accumulation and re-emerged as new networks of production
for capitalist development.

Is the current physical landscape that supports the “new economy” outside of capitalist social
relations? Does the process of the redevelopment of struggling former industrial cites by
building Google data centers under the slogan of participation in the “new economy” really
meet social needs, and express democratic values? The “new economy” is boasted about as if
it is radically different from past industrial capitalist development, the solution to myriad social
problems that hold the potential for growth outside of the capitalist realm; however, the “new
economy” operates deeply within the logic of capitalist development – constant technological
innovation, relocation and reconstruction of new physical production places to link
geographically dispersed markets, reduction of labor costs, removal of obstacles that hinder its
growth and continuous expansion. Google’s purely market-driven data centers illustrate that
the “new economy” built on data and information does not bypass physical infrastructures and
physical places for the production and distribution of digital commodities. Rather, it is firmly
anchored in the physical world and simply establishes new infrastructures on top of existing
industrial ones and a new network of production places to meet the needs of the processes of
digital commodities at the expense of environmental, labor and social well-being.
We celebrate the democratic possibilities of the “networked information economy” providing
for alternative space free from capitalist practices; however, it is vital to recognize that this
“new economy” in which we put our hopes is supported by, built on, and firmly planted in
our material world. The question that we need to ask ourselves is: given that our communities
and physical infrastructures continue to be configured to assist the reproduction of the social
relations of capitalism, how far can our “new economy” deliver on the democracy and social
justice for which we all strive?

1. James Titcomb, “World’s internet traffic to surpass one zettabyte in 2016,” Telegraph, February 4, 2016, http://
2. Ibid.

3. Cade Metz, “A new company called Alphabet now owns Google,” Wired, August 10, 2015.
4. Google hasn’t released new data since 2012, but the data extrapolate from based on Google annual growth date. See Danny
Sullivan, “Google Still Doing At Least 1 Trillion Searches Per Year,” Search Engine Land, January 16, 2015, http://
5. This is Google’s desktop search engine market as of January 2016. See “Worldwide desktop market share of leading search
engines from January 2010 to January 2016,” Statista,
6. “Annual revenue of Alphabet from 2011 to 2015 (in billions of US dollars),” Statista,
7. “Advertising revenue of Google from 2001 to 2015 (in billion U.S. dollars),” Statista,
8. Seven Levy, “Secret of Googlenomics: Data-Fueled Recipe Brews Profitability,” Wired, May 22, 2009, http://
9. Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture In Social Forecasting (New York: Basic Books, 1974); Alvin
Toffler, The Third Wave (New York: Morrow, 1980).
10. The term “territory of profit” is borrowed from Gary Fields’ book titled Territories of Profit: Communications, Capitalist
Development, and the Innovative Enterprises of G. F. Swift and Dell Computer (Stanford University Press, 2003)
11. David Harvey, Spaces of capital: towards a critical geography (New York: Routledge, 2001)
12. Top of FormDan Schiller, Digital capitalism networking the global market system (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1999).
13. Dan Schiller, “Power Under Pressure: Digital Capitalism In Crisis,” International Journal of Communication 5 (2011): 924–
14. Dan Schiller, “Digital capitalism: stagnation and contention?” Open Democracy, October 13, 2015, https://
15. Ibid: 113-117.
16. Jason Hiner, “Why Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are racing to run your data center.” ZDNet, June 4, 2009, http://
17. Derrick Harris, “Google had its biggest quarter ever for data center spending. Again,” Gigaom, February 4, 2015, https://
18. Ibid.
19. Steven Levy, In the plex: how Google thinks, works, and shapes our lives )New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 182.
20. Steven Levy, “Google Throws Open Doors to Its Top-Secret Data Center,” Wired, October 17 2012, http://
21. Cade Metz, “Google’s Hardware Endgame? Making Its Very Own Chips,” Wired, February 12, 2016, http://
22. Ian King and Jack Clark, “Qualcomm's Fledgling Server-Chip Efforts,” Bloomberg Business, February 3, 2016, http://
23. Levy, In the Plex, 181.
24. In 2013, Wall Street Journal reported that Google controls more than 100,000 miles of routes around the world which was
considered bigger than US-based telecom company Sprint. See Drew FitzGerald and Spencer E. Ante, “Tech Firms Push to
Control Web's Pipes,” Wall Street Journal, December 13, 2016,
25. Google is offering its gigabit-speed fiber optic Internet service in 10 US cities. Since Internet service is a precondition of
Google’s myriad Internet businesses, Google’s strategy is to control the pipes rather than relying on telecom firms. See Mike
Wehner, “Google Fiber is succeeding and cable companies are starting to feel the pressure,” Business Insider, April 15, 2015,;
Ethan Baron, “Google Fiber coming to San Francisco first,” San Jose Mercury News, February 26, 2016, http://
26. Tim Hornyak, “9 things you didn't know about Google's undersea cable,” Computerworld, July 14, 2015, http://
27. Jaikumar Vijayan, “Google Gives Glimpse Inside Its Massive Data Center Network,” eWeek, June 18, 2015, http://
28. Pascal Zachary, “Unsung Heroes Who Move Products Forward,” New York Times, September 30, 2007, http://



29. Tomas Freeman, Jones Lang, and Jason Warner, “What’s Important in the Data Center Location Decision,” Spring 2011,
30. “From rust belt to data center green?” Green Data Center News, February 10, 2011,
31. Rich Miller, “North Carolina Emerges as Data Center Hub,” Data Center Knowledge, November 7, 2010, http://
32. David Chernicoff, “US tax breaks, state by state,” Datacenter Dynamics, January 6, 2016, http://; Case Study: Server Farms,” Good
Job First,
33. John Leino, “The role of incentives in Data Center Location Decisions,” Critical Environment Practice, February 28, 2011,
34. David, Harvey, Spaces of global capitalism (London: Verso. 2006), 25.
35. Marsha Spellman, “Broadband, and Google, Come to Rural Oregon,” Broadband Properties, December 2005, http://
36. Ross Courtney “The Goldendale aluminum plant -- The death of a way of life,” Yakima Herald-Republic,” April 9, 2011,
37. Ginger Strand, “Google’s addition to cheap electricity,” Harper Magazine, March 2008,

38. Linda Rosencrance, “Top-secret Google data center almost completed,” Computerworld, June 16, 2006, http://
39. Bryon Beck, “Welcome to Googleville America’s newest information superhighway begins On Oregon’s Silicon Prairie,”
Willamette Week, June 4, 2008,
40. Rich Miller, “Google & Facebook: A Tale of Two Data Centers,” Data Center Knowledge, August 2, 2010, http://
41. Ibid.
42. Alex Barkinka, “From textiles to tech, the state’s newest crop,” Reese News Lab, April 13, 2011, http://
43. “Textile & Apparel Overview,” North Carolina in the Global Economy,
44. Rich Miller, “The Apple-Google Data Center Corridor,” Data Center knowledge, August 4, 2009, http://
45. “2010 Decennial Census from the US Census Bureau,” city,
46. North Carolina in the Global Economy. Retrieved from
47. Frank Langfitt, Furniture Work Shifts From N.C. To South China. National Public Radio, December 1, 2009, http://; Dan Morse, In North Carolina,
Furniture Makers Try to Stay Alive,” Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2004,
SB107724173388134838; Robert Lacy, “Whither North Carolina Furniture Manufacturing,” Federal Reserve Bank of
Richmond, Working Paper Series, September 2004,
48. Stephen Shankland, “Google gives itself leeway for N.C., data center,” Cnet, December 5, 2008, http://; Bill Bradley, “Cities Keep Giving Out Money for Server Farms, See
Very Few Jobs in Return,” Next City, August 15, 2013,
49. Katherine Noyes, “Google Taps North Carolina for New Datacenter,” E-Commerce Times, January 19, 2007, http://
50. Getahn Ward, “Google to invest in new Clarksville data center,” Tennessean, December 22, 2015, http://
51. Ingrid Burrington, “The Environmental Toll of a Netflix Binge,” Atlantic, December 16, 2015,
52. Mark Bergen, “After Gates, Google Splurges on Green With Largest Renewable Energy Buy for Server Farms,” Re/code,
December 3, 2015,

53. Burrington, “The Environmental Toll of a Netflix Binge.”; Richard Maxwell and Toby Miller, Greening the media (New
York: Oxford Univeristy Press, 2012)
54. “Finnish Paper Industry Uses Court Order to Block Government Protest,” IndustriAll Global Union,
55. Terhi Kinnunen and Tarmo Virki, “Stora to cut 985 jobs, close mills despite protests,” Reuter, January 17, 2008, http://; “Workers react to threat of closure of paper pulp mills,”
European Foundation, March 3, 2008,
56. David Cord, “Welcome to Finland,” The Helsinki Times, April 9, 2009,
57. Elina Kervinen, Google is busy turning the old Summa paper mill into a data centre. Helsingin Sanomat International Edition,
October 9, 2010,
58. “Google invests 450M in expansion of Hamina data centre,” Helsinki Times, November 4, 2013, http://
59. “Revealed: Google’s new mega data center in Finland,” Pingdon, September 15, 2010, http://
60. Ibid.
61. Shiv Mehta, “What's Google Strategy for the Russian Market?” Investopedia, July 28, 2015,




This timeline starts in Brussels and is an attempt to situate some of the events
in the life, death and revival of the Mundaneum in relation to both local and
international events. By connecting several geographic locations at different
scales, this small research provokes cqrrelations in time and space that could help
formulate questions about the ways local events repeatedly mirror and
recompose global situations. Hopefully, it can also help to see which
contextual elements in the first iteration of the Mundaneum were different from
the current situation of our information economy.
The ambitious project of the Mundaneum was imagined by Paul Otlet with support of Henri
La Fontaine at the end of the 19th century. At that time colonialism was at its height,
bringing a steady stream of income to occidental countries which created a sense of security
that made everything seem possible. According to some of the most forward thinking persons
of the time it felt as if the intellectual and material benefits of rational thinking could
universally become the source of all goods. Far from any actual move towards independence,
the first tensions between colonial/commercial powers were starting to manifest themselves.
Already some conflicts erupted, mainly to defend commercial interests such as during the
Fashoda crisis and the Boers war. The sense of strength brought to colonial powers by the
large influx of money was however quickly tempered by World War I that was about to
shake up modern European society.
In this context Henri La Fontaine, energised by Paul Otlet's encompassing view of
classification systems and standards, strongly associates the Mundaneum project with an ideal
of world peace. This was a conscious process of thought; they believed that this universal
archive of all knowledge represented a resource for the promotion of education towards the

development of better social relations. While Otlet and La Fontaine were not directly
concerned with economical and colonial issues, their ideals were nevertheless fed by the
wealth of the epoch. The Mundaneum archives were furthermore established with a clear
intention, and a major effort was done to include documents that referred to often neglected
topics or that could be considered as alternative thinking, such as the well known archives of
the feminist movement in Belgium and information on anarchism and pacifism. In line with
the general dynamism caused by a growing wealth in Europe at the turn of the century, the
Mundaneum project seemed to be always growing in size and ambition. It also clearly
appears that the project was embedded in the international and 'politico-economical' context
of its time and in many aspects linked to a larger movement that engaged civil society towards
a proto-structure of networked society. Via the development of infrastructures for
communication and international regulations, Henri La Fontaine was part of several
international initiatives. For example he launched the 'Bureau International de la paix' as
early as 1907 and a few years after, in 1910, the 'International Union of Associations'.
Overall his interventions helped to root the process of archive collection in a larger network
of associations and regulatory structures. Otlet's view of archives and organisation extended
to all domains and La Fontaine asserted that general peace could be achieved through social
development by the means of education and access to knowledge. Their common view was
nurtured by an acute perception of their epoch, they observed and often contributed to most
of the major experiments that were triggered by the ongoing reflection about the new
organisation modalities of society.
The ever ambitious process of building the Mundaneum
From The Itinerant Archive (print):
archives took place in the context of a growing
Museology merged with the
internationalisation of society, while at the same time the
International Institute of Bibliography
social gap was increasing due to the expansion of
(IIB) which had its offices in the
same building. The ever-expanding
industrial society. Furthermore, the internationalisation of
index card catalog had already been
finances and relations did not only concern industrial
accessible to the public since 1914.
society, it also acted as a motivation to structure social
The project would be later known as
the World Palace or Mundaneum.
and political networks, among others via political
Here, Paul Otlet and Henri La
negotiations and the institution of civil society
Fontaine started to work on their
Encyclopaedia Universalis
organisations. Several broad structures dedicated to the
Mundaneum, an illustrated
regulation of international relations were created
encyclopaedia in the form of a mobile
simultaneous with the worldwide spreading of an
industrial economy. They aimed to formulate a world
view that would be based on international agreements
and communication systems regulated by governments and structured via civil society
organisations, rather than leaving everything to individual and commercial initiatives. Otlet
and La Fontaine spent a large part of their lives attempting to formulate a mondial society.
While La Fontaine clearly supported international networks of civil society organisations,
Otlet, according to Vincent Capdepuy[1], was the first person to use the French term
Mondialisation far ahead of his time, advocating what would become after World War II an
important movement that claimed to work for the development of an international regulatory



system. Otlet also mentioned that this 'Mondial' process was directly related to the necessity
of a new repartition and the regulation of natural goods (think: diamonds and gold ...), he
« Un droit nouveau doit remplacer alors le droit ancien pour préparer et organiser une
nouvelle répartition. La “question sociale” a posé le problème à l’intérieur ; “la question
internationale” pose le même problème à l’extérieur entre peuples. Notre époque a
poursuivi une certaine socialisation de biens. […] Il s’agit, si l’on peut employer cette
expression, de socialiser le droit international, comme on a socialisé le droit privé, et de
prendre à l’égard des richesses naturelles des mesures de “mondialisation”. » .

The approaches of La Fontaine and Otlet already bear certain differences, as one
(Lafontaine) emphasises an organisation based on local civil society structures which implies
direct participation, while the other (Otlet) focuses more on management and global
organisation managed by a regulatory framework. It is interesting to look at these early
concepts that were participating to a larger movement called 'the first mondialisation', and
understand how they differ from current forms of globalisation which equally involve private
and public instances and various infrastructures.
The project of Otlet and Lafontaine took place in an era of international agreements over
communication networks. It is known and often a subject of fascination that the global project
of the Mundaneum also involved the conception of a technical infrastructure and
communication systems that were conceived in between the two World Wars. Some of them
such as the Mondotheque were imagined as prospective possibilities, but others were already
implemented at the time and formed the basis of an international communication network,
consisting of postal services and telegraph networks. It is less acknowledged that the epoch
was also a time of international agreements between countries, structuring and normalising
international life; some of these structures still form the basis of our actual global economy,
but they are all challenged by private capitalist structures. The existing postal and telegraph
networks covered the entire planet, and agreements that regulated the price of the stamp
allowing for postal services to be used internationally, were recent. They certainly were the
first ones during where international agreements regulated commercial interests to the benefit
of individual communication. Henri Lafontaine directly participated in these processes by
asking for the postal franchise to be waived for the transport of documents between
international libraries, to the benefit of among others the Mundaneum. Lafontaine was also
an important promoter of larger international movements that involved civil society
organisations; he was the main responsible for the 'Union internationale des associations', that
acted as a network of information-sharing, setting up modalities for exchange to the general
benefit of civil society. Furthermore, concerns were raised to rethink social organisation that
was harmed by industrial economy and this issue was addressed in Brussels by the brand
new discipline of sociology. The 'Ecole de Bruxelles'[3] in which Otlet and La Fontaine both
took part was already very early on trying to formulate a legal discourse that could help
address social inequalities, and eventually come up with regulations that could help 'reengineer' social organisation.

The Mundaneum project differentiates itself from contemporary enterprises such as Google,
not only by its intentions, but also by its organisational context as it clearly inscribed itself in
an international regulatory framework that was dedicated to the promotion of local civil
society. How can we understand the similarities and differences between the development of
the Mundaneum project and the current knowledge economy? The timeline below attempts
to re-situate the different events related to the rise and fall of the Mundaneum in order to help
situate the differences between past and contemporary processes.





The International Union of telegraph STANDARD
, is set up it is an important element of the
organisation of a mondial communication
network and will further become the



International Telecommunication
Union (UTI) that is still active in regulating

and standardizing radio-communication.


Franco-Prussian war.




The ONU creates the General Postal
Union and aims to federate international
postal distribution.




General Conference on Weights and
Measures in Sèvres, France.




Triple Alliance,




Henri Lafontaine creates La Société Belge EVENT
de l'arbitrage et de la paix.



First colonial wars (Fachoda crisis, Boers war EVENT



Henri Lafontaine meets Paul Otlet.




Franco-Russian entente', preliminary to
the Triple entente that will be signed in




Henri Lafontaine publishes an essay Pour une PUBLICATION NATION
bibliographie de la paix.


renewed in 1902.



Otlet and Lafontaine start together the Office ASSOCIATION CITY
International de Bibliologie
Sociologique (OIBS).


Henri Lafontaine is elected senator of the
province of Hainaut and later senator of the
province of Liège-Brabant.



1895 2-4 First Conférence de Bibliographie at
September which it is decided to create the Institut
International de Bibliographie (IIB)
founded by Henri La Fontaine.


Congrès bibliographique
international in Paris.



Creation of the international Women's
suffrage alliance (IWSA) that will later
become the International Alliance of



Entente cordiale

between France and
England which defines their mutual zone of
colonial influence in Africa.




First Moroccan crisis.



1907 June Otlet and Lafontaine organise a Central


Office for International Associations
that will become the International Union
of Associations (IUA) at the first
Congrès mondial des associations
internationales in Brussels in May 1910.


Henri Lafontaine is elected president of the
Bureau international de la paix that
he previously initiated.

1908 July Congrès bibliographique
international in Brussels.





1910 May Official Creation of the International
union of associations (IUA). In 1914,
it federates 230 organizations, a little more
than half of them still exist. The IUA promotes
internationalist aspirations and desire for peace.



Le Congrès International de
Bibliographie et de Documentation


More than 600 people and institutions are
listed as IIB members or refer to their methods,
specifically the UDC.


Henri Lafontaine is awarded the Nobel Price EVENT
for Peace.



Germany declares war to France and invades



Lafontaine publishes The great solution:
magnissima charta while in exile in the United


deals with issues of international cooperation
between non-governmental organizations and
with the structure of universal documentation.

Opening of the Mundaneum or Palais
at the Cinquantenaire park.





1919 June The Traité de Versailles marks the end EVENT
of World War I and creation of the Societé
Des Nations (SDN) that will later become
the United Nations (UN).




Creation (within the IIB), of the Central
Classification Commission focusing on
development of the Universal Decimal
Classification (UDC).


The IIB becomes the International
Institute of documentation (IID) and
in 1938 and is named International
Federation of documentation (IDF).



Publication of Otlet's book Traité de



The Mundaneum is closed after a governmental MOVE
decision. A part of the archives are moved to
Rue Fétis 44, Brussels, home of Paul Otlet.


Invasion of Poland by Germany, start of World EVENT
September War II.






Some files from the Mundaneum collections
concerning international associations, are
transferred to Germany. They are assumed to
have propaganda value.



Death of Paul Otlet. He is buried in Etterbeek EVENT



The International Telecomunication
Union (UTI) is attached to the UN.



Two separate ITU committees, the






Consultive Committee for
International Telephony (CCIF) and the
Consultive Committee for
International Telegraphy (CCIT) are

joined to form the CCITT, an institute to create
standards, recommendations and models for


American Standard Code for
Information Interchange (ASCII)




The ARPANET project is initiated.




First meeting of the Internet Engineering
Task Force (IETF) , the US-located informal




Creation of The Internet Society, an
American association with international




Elio Di Rupo organises the transport of the
Mundaneum archives from Brussels to 76 rue
de Nimy in Mons.




Failure of the World Conference on





the first public version of the Internet STANDARD


organization that promotes open standards
along the lines of "rough consensus and running

International Telecommunications

(WCIT) to reach an international agreement
on Internet regulation.



1. Capdepuy, In the prism of the words. Globalization and the philological
2. Paul Otlet, 1916, Les Problèmes internationaux et la Guerre, les conditions et les facteurs de la vie internationale, Genève/
Paris, Kundig/Rousseau, p. 76.



City City of

In Paul Otlet's words the Mundaneum is “an idea, an institution, a method, a
material corpus of works and collections, a building, a network.” It became a
lifelong project that he tried to establish together with Henri La Fontaine in
the beginning of the 20th century. The collaboration with Le Corbusier was
limited to the architectural draft of a centre of information, science, and
education, leading to the idea of a “World Civic Center” in Geneva.
Nevertheless the dialectical discourse between both Utopians did not restrict
itself to commissioned design, but reveals the relation between a specific
positivist conception of knowledge and architecture; the system of information
and the spatial distribution according to efficiency principles. A notion that lays
the foundation for what is now called the Smart City.

“We’re on the verge of a historic moment for cities”


“We are at the beginning of a historic transformation in cities. At a time when the
concerns about urban equity, costs, health and the environment are intensifying,
unprecedented technological change is going to enable cities to be more efficient,
responsive, flexible and resilient.”



In 1927 Le Corbusier participated in the
design competition for the headquarters of
the League of Nations, but his designs were
rejected. It was then that he first met his
later cher ami Paul Otlet. Both were already
familiar with each other’s ideas and writings,
as evidenced by their use of schemes, but
also through the epistemic assumptions that
underlie their world views.



Before meeting Le Corbusier, Otlet was
fascinated by the idea of urbanism as a
science, which systematically organizes all
elements of life in infrastructures of flows.
He was convinced to work with Van der
Swaelmen, who had already planned a
world city on the site of Tervuren near
Brussels in 1919.[4]



For Otlet it was the first time that two
notions from different practices came
together, namely an environment ordered
and structured according to principles of
rationalization and taylorization. On the one
hand, rationalization as an epistemic practice
that reduces all relationships to those of
definable means and ends. On the other
hand, taylorization as the possibility to
analyze and synthesize workflows according
to economic efficiency and productivity.
Nowadays, both principles are used
synonymously: if all modes of production are
reduced to labour, then its efficiency can be
rationally determined through means and

“By improving urban technology, it’s possible to significantly improve the lives of
billions of people around the world. […] we want to supercharge existing efforts in
areas such as housing, energy, transportation and government to solve real problems
that city-dwellers face every day.”

In the meantime, in 1922, Le Corbusier developed his theoretical model of the Plan Voisin,
which served as a blueprint for a vision of Paris with 3 million inhabitants. In the 1925
publication Urbanisme his main objective is to construct “a theoretically water-tight formula
to arrive at the fundamental principles of modern town planning.”[6] For Le Corbusier
“statistics are merciless things,” because they “show the past and foreshadow the future”[7],
therefore such a formula must be based on the objectivity of diagrams, data and maps.





Moreover, they “give us an exact picture of
our present state and also of former states;
[...] (through statistics) we are enabled to
penetrate the future and make those truths
our own which otherwise we could only
have guessed at.”[8] Based on the analysis of
statistical proofs he concluded that the
ancient city of Paris had to be demolished in
order to be replaced by a new one.
Nevertheless, he didn’t arrive at a concrete
formula but rather at a rough scheme.

A formula that includes every atomic entity
was instead developed by his later friend Otlet as an answer to the question he posed in
Monde, on whether the world can be expressed by a determined unifying entity. This is
Otlet’s dream: a “permanent and complete representation of the entire world,”[9] located in
one place.
Early on Otlet understood the active potential of Architecture and Urbanism as a dispositif, a
strategic apparatus, that places an individual in a specific environment and shapes his
understanding of the world.[10] A world that can be determined by ascertainable facts through
knowledge. He thought of his Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique
as an “architecture of ideas”, a manual to collect and organize the world's knowledge, hand in
hand with contemporary architectural developments. As new modernist forms and use of
materials propagated the abundance of decorative
From A bag but is language nothing
elements, Otlet believed in the possibility of language as
of words:
a model of 'raw data', reducing it to essential information
and unambiguous facts, while removing all inefficient
Tim Berners-Lee: [...] Make a
beautiful website, but first give us the
assets of ambiguity or subjectivity.
“Information, from which has been removed all dross and
foreign elements, will be set out in a quite analytical way.
It will be recorded on separate leaves or cards rather than
being confined in volumes,” which will allow the
standardized annotation of hypertext for the Universal
Decimal Classification (UDC).[11] Furthermore, the
“regulation through architecture and its tendency of a
total urbanism would help towards a better understanding
of the book Traité de documentation and it's right
functional and holistic desiderata.”[12] An abstraction
would enable Otlet to constitute the “equation of
urbanism” as a type of sociology (S): U = u(S), because
according to his definition, urbanism “is an art of

unadulterated data, we want the data.
We want unadulterated data. OK, we
have to ask for raw data now. And
I'm going to ask you to practice that,
OK? Can you say "raw"?
Audience: Raw.
Tim Berners-Lee: Can you say
Audience: Data.
TBL: Can you say "now"?
Audience: Now!
TBL: Alright, "raw data now"!

From La ville intelligente - Ville de la
Étant donné que les nouvelles formes
modernistes et l'utilisation de
matériaux propageaient l'abondance
d'éléments décoratifs, Paul Otlet
croyait en la possibilité du langage
comme modèle de « données brutes »,
le réduisant aux informations
essentielles et aux faits sans ambiguïté,

distributing public space in order to raise general human happiness; urbanization is the result
of all activities which a society employs in order to reach its proposed goal; [and] a material
expression of its organization.”[13] The scientific position, which determines all characteristic
values of a certain region by a systematic classification and observation, was developed by the
Scottish biologist and town planner Patrick Geddes, who Paul Otlet invited to present his
Town Planning Exhibition to an international audience at the 1913 world exhibition in
Gent.[14] What Geddes inevitably takes further is the positivist belief in a totality of science,
which he unfolds from the ideas of Auguste Comte, Frederic Le Play and Elisée Reclus in
order to reach a unified understanding of an urban development in a special context. This
position would allow to represent the complexity of an inhabited environment through data.[15]

The only person that Otlet considered capable of the architectural realization of the
Mundaneum was Le Corbusier, whom he approached for the first time in spring 1928. In
one of the first letters he addressed the need to link “the idea and the building, in all its
symbolic representation. […] Mundaneum opus maximum.” Aside from being a centre of
documentation, information, science and education, the complex should link the Union of
International Associations (UIA), which was founded by La Fontaine and Otlet in 1907,
and the League of Nations. “A material and moral representation of The greatest Society of
the nations (humanity);” an international city located on an extraterritorial area in Geneva.[16]
Despite their different backgrounds, they easily understood each other, since they “did
frequently use similar terms such as plan, analysis, classification, abstraction, standardization
and synthesis, not only to bring conceptual order into their disciplines and knowledge
organization, but also in human action.”[17] Moreover, the appearance of common terms in
their most significant publications is striking. Such as spirit, mankind, elements, work, system
and history, just to name a few. These circumstances led both Utopians to think the
Mundaneum as a system, rather than a singular central type of building; it was meant to
include as many resources in the development process as possible. Because the Mundaneum
is “an idea, an institution, a method, a material corpus of works and collections, a building, a
network,”[18] it had to be conceptualized as an “organic plan with the possibility to expand on
different scales with the multiplication of each part.”[19] The possibility of expansion and an
organic redistribution of elements adapted to new necessities and needs, is what guarantees
the system efficiency, namely by constantly integrating more resources. By designing and
standardizing forms of life up to the smallest element, modernism propagated a new form of
living which would ensure the utmost efficiency. Otlet supported and encouraged Le
Corbusier with his words: “The twentieth century is called upon to build a whole new
civilization. From efficiency to efficiency, from rationalization to rationalization, it must so raise
itself that it reaches total efficiency and rationalization. […] Architecture is one of the best
bases not only of reconstruction (the deforming and skimpy name given to the whole of postwar activities) but of intellectual and social construction to which our era should dare to lay
claim.”[20] Like the Wohnmaschine, in Corbusier’s famous housing project Unité d'habitation,



the distribution of elements is shaped according to man's needs. The premise which underlies
this notion is that man's needs and desires can be determined, normalized and standardized
following geometrical models of objectivity.
“making transportation more efficient and lowering the cost of living, reducing energy
usage and helping government operate more efficiently”

In the first working phase, from March to September 1928, the plans for the Mundaneum
seemed more a commissioned work than a collaboration. In the 3rd person singular, Otlet
submitted descriptions and organizational schemes which would represent the institutional
structures in a diagrammatic manner. In exchange, Le Corbusier drafted the architectural
plans and detailed descriptions, which led to the publication N° 128 Mundaneum, printed
by International Associations in Brussels.[22] Le Corbusier seemed a little less enthusiastic
about the Mundaneum project than Otlet, mainly because of his scepticism towards the
League of Nations, which he called a “misguided” and “pre-machinist creation.”[23] The
rejection of his proposal for the Palace for the League of Nations in 1927, expressed with
anger in a public announcement, might also play a role. However, the second phase, from
September 1928 to August 1929, was marked by a strong friendship evidenced by the rise
of the international debate after their first publications, letters starting with cher ami and their
agreement to advance the project to the next level by including more stakeholders and
developing the Cité mondiale. This led to the second publication by Paul Otlet, La Cité
mondiale in February 1929, which unexpectedly traumatized the diplomatic environment in
Geneva. Although both tried to organize personal meetings with key stakeholders, the project
didn't find support for its realization, especially after Switzerland had withdrawn its offer of
providing extraterritorial land for Cité mondiale. Instead, Le Corbusier focussed on his Ville
Radieuse concept, which was presented at the 3rd CIAM meeting in Brussels in 1930.[24]
He considered Cité mondiale as “a closed case”, and withdrew himself from the political
environment by considering himself without any political color, “since the groups that gather
around our ideas are, militaristic bourgeois, communists, monarchists, socialists, radicals,
League of Nations and fascists. When all colors are mixed, only white is the result. That
stands for prudence, neutrality, decantation and the human search for truth.”[25]

Le Corbusier considered himself and his work “apolitical” or “above politics”.[26] Otlet,
however, was more aware of the political force of his project. “Yet it is important to predict.
To know in order to predict and to predict in order to control, was Comte's positive
philosophy. Prediction doesn't cost a thing, was added by a master of contemporary urbanism
(Le Corbusier).”[27] Lobbying for the Cité mondiale project, That prediction doesn't cost
anything and is “preparing the ways for the coming years”, Le Corbusier wrote to Arthur

Fontaine and Albert Thomas from the International Labor Organization that prediction is
free and “preparing the ways for the coming years”.[28] Free because statistical data is always
available, but he didn't seem to consider that prediction is a form of governing. A similar
premise underlies the present domination of the smart city ideologies, where large amounts of
data are used to predict for the sake of efficiency. Although most of the actors behind these
ideas consider themselves apolitical, the governmental aspect is more than obvious. A form of
control and government, which is not only biopolitical but rather epistemic. The data is not
only used to standardize units for architecture, but also to determine categories of knowledge
that restrict life to the normality of what can be classified. What becomes clear in this
juxtaposition of Le Corbusier's and Paul Otlet's work is that the standardization of
architecture goes hand in hand with an epistemic standardization because it limits what can
be thought, experienced and lived to what is already there. This architecture has to be
considered as an “epistemic object”, which exemplifies the cultural logic of its time.[29] By its
presence it brings the abstract cultural logic underlying its conception into the everyday
experience, and becomes with material, form and function an actor that performs an epistemic
practice on its inhabitants and users. In this case: the conception that everything can be
known, represented and (pre)determined through data.



1. Paul Otlet, Monde: essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du Monde, Sentiment du Monde, Action organisee et Plan du Monde
, (Bruxelles: Editiones Mundeum 1935): 448.
2. Steve Lohr, Sidewalk Labs, a Start-Up Created by Google, Has Bold Aims to Improve City Living New, in York Times
11.06.15,, quoted here is Dan Doctoroff, founder of Google Sidewalk Labs

3. Dan Doctoroff, 10.06.2015,
4. Giuliano Gresleri and Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale: Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venezia: Marsilio,
1982): 128; See also: L. Van der Swaelmen, Préliminaires d'art civique (Leynde 1916): 164 – 299.
5. Larry Page, Press release, 10.06.2015,
6. Le Corbusier, “A Contemporary City” in The City of Tomorrow and its Planning, (New York: Dover Publications 1987):
7. ibid.: 105 & 126.
8. ibid.: 108.
9. Rayward, W Boyd, “Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868–1944) and Hypertext” in Journal of the American Society for
Information Science, (Volume 45, Issue 4, May 1994): 235.
10. The french term dispositif or translated apparatus, refers to Michel Foucault's description of a merely strategic function, “a
thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms regulatory decisions, laws,
administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions – in short, the said as much as
the unsaid.” This distinction allows to go beyond the mere object, and rather deconstruct all elements involved in the production
conditions and relate them to the distribution of power. See: Michel Foucault, “Confessions of the Flesh (1977) interview”, in
Power/Knowledge Selected Interviews and Other Writings, Colin Gordon (Ed.), (New York: Pantheon Books 1980): 194 –
11. Bernd Frohmann, “The role of facts in Paul Otlet’s modernist project of documentation”, in European Modernism and the
Information Society, Rayward, W.B. (Ed.), (London: Ashgate Publishers 2008): 79.
12. “La régularisation de l’architecture et sa tendance à l’urbanisme total aident à mieux comprendre le livre et ses propres
desiderata fonctionnels et intégraux.” See: Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation, (Bruxelles: Mundaneum, Palais Mondial,
1934): 329.
13. “L'urbanisme est l'art d'aménager l'espace collectif en vue d'accroîte le bonheur humain général; l'urbanisation est le résulat de
toute l'activité qu'une Société déploie pour arriver au but qu'elle se propose; l'expression matérielle (corporelle) de son
organisation.” ibid.: 205.
14. Thomas Pearce, Mettre des pierres autour des idées, Paul Otlet, de Cité Mondiale en de modernistische stedenbouw in de jaren
1930, (KU Leuven: PhD Thesis 2007): 39.
15. Volker Welter, Biopolis Patrick Geddes and the City of Life. (Cambridge, Mass: MIT 2003).
16. Letter from Paul Otlet to Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, Brussels 2nd April 1928. See: Giuliano Gresleri and Dario
Matteoni. La Città Mondiale: Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venezia: Marsilio, 1982): 221-223.
17. W. Boyd Rayward (Ed.), European Modernism and the Information Society. (London: Ashgate Publishers 2008): 129.
18. “Le Mundaneum est une Idée, une Institution, une Méthode, un Corps matériel de traveaux et collections, un Edifice, un
Réseau.” See: Paul Otlet, Monde: essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du Monde, Sentiment du Monde, Action organisee et
Plan du Monde, (Bruxelles: Editiones Mundeum 1935): 448.
19. Giuliano Gresleri and Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale: Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venezia: Marsilio,
1982): 223.
20. Le Corbusier, Radiant City, (New York: The Orion Press 1964): 27.
22. Giuliano Gresleri and Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale: Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venezia: Marsilio,
1982): 128
23. ibid.: 232.
24. ibid.: 129.
25. ibid.: 255.
26. Eric Paul Mumford, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928-1960, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002): 20.
27. “Savoir, pour prévoir afin de pouvoir, a été la lumineuse formule de Comte. Prévoir ne coûte rien, a ajouté un maître de
l'urbanisme contemporain (Le Corbusier).” See: Paul Otlet, Monde: essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du Monde,
Sentiment du Monde, Action organisee et Plan du Monde, (Bruxelles: Editiones Mundeum 1935): 407.
28. Giuliano Gresleri and Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale: Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venezia: Marsilio,
1982): 241.
29. Considering architecture as an object of knowledge formation, the term “epistemic object” by the German philosopher Günter
Abel, helps bring forth the epistemic characteristic of architecture. Epistemic objects according to Abel are these, on which our
knowledge and empiric curiosity are focused. They are objects that perform an active contribution to what can be thought and
how it can be thought. Moreover because one cannot avoid architecture, it determines our boundaries (of thinking). See:
Günter Abel, Epistemische Objekte – was sind sie und was macht sie so wertvoll?, in: Hingst, Kai-Michael; Liatsi, Maria
(ed.), (Tübingen: Pragmata, 2008).



La ville
- Ville
de la

Selon les mots de Paul Otlet, le Mundaneum est « une idée, une institution,
une méthode, un corpus matériel de travaux et de collections, une construction,
un réseau. » Il est devenu le projet d'une vie qu'il a tenté de mettre sur pied
avec Henri La Fontaine au début du 20e siècle. La collaboration avec Le
Corbusier se limitait au projet architectural d'un centre d'informations, de
science et d'éducation qui conduira à l'idée d'un « World Civic Center », à
Genève. Cependant, le discours dialectique entre les deux utopistes ne s'est
pas limité à une réalisation commissionnée, il a révélé la relation entre une
conception positiviste spécifique de la connaissance et l'architecture ; le
système de l'information et la distribution spatiale d'après des principes
d'efficacité. Une notion qui a apporté la base de ce qu'on appelle aujourd'hui
la Ville intelligente.


« Nous sommes à l'aube d'un moment historique pour les villes » « Nous sommes à
l'aube d'une transformation historique des villes À une époque où les préoccupations
pour l'égalité urbaine, les coûts, la santé et l'environnement augmentent, un
changement technologique sans précédent va permettre aux villes d'être plus efficaces,
réactives, flexibles et résistantes. »





En 1927, Le Corbusier a participé à une
compétition de design pour le siège de la
Ligue des nations. Cependant, ses
propositions furent rejetées. C'est à ce
moment qu'il a rencontré, pour la première
fois, son cher ami Paul Otlet. Tous deux
connaissaient déjà les idées et les écrits de
l'autre, comme le montre leur utilisation des
plans, mais également les suppositions
épistémiques à la base de leur vues sur le
monde. Avant de rencontrer Le Corbusier,
Paul Otlet était fasciné par l'idée d'un
urbanisme scientifique qui organise
systématiquement tous les éléments de la vie
par des infrastructures de flux. Il avait été
convaincu de travailler avec Van der
Saelmen, qui avait déjà prévu une ville
monde sur le site de Tervuren, près de
Bruxelles, en 1919.[4]

Pour Paul Otlet, c'était la première fois que
deux notions de pratiques différentes se
rassemblaient, à savoir un environnement
ordonné et structuré d'après des principes de
rationalisation et de taylorisme. D'un côté, la
rationalisation: une pratique épistémique qui
réduit toutes les relations à des moyens et
des fins définissables. D'un autre, le
taylorisme: une possibilité d'analyse et de
synthèse des flux de travail fonctionnant
selon les règles de l'efficacité économique et
productive. De nos jours, les deux principes
sont considérés comme des synonymes : si
tous les modes de production sont réduits au
travail, alors l'efficacité peut être rationnellement déterminée à par les moyens et les fins.
« En améliorant la technologie urbaine, il est possible d'améliorer de manière
significative la vie de milliards de gens dans le monde. […] nous voulons encourager
les efforts existants dans des domaines comme l'hébergement, l'énergie, le transport et le
gouvernement afin de résoudre des problèmes réels auxquels les citadins font face au
quotidien. »

Pendant ce temps, en 1922, Le Corbusier avait développé son modèle théorique du Plan
Voisin qui a servi de projet pour une vision de Paris avec trois millions d'habitants. Dans la
publication de 1925 d'Urbanisme, son objectif principal est la construction « d'un édifice
théoretique rigoureux, à formuler des principes fondamentaux d'urbanisme moderne. »[6] Pour
Le Corbusier, « la statistique est implacable », car « la statistique montre le passé et esquisse
l’avenir »[7], dès lors, une telle formule doit être basée sur l'objectivité des diagrammes, des
données et des cartes.



De plus, « la statisique donne la situation
exacte de l’heure présente, mais aussi les
états antérieurs ; [...] (à travers les
statistiques) nous pouvons pénétrer dans
l’avenir et aquérir des certitudes anticipées ».
À partir de l'analyse des preuves
statistiques, il conclut que la vieille ville de
Paris devait être démolie afin d'être
remplacée par une nouvelle. Cependant, il
n'est pas arrivé à une formule concrète, mais
à un plan approximatif.

À la place, une formule comprenant chaque
entité atomique fut développée par son ami
Paul Otlet en réponse à la question qu'il
publia dans Monde pour savoir si le monde
pouvait être exprimé par une entité
unificatrice déterminée. Voici le rêve de
Paul Otlet : une « représentation
permanente et complète du monde entier »[9]
dans un même endroit.

Paul Otlet comprit rapidement le potentiel
actif de l'architecture et de l'urbanisme en
tant que dispositif stratégique qui place un
individu dans un environnement spécifique
et façonne sa compréhension du monde.[10]
Un monde qui peut être déterminé par des faits vérifiables à travers la connaissance. Il a
pensé son Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique comme une
« architecture des idées », un manuel pour collecter et organiser la connaissance du monde
en l'association avec les développements architecturaux contemporains.

Étant donné que les nouvelles formes modernistes et
l'utilisation de matériaux propageaient l'abondance
d'éléments décoratifs, Paul Otlet croyait en la possibilité
du langage comme modèle de « données brutes », le
réduisant aux informations essentielles et aux faits sans
ambiguïté, tout en se débarrassant de tous les éléments
inefficaces et subjectifs.

From A bag but is language nothing
of words:
Tim Berners-Lee: [...] Make a
beautiful website, but first give us the
unadulterated data, we want the data.
We want unadulterated data. OK, we
have to ask for raw data now. And
I'm going to ask you to practice that,
OK? Can you say "raw"?

« Des informations, dont tout déchet et élément étrangers
Audience: Raw.
ont été supprimés, seront présentées d'une manière assez
analytique. Elles seront encodées sur différentes feuilles
Tim Berners-Lee: Can you say
ou cartes plutôt que confinées dans des volumes, » ce qui
permettra l'annotation standardisée de l'hypertexte pour
Audience: Data.
la classification décimale universelle ( CDU ).[11] De plus,
TBL: Can you say "now"?
la « régulation à travers l'architecture et sa tendance à un
urbanisme total favoriseront une meilleure compréhension Audience: Now!
du livre Traité de documentation ainsi que du désidérata
TBL: Alright, "raw data now"!
fonctionnel et holistique adéquat. »[12] Une abstraction
permettrait à Paul Otlet de constituer « l'équation de
l'urbanisme » comme un type de sociologie : U = u(S),
car selon sa définition, l'urbanisme « L'urbanisme est l'art
From The Smart City - City of
d'aménager l'espace collectif en vue d'accroître le
As new modernist forms and use of
bonheur humain général ; l'urbanisation est le résultat de
materials propagated the abundance
toute l'activité qu'une Société déploie pour arriver au but
of decorative elements, Otlet believed
qu'elle se propose ; l'expression matérielle (corporelle)
in the possibility of language as a
model of 'raw data', reducing it to
de son organisation. »[13] La position scientifique qui
essential information and
détermine toutes les valeurs caractéristiques d'une
unambiguous facts, while removing all
certaine région par une classification et une observation
inefficient assets of ambiguity or
systémiques a été avancée par le biologiste écossais et
planificateur de villes, Patrick Geddes, qui fut invité par
Paul Otlet pour l'exposition universelle de 1913 à Gand
afin de présenter à un public international sa Town Planning Exhibition.[14] Patrick Geddes
allait inévitablement plus loin dans sa croyance positiviste en une totalité de la science, une
croyance qui découle des idées d'Auguste Compte, de Frederic Le Play et d'Elisée Reclus,
pour atteindre une compréhension unifiée du développement urbain dans un contexte
spécifique. Cette position permettrait de représenter à travers des données la complexité d'un
environnement habité.[15]

La seule personne que Paul Otlet estimait capable de réaliser l'architecture du Mundaneum
était Le Corbusier, qu'il approcha pour la première fois au printemps 1928. Dans une de



ses premières lettres, il évoqua le besoin de lier « l'idée et la construction, dans toute sa
représentation symbolique. […] Mundaneum opus maximum.” En plus d'être un centre de
documentation, d'informations, de science et d'éducation, le complexe devrait lier l'Union des
associations internationales (UAI), fondée par La Fontaine et Otlet en 1907, et la Ligue
des nations. « Une représentation morale et matérielle de The greatest Society of the nations
(humanité) ; » une ville internationale située dans une zone extraterritoriale à Genève.[16]
Malgré les différents milieux dont ils étaient issus, ils pouvaient facilement se comprendre
puisqu'ils « utilisaient fréquemment des termes similaires comme plan, analyse, classification,
abstraction, standardisation et synthèse, non seulement pour un ordre conceptuel dans leurs
disciplines et l'organisation de leur connaissance, mais également dans l'action humaine. »[17]
De plus, l'apparence des termes dans leurs publications les plus importantes est frappante.
Pour n'en nommer que quelques-uns : esprit, humanité, travail, système et histoire. Ces
circonstances ont conduit les deux utopistes à penser le Mundaneum comme un système
plutôt que comme un type de construction central singulier ; le processus de développement
cherchait à inclure autant de ressources que possible. Puisque « Le Mundaneum est une
Idée, une Institution, une Méthode, un Corps matériel de travaux et collections, un Édifice,
un Réseau. »[18] il devait être conceptualisé comme un « plan organique avec possibilité
d'expansion à différentes échelles grâce à la multiplication de chaque partie. »[19] La
possibilité d'expansion et la redistribution organique des éléments adaptées à de nouvelles
nécessités et besoins garantit l'efficacité du système, à savoir en intégrant plus de ressources
en permanence. En concevant et normalisant des formes de vie, même pour le plus petit
élément, le modernisme a propagé une nouvelle forme de vie qui garantirait l'efficacité
optimale. Paul Otlet a soutenu et encouragé Le Corbusier avec ces mots : « Le vingtième
siècle est appelé à construire une toute nouvelle civilisation. De l'efficacité à l'efficacité, de la
rationalisation à la rationalisation, il doit s'élever et atteindre l'efficacité et la rationalisation
totales. […] L'architecture est l'une des meilleures bases, non seulement de la reconstruction
(le nom étriqué et déformant donné à toutes les activités d'après-guerre), mais à la
construction intellectuelle et sociale à laquelle notre ère devrait oser prétendre. »[20] Comme la
Wohnmaschine, dans le célèbre projet d'habitation du Corbusier, Unité d'habitation, la
distribution des éléments est établie en fonction des besoins de l'homme. Le principe qui sous
tend cette notion est l'idée que les besoins et les désirs de l'homme peuvent être déterminés,
normalisés et standardisés selon des modèles géométriques d'objectivité.
« rendre le transport plus efficace et diminuer le coût de la vie, la consommation
d'énergie et aider le gouvernement à fonctionner plus efficacement »

Dans la première phase de travail, de mars à septembre 1928, les plans du Mundaneum
ressemblaient plus à un travail commissionné qu'à une collaboration. À la troisième personne
du singulier, Paul Otlet a soumis des descriptions et des projets organisationnels qui
représenteraient les structures institutionnelles de manière schématique. En échange, Le
Corbusier a réalisé le brouillon des plans architecturaux et les descriptions détaillées, ce qui

conduisit à la publication du N° 128 Mundaneum, imprimée par Associations
Internationales à Bruxelles.[22] Le Corbusier semblait un peu moins enthousiaste que Paul
Otlet concernant le Mundaneum, principalement à cause de son scepticisme vis-à-vis de la
Ligue des nations dont il disait qu'elle était « fourvoyée » et « une création prémachiniste ».[23]
Le rejet de sa proposition pour le palais de la Ligue des nations en 1927, exprimé avec
colère dans une déclaration publique, jouait peut-être également un rôle. Cependant, la
seconde phase, de septembre 1928 à août 1929, fut marquée par une amitié solide dont
témoigne l'amplification du débat international après leurs premières publications, des lettres
commençant par « cher ami », leur accord concernant l'avancement du projet au prochain
niveau avec l'intégration d'actionnaires et le développement de la Cité mondiale. Cela
conduisit à la seconde publication de Paul Otlet, la Cité mondiale, en février 1929, qui
traumatisa de manière inattendue l'environnement diplomatique de Genève. Même si tous
deux tentèrent d'organiser des entretiens personnels avec des acteurs clés, le projet ne trouva
pas de soutien pour sa réalisation, d'autant moins après le retrait de la proposition de la
Suisse de fournir un territoire extraterritorial pour la Cité mondiale. À la place, Le Corbusier
s'est concentré sur son concept de la Ville Radieuse qui fut présenté lors du 3e CIAM à
Bruxelles, en 1930.[24] Il considérait la Cité mondiale comme « une affaire classée » et s'était
retiré de l'environnement politique en considérant qu'il n'avait aucune couleur politique
« puisque les groupes qui se rassemblent autour de nos idées sont des bourgeois militaristes,
des communistes, des monarchistes, des socialistes, des radicaux, la Ligue des nations et des
fascistes. Lorsque toutes les couleurs sont mélangées, seul le blanc ressort. Il représente la
prudence, la neutralité, la décantation et la recherche humaine de la vérité. »[25]

Le Corbusier considérait son travail et lui-même comme étant « apolitiques » ou « au-dessus
de la politique ».[26] Cependant, Paul Otlet était plus conscient de la force politique de ce
projet. « Savoir, pour prévoir afin de pouvoir, a été la lumineuse formule de Comte. Prévoir
ne coûte rien, a ajouté un maitre de l'urbanisme contemporain (Le Corbusier). »[27] En faisant
le lobby du projet de la Cité mondiale, cette prévision ne coûte rien et « prépare les années à
venir », Le Corbusier écrivit à Arthur Fontaine et Albert Thomas depuis l'Organisation
internationale de travail que la prévision était gratuite et « préparait les années à venir ».[28]
Gratuite, car les données statistiques sont toujours disponibles, cependant, il ne semblait pas
considérer la prévision comme une forme de pouvoir. Une prémisse similaire est à l'origine
de la domination actuelle des idéologies de la ville intelligente où de grandes quantités de
données sont utilisées pour prévoir au nom de l'efficacité. Même si la plupart des acteurs
derrière ces idées se considèrent apolitiques, l'aspect gouvernemental est plus qu'évident.
Une forme de contrôle et de gouvernement n'est pas seulement biopolitique, mais plutôt
épistémique. Les données sont non seulement utilisées pour standardiser les unités pour
l'architecture, mais également pour déterminer les catégories de connaissance qui restreignent
la vie à la normalité dans laquelle elle peut être classée. Dans cette juxtaposition du travail de
Le Corbusier et Paul Otlet, il devient clair que la standardisation de l'architecture va de pair



avec une standardisation épistémique, car elle limite ce qui peut être pensé, ressenti et vécu à
ce qui existe déjà. Cette architecture doit être considérée comme un « objet épistémique »
qui illustre la logique culturelle de son époque.[29] Par sa présence, elle apporte la logique
culturelle abstraite sous-jacente à sa conception dans l'expérience quotidienne et devient, au
côté de la matière, de la forme et de la fonction, un acteur qui accomplit une pratique
épistémique sur ses habitants et ses usagers. Dans ce cas : la conception selon laquelle tout
peut être connu, représenté et (pré)déterminé à travers les données.


1. Paul Otlet, Monde : essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du Monde, Sentiment du Monde, Action organisée et Plan du
Monde, (Bruxelles : Editiones Mundeum 1935) : 448.



2. Steve Lohr, Sidewalk Labs, a Start-Up Created by Google, Has Bold Aims to Improve City Living New, dans le York Times
11/06/15,, citation de Dan Doctoroff, fondateur de Google Sidewalk Labs
3. Dan Doctoroff, 10/06/2015,
4. Giuliano Gresleri et Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale : Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venise : Marsilio,
1982) : 128 ; Voir aussi : L. Van der Swaelmen, Préliminaires d'art civique (Leynde 1916) : 164 - 299.
5. Larry Page, Communiqué de presse, 10/06/2015,
6. Le Corbusier, « Une Ville Contemporaine » dans Urbanisme, (Paris : Les Éditions G. Crès & Cie 1924) : 158.
7. ibid. : 115 et 97.
8. ibid. : 100.
9. Rayward, W Boyd, « Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868–1944) and Hypertext » dans le Journal of the American Society
for Information Science, (Volume 45, Numéro 4, mai 1994) : 235.
10. Le terme français « dispositif » fait référence à la description de Michel Foucault d'une fonction simplement stratégique, « un
ensemble réellement hétérogène constitué de discours, d'institutions, de formes architecturales, de décisions régulatrices, de lois,
de mesures administratives, de déclarations scientifiques, philosophiques, morales et de propositions philanthropiques. En
résumé, ce qui est dit comme ce qui ne l'est pas. » La distinction permet d'aller plus loin que le simple objet, et de déconstruire
tous les éléments impliqués dans les conditions de production et de les lier à la distribution des pouvoirs. Voir : Michel Foucault,
« Confessions of the Flesh (1977) interview », dans Power/Knowledge Selected Interviews and Other Writings, Colin
Gordon (Éd.), (New York : Pantheon Books 1980) : 194 - 200.
11. Bernd Frohmann, « The role of facts in Paul Otlet’s modernist project of documentation », dans European Modernism and the
Information Society, Rayward, W.B. (Éd.), (Londres : Ashgate Publishers 2008) : 79.
12. « La régularisation de l’architecture et sa tendance à l’urbanisme total aident à mieux comprendre le livre et ses propres
désiderata fonctionnels et intégraux. » Voir : Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation, (Bruxelles : Mundaneum, Palais Mondial,
1934) : 329.
13. ibid. : 205.
14. Thomas Pearce, Mettre des pierres autour des idées, Paul Otlet, de Cité Mondiale en de modernistische stedenbouw in de
jaren 1930, (KU Leuven : PhD Thesis 2007) : 39.
15. Volker Welter, Biopolis Patrick Geddes and the City of Life. (Cambridge, Mass : MIT 2003).
16. Lettre de Paul Otlet à Le Corbusier et Pierre Jeanneret, Bruxelles, 2 avril 1928. Voir : Giuliano Gresleri et Dario Matteoni.
La Città Mondiale : Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venise : Marsilio, 1982) : 221-223.
17. W. Boyd Rayward (Éd.), European Modernism and the Information Society. (Londres : Ashgate Publishers 2008) : 129.
18. Voir : Paul Otlet, Monde : essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du Monde, Sentiment du Monde, Action organisée et Plan du
Monde, (Bruxelles : Editiones Mundeum 1935) : 448.
19. Giuliano Gresleri et Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale : Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venise : Marsilio,
1982) : 223.
20. Le Corbusier, Radiant City, (New York : The Orion Press 1964) : 27.
22. Giuliano Gresleri et Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale : Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venise : Marsilio,
1982) : 128
23. ibid. : 232.
24. ibid. : 129.
25. ibid. : 255.
26. Eric Paul Mumford, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928-1960, (Cambridge : MIT Press, 2002) : 20.
27. Voir : Paul Otlet, Monde : essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du Monde, Sentiment du Monde, Action organisée et Plan du
Monde, (Bruxelles : Editiones Mundeum 1935) : 407.
28. Giuliano Gresleri et Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale : Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. (Venise : Marsilio,
1982) : 241.
29. En considérant l'architecture comme un objet de formation du savoir, le terme « objet épistémique » du philosophe Günter Abel
aide à produire la caractéristique épistémique de l'architecture. D'après Günter Abel, les objets épistémiques sont ceux sur
lesquels notre connaissance et notre curiosité empirique sont concentrés. Ce sont des objets ont une contribution active en ce qui
concerne ce qui peut être pensé et la manière dont cela peut être pensé. De plus, puisque personne ne peut éviter l'architecture,
elle détermine nos limites (de pensée). Voir : Günter Abel, Epistemische Objekte – was sind sie und was macht sie so
wertvoll?, dans : Hingst, Kai-Michael; Liatsi, Maria (éd.), (Tübingen : Pragmata, 2008).

The project of the Mundaneum and its many protagonists is undoubtedly
linked to the context of early 19th century Brussels. King Leopold II , in an
attempt to awaken his countries' desire for greatness, let a steady stream of
capital flow into the city from his private colonies in Congo. Located on the
crossroad between France, Germany, The Netherlands and The United
Kingdom, the Belgium capital formed a fertile ground for ambitious institutional
projects with international ambitions, such as the Mundaneum. Its tragic
demise was unfortunately equally at home in Brussels. Already in Otlet's
lifetime, the project fell prey to the dis-interest of its former patrons, not
surprising after World War I had shaken their confidence in the beneficial
outcomes of a global knowledge infrastructure. A complex entanglement of disinterested management and provincial politics sent the numerous boxes and
folders on a long trajectory through Brussels, until they finally slipped out of
the city. It is telling that the Capital of Europe has been unable to hold on to its
pertinent past.



This tour is a kind of itinerant monument to the Mundaneum in Brussels. It
takes you along the many temporary locations of the archives, guided by the
words of care-takers, reporters and biographers that have crossed it's path.
Following the increasingly dispersed and dwindling collection through the city
and centuries, you won't come across any material trace of its passage. You
might discover many unknown corners of Brussels though.

Outre le Répertoire bibliographique universel et un Musée de la presse qui
comptera jusqu’à 200.000 spécimens de journaux du monde entier, on y trouvera
quelque 50 salles, sorte de musée de l’humanité technique et scientifique. Cette
décennie représente l’âge d’or pour le Mundaneum, même si le gros de ses
collections fut constitué entre 1895 et 1914, avant l’existence du Palais Mondial.
L’accroissement des collections ne se fera, par la suite, plus jamais dans les mêmes
En 1920, le Musée international et les institutions créées par Paul Otlet et Henri
La Fontaine occupent une centaine de salles. L’ensemble sera désormais appelé
Palais Mondial ou Mundaneum. Dans les années 1920, Paul Otlet et Henri La
Fontaine mettront également sur pied l’Encyclopedia Universalis Mundaneum,
encyclopédie illustrée composée de tableaux sur planches mobiles.

Start at Parc du Cinquantenaire 11,
Brussels in front of the entrance of
what is now Autoworld.

In 1919, significantly delayed by World War I, the Musée international finally opened. The
project had been conceptualised by Paul Otlet and Henri Lafontaine already ten years
earlier and was meant to be a mix between a documentation center, conference venue and
educational display. It occupied the left wing of the magnificent buildings erected in the Parc
Cinquantenaire for the Grand Concours International des Sciences et de l'industrie.
Museology merged with the International Institute of
From House, City, World, Nation,
Bibliography (IIB) which had its offices in the same
building. The ever-expanding index card catalog had
The ever ambitious process of
already been accessible to the public since 1914. The
building the Mundaneum archives
took place in the context of a growing
project would be later known as the World Palace or
internationalisation of society, while at
Mundaneum. Here, Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine
the same time the social gap was
started to work on their Encyclopaedia Universalis
increasing due to the expansion of
Mundaneum, an illustrated encyclopaedia in the form of a industrial society. Furthermore, the
internationalisation of finances and
mobile exhibition.
relations did not only concern
Walk under
the colonnade
to your
right, and
you will
recognise the
former entrance

industrial society, it also acted as a
motivation to structure social and
political networks, among others via
political negotiations and the
institution of civil society organisations.

of Le Palais Mondial.

Only a few years after its delayed opening, the ambitious project started to lose support from
the Belgium government, who preferred to use the vast exhibition spaces for commercial
activities. In 1922 and 1924, Le Palais Mondial was temporarily closed to make space for
an international rubber fair.




Si dans de telles conditions le Palais Mondial devait définitivement rester fermé, il
semble bien qu’il n’y aurait plus place dans notre Civilisation pour une institution
d’un caractère universel, inspirée de l’idéal indiqué en ces mots à son entrée : Par
la Liberté, l’Égalité et la Fraternité mondiales − dans la Foi, l’Espérance et la
Charité humaines − vers le Travail, le Progrès et la Paix de tous !
Cato, my wife, has been absolutely devoted to my work. Her savings and jewels
testify to it; her invaded house testify to it; her collaboration testifies to it; her wish
to see it finished after me testifies to it; her modest little fortune has served for the
constitution of my work and of my thought.

Walk under the Arc de Triumph and exit
the Jubelfeestpark on your left. On
Avenue des Nerviens turn left into
Sint Geertruidestraat. Turn left onto
Kolonel Van Gelestraat and right onto
Rue Louis Hap. Turn left onto
Oudergemselaan and right onto Rue
Fetis 44.

In 1934, the ministry of public works decided to close the Mundaneum in order to make
place for an extension of the Royal Museum of Art and History. An outraged Otlet posted in
front of the closed entrance with his colleagues, but to no avail. The official address of the
Mundaneum was 'temporarily' transferred to the house at Rue Fétis 44 where he lived with
his second wife, Cato Van Nederhasselt.



Part of the archives were moved Rue Fétis, but many boxes and most of the card-indexes
remained stored in the Cinquantenaire building. Paul Otlet continued a vigorous program of
lectures and meetings in other places, including at home.


The upper galleries ... are one big pile of rubbish, one inspector noted in his report.
It is an impossible mess, and high time for this all to be cleared away. The Nazis
evidently struggled to make sense of the curious spectacle before them. The
institute and its goals cannot be clearly defined. It is some sort of ... 'museum for
the whole world,' displayed through the most embarrassing and cheap and
primitive methods.
Distributed in two large workrooms, in corridors, under stairs, and in attic rooms
and a glass-roofed dissecting theatre at the top of the building, this residue
gradually fell prey to the dust and damp darkness of the building in its lower
regions, and to weather and pigeons admitted through broken panes of glass in the
roof in the upper rooms. On the ground floor of the building was a dimly lit, small,

steeply-raked lecture theatre. On either side of its dais loomed busts of the
Derrière les vitres sales, j’aperçus un amoncellement de livres, de liasses de papiers
contenus par des ficelles, des dossiers dressés sur des étagères de fortune. Des
feuilles volantes échappées des cartons s’amoncelaient dans les angles de l’immense
pièce, du papier pelure froissé se mêlait au gravat et à la poussière. Des récipients
de fortune avaient été placés entre les caisses et servaient à récolter l’eau de pluie.
Un pigeon avait réussi à pénétrer à l’intérieur et se cognait inlassablement contre
l’immense baie vitrée qui fermait le bâtiment.
Annually in this room in the years after Otlet's death until the late 1960's, the
busts garlanded with floral wreaths for the occasion, Otlet and La Fontaine's
colleagues and disciples, Les Amis du Palais Mondial, met in a ceremony of
remembrance. And it was Otlet, theorist and visionary, who held their
imaginations most in beneficial thrall as they continued to work after his death, just
as they had in those last days of his life, among the mouldering, discorded
collections of the Mundaneum, themselves gradually overtaken by age, their
numbers dwindling.

Exit the Fétisstraat onto Chaussee de
Wavre, turn right and follow into the
Vijverstraat. Turn right on Rue Gray,
cross Jourdan plein into Parc Leopold.
Right at the entrance is the building
of l’Institut d’Anatomie Raoul

In 1941, the Nazi-Germans occupying Belgium wanted to use the spaces in the Palais du
Cinquantenaire but they were still used to store the collections of the Mundaneum. They
decided to move the archives to Parc Léopold except for a mass of periodicals, which were
simply destroyed. A vast quantity of files related to international associations were assumed to
have propaganda value for the German war effort. This part of the archive was transferred
back to Berlin and apparently re-appeared in the Stanford archives (?) many years later.
They must have been taken there by American soldiers after World War II.
Until the 1970's, the Mundaneum (or what was left of it) remained in the decaying building
in Parc Léopold. Georges Lorphèvre and André Colet continued to carry on the work of the
Mundaneum with the help of a few now elderly Amis du Palais Mondial, members of the
association with the same name that was founded in 1921. It is here that the Belgian
librarian André Canonne, the Australian scholar Warden Boyd Rayward and the Belgian
documentary-maker Françoise Levie came across the Mundaneum archives for the very first




A natural affinity exists between Google's modern project of making the world’s
information accessble and the Mundaneum project of two early 20th century
Belgians. Otlet and La Fontaine imagined organizing all the world's information on paper cards. While their dream was discarded, the Internet brought it back to
reality and it's little wonder that many now describe the Mundaneum as the paper
Google. Together, we are showing the way to marry our paper past with our
digital future.

Exit the park onto Steenweg op
Etterbeek and walk left to number

In 2009, Google Belgium opened its offices at the Chaussée d'Etterbeek 180. It is only a
short walk away from the last location that Paul Otlet has been able to work on the
Mundaneum project.
Celebrating the discovery of its "European roots", the company has insisted on the
connection between the project of Paul Otlet, and their own mission to organize the world's
information and make it universally accessible and useful. To celebrate the desired
connection to the Forefather of documentation, the building is said to have a Mundaneum
meeting room. In the lobby, you can find a vitrine with one of the drawers filled with UDCindex cards, on loan from the Mundaneum archive center in Mons.


When I am no more, my documentary instrument (my papers) should be kept
together, and, in order that their links should become more apparent, should be
sorted, fixed in successive order by a consecutive numbering of all the cards (like
the pages of a book).
Je le répète, mes papiers forment un tout. Chaque partie s’y rattache pour
constituer une oeuvre unique. Mes archives sont un "Mundus Mundaneum", un



outil conçu pour la connaissance du monde. Conservez-les; faites pour elles ce que
moi j’aurais fait. Ne les détruisez pas !

O P T I O N A L : Continue on Chaussée
d'Etterbeek toward Belliardstraat.
Turn left until you reach Rue de
Trèves. Turn right onto Luxemburgplein
and take bus 95 direction Wiener.

Paul Otlet dies in 1944 when he is 76 years old. His grave at the cemetary of Ixelles is
decorated with a globe and the inscription "Il ne fut rien sinon Mundanéen" (He was nothing
if not Mundanéen).
Exit the cemetary and walk toward
Avenue de la Couronne. At the
roundabout, turn left onto
Boondaalsesteenweg. Turn left onto
Boulevard Géneral Jacques and take
tram 25 direction Rogier.

Halfway your tram-journey you pass Square Vergote (Stop: Georges Henri), where Henri
Lafontaine and Mathilde Lhoest used to live. Statesman and Nobel-prize winner Henri
Lafontaine worked closely with Otlet and supported his projects throughout his life.
Get off at the stop Coteaux and follow
Rogierstraat until number 67.


C'est à ce moment que le conseil d'administration, pour sauver les activités
(expositions, prêts gratuits, visites, congrès, exposés, etc.) vendit quelques pièces. Il
n'y a donc pas eu de vol de documents, contrairement à ce que certains affirment,
garantit de Louvroy.
In fact, not one of the thousands of objects contained in the hundred galleries of the
Cinquantenaire has survived into the present, not a single maquette, not a single
telegraph machine, not a single flag, though there are many photographs of the
exhibition rooms.
Mais je me souviens avoir vu à Bruxelles des meubles d'Otlet dans des caves
inondées. On dit aussi que des pans entiers de collections ont fait le bonheur des
amateurs sur les brocantes. Sans compter que le papier se conserve mal et que des
dépôts mal surveillés ont pollué des documents aujourd'hui irrécupérables.

This part of the walk takes about 45"
and will take you from the Ixelles
neighbourhood through Sint-Joost to
Schaerbeek; from high to low Brussels.

Continue on Steenweg op Etterbeek,
cross Rue Belliard and continue onto
Jean Reyplein. Take a left onto
Chaussée d'Etterbeek. If you prefer,
you can take a train at Bruxelles



Schumann Station to North Station, or
continue following Etterbeekse
steenweg onto Square Marie-Louise.
Continue straight onto
Gutenbergsquare, Rue Bonneels which
becomes Braemtstraat at some point.
Cross Chausséee de Louvain and turn
left onto Oogststraat. Continue onto
Place Houwaert and Dwarsstraat.
Continue onto Chaussée de Haecht and
follow onto Kruidtuinstraat. Take a
slight right onto Rue Verte, turn left
onto Kwatrechtstraat and under the
North Station railroad tracks. Turn
right onto Rue du Progrès.
Rogierstraat is the first street on
your left.

In 1972, we find Les Amis du Mundaneum back at Chaussée de Louvain 969.
Apparently, the City of Brussels has moved the Mundaneum out of Parc Léopold into a
parking garage, 'a building rented by the ministry of Finances', 'in the direction of the SaintJosse-ten-Node station'.[15]. 10 years later, the collection is moved to the back-house of a
building at Avenue Rogier 67.
As a young librarian, Andre Canonne visits the collection at this address until he is in a
position to move the collection elsewhere.


On peut donc croire sauvées les collections du "Mundaneum" et a bon droit
espérer la fin de leur interminable errance. Au moment ou nous écrivons ces lignes,
des travaux d’aménagement d'un "Espace Mundaneum" sont en voie
d’achèvement au cour de Bruxelles.
L'acte fut signé par le ministre Philippe Monfils, président de l'exécutif. Son
prédécesseur, Philippe Moureaux, n'était pas du même avis. Il avait même acheté
pour 8 millions un immeuble de la rue Saint-Josse pour y installer le musée. Il
fallait en effet sauver les collections, enfouies dans l'arrière-cour d'une maison de
repos de l'avenue Rogier! (...) L'étage moins deux, propriété de la commune de
Saint-Josse, fut cédé par un bail emphytéotique de 30 ans à la Communauté, avec
un loyer de 800.000 F par mois. (...) Mais le Mundaneum est aussi en passe de
devenir une mystérieuse affaire en forme de pyramide. A l'étage moins un, la
commune de Saint-Josse et la société française «Les Pyramides» négocient la
construction d'un Centre de congrès (il remplace celui d'un piano-bar luxueux)
d'ampleur. Le montant de l'investissement est évalué à 150 millions (...) Et puis,
ce musée fantôme n'est pas fermé pour tout le monde. Il ouvre ses portes! Pas pour
y accueillir des visiteurs. On organise des soirées dansantes, des banquets dans la
grande salle. Deux partenaires (dont un traiteur) ont signé des contrats avec
l'ASBL Centre de lecture publique de la communauté française. Contrats
reconfirmés il y a quinze jours et courant pendant 3 ans encore!
Mais curieusement, les collections sont toujours avenue Rogier, malgré l'achat
d'un local rue Saint-Josse par la Communauté française, et malgré le transfert
officiel (jamais réalisé) au «musée» du niveau - 2 de la place Rogier. Les seules
choses qu'il contient sont les caisses de livres rétrocédées par la Bibliothèque
Royale qui ne savait qu'en faire.



Follow Avenue Rogier. Turn left onto
Brabantstraat until you cross under
the railroad tracks. Place Rogier is
on your right hand, marked by a large
overhead construction of a tilted
white dish.

In 1985, Andre Canonne convinced Les Amis du Palais Mondial to transfer the
responsability for the collection and mission of the association to la Centre de lecture
publique de la Communauté française based in Liege, the organisation that he now has
become the director of. It was agreed that the Mundaneum should stay in Brussels; the
documents mention a future location at the Rue Saint Josse 49, a building apparently
acquired for that purpose by the Communauté française.
Five years later, plans have changed. In 1990, the archives are being moved from their
temporary storage in Avenue Rogier and the Royal Library of Belgium to a new location in
Place Rogier -2. Under the guidance of André Canonne a "Mundaneum space" will be
opened in the center of Brussels, right above the Metro station Rogier. Unfortunately,
Canonne dies just weeks after the move has begun, and the Brussels' Espace Mundaneum
never opens its doors.
In the following three years, the collection remains in the same location but apparently
without much supervision. Journalists report that doors were left unlocked and that Metro
passengers could help themselves to handfuls of documents. The collection has in the mean
time attracted the attention of Elio di Rupo, at that time minister of education at la
Communauté française. It marks the beginning of the end of The Mundaneum as an itinerant
archive in Brussels.

You can end the tour here, or add two optional destinations:


O P T I O N A L :

(from Place Rogier, 20") Follow
Kruidtuinlaan onto Boulevard Baudouin
and onto Antwerpselaan, down in the
direction of the canal. At the
Sainctelette bridge, cross the canal
and take a slight left into Rue
Adolphe Lavallée. Turn left onto
Piersstraat. Alternatively, at Rogier
you can take a Metro to Ribaucourt
station, and walk from there.

At number 101 we find Imprimerie Van Keerberghen, the printer that produced and
distributed Le Traité de Documentation . In 1934, Otlet did not have enough money to pay
for the full print-run of the book and therefore the edition remained with Van Keerberghen
who would distribute the copies himself through mailorders. The plaque on the door dates
from the period that the Traité was printed. So far we have not been able to confirm whether
this family-business is still in operation.




O P T I O N A L :

(from Rue Piers, ca. 30") Follow Rue
Piers and turn left into
Merchtemsesteenweg and follow until
Chaussée de Gand, turn left. Turn
right onto Ransfortstraat and cross
Chaussée de Ninove. Turn left to
follow the canal onto Mariemontkaai
and left at Rue de Manchester to cross
the water. Continue onto
Liverpoolstraat, cross Chaussee de
Mons and continue onto Dokter De

Meersmanstraat until you meet Rue

(from Place Rogier, ca. 30") Follow
Boulevard du Jardin Botanique and turn
left onto Adolphe Maxlaan and Place De
Brouckère. Continue onto Anspachlaan,
turn right onto Rue du Marché aux
Poulets. Turn left onto
Visverkopersstraat and continue onto
Rue Van Artevelde. Continue straight
onto Anderlechtschesteenweg, continue
onto Chaussée de Mons. Turn left onto
Otletstraat. Alternatively you can
take tram 51 or 81 to Porte

Although it seems that this dreary street is named to honor Paul Otlet, it already
mysteriously appears on a map dated 1894 when Otlet was not even 26 years old [19] and
again on a map from 1910, when the Mundaneum had not yet opened it's doors.[20]





Bernard Anselme, le nouveau ministre-président de la Communauté française,
négocia le transfert à Mons, au grand dam de politiques bruxellois furieux de voir
cette prestigieuse collection quitter la capitale. (...) Cornaqué par Charles Picqué et
Elio Di Rupo, le transfert à Mons n'a pas mis fin aux ennuis du Mundaneum.
On créa en Hainaut une nouvelle ASBL chargée d'assurer le relais. C'était sans
compter avec l'ASBL Célès, héritage indépendant du CLPCF, évoqué plus haut,
que la Communauté avait fini par dissoudre. Cette association s'est toujours
considérée comme propriétaire des collections, au point de s'opposer régulièrement
à leur exploitation publique. Les faits lui ont donné raison: au début du mois de

mai, le Célès a obtenu du ministère de la Culture que cinquante millions lui soient
versés en contrepartie du droit de propriété.
The reestablishment of the Mundaneum in Mons as a museum and archive is in
my view a major event in the intellectual life of Belgium. Its opening attracted
considerable international interest at the time.
Le long des murs, 260 meubles-fichiers témoignaient de la démesure du projet.
Certains tiroirs, ouverts, étaient éclairés de l’intérieur, ce qui leur donnait une
impression de relief, de 3D. Un immense globe terrestre, tournant lentement sur
lui-même, occupait le centre de l’espace. Sous une voie lactée peinte à même le
plafond, les voix de Paul Otlet et d’Henri La Fontaine, interprétés par des
comédiens, s’élevaient au fur et à mesure que l’on s’approchait de tel ou tel
L’Otletaneum, c’est à dire les archives et papiers personnels ayant appartenu à
Paul Otlet, représentait un fonds important, peu connu, mal répertorié, que l’on
pouvait cependant quantifier à la place qu’il occupait sur les étagères des réserves
situées à l’arrière du musée. Il y avait là 100 à 150 mètres de rayonnages, dont
une partie infime avait fait l’objet d’un classement. Le reste, c’est à dire une
soixantaine de boîtes à bananes‚ était inexploré. Sans compter l’entrepôt de
Cuesmes où le travail de recensement pouvait être estimé, me disait-il, à une
centaine d’années...
Après des multiples déménagements, un travail laborieux de sauvegarde entamé
par les successeurs, ce patrimoine unique ne finit pas de révéler ses richesses et ses
surprises. Au-delà de cette démarche originale entamée dans un esprit
philanthropique, le centre d’archives propose des collections documentaires à valeur
historique, ainsi que des archives spécialisées.

In 1993, after some armwrestling between different local fractions of the Parti Socialiste, the
collections of the Mundaneum are moved from Place Rogier to former departement store
L'independance in Mons, 40 kilometres from Brussels and home to Elio Di Rupo. Benoît
Peeters and François Schuiten design a theatrical scenography that includes a gigantic globe
and walls decorated with what is if left of the wooden card catalogs. The center opens in
1998 under the direction of librarian Jean-François Füeg .
In 2015, Mons is elected Capital of Europe with the slogan "Mons, where culture meets
technology". The Mundaneum archive center plays a central role in the media-campaigns
and activities leading up to the festive year. In that same period, the center undergoes a largescale renovation to finally brings the archive facilities up to date. A new reading room is
named after André Canonne, the conference room is called Utopia. The mise-en-scène of
Otlet's messy office is removed, but otherwise the scenography remains largely unchanged.




Jean-Paul Deplus, échevin (adjoint) à la culture de la ville, affiche ses ambitions.
« Ce lieu est une illustration saisissante de ce que des utopistes visionnaires ont
apporté à la civilisation. Ils ont inventé Google avant la lettre. Non seulement ils
l’ont fait avec les seuls outils dont ils disposaient, c’est-à- dire de l’encre et du

papier, mais leur imagination était si féconde que l’on a retrouvé les dessins et
croquis de ce qui préfigure Internet un siècle plus tard. » Et Jean-Pol Baras
d’ajouter «Et qui vient de s’installer à Mons ? Un “data center” de Google ...
Drôle de hasard, non ? »
Dans une ambiance où tous les partenaires du «projet Saint-Ghislain» de Google
savouraient en silence la confirmation du jour, les anecdotes sur la discrétion
imposée durant 18 mois n’ont pas manqué. Outre l’utilisation d’un nom de code,
Crystal Computing, qui a valu un jour à Elio Di Rupo d’être interrogé sur
l’éventuelle arrivée d’une cristallerie en Wallonie («J’ai fait diversion comme j’ai
pu !», se souvient-il), un accord de confidentialité liait Google, l’Awex et l’Idea,
notamment. «A plusieurs reprises, on a eu chaud, parce qu’il était prévu qu’au
moindre couac sur ce point, Google arrêtait tout»
Beaucoup de show, peu d’emplois: Pour son data center belge, le géant des
moteurs de recherche a décroché l’un des plus beaux terrains industriels de
Wallonie. Résultat : à peine 40 emplois directs et pas un euro d’impôts. Reste que
la Région ne voit pas les choses sous cet angle. En janvier, a appris Le Vif/
L’Express, le ministre de l’Economie Jean-Claude Marcourt (PS) a notifié à
Google le refus d’une aide à l’expansion économique de 10 millions d’euros.
Motif : cette aide était conditionnée à la création de 110 emplois directs, loin d’être
atteints. Est-ce la raison pour laquelle aucun ministre wallon n’était présent le 10
avril aux côtés d’Elio Di Rupo ? Au cabinet Marcourt, on assure que les relations
avec l’entreprise américaine sont au beau fixe : « C’est le ministre qui a permis ce
nouvel investissement de Google, en négociant avec son fournisseur d’électricité
(NDLR : Electrabel) une réduction de son énorme facture.

In 2005, Elio di Rupo succeeds in bringing a company "Crystal Computing" to the region,
code name for Google inc. who plans to build a data-center at Saint Ghislain, a prime
industrial site close to Mons. Promising 'a thousand jobs', the presence of Google becomes a
way for Di Rupo to demonstrate that the Marshall Plan for Wallonia, an attempt to "step up
the efforts taken to put Wallonia back on the track to prosperity" is attaining its goals. The
first data-center opens in 2007 and is followed by a second one opening in 2015. The
direct impact on employment in the region is estimated to be somewhere between 110[29] and
120 jobs.[30]




1. Paul Otlet (1868-1944) Fondateur du mouvement bibliogique international Par Jacques Hellemans (Bibliothèque de
l’Université libre de Bruxelles, Premier Attaché)
2. Jacques Hellemans. Paul Otlet (1868-1944) Fondateur du mouvement bibliogique international
3. Paul Otlet. Document II in: Traité de documentation (1934)
4. Paul Otlet. Diary (1938), Quoted in: W. Boyd Rayward. The Universe of Information : The Work of Paul Otlet for
Documentation and International Organisation (1975)
5. Alex Wright. Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age (2014)
6. Warden Boyd Rayward. Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge (2010)
7. Françoise Levie. L'homme qui voulait classer le monde: Paul Otlet et le Mundaneum (2010)
8. Warden Boyd Rayward. Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge (2010)
9. William Echikson. A flower of computer history blooms in Belgium (2013)
10. Testament Paul Otlet, 1942.01.18*, No. 67, Otletaneum. Quoted in: W. Boyd Rayward. The Universe of Information :
The Work of Paul Otlet for Documentation and International Organisation (1975)
11. Paul Otlet cited in Françoise Levie, Filmer Paul Otlet, Cahiers de la documentation – Bladen voor documentatie – 2012/2
12. Le Soir, 27 juillet 1991
13. Warden Boyd Rayward. Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge (2010)
14. Le Soir, 17 juin 1998
16. André Canonne. Introduction to the 1989 facsimile edition of Le Traité de documentation File:TDD ed1989 preface.pdf
17. Le Soir, 24 juillet 1991
18. Le Soir, 27 juillet 1991
21. Le Soir, 17 juin 1998
22. Warden Boyd Rayward. Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge (2010)
23. Françoise Levie, Filmer Paul Otlet, Cahiers de la documentation – Bladen voor documentatie – 2012/2
24. Françoise Levie, L'Homme qui voulait classer le monde: Paul Otlet et le Mundaneum, Impressions Nouvelles, Bruxelles,
25. Stéphanie Manfroid, Les réalités d’une aventure documentaire, Cahiers de la documentation – Bladen voor documentatie –
26. Jean-Michel Djian, Le Mundaneum, Google de papier, Le Monde Magazine, 19 december 2009
27. Libre Belgique (27 april 2007)
28. Le Vif, April 2013
29. Le Vif, April 2013





"A pyramid is a structure whose outer surfaces are triangular and converge to
a single point at the top"

A slew of pyramids can be found in all of Paul Otlet's drawers. Knowledge
schemes and diagrams, drawings and drafts, designs, prototypes and
architectural plans (including works by Le Corbusier and Maurice Heymans)
employ the pyramid to provide structure, hierarchy, precise path and finally
access to the world's synthesized knowledge. At specific temporal crosssections, these plans were criticized for their proximity to occultism or
monumentalism. Today their rich esoteric symbolism is still readily apparent
and gives reason to search for possible spiritual or mystical underpinnings of
the Mundaneum.
Paul Otlet (1926):
“Une immense pyramide est à construire. Au sommet y travaillent Penseurs,
Sociologues et grands Artistes. Le sommet doit rejoindre la base où s’agitent les
masses, mais la base aussi doit être disposée de manière qu’elle puisse rejoindre le





Paul Otlet, Species
Inscription: "Il ne fut rien
sinon Mundanéen"
Mundaneum, Mons.
Personal papers of Paul
Otlet (MDN). Fonds
Encyclopaedia Universalis
Mundaneum (EUM),
document No. 8506.

La Pyramide des

Qui scit ubi scientia
Tomb at the grave of Paul
Bibliographies. In: Paul habenti est proximus.
Otlet, Traité de
Who knows where
documentation: le livre sur science is, is about to have
le livre, théorie et pratique it. The librarian is helped
(Bruxelles: Editiones
by collaborators:
Mundaneum, 1934),
rédacteurs, copistes, gens
de service.



Design for the
Sketch for La
An axonometric view of Plan of the Mundaneum Perspective of the
Mundaneum, Section and Mondotheque. Paul Otlet, the Mundaneum gives the by M.C. Heymans
Mundaneum by M.C.
facades by Le Corbusier 1935?
effect of an aerial
photograph of an
archeological site —
Egyptian, Babylonian,
Assyrian, ancient
American (Mayan and
Aztec) or Peruvian. These
historical reminiscences are
striking. Remember the
important building works
of the Mayas, who were
the zenith of ancient
American civilization.
These well-known ruins
(Uxmal, Chichen-Itza,
Palenque on the Yucatan
peninsula, and Copan in
Guatemala) represent a
“metaphysical architecture”
of special cities of religious
cults and burial grounds,
cities of rulers and priests;
pyramids, cathedrals of the
sun, moon and stars; holy
places of individual gods;
graduating pyramids and
terraced palaces with
architectural objects
conceived in basic




Paul Otlet, Cellula
Mundaneum (1936).
Mundaneum, Mons.
Personal papers of Paul
Otlet (MDN). Fonds
Affiches (AFF).

As soon as all forms of life Sketch for Mundaneum
are categorized, classified World City. Le
and determined,
Corbusier, 1929
individuals will become
numeric "dividuals" in sets,
subsets or classes.


Atlas Bruxelles –
Urbaneum - Belganeum Mundaneum. Page de
garde du chapitre 991 de
l'Atlas de Bruxelles.


The universe (which
others call the Library) is
composed of an indefinite
and perhaps infinite
number of triangular
galleries, with vast air
shafts between, surrounded
by very low railings. From
any of the triangles one
can see, interminably, the
upper and lower floors.
The distribution of the
galleries is invariable.



The ship wherein Theseus
and the youth of Athens
returned had thirty oars,
and was preserved by the
Athenians down even to
the time of Demetrius
Phalereus, for they took
away the old planks as
they decayed, putting in
new and stronger timber in
their place, insomuch that
this ship became a
standing example among
the philosophers, for the
logical question of things
that grow; one side holding
that the ship remained the
same, and the other
contending that it was not
the same.




Universal Decimal
Classification: hierarchy

World City by Le
Corbusier & Jeanneret

Paul Otlet personal
papers. Picture taken
during a Mondotheque
visit of the Mundaneum
archives, 11 September

The face of the earth
Alimentation. — La base
would be much altered if de notre alimentation
repose en principe sur un
brick architecture were
trépied. 1° Protides
ousted everywhere by
glass architecture. It would (viandes, azotes). 2°
be as if the earth were
Glycides (légumineux,
hydrates de carbone). 3°
adorned with sparkling
jewels and enamels. Such Lipides (graisses). Mais il
glory is unimagmable. We faut encore pour présider
should then have a
au cycle de la vie et en
paradise on earth, and no assurer la régularité, des
need to watch in longing vitamines : c’est à elles
qu’est due la croissance
expectation for the
paradise in heaven.
des jeunes, l’équilibre
nutritif des adultes et une
certaine jeunesse chez les




Traité de documentation - Inverted pyramid and floor Architectural vision of the Section by Stanislas
La pyramide des
plan by Stanislas Jasinski Mundaneum by M.C.

Le Corbusier, Musée
Mondial (1929), FLC,
doc nr. 24510

Le reseau Mundaneum.
From Paul Otlet,
Encylcopaedia Universalis


Paul Otlet, Mundaneum.
Documentatio Partes.
MDN, EUM, doc nr.
8506, scan nr.



Metro Place Rogier in

Paul Otlet, Atlas Monde
(1936). MDN, AFF,
scan nr.
Mundaneum_049 (sic!)


The “Sacrarium,” is
See Cross-readings,
Place Rogier, Brussels
something like a temple of Rayward, Warden Boyd around 2005
ethics, philosophy, and
(who translated and
religion. A great globe,
adapted), Mundaneum:
modeled and colored, in a Archives of Knowledge,
scale 1 = 1,000,000 with Urbana-Campaign, Ill. :
the planetarium inside, is Graduate School of
Library and Information
situated in front of the
museum building.
Science, University of
Illinois at UrbanaChampaign, 2010.
Original: Charlotte
Dubray et al.,
Mundaneum: Les
Archives de la
Connaissance, Bruxelles:
Les Impressions
Nouvelles, 2008. (p. 37)

Paul Otlet, Le Monde en son ensemble
(1936). Mundaneum, Mons. MDN,
AFF, scan nr.


Place Rogier, Brussels
with sign "Pyramides"



Toute la Documentation. Logo
A late sketch from 1937 of the Mundaneum
showing all the complexity
of the pyramid of
documentation. An
evolutionary element
works its way up, and in
the conclusive level one
can read a synthesis:
"Homo Loquens, Homo
Scribens, Societas


2. Paul Otlet, L’Éducation et les Instituts du Palais Mondial (Mundaneum). Bruxelles: Union des Associations Internationales,
1926, p. 10. ("A great pyramid should be constructed. At the top are to be found Thinkers, Sociologists and great Artists. But
the top must be joined to the base where the masses are found, and the bases must have control of a path to the top.")
3. Wouter Van Acker. "Architectural Metaphors of Knowledge: The Mundaneum Designs of Maurice Heymans, Paul Otlet,
and Le Corbusier." Library Trends 61, no. 2 (2012): 371-396.
4. Photo: Roel de Groof
5. Wouter Van Acker, 'Opening the Shrine of the Mundaneum The Positivist Spirit in the Architecture of Le Corbusier and his
Belgian “Idolators,”' in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 30, Open, edited
by Alexandra Brown and Andrew Leach (Gold Coast,Qld: SAHANZ, 2013), vol. 2, p. 792.
6. Wouter Van Acker. "Architectural Metaphors of Knowledge: The Mundaneum Designs of Maurice Heymans, Paul Otlet,
and Le Corbusier." Library Trends 61, no. 2 (2012): 371-396.
7. Wouter Van Acker. "Architectural Metaphors of Knowledge: The Mundaneum Designs of Maurice Heymans, Paul Otlet,
and Le Corbusier." Library Trends 61, no. 2 (2012): 371-396.
8. Wouter Van Acker. "Architectural Metaphors of Knowledge: The Mundaneum Designs of Maurice Heymans, Paul Otlet,
and Le Corbusier." Library Trends 61, no. 2 (2012): 371-396.
9. Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique (Bruxelles: Editiones Mundaneum, 1934), 420.

13. Rayward, Warden Boyd, The Universe of Information: the Work of Paul Otlet for Documentation and international
Organization, FID Publication 520, Moscow, International Federation for Documentation by the All-Union Institute for
Scientific and Technical Information (Viniti), 1975. (p. 352)
14. The Man Who Wanted to Classify the World
15. Rayward, Warden Boyd (who translated and adapted), Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge, Urbana-Campaign, Ill. :
Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2010, p. 35. Original:
Charlotte Dubray et al., Mundaneum: Les Archives de la Connaissance, Bruxelles: Les Impressions Nouvelles, 2008.
16. Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique (Bruxelles: Editiones Mundaneum, 1934).
17. Wouter Van Acker, 'Opening the Shrine of the Mundaneum The Positivist Spirit in the Architecture of Le Corbusier and his
Belgian “Idolators,”' in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 30, Open, edited
by Alexandra Brown and Andrew Leach (Gold Coast,Qld: SAHANZ, 2013), vol. 2, p. 804.
18. Wouter Van Acker, 'Opening the Shrine of the Mundaneum The Positivist Spirit in the Architecture of Le Corbusier and his
Belgian “Idolators,”' in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 30, Open, edited
by Alexandra Brown and Andrew Leach (Gold Coast,Qld: SAHANZ, 2013), vol. 2, p. 803.
19. Wouter Van Acker, 'Opening the Shrine of the Mundaneum The Positivist Spirit in the Architecture of Le Corbusier and his
Belgian “Idolators,”' in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 30, Open, edited
by Alexandra Brown and Andrew Leach (Gold Coast,Qld: SAHANZ, 2013), vol. 2, p. 804.
20. From Van Acker, Wouter, “Internationalist Utopias of Visual Education. The Graphic and Scenographic Transformation of
the Universal Encyclopaedia in the Work of Paul Otlet, Patrick Geddes, and Otto Neurath,” in Perspectives on Science,
Vol.19, nr.1, 2011, p. 72.
23. Mundaneum Archives, Mons



This page documents some of the contraptions at work in the Mondotheque
wiki. The name "transclusionism" refers to the term "transclusion" coined by
utopian systems humanist Ted Nelson and used in Mediawiki to refer to
inclusion of the same piece of text in between different pages.

To create transclusions between different texts, you need to select a section of text that will
form a connection between the pages, based on a common subject:
• Think of a category that is the common ground for the link. For example if two texts
refer to a similar issue or specific concept (eg. 'rawdata'), formulate it without
spaces or using underscores (eg. 'raw_data', not 'raw data' );
• Edit the two or more pages which you want to link, adding {{RT|rawdata}}
before the text section, and end=rawdata /> at the end (take care of the closing '/>' );
• All text sections in other wiki pages that are marked up through the same common
ground, will be transcluded in the margin of the text.

For example, this is how a transclusion from a labelled section of the Xanadu article appears:

From Xanadu:
Every document can contain links of
any type including virtual copies
("transclusions") to any other
document in the system accessible to

its owner.


code is used by the 'Labeled Section Transclusion' extension, which
looks for the tagged sections in a text, to transclude them into another text based on the
assigned labels.
The {{RT|rawdata}} instead, creates the side links by transcluding the
Template:RT page, substituting the word rawdata in its internal code, in place of
{{{1}}}. This is the commented content of Template:RT:
# Puts the trancluded sections in its own div:

# Searches semantically for all the pages in the
# requested category, puts them in an
[[Category:{{{1}}}]]|format=array | name=results
# Starts a loop, going from 0 to the amount of pages
# in the array:
{{#loop: looper
| 0
| {{#arraysize: results}}
# If the pagename of the current element of the array
# is the same as the page calling the loop, it will skip
# the page:
| {{#ifeq: {{FULLPAGENAME:
{{#arrayindex: results | {{#var:looper}} }}
# Otherwise it searches through the current page in the
# loop, for all the occurrences of labeled sections:
{{#arrayindex: results | {{#var:looper}} }}
| {{{1}}}
# Adds a link to the current page in loop:
([[{{#arrayindex: results | {{#var:looper}} }}]])
# Adds some space after the page:



# End of pagename if statement:
# End of loop:
# Closes div:

# Adds the page to the label category:

Currently, on top of MediaWiki and SemanticMediaWiki, the following extensions needed
to be installed for the contraption to work:
• Labeled Section Transclusion to be able to select specific sections of the texts and make
connections between them;
• Parser Functions to be able to operate statements like
in the wiki pseudo-language;
• Arrays to create lists of objects, for example as a result of semantic queries;
• Loops to loop between the arrays above;
• Variables as it's needed by some of the above.

Cross-readings. Not a bibliography.
• Paul Otlet, L’afrique aux noirs, Bruxelles: Ferdinand Larcier,
• Paul Otlet, L’Éducation et les Instituts du Palais Mondial
(Mundaneum). Bruxelles: Union des Associations
Internationales, 1926.
• Paul Otlet, Cité mondiale. Geneva: World civic center:
Mundaneum. Bruxelles: Union des Associations
Internationales, 1929.
• Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation, Bruxelles, Mundaneum,
Palais Mondial, 1934.
• Paul Otlet, Monde: essai d'universalisme - Connaissance du
Monde, Sentiment du Monde, Action organisee et Plan du
Monde, Bruxelles: Editiones Mundeum 1935. See also:
• Paul Otlet, Plan belgique; essai d'un plan général, économique,
social, culturel. Plan d'urbanisation national. Liaison avec le
plan mondial. Conditions. Problèmes. Solutions. Réformes,
Bruxelles: Éditiones Mundaneum, 1935.


Or, reading the readers that explored and contextualized the work of Otlet in recent times.
• Jacques Gillen, Stéphanie Manfroid, and Raphaèle Cornille
(eds.), Paul Otlet, fondateur du Mundaneum (1868-1944).



Architecte du savoir, Artisan de paix, Mons: Éditions Les
Impressions Nouvelles, 2010.
• Françoise Levie, L’homme qui voulait classer le monde. Paul
Otlet et le Mundaneum, Bruxelles: Les Impressions Nouvelles,
• Warden Boyd Rayward, The Universe of Information: the
Work of Paul Otlet for Documentation and international
Organization, FID Publication 520, Moscow: International
Federation for Documentation by the All-Union Institute for
Scientific and Technical Information (Viniti), 1975.
• Warden Boyd Rayward, Universum informastsii Zhizn' i
deiatl' nost' Polia Otle, Trans. R.S. Giliarevesky, Moscow:
VINITI, 1976.
• Warden Boyd Rayward (ed.), International Organization and
Dissemination of Knowledge: Selected Essays of Paul Otlet,
Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1990.
• Warden Boyd Rayward, El Universo de la Documentacion: la
obra de Paul Otlet sobra documentacion y organizacion
internacional, Trans. Pilar Arnau Rived, Madrid: Mundanau,
• Warden Boyd Raywar, "Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet
(1868-1944) and Hypertext." Journal of the American
Society for Information Science (1986-1998) 45, no. 4 (05,
1994): 235-251.
• Warden Boyd Rayward (who translated and adapted),
Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge, Urbana-Campaign, Ill. :
Graduate School of Library and Information Science,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2010. Original:
Charlotte Dubray et al., Mundaneum: Les Archives de la
Connaissance, Bruxelles: Les Impressions Nouvelles, 2008.
• Wouter Van Acker,[
“Internationalist Utopias of Visual Education. The Graphic
and Scenographic Transformation of the Universal
Encyclopaedia in the Work of Paul Otlet, Patrick Geddes,

and Otto Neurath” in Perspectives on Science, Vol.19, nr.1,
2011, p. 32-80.
• Wouter Van Acker, “Universalism as Utopia. A Historical
Study of the Schemes and Schemas of Paul Otlet
(1868-1944)”, Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University
Press, Zelzate, 2011.
• Theater Adhoc, The humor and tragedy of completeness,


Constructing a posthumous pre-history of contemporary networking technologies.
• Christophe Lejeune, Ce que l’annuaire fait à Internet Sociologie des épreuves documentaires, in Cahiers dela
documentation – Bladen voor documentatie – 2006/3.
• Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell, Divining a Digital Future,
Chicago: MIT Press 2011.
• John Johnston, The Allure of Machinic Life: Cybernetics,
Artificial Life, and the New AI, Chicago: MIT Press 2008.
• Charles van den Heuvel Building society, constructing
knowledge, weaving the web, in Boyd Rayward [ed.]
European Modernism and the Information Society, London:
Ashgate Publishers 2008, chapter 7 pp. 127-153.
• Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler, Ora Lassila, The Semantic
Web, in Scientific American - SCI AMER , vol. 284, no. 5,
pp. 34-43, 2001.
• Alex Wright, Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth
of the Information Age, Oxford University Press, 2014.
• Popova, Maria, “The Birth of the Information Age: How Paul
Otlet’s Vision for Cataloging and Connecting Humanity
Shaped Our World”, Brain Pickings, 2014.
• Heuvel, Charles van den, “Building Society, Constructing
Knowledge, Weaving the Web”. in European Modernism and



the Information Society – Informing the Present,
Understanding the Past, Aldershot, 2008, pp. 127–153.


The recurring tensions between the world and its systematic representation.
• ShinJoung Yeo, James R. Jacobs, Diversity matters?
Rethinking diversity in libraries, Radical Reference
Countepoise 9 (2) Spring, 2006. p. 5-8.
• Thomas Hapke, Wilhelm Ostwald's Combinatorics as a Link
between In-formation and Form, in Library Trends, Volume
61, Number 2, Fall 2012.
• Nancy Cartwright, Jordi Cat, Lola Fleck, Thomas E. Uebel,
Otto Neurath: Philosophy Between Science and Politics.
Cambridge University Press, 2008.
• Nathan Ensmenger, The Computer Boys Take Over:
Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical
Expertise. MIT Press, 2010.
• Ronald E. Day, The Modern Invention of Information:
Discourse, History, and Power, Southern Illinois University
Press, 2001.
• Markus Krajewski, Peter Krapp Paper Machines: About
Cards & Catalogs, 1548-1929 The MIT Press
• Eric de Groller A Study of general categories applicable to
classification and coding in documentation; Documentation and
terminology of science; 1962.
• Marlene Manoff, "Theories of the archive from across the
disciplines," in portal: Libraries and the Academy, Vol. 4, No.
1 (2004), pp. 9–25.
• Charles van den Heuvel, W. Boyd Rayward, Facing
Interfaces: Paul Otlet's Visualizations of Data Integration.

Journal of the American society for information science and
technology (2011).


Standing on the hands of Internet giants.
• Rene Koenig, Miriam Rasch (eds), Society of the Query
Reader: Reflections on Web Search, Amsterdam: Institute of
Network Cultures, 2014.
• Matthew Fuller, Andrew Goffey, Evil Media. Cambridge,
Mass., United States: MIT Press, 2012.
• Steve Levy In The Plex. Simon & Schuster, 2011.
• Dan Schiller, ShinJoung Yeo, Powered By Google: Widening
Access and Tightening Corporate Control in: Red Art: New
Utopias in Data Capitalism, Leonardo Electronic Almanac,
Volume 20 Issue 1 (2015).
• Invisible Committee, Fuck Off Google, 2014.
• Dave Eggers, The Circle. Knopf, 2014.
• Matteo Pasquinelli, Google’s PageRank Algorithm: A
Diagram of the Cognitive Capitalism and the Rentier of the
Common Intellect. In: Konrad Becker, Felix Stalder
(eds), Deep Search, London: Transaction Publishers: 2009.
• Joris van Hoboken, Search Engine Freedom: On the
Implications of the Right to Freedom of Expression for the



Legal Governance of Web Search Engines. Kluwer Law
International, 2012.
• Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Control and Freedom: Power and
Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics. The MIT Press, 2008.
• Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Googlization of Everything (And
Why We Should Worry). University of California Press.
• William Miller, Living With Google. In: Journal of Library
Administration Volume 47, Issue 1-2, 2008.
• Lawrence Page, Sergey Brin The Anatomy of a Large-Scale
Hypertextual Web Search Engine. Computer Networks, vol.
30 (1998), pp. 107-117.
• Ken Auletta Googled: The end of the world as we know it.
Penguin Press, 2009.


How classification systems, and the dream of their universal application actually operate.
• Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation, Bruxelles, Mundaneum,
Palais Mondial, 1934. (for alphabet hierarchy, see page 71)
• Paul Otlet, L’afrique aux noirs, Bruxelles: Ferdinand Larcier,
• Judy Wajcman, Feminism Confronts Technology, University
Park, Pa: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991.
• Judge, Anthony, “Union of International Associations – Virtual
Organization – Paul Otlet's 100-year Hypertext
Conundrum?”, 2001.
• Ducheyne, Steffen, “Paul Otlet's Theory of Knowledge and
Linguistic Objectivism”, in Knowledge Organization, no 32,
2005, pp. 110–116.


Writings on how Otlet's knowledge site was successively imagined and visualized on grand
architectural scales.
• Catherine Courtiau, "La cité internationale 1927-1931," in
Transnational Associations, 5/1987: 255-266.
• Giuliano Gresleri and Dario Matteoni. La Città Mondiale:
Andersen, Hébrard, Otlet, Le Corbusier. Venezia: Marsilio,
• Isabelle Rieusset-Lemarie, "P. Otlet's Mundaneum and the
International Perspective in the History of Documentation and
Information science," in Journal of the American Society for
Information Science (1986-1998)48.4 (Apr 1997):
• Le Corbusier, Vers une Architecture, Paris: les éditions G.
Crès, 1923.
• Transnational Associations, "Otlet et Le Corbusier" 1927-31,
INGO Development Projects: Quantity or Quality, Issue No:
5, 1987.
• Wouter Van Acker. "Hubris or utopia? Megalomania and
imagination in the work of Paul Otlet," in Cahiers de la
documentation – Bladen voor documentatie – 2012/2,
• Wouter Van Acker. "Architectural Metaphors of Knowledge:
The Mundaneum Designs of Maurice Heymans, Paul Otlet,
and Le Corbusier." Library Trends 61, no. 2 (2012):
• Van Acker, Wouter, Somsen, Geert, “A Tale of Two World
Capitals – the Internationalisms of Pieter Eijkman and Paul
Otlet”, in Revue Belge de Philologie et d'Histoire/Belgisch
Tijdschrift voor Filologie en Geschiedenis, Vol. 90, nr.4,
• Wouter Van Acker, "Opening the Shrine of the Mundaneum
The Positivist Spirit in the Architecture of Le Corbusier and his
Belgian “Idolators”, in Proceedings of the Society of



Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 30,
Open, edited by Alexandra Brown and Andrew Leach (Gold
Coast,Qld: SAHANZ, 2013), vol. 2, 791-805.
• Anthony Vidler, “The Space of History: Modern Museums
from Patrick Geddes to Le Corbusier,” in The Architecture of
the Museum: Symbolic Structures, Urban Contexts, ed.
Michaela Giebelhausen (Manchester; New York: Manchester
University Press, 2003).
• Volker Welter. "Biopolis Patrick Geddes and the City of
Life." Cambridge, Mass: MIT, 2003.
• Alfred Willis, “The Exoteric and Esoteric Functions of Le
Corbusier’s Mundaneum,” Modulus/University of Virginia
School of Architecture Review 12, no. 21 (1980).


It includes both century-old sources and more recent ones on the parallel or entangled
movements around the Mundaneum time.
• Hendrik Christian Andersen and Ernest M. Hébrard.
Création d'un Centre mondial de communication. Paris, 1913.
• Julie Carlier, "Moving beyond Boundaries: An Entangled
History of Feminism in Belgium, 1890–1914," Ph.D.
dissertation, Universiteit Gent, 2010. (esp. 439-458.)
• Bambi Ceuppens, Congo made in Flanders?: koloniale
Vlaamse visies op "blank" en "zwart" in Belgisch Congo.
[Gent]: Academia Press, 2004.
• Conseil International des Femmes (International Council of
Women), Office Central de Documentation pour les Questions
Concernant la Femme. Rapport. Bruxelles : Office Central de
Documentation Féminine, 1909.
• Sandi E. Cooper, Patriotic pacifism waging war on war in
Europe, 1815-1914. New York: Oxford University Press,
• Sylvie Fayet-Scribe, "Women Professionals in Documentation
in France during the 1930s," Libraries & the Cultural Record

Vol. 44, No. 2, Women Pioneers in the Information Sciences
Part I, 1900-1950 (2009), pp. 201-219. (translated by
Michael Buckland)
• François Garas, Mes temples. Paris: Michalon, 1907.
• Madeleine Herren, Hintertüren zur Macht: Internationalismus
und modernisierungsorientierte Aussenpolitik in Belgien, der
Schweiz und den USA 1865-1914. München: Oldenbourg,
• Robert Hoozee and Mary Anne Stevens, Impressionism to
Symbolism: The Belgian Avant-Garde 1880-1900, London:
Royal Academy of Arts, 1994.
• Markus Krajewski, Die Brücke: A German contemporary of
the Institut International de Bibliographie. In: Cahiers de la
documentation / Bladen voor documentatie 66.2 (Juin,
Numéro Spécial 2012), 25–31.
• Daniel Laqua, "Transnational intellectual cooperation, the
League of Nations, and the problem of order," in Journal of
Global History (2011) 6, pp. 223–247.
• Lewis Pyenson and Christophe Verbruggen, "Ego and the
International: The Modernist Circle of George Sarton," Isis,
Vol. 100, No. 1 (March 2009), pp. 60-78.
• Elisée Reclus, Nouvelle géographie universelle; la terre et les
hommes, Paris, Hachette et cie., 1876-94.
• Edouard Schuré, Les grands initiés: esquisse de l'histoire
secrète des religions, 1889.
• Rayward, Warden Boyd (ed.), European Modernism and the
Information Society: Informing the Present, Understanding the
Past. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate, 2008.
• Van Acker, Wouter, “Internationalist Utopias of Visual
Education. The Graphic and Scenographic Transformation of
the Universal Encyclopaedia in the Work of Paul Otlet,



Patrick Geddes, and Otto Neurath”, in Perspectives on
Science, Vol.19, nr.1, 2011, p. 32-80.
• Nader Vossoughian, "The Language of the World Museum:
Otto Neurath, Paul Otlet, Le Corbusier", Transnational
Associations 1-2 (January-June 2003), Brussels, pp 82-93.
• Alfred Willis, “The Exoteric and Esoteric Functions of Le
Corbusier’s Mundaneum,” Modulus/University of Virginia
School of Architecture Review 12, no. 21 (1980).

• Mondotheque editorial team/redactie team/équipe éditoriale: André Castro,
Sînziana Păltineanu, Dennis Pohl, Dick Reckard, Natacha
Roussel, Femke Snelting, Alexia de Visscher
• Copy-editing/tekstredactie/édition EN: Sophie Burm (Amateur Librarian, The
Smart City - City of Knowledge, X=Y, A Book of the Web), Liz Soltan (An
experimental transcript)
• Translations EN-FR/vertalingen EN-FR/traductions EN-FR: Eva Lena
Vermeersch (Amateur Librarian, A Pre-emptive History of the Google Cultural
Institute, The Smart City - City of Knowledge), Natacha Roussel (LES
UTOPISTES and their common logos, Introduction), Donatella
• Translations EN-NL/vertalingen EN-FR/traductions EN-NL: Femke
Snelting, Peter Westenberg
• Transcriptions/transcripties/transcriptions: Lola Durt, Femke Snelting,
Tom van den Wijngaert
• Design and development/ontwerp en ontwikkeling/graphisme et développement:
Alexia de Visscher, André Castro
• Fonts/lettertypes/polices: NotCourierSans, Cheltenham, Traité facsimile
• Tools/gereedschappen/outils: Semantic Mediawiki, etherpad,
Weasyprint, html5lib, mwclient, phantomjs, gnu make ...
• Source-files/bronbestanden/code source:
RadiatedBook +
• Published by/een publicatie van/publié par: Constant (2016)
• Printed at/druk/imprimé par:
• License/licentie/licence: Texts and images developed by Mondotheque are available
under a Free Art License 1.3 (C) Copyleft Attitude, 2007. You may copy,
distribute and modify them according to the terms of the Free Art License: http:// Texts and images by Paul Otlet and Henri Lafontaine are in the Public
Domain. Other materials copyright by the authors/Teksten en afbeeldingen
ontwikkeld door Mondotheque zijn beschikbaar onder een Free Art License 1.3 (C)
Copyleft Attitude, 2007. U kunt ze dus kopiëren, verspreiden en wijzigen volgens de
voorwaarden van de Free Art License: Teksten en beelden van
Paul Otlet en Henri Lafontaine zijn in het publieke domein. Andere materialen:
auteursrecht bij de auteurs/Les textes et images développées par Mondotheque sont



disponibles sous licence Art Libre 1.3 (C) Copyleft Attitude 2007. Vous pouvez
les copier, distribuer et modifier selon les termes de la Licence Art Libre: http:// Les textes et les images de Paul Otlet et Henri Lafontaine sont dans le
domaine public. Les autres matériaux sont assujettis aux droits d'auteur choisis par
les auteurs.
• ISBN: 9789081145954
Thank you/bedankt/merci: the contributors/de auteurs/les contributeurs, Yves Bernard,
Michel Cleempoel, Raphaèle Cornille, Jan Gerber, Marc d'Hoore, Églantine Lebacq,
Nicolas Malevé, Stéphanie Manfroid, Robert M. Ochshorn, An Mertens, Dries Moreels,
Sylvia Van Peteghem, Jara Rocha, Roel Roscam Abbing.
Mondotheque is supported by/wordt ondersteund door/est soutenu par: De Vlaamse
GemeenschapsCommissie, Akademie Schloss Solitude.

monoskop in Dekker & Barok 2017

Dekker & Barok
Copying as a Way to Start Something New A Conversation with Dusan Barok about Monoskop

A Conversation with Dusan Barok about Monoskop

Annet Dekker

Dusan Barok is an artist, writer, and cultural activist involved
in critical practice in the fields of software, art, and theory. After founding and organizing the online culture portal
Koridor in Slovakia from 1999–2002, in 2003 he co-founded
the BURUNDI media lab where he organized the Translab
evening series. A year later, the first ideas about building an
online platform for texts and media started to emerge and
Monoskop became a reality. More than a decade later, Barok
is well-known as the main editor of Monoskop. In 2016, he
began a PhD research project at the University of Amsterdam. His project, titled Database for the Documentation of
Contemporary Art, investigates art databases as discursive
platforms that provide context for artworks. In an extended
email exchange, we discuss the possibilities and restraints
of an online ‘archive’.

You started Monoskop in 2004, already some time ago. What
does the name mean?

Monoskop’ is the Slovak equivalent of the English ‘monoscope’, which means an electric tube used in analogue TV
broadcasting to produce images of test cards, station logotypes, error messages but also for calibrating cameras. Monoscopes were automatized television announcers designed to
speak to both live and machine audiences about the status
of a channel, broadcasting purely phatic messages.
Can you explain why you wanted to do the project and how it
developed to what it is now? In other words, what were your
main aims and have they changed? If so, in which direction
and what caused these changes?

I began Monoskop as one of the strands of the BURUNDI
media lab in Bratislava. Originally, it was designed as a wiki
website for documenting media art and culture in the eastern part of Europe, whose backbone consisted of city entries
composed of links to separate pages about various events,



initiatives, and individuals. In the early days it was modelled
on Wikipedia (which had been running for two years when
Monoskop started) and contained biographies and descriptions of events from a kind of neutral point of view. Over
the years, the geographic and thematic boundaries have
gradually expanded to embrace the arts and humanities in
their widest sense, focusing primarily on lesser-known
phenomena.1 Perhaps the biggest change is the ongoing
See for example
shift from mapping people, events, and places towards
Features. Accessed
synthesizing discourses.
28 May 2016.
A turning point occurred during my studies at the
Piet Zwart Institute, in the Networked Media programme
from 2010–2012, which combined art, design, software,
and theory with support in the philosophy of open source
and prototyping. While there, I was researching aspects of
the networked condition and how it transforms knowledge,
sociality and economics: I wrote research papers on leaking
as a technique of knowledge production, a critique of the
social graph, and on the libertarian values embedded in the
design of digital currencies. I was ready for more practice.
When Aymeric Mansoux, one of the tutors, encouraged me
to develop my then side-project Monoskop into a graduation
work, the timing was good.
The website got its own domain, a redesign, and most
crucially, the Monoskop wiki was restructured from its
focus on media art and culture towards the much wider
of the arts and humanities. It turned to a media
Symposium. Accessed
28 May 2016.
library of sorts. The graduation work also consisted of
a symposium about personal collecting and media ar3
chiving,2 which saw its loose follow-ups on media aes
thetics (in Bergen)3 and on knowledge classification and
Many. Accessed
archives (in Mons)4 last year.
28 May 2016.

Knowledge. Accessed
28 May 2016.

Did you have a background in library studies, or have
you taken their ideas/methods of systemization and categorization (meta data)? If not, what are your methods
and how did you develop them?




been an interesting process, clearly showing the influence
of a changing back-end system. Are you interested in the
idea of sharing and circulating texts as a new way not just
of accessing and distributing but perhaps also of production—and publishing? I’m thinking how Aaaaarg started as
a way to share and exchange ideas about a text. In what
way do you think Monoskop plays (or could play) with these
kinds of mechanisms? Do you think it brings out a new
potential in publishing?


Besides the standard literature in information science (I
have a degree in information technologies), I read some
works of documentation scientists Paul Otlet and Suzanne
Briet, historians such as W. Boyd Rayward and Ronald E.
Day, as well as translated writings of Michel Pêcheux and
other French discourse analysts of the 1960s and 1970s.
This interest was triggered in late 2014 by the confluence
of Femke’s Mondotheque project and an invitation to be an
artist-in-residence in Mons in Belgium at the Mundaneum,
home to Paul Otlet’s recently restored archive.
This led me to identify three tropes of organizing and
navigating written records, which has guided my thinking
about libraries and research ever since: class, reference,
and index. Classification entails tree-like structuring, such
as faceting the meanings of words and expressions, and
developing classification systems for libraries. Referencing
stands for citations, hyperlinking and bibliographies. Indexing ranges from the listing of occurrences of selected terms
to an ‘absolute’ index of all terms, enabling full-text search.
With this in mind, I have done a number of experiments.
There is an index of selected persons and terms from
across the Monoskop wiki and Log.5 There is a growing
list of wiki entries with bibliographies and institutional
Index. Accessed
28 May 2016.
infrastructures of fields and theories in the humanities.6
There is a lexicon aggregating entries from some ten
dictionaries of the humanities into a single page with
hyperlinks to each full entry (unpublished). There is an
Humanities. Accessed
28 May 2016.
alternative interface to the Monoskop Log, in which entries are navigated solely through a tag cloud acting as
a multidimensional filter (unpublished). There is a reader
containing some fifty books whose mutual references are
turned into hyperlinks, and whose main interface consists
of terms specific to each text, generated through tf-idf algorithm (unpublished). And so on.


The publishing market frames the publication as a singular
body of work, autonomous from other titles on offer, and
subjects it to the rules of the market—with a price tag and
copyright notice attached. But for scholars and artists, these
are rarely an issue. Most academic work is subsidized from
public sources in the first place, and many would prefer to
give their work away for free since openness attracts more
citations. Why they opt to submit to the market is for quality
editing and an increase of their own symbolic value in direct
proportion to the ranking of their publishing house. This
is not dissimilar from the music industry. And indeed, for
many the goal is to compose chants that would gain popularity across academia and get their place in the popular
On the other hand, besides providing access, digital
libraries are also fit to provide context by treating publications as a corpus of texts that can be accessed through an
unlimited number of interfaces designed with an understanding of the functionality of databases and an openness
to the imagination of the community of users. This can
be done by creating layers of classification, interlinking
bodies of texts through references, creating alternative
indexes of persons, things and terms, making full-text
search possible, making visual search possible—across
the whole of corpus as well as its parts, and so on. Isn’t
this what makes a difference? To be sure, websites such
as Aaaaarg and Monoskop have explored only the tip of


Indeed, looking at the archive in many alternative ways has





the iceberg of possibilities. There is much more to tinker
and hack around.

within a given text and within a discourse in which it is
embedded. What is specific to digital text, however, is that
we can search it in milliseconds. Full-text search is enabled
by the index—search engines operate thanks to bots that
assign each expression a unique address and store it in a
database. In this respect, the index usually found at the
end of a printed book is something that has been automated
with the arrival of machine search.
In other words, even though knowledge in the age of the
internet is still being shaped by the departmentalization of
academia and its related procedures and rituals of discourse
production, and its modes of expression are centred around
the verbal rhetoric, the flattening effects of the index really
transformed the ways in which we come to ‘know’ things.
To ‘write’ a ‘book’ in this context is to produce a searchable
database instead.


It is interesting that whilst the accessibility and search potential has radically changed, the content, a book or any other
text, is still a particular kind of thing with its own characteristics and forms. Whereas the process of writing texts seems
hard to change, would you be interested in creating more
alliances between texts to bring out new bibliographies? In
this sense, starting to produce new texts, by including other
texts and documents, like emails, visuals, audio, CD-ROMs,
or even un-published texts or manuscripts?

Currently Monoskop is compiling more and more ‘source’
bibliographies, containing digital versions of actual texts
they refer to. This has been very much in focus in the past
two or three years and Monoskop is now home to hundreds
of bibliographies of twentieth-century artists, writers, groups,
and movements as well as of various theories and human7
ities disciplines.7 As the next step I would like to move
See for example
on to enabling full-text search within each such biblioghttps://monoskop.
raphy. This will make more apparent that the ‘source’
is a form of anthology, a corpus of texts
representing a discourse. Another issue is to activate
within texts—to turn page numbers in
All accessed
28 May 2016.
bibliographic citations inside texts into hyperlinks leading
to other texts.
This is to experiment further with the specificity of digital text. Which is different both to oral speech and printed
books. These can be described as three distinct yet mutually
encapsulated domains. Orality emphasizes the sequence
and narrative of an argument, in which words themselves
are imagined as constituting meaning. Specific to writing,
on the other hand, is referring to the written record; texts
are brought together by way of references, which in turn
create context, also called discourse. Statements are ‘fixed’
to paper and meaning is constituted by their contexts—both




So, perhaps we finally have come to ‘the death of the author’,
at least in so far as that automated mechanisms are becoming active agents in the (re)creation process. To return to
Monoskop in its current form, what choices do you make
regarding the content of the repositories, are there things
you don’t want to collect, or wish you could but have not
been able to?

In a sense, I turned to a wiki and started Monoskop as
a way to keep track of my reading and browsing. It is a
by-product of a succession of my interests, obsessions, and
digressions. That it is publicly accessible is a consequence
of the fact that paper notebooks, text files kept offline and
private wikis proved to be inadequate at the moment when I
needed to quickly find notes from reading some text earlier.
It is not perfect, but it solved the issue of immediate access
and retrieval. Plus there is a bonus of having the body of
my past ten or twelve years of reading mutually interlinked
and searchable. An interesting outcome is that these ‘notes’
are public—one is motivated to formulate and frame them



as to be readable and useful for others as well. A similar
difference is between writing an entry in a personal diary
and writing a blog post. That is also why the autonomy
of technical infrastructure is so important here. Posting
research notes on Facebook may increase one’s visibility
among peers, but the ‘terms of service’ say explicitly that
anything can be deleted by administrators at any time,
without any reason. I ‘collect’ things that I wish to be able
to return to, to remember, or to recollect easily.

Can you describe the process, how do you get the books,
already digitized, or do you do a lot yourself? In other words,
could you describe the (technical) process and organizational aspects of the project?

In the beginning, I spent a lot of time exploring other digital
libraries which served as sources for most of the entries on
Log (Gigapedia, Libgen, Aaaaarg, Bibliotik, Scribd, Issuu,
Karagarga, Google filetype:pdf). Later I started corresponding with a number of people from around the world (NYC,
Rotterdam, Buenos Aires, Boulder, Berlin, Ploiesti, etc.) who
contribute scans and links to scans on an irregular basis.
Out-of-print and open-access titles often come directly from
authors and publishers. Many artists’ books and magazines
were scraped or downloaded through URL manipulation
from online collections of museums, archives and libraries.
Needless to say, my offline archive is much bigger than
what is on Monoskop. I tend to put online the files I prefer
not to lose. The web is the best backup solution I have
found so far.
The Monoskop wiki is open for everyone to edit; any user
can upload their own works or scans and many do. Many of
those who spent more time working on the website ended up
being my friends. And many of my friends ended up having
an account as well :). For everyone else, there is no record
kept about what one downloaded, what one read and for
how long... we don’t care, we don’t track.




In what way has the larger (free) publishing context changed
your project, there are currently several free texts sharing
initiatives around (some already before you started like Textz.
com or Aaaaarg), how do you collaborate, or distinguish
from each other?

It should not be an overstatement to say that while in the
previous decade Monoskop was shaped primarily by the
‘media culture’ milieu which it intended to document, the
branching out of its repository of highlighted publications
Monoskop Log in 2009, and the broadening of its focus to
also include the whole of the twentieth and twenty-first
century situates it more firmly in the context of online
archives, and especially digital libraries.
I only got to know others in this milieu later. I approached
Sean Dockray in 2010, Marcell Mars approached me the
following year, and then in 2013 he introduced me to Kenneth Goldsmith. We are in steady contact, especially through
public events hosted by various cultural centres and galleries.
The first large one was held at Ljubljana’s hackerspace Kiberpipa in 2012. Later came the conferences and workshops
organized by Kuda at a youth centre in Novi Sad (2013), by
the Institute of Network Cultures at WORM, Rotterdam (2014),
WKV and Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart (2014),
Mama & Nova Gallery in Zagreb (2015), ECC at Mundaneum,
Mons (2015), and most recently by the Media Department
of the University of Malmo (2016).8
For more information see,
The leitmotif of all these events was the digital library
and their atmosphere can be described as the spirit of
hacker culture that eventually left the walls of a
Accessed 28 May 2016.
computer lab. Only rarely there have been professional
librarians, archivists, and publishers among the speakers, even though the voices represented were quite diverse.
To name just the more frequent participants... Marcell
and Tom Medak (Memory of the World) advocate universal
access to knowledge informed by the positions of the Yugoslav



Marxist school Praxis; Sean’s work is critical of the militarization and commercialization of the university (in the
context of which Aaaaarg will always come as secondary, as
an extension of The Public School in Los Angeles); Kenneth
aims to revive the literary avant-garde while standing on the
shoulders of his heroes documented on UbuWeb; Sebastian
Lütgert and Jan Berger are the most serious software developers among us, while their projects such as and should be read against critical theory and Situationist cinema; Femke Snelting has initiated the collaborative
research-publication Mondotheque about the legacy of the
early twentieth century Brussels-born information scientist
Paul Otlet, triggered by the attempt of Google to rebrand him
as the father of the internet.
I have been trying to identify implications of the digital-networked textuality for knowledge production, including humanities research, while speaking from the position
of a cultural worker who spent his formative years in the
former Eastern Bloc, experiencing freedom as that of unprecedented access to information via the internet following
the fall of Berlin Wall. In this respect, Monoskop is a way
to bring into ‘archival consciousness’ what the East had
missed out during the Cold War. And also more generally,
what the non-West had missed out in the polarized world,
and vice versa, what was invisible in the formal Western
cultural canons.
There have been several attempts to develop new projects,
and the collaborative efforts have materialized in shared
infrastructure and introductions of new features in respective platforms, such as PDF reader and full-text search on
Aaaaarg. Marcell and Tom along with their collaborators have
been steadily developing the Memory of the World library and
Sebastian resuscitated Besides that, there are
overlaps in titles hosted in each library, and Monoskop bibliographies extensively link to scans on Libgen and Aaaaarg,
while artists’ profiles on the website link to audio and video
recordings on UbuWeb.




It is interesting to hear that there weren’t any archivist or
professional librarians involved (yet), what is your position
towards these professional and institutional entities and

As the recent example of Sci-Hub showed, in the age of
digital networks, for many researchers libraries are primarily free proxies to corporate repositories of academic
journals.9 Their other emerging role is that of a digital
For more information see,
repository of works in the public domain (the role
news/2016/04/whosneered in the United States by Project Gutenberg and
downloading-piratedInternet Archive). There have been too many attempts
Accessed 28 May 2016.
to transpose librarians’ techniques from the paperbound
world into the digital domain. Yet, as I said before, there
is much more to explore. Perhaps the most exciting inventive approaches can be found in the field of classics, for
example in the Perseus Digital Library & Catalog and the
Homer Multitext Project. Perseus combines digital editions
of ancient literary works with multiple lexical tools in a way
that even a non-professional can check and verify a disputable translation of a quote. Something that is hard to
imagine being possible in print.

I think it is interesting to see how Monoskop and other
repositories like it have gained different constituencies
globally, for one you can see the kind of shift in the texts
being put up. From the start you tried to bring in a strong
‘eastern European voice’, nevertheless at the moment the
content of the repository reflects a very western perspective on critical theory, what are your future goals. And do
you think it would be possible to include other voices? For
example, have you ever considered the possibility of users
uploading and editing texts themselves?

The site certainly started with the primary focus on east-central European media art and culture, which I considered



myself to be part of in the early 2000s. I was naive enough
to attempt to make a book on the theme between 2008–2010.
During that period I came to notice the ambivalence of the
notion of medium in an art-historical and technological
sense (thanks to Florian Cramer). My understanding of
media art was that it is an art specific to its medium, very
much in Greenbergian terms, extended to the more recent
‘developments’, which were supposed to range from neo-geometrical painting through video art to net art.
At the same time, I implicitly understood art in the sense
of ‘expanded arts’, as employed by the Fluxus in the early
1960s—objects as well as events that go beyond the (academic) separation between the arts to include music, film,
poetry, dance, design, publishing, etc., which in turn made
me also consider such phenomena as experimental film,
electro-acoustic music and concrete poetry.
Add to it the geopolitically unstable notion of East-Central
Europe and the striking lack of research in this area and
all you end up with is a headache. It took me a while to
realize that there’s no point even attempting to write a coherent narrative of the history of media-specific expanded
arts of East-Central Europe of the past hundred years. I
ended up with a wiki page outlining the supposed mile10
stones along with a bibliography.10
For this strand, the wiki served as the main notebook,
org/CEE. Accessed
28 May 2016. And
leaving behind hundreds of wiki entries. The Log was
more or less a ‘log’ of my research path and the presence
of ‘western’ theory is to a certain extent a by-product of
my search for a methodology and theoretical references.
Accessed 28 May 2016.
As an indirect outcome, a new wiki section was
launched recently. Instead of writing a history of mediaspecific ‘expanded arts’ in one corner of the world, it takes
a somewhat different approach. Not a sequential text, not
even an anthology, it is an online single-page annotated
index, a ‘meta-encyclopaedia’ of art movements and styles,
intended to offer an expansion of the art-historical canonical
prioritization of the western painterly-sculptural tradition




org/Art. Accessed
28 May 2016.

to also include other artists and movements around the

Can you say something about the longevity of the project?
You briefly mentioned before that the web was your best
backup solution. Yet, it is of course known that websites
and databases require a lot of maintenance, so what will
happen to the type of files that you offer? More and more
voices are saying that, for example, the PDF format is all
but stable. How do you deal with such challenges?

Surely, in the realm of bits, nothing is designed to last
forever. Uncritical adoption of Flash had turned out to be
perhaps the worst tragedy so far. But while there certainly
were more sane alternatives if one was OK with renouncing its emblematic visual effects and aesthetics that went
with it, with PDF it is harder. There are EPUBs, but scholarly publications are simply unthinkable without page
numbers that are not supported in this format. Another
challenge the EPUB faces is from artists' books and other
design- and layout-conscious publications—its simplified
HTML format does not match the range of possibilities for
typography and layout one is used to from designing for
paper. Another open-source solution, PNG tarballs, is not
a viable alternative for sharing books.
The main schism between PDF and HTML is that one represents the domain of print (easily portable, and with fixed
page size), while the other the domain of web (embedded
within it by hyperlinks pointing both directions, and with
flexible page size). EPUB is developed with the intention of
synthetizing both of them into a single format, but instead
it reduces them into a third container, which is doomed to
reinvent the whole thing once again.
It is unlikely that there will appear an ultimate convertor
between PDF and HTML, simply because of the specificities
of print and the web and the fact that they overlap only in
some respects. Monoskop tends to provide HTML formats



next to PDFs where time allows. And if the PDF were to
suddenly be doomed, there would be a big conversion party.
On the side of audio and video, most media files on
Monoskop are in open formats—OGG and WEBM. There
are many other challenges: keeping up-to-date with PHP
and MySQL development, with the MediaWiki software
and its numerous extensions, and the mysterious ICANN
organization that controls the web domain.

as an imperative to us to embrace redundancy, to promote
spreading their contents across as many nodes and sites
as anyone wishes. We may look at copying not as merely
mirroring or making backups, but opening up for possibilities to start new libraries, new platforms, new databases.
That is how these came about as well. Let there be Zzzzzrgs,
Ůbuwebs and Multiskops.


What were your biggest challenges beside technical ones?
For example, have you ever been in trouble regarding copyright issues, or if not, how would you deal with such a

Monoskop operates on the assumption of making transformative use of the collected material. The fact of bringing
it into certain new contexts, in which it can be accessed,
viewed and interpreted, adds something that bookstores
don’t provide. Time will show whether this can be understood as fair use. It is an opt-out model and it proves to
be working well so far. Takedowns are rare, and if they are
legitimate, we comply.

Perhaps related to this question, what is your experience
with users engagement? I remember Sean (from Aaaaarg,
in conversation with Matthew Fuller, Mute 2011) saying
that some people mirror or download the whole site, not
so much in an attempt to ‘have everything’ but as a way
to make sure that the content remains accessible. It is a
conscious decision because one knows that one day everything might be taken down. This is of course particularly
pertinent, especially since while we’re doing this interview
Sean and Marcell are being sued by a Canadian publisher.

That is absolutely true and any of these websites can disappear any time. Archives like Aaaaarg, Monoskop or UbuWeb
are created by makers rather than guardians and it comes





Fuller, Matthew. ‘In the Paradise of Too Many Books: An Interview with
Sean Dockray’. Mute, 4 May 2011.

articles/paradise-too-many-books-interview-seandockray. Accessed 31 May 2016.
Online digital libraries
Library Genesis / LibGen,
Memory of the World,





monoskop in Giorgetta, Nicoletti & Adema 2015

Giorgetta, Nicoletti & Adema
A Conversation on Digital Archiving Practices

# A Conversation on Digital Archiving Practices

A couple of months ago Davide Giorgetta and Valerio Nicoletti (both ISIA
Urbino) did an interview with me for their MA in Design of Publishing. Silvio
Lorusso, was so kind to publish the interview on the fantastic
with-janneke-adema/). I am reblogging it here.

* * *

[Davide Giorgetta]( and [Valerio
Nicoletti]( are both students from
[ISIA Urbino](, where they attend the Master
Course in Design for Publishing. They are currently investigating the
independent side of digital archiving practices within the scope of the
publishing world.

As part of their research, they asked some questions to Janneke Adema, who is
Research Fellow in Digital Media at Coventry University, with a PhD in Media
(Coventry University) and a background in History (MA) and Philosophy (MA)
(both University of Groningen) and Book and Digital Media Studies (MA) (Leiden
University). Janneke’s PhD thesis focuses on the future of the scholarly book
in the humanities. She has been conducting research for the
[OAPEN]( project, and
subsequently the OAPEN foundation, from 2008 until 2013 (including research
for OAPEN-NL and DOAB). Her research for OAPEN focused on user needs and
publishing models concerning Open Access books in the Humanities and Social

**Davide Giorgetta & Valerio Nicoletti: Does a way out from the debate between
publishers and digital independent libraries (Monoskop Log, Ubuweb, exist, in terms of copyright? An alternative solution able to
solve the issue and to provide equal opportunities to everyone? Would the fear
of publishers of a possible reduction of incomes be legitimized if the access
to their digital publications was open and free?**

Janneke Adema: This is an interesting question, since for many academics this
‘way out’ (at least in so far it concerns scholarly publications) has been
envisioned in or through the open access movement and the use of Creative
Commons licenses. However, the open access movement, a rather plural and
loosely defined group of people, institutions and networks, in its more
moderate instantiations tends to distance itself from piracy and copyright
infringement or copy(far)left practices. Through its use of and favoring of
Creative Commons licenses one could even argue that it has been mainly
concerned with a reform of copyright rather than a radical critique of and
rethinking of the common and the right to copy (Cramer 2013, Hall
with-janneke-adema/#fn:1 "see footnote") Nonetheless, in its more radical
guises open access can be more closely aligned with the practices associated
with digital pirate libraries such as the ones listed above, for instance
through Aaron Swartz’s notion of [Guerilla Open

> We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and
share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and
add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the
Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing
networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access. (Swartz 2008)

However whatever form or vision of open access you prefer, I do not think it
is a ‘solution’ to any problem—such as copyright/fight—, but I would rather
see it, as I have written
/embracing-messiness-adema-pdsc14/), ‘as an ongoing processual and critical
engagement with changes in the publishing system, in our scholarly
communication practices and in our media and technologies of communication.’
And in this sense open access practices offer us the possibility to critically
reflect upon the politics of knowledge production, including copyright and
piracy, openness and the commons, indeed, even upon the nature of the book

With respect to the second part of your question, again, where it concerns
scholarly books, [research by Ronald
shows no decline in sales or income for publishers once they release their
scholarly books in open access. The open availability does however lead to
more discovery and online consultation, meaning that it actually might lead to
more ‘impact’ for scholarly books (Snijder 2010).

**DG, VN: In which way, if any, are digital archiving practices stimulating
new publishing phenomenons? Are there any innovative outcomes, apart the
obvious relation to p.o.d. tools? (or interesting new projects in this

JA: Beyond extending access, I am mostly interested in how digital archiving
practices have the potential to stimulate the following practices or phenomena
(which in no way are specific to digital archiving or publishing practices, as
they have always been a potential part of print publications too): reuse and
remix; processual research and iterative publishing; and collaborative forms
of knowledge production. These practices interest me mainly as they have the
potential to critique the way the (printed) book has been commodified and
essentialised over the centuries, in a bound, linear and fixed format, a
practice which is currently being replicated in a digital context. Indeed, the
book has been fixed in this way both discursively and through a system of
material production within publishing and academia—which includes our
institutions and practices of scholarly communication—that prefers book
objects as quantifiable and auditable performance indicators and as marketable
commodities and objects of symbolic value exchange. The practices and
phenomena mentioned above, i.e. remix, versioning and collaboration, have the
potential to help us to reimagine the bound nature of the book and to explore
both a spatial and temporal critique of the book as a fixed object; they can
aid us to examine and experiment with various different incisions that can be
made in our scholarship as part of the informal and formal publishing and
communication of our research that goes beyond the final research commodity.
In this sense I am interested in how these specific digital archiving,
research and publishing practices offer us the possibility to imagine a
different, perhaps more ethical humanities, a humanities that is processual,
contingent, unbound and unfinished. How can these practices aid us in how to
cut well in the ongoing unfolding of our research, how can they help us
explore how to make potentially better interventions? How can we take
responsibility as scholars for our entangled becoming with our research and
publications? (Barad 2007, Kember and Zylinska 2012)

Examples that I find interesting in the realm of the humanities in this
respect include projects that experiment with such a critique of our fixed,
print-based practices and institutions in an affirmative way: for example Mark
Amerika’s [remixthebook]( project; Open
Humanities’ [Living Books about Life](
series; projects such as
[Vectors]( and
[Scalar](; and collaborative knowledge production,
archiving and creation projects, from wiki-based research projects to AAAARG.

**DG, VN: In which way does a digital container influence its content? Does
the same book — if archived on different platforms, such as _Internet Archive_
, _The Pirate Bay_ , _Monoskop Log_ — still remain the same cultural item?**

JA: In short my answer to this question would be ‘no’. Books are embodied
entities, which are materially established through their specific affordances
in relationship to their production, dissemination, reception and
preservation. This means that the specific materiality of the (digital) book
is partly an outcome of these ongoing processes. Katherine Hayles has argued
in this respect that materiality is an emergent property:

> In this view of materiality, it is not merely an inert collection of
physical properties but a dynamic quality that emerges from the interplay
between the text as a physical artifact, its conceptual content, and the
interpretive activities of readers and writers. Materiality thus cannot be
specified in advance; rather, it occupies a borderland— or better, performs as
connective tissue—joining the physical and mental, the artifact and the user.
(2004: 72)

Similarly, Matthew Kirschenbaum points out that the preservation of digital
objects is:

> _logically inseparable_ from the act of their creation’ (…) ‘The lag between
creation and preservation collapses completely, since a digital object may
only ever be said to be preserved _if_ it is accessible, and each individual
access creates the object anew. One can, in a very literal sense, _never_
access the “same” electronic file twice, since each and every access
constitutes a distinct instance of the file that will be addressed and stored
in a unique location in computer memory. (Kirschenbaum 2013)

Every time we access a digital object, we thus duplicate it, we copy it and we
instantiate it. And this is exactly why, in our strategies of conservation,
every time we access a file we also (re)create these objects anew over and
over again. The agency of the archive, of the software and hardware, are also
apparent here, where archives are themselves ‘active ‘‘archaeologists’’ of
knowledge’ (Ernst 2011: 239) and, as Kirschenbaum puts it, ‘the archive writes
itself’ (2013).

In this sense a book can be seen as an apparatus, consisting of an
entanglement of relationships between, among other things, authors, books, the
outside world, readers, the material production and political economy of book
publishing, its preservation and material instantiations, and the discursive
formation of scholarship. Books as apparatuses are thus reality shaping, they
are performative. This relates to Johanna Drucker’s notion of ‘performative
materiality’, where Drucker argues for an extension of what a book _is_ (i.e.
from a focus on its specific properties and affordances), to what a book
_does_ : ‘Performative materiality suggests that what something _is_ has to be
understood in terms of what it _does_ , how it works within machinic,
systemic, and cultural domains.’ For, as Drucker argues, ‘no matter how
detailed a description of material substrates or systems we have, their use is
performative whether this is a reading by an individual, the processing of
code, the transmission of signals through a system, the viewing of a film,
performance of a play, or a musical work and so on. Material conditions
provide an inscriptional base, a score, a point of departure, a provocation,
from which a work is produced as an event’ (Drucker 2013).

So, to come back to your question, these specific digital platforms (Monoskop,
The Pirate Bay etc.) become integral aspects of the apparatus of the book and
each in their own different way participates in the performance and
instantiation of the books in their archives. Not only does a digital book
therefore differ as a material or cultural object from a printed book, a
digital object also has materially distinct properties related to the platform
on which it is made available. Indeed, building further on the theories
described above, a book is a different object every time it is instantiated or
read, be it by a human or machinic entity; they become part of the apparatus
of the book, a performative apparatus. Therefore, as Silvio Lorusso has


**DG, VN: In your opinion, can scholarly publishing, in particular self-
archiving practices, constitute a bridge covering the gap between authors and
users in terms of access to knowledge? Could we hope that these practices will
find a broader use, moving from very specific fields (academic papers) to book
publishing in general?**

JA: On the one hand, yes. Self-archiving, or the ‘green road’ to open access,
offers a way for academics to make their research available in a preprint form
via open access repositories in a relatively simple and straightforward way,
making it easily accessible to other academics and more general audiences.
However, it can be argued that as a strategy, the green road doesn’t seem to
be very subversive, where it doesn’t actively rethink, re-imagine, or
experiment with the system of scholarly knowledge production in a more
substantial way, including peer-review and the print-based publication forms
this system continues to promote. With its emphasis on achieving universal,
free, online access to research, a rigorous critical exploration of the form
of the book itself doesn’t seem to be a main priority of green open access
activists. Stevan Harnad, one of the main proponents of green open access and
self-archiving has for instance stated that ‘it’s time to stop letting the
best get in the way of the better: Let’s forget about Libre and Gold OA until
we have managed to mandate Green Gratis OA universally’ (Harnad 2012). This is
where the self-archiving strategy in its current implementation falls short I
think with respect to the ‘breaking-down’ of barriers between authors and
users, where it isn’t necessarily committed to following a libre open access
strategy, which, one could argue, would be more open to adopting and promoting
forms of open access that are designed to make material available for others
to (re) use, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, translate, modify, remix
and build upon? Surely this would be a more substantial strategy to bridge the
gap between authors and users with respect to the production, dissemination
and consumption of knowledge?

With respect to the second part of your question, could these practices find a
broader use? I am not sure, mainly because of the specific characteristics of
academia and scholarly publishing, where scholars are directly employed and
paid by their institutions for the research work they do. Hence, self-
archiving this work would not directly lead to any or much loss of income for
academics. In other fields, such as literary publishing for example, this
issue of remuneration can become quite urgent however, even though many [free
culture]( activists (such
as Lawrence Lessig and Cory Doctorow) have argued that freely sharing cultural
goods online, or even self-publishing, doesn’t necessarily need to lead to any
loss of income for cultural producers. So in this respect I don’t think we can
lift something like open access self-archiving out of its specific context and
apply it to other contexts all that easily, although we should certainly
experiment with this of course in different domains of digital culture.

**DG, VN: After your answers, we would also receive suggestions from you. Do
you notice any unresolved or raising questions in the contemporary context of
digital archiving practices and their relation to the publishing realm?**

JA: So many :). Just to name a few: the politics of search and filtering
related to information overload; the ethics and politics of publishing in
relationship to when, where, how and why we decide to publish our research,
for what reasons and with what underlying motivations; the continued text- and
object-based focus of our archiving and publishing practices and platforms,
where there is a lack of space to publish and develop more multimodal,
iterative, diagrammatic and speculative forms of scholarship; issues of free
labor and the problem or remuneration of intellectual labor in sharing
economies etc.


* Adema, J. (2014) ‘Embracing Messiness’. [17 November 2014] available from [17 November 2014]
* Adema, J. and Hall, G. (2013) ‘The Political Nature of the Book: On Artists’ Books and Radical Open Access’. _New Formations_ 78 (1), 138–156
* Barad, K. (2007) _Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning_. Duke University Press
* Cramer, F. (2013) _Anti-Media: Ephemera on Speculative Arts_. Rotterdam : New York, NY: nai010 publishers
* Drucker, J. (2013) _Performative Materiality and Theoretical Approaches to Interface_. [online] 7 (1). available from [4 April 2014]
* Ernst, W. (2011) ‘Media Archaeography: Method and Machine versus History and Narrative of Media’. in _Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications_. ed. by Huhtamo, E. and Parikka, J. University of California Press
* Hall, G. (2014) ‘Copyfight’. in _Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities_ , [online] Lueneburg: Centre for Digital Cultures (CDC). available from [5 December 2014]
* Harnad, S. (2012) ‘Open Access: Gratis and Libre’. [3 May 2012] available from [4 March 2014]
* Hayles, N.K. (2004) ‘Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis’. _Poetics Today_ 25 (1), 67–90
* Kember, S. and Zylinska, J. (2012) _Life After New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process_. MIT Press
* Kirschenbaum, M. (2013) ‘The .txtual Condition: Digital Humanities, Born-Digital Archives, and the Future Literary’. _DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly_ [online] 7 (1). available from [20 July 2014]
* Lorusso, S. (2014) _The Post-Digital Publishing Archive: An Inventory of Speculative Strategies_. in ‘The Aesthetics of the Humanities: Towards a Poetic Knowledge Production’ [online] held 11 June 2014 at Coventry University. available from [31 May 2015]
* Snijder, R. (2010) ‘The Profits of Free Books: An Experiment to Measure the Impact of Open Access Publishing’. _Learned Publishing_ 23 (4), 293–301
* Swartz, A. (2008) _Guerilla Open Access Manifesto_ [online] available from [31 May 2015]

monoskop in Hamerman 2015

Pirate Libraries and the Fight for Open Information


PIRATE LIBRARIES and the fight for open information
/ by _Sarah Hamerman_ |

In a digital era that destabilizes traditional notions of intellectual
property, cultural producers must rethink information access.

Over the last several years, a number of _pirate libraries_ have done just
that. Collaboratively run digital libraries such as
_[Monoskop]( , _[Public
Library]( , and
_[UbuWeb_]( have emerged, offering access to humanities
texts and audiovisual resources that are technically ‘pirated’ and often hard
to find elsewhere.

Though these sites differ somewhat in content, architecture, and ideological
bent, all of them disavow intellectual copyright law to varying degrees,
offering up pirated books and media with the aim of advancing information

“Information wants to be free,” has served as a catchphrase in recent internet
activism, calling for information democracy, led by media, library and
information advocates.

As online information access is increasingly embedded within the networks of
capital, the digital text-sharing underground actualizes the Internet’s
potential to build a true information commons.

With such projects, the archive becomes a record of collective power, not
corporate or state power; the digital book becomes unlocked, linkable, and

Still, these sites comprise but a small subset of the networks of peer-to-peer
file sharing. Many legal battles waged over the explosion of audiovisual file
sharing through p2p services such as Napster, BitTorrent and MediaFire. At its
peak, Napster boasted over 80 million users; the p2p music-sharing service was
shut down after a high-profile lawsuit by the RIAA in 2001.

The US Department of Justice brought charges against open access activist
_[Aaron Swartz]( in 2011 for
his large-scale unauthorized downloading of files from the JStor Academic
database. Swartz, who sadly committed suicide before his trial, was an
organizer for Demand Progress, a campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act,
which was defeated in 2012. Swartz’s actions and the fight around SOPA
represent a benchmark in the struggle for open-access and anti-copyright
practices surrounding the digital book.

Aaaaaarg, Monoskop, UbuWeb and Public Library are representative cases of the
pirate library because of their explicit engagement with archival form, their
embrace of ideas of the _[digital commons]( within current left-leaning thought, and their like-minded focus on critical theory and the arts.

All of these projects lend themselves to be considered _as libraries_ ,
retooled for open digital networks.

_Aaaaaarg.org_ , started by Los Angeles based artist Sean Dockray, hosts
full-text pdfs of over 50,000 books and articles. The library is connected to a an
alternative education project called the Public School, which serves as a
platform for self-organizing lectures, workshops and projects in cities across
the globe. _Aaaaaarg_ ’s catalog is viewable by the public, but
upload/download privileges are restricted through an invite system, thus
circumventing copyright law.


The site is divided into a “Library,” in which users can search for texts by
author; “Collections,” or user-generated grouping of texts designed for
reading groups or research interests; and “Discussions,” a message board where
participants can request texts and volunteer for working groups. Most
recently, _Aaaaaarg_ has introduced a “compiler” tool that allows readers to
select excerpts from longer texts and assemble them into new PDFs, and a
reading tool that allows readers to save reference points and insert comments
into texts. Though the library is easily searchable, it doesn’t maintain
high-quality _[metadata]( Dockray and
other organizers intend to preserve a certain subjective and informal quality,
focusing more on discussion and collaboration than correct preservation and
classification practice.

_Aaaaaarg_ has been threatened with takedowns a few times, but has survived by
creating mirrored sites and reconstituted itself by varying the number of A’s
in the URL. Its shifts in location, organization, and capabilities reflect
both the decentralized, ad-hoc nature of its maintenance and the organizers’
attempts to elude copyright regulations. Text-sharing sites such as _Aaaaaarg_
have also been referred to as _[shadow
reflecting their quasi-covert status and their efforts to evade shutdown., a project founded by media artist _[Dušan
Barok]( , is a wiki for collaborative
studies of art, media and the humanities that was born in 2004 out of Barok’s
study of media art and related cultural practices. Its significant holdings -
about 3,000 full-length texts and many more excerpts, links and citations -
include avant-garde and modernist magazines, writings on sound art, scanned
illustrations, and media theory texts.

As a wiki, any user can edit any article or upload content, and see their
changes reflected immediately. Monoskop is comprised of two sister sites: the
Monoskop wiki and Monoskop Log, the accompanying text repository. Monoskop Log
is structured as a Wordpress site with links hosted on third-party sites, much
like the rare-music download blogs that became popular in the mid-2000s.
Though this architecture is relatively unstable, links are fixed on-demand and
site mirroring and redundancy balance out some of the instability.

Monoskop makes clear that it is offering content under the fair-use doctrine
and that this content is for personal and scholarly use, not commercial use.
Barok notes that though there have been a small number of takedowns, people
generally appreciate unrestricted access to the types of materials in Monoskop
log, whether they are authors or publishers.

_Public Library_ , a somewhat newer pirate library founded by Croatian
Internet activist and researcher Marcell Mars and his collaborators, currently
offers a collection of about 6,300 texts. The project frames itself through a
utopian philosophy of building a truly universal library, radically extending
enlightenment-era conceptions of democracy. Through democratizing the _tools
of librarianship_ – book scanning, classification systems, cataloging,
information – it promises a broader, de-institutionalized public library.

In __[Public Library: An
Essay]( , Public Library’s organizers frame p2p libraries as
“fragile knowledge infrastructures built and maintained by brave librarians
practicing civil disobedience which the world of researchers in the humanities
rely on.” This civil disobedience is a politically motivated refutation of
intellectual property law and the orientation of information networks toward
venture capital and advertising. While the pirate libraries fulfill this
dissident function as a kind of experimental provocation, their content is
audience-specific rather than universal.

_[UbuWeb]( , founded in 1996 by
conceptual artist/ writer Kenneth Goldsmith, is the largest online archive of
avant-garde art resources. Its holdings include sound, video and text-based
works dating from the historical avant-garde era to today. While many of the
sites in the “pirate library” continuum source their content through
community-based or peer-to-peer models, UbuWeb focuses on making available out
of print, obscure or difficult to access artistic media, stating that
uploading such historical artifacts doesn’t detract from the physical value of
the work; rather, it enhances it. The website’s philosophy blends the utopian
ideals of avant-garde concrete poetry with the ideals of the digital gift
economy, and it has specifically refused to accept corporate or foundation
funding or adopt a more market-oriented business model.


**Pirate Libraries vs. “The Sharing Economy”**

In pirate libraries, information users become archive builders by uploading
often-copyrighted content to shared networks.

Within the so-called “ _[sharing
economy]( ,” users essentially
lease e-book content from information corporations such as Amazon, which
markets both the Kindle as platform. This centralization of intellectual
property has dire impacts on the openness of the digital book as a
collaborative knowledge-sharing device.

In contrast, the pirate library actualizes a gift economy based on qualitative
and communal rather than monetized exchange. As Mackenzie Wark writes in _A
Hacker Manifesto_ (2004), “The gift is marginal, but nevertheless plays a
vital role in cementing reciprocal and communal relations among people who
otherwise can only confront each other as buyers and sellers of commodities.”

From theorizing new media art to building solidarity against repressive
regimes, such communal information networks can crucially articulate shared
bodies of political and aesthetic desire and meaning. According to author
Matthew Stadler, literature is by nature communal. “Literature is not owned,”
he writes. “It is, by definition, a space of mutually negotiated meanings that
never closes or concludes, a space that thrives on — indeed requires — open
access and sharing.”

In a roundtable discussion published in _New Formations_ , _Aaaaaarg_ founder
Sean Dockray remarks that the site “actively explored and exploited the
affordances of asynchronous, networked communication,” functioning upon the
logic of the hack. Dockray continues: “But all of this is rather commonplace
for what’s called ‘piracy,’ isn’t it?” Pirate librarianship can be thought of
as a practice of civil disobedience within the stringent information
environment of today.

These projects promise both the realization and destruction of the public
library. They promote information democracy while calling the _professional_
institution of the Library into question, allowing amateurs to upload,
catalog, lend and maintain collections. In _Public Library: An Essay_ , Public
Library’s organizers _[write](
/public-library-an-essay/)_ : “With the emergence of the internet…
librarianship has been given an opportunity… to include thousands of amateur
librarians who will, together with the experts, build a distributed peer-to-peer network to care for the catalog of available knowledge.”

Public Library frames amateur librarianship as a free, collaboratively
maintained and democratic activity, drawing upon the language of the French
Revolution and extending it for the 21st century. While these practices are
democratic in form, they are not necessarily democratic in the populist sense;
rather, they focus on bringing high theoretical discourses to people outside
the academy. Accordingly, they attract a modest but engaged audience of
critics, artists, designers, activists, and scholars.

The activities of Aaaaaarg and Public Library may fall closer to ‘ _[peer
preservation]( ’
than ‘peer production,’ as the desires to share information
widely and to preserve these collections against shutdown often come into
conflict. In a _[recent piece]( for e-flux coauthored with Lawrence Liang, Dockray accordingly
laments “the unfortunate fact that digital shadow libraries have to operate
somewhat below the radar: it introduces a precariousness that doesn’t allow
imagination to really expand, as it becomes stuck on techniques of evasion,
distribution, and redundancy.”


UbuWeb and Monoskop, which digitize rare, out-of-print art texts and media
rather than in-print titles, can be said to fulfill the aims of preservation
and access. UbuWeb and Monoskop are openly used and discussed as classroom
resources and in online arts journalism more frequently than the more
aggressively anti-copyright sources; more on-the-record and mainstream
visibility likely -- but doesn’t necessarily -- equate to wider usage.

**From Alternative Space to Alternative Media**

Aaaaaarg _[locates itself as a
‘scaffolding’]( between institutions, a platform that unfolds between institutional
gaps and fills them in, rather than directly opposing them. Over ten years
after it was founded, it continues to provide a community for “niche”
varieties of political critique.

Drawing upon different strains of ‘alternative networking,’ the digital
text-sharing underground gives a voice to those quieted by the mechanisms of
institutional archives, publishing, and galleries. On the one hand, pirate
libraries extend the logic of alternative art spaces/artist-run spaces that
challenge the “white cube” and the art market; instead, they showcase ways of
making that are often ephemeral, performative, and anti-commercial.

Lawrence Liang refers to projects such as Aaaaaarg as “ _[ludic
libraries]( ,” as
they encourage a sense of intellectual play that deviates from well-
established norms of utility, seriousness, purpose, and property.

Just as alternative, community-oriented art spaces promote “fringe” art forms,
the pirate libraries build upon open digital architectures to promote “fringe”
scholarship, art, technological and archival practices. Though the comparison
between physical architecture and virtual architecture is a metaphor here, the
impact upon creative communities runs parallel.

At the same time, the digital text-sharing underground builds upon Robert W.
McChesney’s calls in _Digital Disconnect_ for a democratic media system that
promotes the expansion of public, student and community journalism. A truly
heterogeneous media system, for McChesney, would promote a multiplicity of
opinions, supplementing for-profit mass media with a substantial and varied
portion of nonprofit and independent media.

In order to create a political system – and a media system – that reflects
multiple interests, rather than the supposedly neutral status quo, we must
support truly free, not-for-profit alternatives to corporate journalism and
“clickbait” media designed to lure traffic for advertisers. We must support
creative platforms that encourage blending high-academic language with pop-
culture; quantitative analysis with art-making; appropriation with
authenticity: the pirate libraries serve just these purposes.

Pirate libraries help bring about what Gary Hall calls the “unbound book” as
text-form; as he writes, we can perceive such a digital book “as liquid and
living, open to being continually updated and collaboratively written, edited,
annotated, critiqued, updated, shared, supplemented, revised, re-ordered,
reiterated and reimagined.” These projects allow us to re-imagine both
archival practices and the digital book for social networks based on the gift.

Aaaaaarg, Monoskop, UbuWeb, and Public Library build a record of critical and
artistic discourse that is held in common, user-responsive and networkable.
Amateur librarians sustain these projects through technological ‘hacks’ that
innovate upon present archival tools and push digital preservation practices

Pirate libraries critique the ivory tower’s monopoly over the digital book.
They posit a space where alternative communities can flourish.

Between the cracks of the new information capital, the digital text-sharing
underground fosters the coming-into-being of another kind of information
society, one in which the historical record is the democratically-shared basis
for new forms of knowledge.

From this we should take away the understanding that _piracy is normal_ and
the public domain it builds is abundant. While these practices will continue
just beneath the official surface of the information economy, it is high time
for us to demand that our legal structures catch up.

monoskop in Mars & Medak 2017

Mars & Medak
Knowledge Commons and Activist Pedagogies

Conversation with Marcell Mars and Tomislav Medak (co-authored with Ana Kuzmanic)

Marcell Mars is an activist, independent scholar, and artist. His work has been
instrumental in development of civil society in Croatia and beyond. Marcell is one
of the founders of the Multimedia Institute – mi2 (1999) (Multimedia Institute,
2016a) and Net.culture club MaMa in Zagreb (2000) (Net.culture club MaMa,
2016a). He is a member of Creative Commons Team Croatia (Creative Commons,
2016). He initiated GNU GPL publishing label EGOBOO.bits (2000) (Monoskop,
2016a), meetings of technical enthusiasts Skill sharing (Net.culture club MaMa,
2016b) and various events and gatherings in the fields of hackerism, digital
cultures, and new media art. Marcell regularly talks and runs workshops about
hacking, free software philosophy, digital cultures, social software, semantic web
etc. In 2011–2012 Marcell conducted research on Ruling Class Studies at Jan Van
Eyck in Maastricht, and in 2013 he held fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude
in Stuttgart. Currently, he is PhD researcher at the Digital Cultures Research Lab at
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg.
Tomislav Medak is a cultural worker and theorist interested in political
philosophy, media theory and aesthetics. He is an advocate of free software and
free culture, and the Project Lead of the Creative Commons Croatia (Creative
Commons, 2016). He works as coordinator of theory and publishing activities at
the Multimedia Institute/MaMa (Zagreb, Croatia) (Net.culture club MaMa, 2016a).
Tomislav is an active contributor to the Croatian Right to the City movement
(Pravo na grad, 2016). He interpreted to numerous books into Croatian language,
including Multitude (Hardt & Negri, 2009) and A Hacker Manifesto (Wark,
2006c). He is an author and performer with the internationally acclaimed Zagrebbased performance collective BADco (BADco, 2016). Tomislav writes and talks
about politics of technological development, and politics and aesthetics.
Tomislav and Marcell have been working together for almost two decades.
Their recent collaborations include a number of activities around the Public Library
project, including HAIP festival (Ljubljana, 2012), exhibitions in
Württembergischer Kunstverein (Stuttgart, 2014) and Galerija Nova (Zagreb,
2015), as well as coordinated digitization projects Written-off (2015), Digital
Archive of Praxis and the Korčula Summer School (2016), and Catalogue of
Liberated Books (2013) (in Monoskop, 2016b).


Ana Kuzmanic is an artist based in Zagreb and Associate Professor at the
Faculty of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Geodesy at the University in Split
(Croatia), lecturing in drawing, design and architectural presentation. She is a
member of the Croatian Association of Visual Artists. Since 2007 she held more
than a dozen individual exhibitions and took part in numerous collective
exhibitions in Croatia, the UK, Italy, Egypt, the Netherlands, the USA, Lithuania
and Slovenia. In 2011 she co-founded the international artist collective Eastern
Surf, which has “organised, produced and participated in a number of projects
including exhibitions, performance, video, sculpture, publications and web based
work” (Eastern Surf, 2017). Ana's artwork critically deconstructs dominant social
readings of reality. It tests traditional roles of artists and viewers, giving the
observer an active part in creation of artwork, thus creating spaces of dialogue and
alternative learning experiences as platforms for emancipation and social
transformation. Grounded within a postdisciplinary conceptual framework, her
artistic practice is produced via research and expression in diverse media located at
the boundaries between reality and virtuality.

I have known Marcell Mars since student days, yet our professional paths have
crossed only sporadically. In 2013 I asked Marcell’s input about potential
interlocutors for this book, and he connected me to McKenzie Wark. In late 2015,
when we started working on our own conversation, Marcell involved Tomislav
Medak. Marcell’s and Tomislav’s recent works are closely related to arts, so I
requested Ana Kuzmanic’s input in these matters. Since the beginning of the
conversation, Marcell, Tomislav, Ana, and I occasionally discussed its generalities
in person. Yet, the presented conversation took place in a shared online document
between November 2015 and December 2016.

Petar Jandrić & Ana Kuzmanic (PJ & AK): In 1999, you established the
Multimedia Institute – mi2 (Multimedia Institute, 2016a); in 2000, you established
the Net.culture club MaMa (both in Zagreb, Croatia). The Net.culture club MaMa
has the following goals:
To promote innovative cultural practices and broadly understood social
activism. As a cultural center, it promotes wide range of new artistic and
cultural practices related in the first place to the development of
communication technologies, as well as new tendencies in arts and theory:
from new media art, film and music to philosophy and social theory,
publishing and cultural policy issues.
As a community center, MaMa is a Zagreb’s alternative ‘living room’ and
a venue free of charge for various initiatives and associations, whether they
are promoting minority identities (ecological, LBGTQ, ethnic, feminist and



others) or critically questioning established social norms. (Net.culture club
MaMa, 2016a)
Please describe the main challenges and opportunities from the dawn of Croatian
civil society. Why did you decide to establish the Multimedia Institute – mi2 and
the Net.culture club MaMa? How did you go about it?
Marcell Mars & Tomislav Medak (MM & TM): The formative context for
our work had been marked by the process of dissolution of Yugoslavia, ensuing
civil wars, and the rise of authoritarian nationalisms in the early 1990s. Amidst the
general turmoil and internecine bloodshed, three factors would come to define
what we consider today as civil society in the Croatian context. First, the newly
created Croatian state – in its pursuit of ethnic, religious and social homogeneity –
was premised on the radical exclusion of minorities. Second, the newly created
state dismantled the broad institutional basis of social and cultural diversity that
existed under socialism. Third, the newly created state pursued its own nationalist
project within the framework of capitalist democracy. In consequence, politically
undesirable minorities and dissenting oppositional groups were pushed to the
fringes of society, and yet, in keeping with the democratic system, had to be
allowed to legally operate outside of the state, its loyal institutions and its
nationalist consensus – as civil society. Under the circumstances of inter-ethnic
conflict, which put many people in direct or indirect danger, anti-war and human
rights activist groups such as the Anti-War Campaign provided an umbrella under
which political, student and cultural activists of all hues and colours could find a
common context. It is also within this context that the high modernism of cultural
production from the Yugoslav period, driven out from public institutions, had
found its recourse and its continuity.
Our loose collective, which would later come together around the Multimedia
Institute and MaMa, had been decisively shaped by two circumstances. The first
was participation of the Anti-War Campaign, its BBS network ZaMir (Monoskop,
2016c) and in particular its journal Arkzin, in the early European network culture.
Second, the Open Society Institute, which had financed much of the alternative and
oppositional activities during the 1990s, had started to wind down its operations
towards end of the millennium. As the Open Society Institute started to spin off its
diverse activities into separate organizations, giving rise to the Croatian Law
Center, the Center for Contemporary Art and the Center for Drama Art, activities
related to Internet development ended up with the Multimedia Institute. The first
factor shaped us as activists and early adopters of critical digital culture, and the
second factor provided us with an organizational platform to start working
together. In 1998 Marcell was the first person invited to work with the Multimedia
Institute. He invited Vedran Gulin and Teodor Celakoski, who in turn invited other
people, and the group organically grew to its present form.
Prior to our coming together around the Multimedia Institute, we have been
working on various projects such as setting up the cyber-culture platform Labinary
in the space run by the artist initiative Labin Art Express in the former miner town
of Labin located in the north-western region of Istria. As we started working


together, however, we began to broaden these activities and explore various
opportunities for political and cultural activism offered by digital networks. One of
the early projects was ‘Radioactive’ – an initiative bringing together a broad group
of activists, which was supposed to result in a hybrid Internet/FM radio. The radio
never arrived into being, yet the project fostered many follow-up activities around
new media and activism in the spirit of ‘don’t hate the media, become the media.’
In these early days, our activities had been strongly oriented towards technological
literacy and education; also, we had a strong interest in political theory and
philosophy. Yet, the most important activity at that time was opening the
Net.culture club MaMa in Zagreb in 2000 (Net.culture club MaMa, 2016a).
PJ & AK: What inspired you to found the Net.culture club MaMa?
MM & TM: We were not keen on continuing the line of work that the
Multimedia Institute was doing under the Open Society Institute, which included,
amongst other activities, setting up the first non-state owned Internet service
provider ZamirNet. The growing availability of Internet access and computer
hardware had made the task of helping political, cultural and media activists get
online less urgent. Instead, we thought that it would be much more important to
open a space where those activists could work together. At the brink of the
millennium, institutional exclusion and access to physical resources (including
space) needed for organizing, working together and presenting that work was a
pressing problem. MaMa was one of the only three independent cultural spaces in
Zagreb – capital city of Croatia, with almost one million inhabitants! The Open
Society Institute provided us with a grant to adapt a former downtown leather-shop
in the state of disrepair and equip it with latest technology ranging from servers to
DJ decks. These resources were made available to all members of the general
public free of charge. Immediately, many artists, media people, technologists, and
political activists started initiating own programs in MaMa. Our activities ranged
from establishing art servers aimed at supporting artistic and cultural projects on
the Internet (Monoskop, 2016d) to technology-related educational activities,
cultural programs, and publishing. By 2000, nationalism had slowly been losing its
stranglehold on our society, and issues pertaining to capitalist globalisation had
arrived into prominence. At MaMa, the period was marked by alter-globalization,
Indymedia, web development, East European and critical media theory.
The confluence of these interests and activities resulted in many important
developments. For instance, soon after the opening of MaMa in 2000, a group of
young music producers and enthusiasts kicked off a daily music program with live
acts, DJ sessions and meetings to share tips and tricks about producing electronic
music. In parallel, we had been increasingly drawn to free software and its
underlying ethos and logic. Yugoslav legacy of social ownership over means of
production and worker self-management made us think how collectivized forms of
cultural production, without exclusions of private property, could be expanded
beyond the world of free software. We thus talked some of our musician friends
into opening the free culture label EGOBOO.bits and publishing their music,
together with films, videos and literary texts of other artists, under the GNU
General Public License. The EGOBOO.bits project had soon become uniquely


successful: producers such as Zvuk broda, Blashko, Plazmatick, Aesqe, No Name
No Fame, and Ghetto Booties were storming the charts, the label gradually grew to
fifty producers and formations, and we had the artists give regular workshops in
DJ-ing, sound editing, VJ-ing, video editing and collaborative writing at schools
and our summer camp Otokultivator. It inspired us to start working on alternatives
to the copyright regime and on issues of access to knowledge and culture.
PJ & AK: The civil society is the collective conscious, which provides leverage
against national and corporate agendas and serves as a powerful social corrective.
Thus, at the outbreak of the US invasion to Iraq, Net.culture club MaMa rejected a
$100 000 USAID grant because the invasion was:
a) a precedent based on the rationale of pre-emptive war, b) being waged in
disregard of legitimate processes of the international community, and c)
guided by corporate interests to control natural resources (Multimedia
Institute, 2003 in Razsa, 2015: 82).
Yet, only a few weeks later, MaMa accepted a $100 000 grant from the German
state – and this provoked a wide public debate (Razsa, 2015; Kršić, 2003; Stubbs,
Now that the heat of the moment has gone down, what is your view to this
debate? More generally, how do you decide whose money to accept and whose
money to reject? How do you decide where to publish, where to exhibit, whom to
work with? What is the relationship between idealism and pragmatism in your
MM & TM: Our decision seems justified yet insignificant in the face of the
aftermath of that historical moment. The unilateral decision of US and its allies to
invade Iraq in March 2003 encapsulated both the defeat of global protest
movements that had contested the neoliberal globalisation since the early 1990s
and the epochal carnage that the War on Terror, in its never-ending iterations, is
still reaping today. Nowadays, the weaponized and privatized security regime
follows the networks of supply chains that cut across the logic of borders and have
become vital both for the global circuits of production and distribution (see Cowen,
2014). For the US, our global policeman, the introduction of unmanned weaponry
and all sorts of asymmetric war technologies has reduced the human cost of war
down to zero. By deploying drones and killer robots, it did away with the
fundamental reality check of own human casualties and made endless war
politically plausible. The low cost of war has resulted in the growing side-lining of
international institutions responsible for peaceful resolution of international
conflicts such as the UN.
Our 2003 decision carried hard consequences for the organization. In a capitalist
society, one can ensure wages either by relying on the market, or on the state, or on
private funding. The USAID grant was our first larger grant after the initial spinoff money from the Open Society Institute, and it meant that we could employ
some people from our community over the period of next two years. Yet at the
same time, the USAID had become directly involved in Iraq, aiding the US forces
and various private contractors such as Halliburton in the dispossession and


plunder of the Iraqi economy. Therefore, it was unconscionable to continue
receiving money from them. In light of its moral and existential weight, the
decision to return the money thus had to be made by the general assembly of our
People who were left without wages were part and parcel of the community that
we had built between 2000 and 2003, primarily through Otokultivator Summer
Camps and Summer Source Camp (Tactical Tech Collective, 2016). The other
grant we would receive later that year, from the Federal Cultural Foundation of the
German government, was split amongst a number of cultural organizations and
paid for activities that eventually paved the way for Right to the City (Pravo na
grad, 2016). However, we still could not pay the people who decided to return
USAID money, so they had to find other jobs. Money never comes without
conditionalities, and passing judgements while disregarding specific economic,
historic and organizational context can easily lead to apolitical moralizing.
We do have certain principles that we would not want to compromise – we do
not work with corporations, we are egalitarian in terms of income, our activities are
free for the public. In political activities, however, idealist positions make sense
only for as long as they are effective. Therefore, our idealism is through and
through pragmatic. It is in the similar manner that we invoke the ideal of the
library. We are well aware that reality is more complex than our ideals. However,
the collective sense of purpose inspired by an ideal can carry over into useful
collective action. This is the core of our interest …
PJ & AK: There has been a lot of water under the bridge since the 2000s. From
a ruined post-war country, Croatia has become an integral part of the European
Union – with all associated advantages and problems. What are the main today’s
challenges in maintaining the Multimedia Institute and its various projects? What
are your future plans?
MM & TM: From the early days, Multimedia Institute/MaMa took a twofold
approach. It has always supported people working in and around the organization
in their heterogeneous interests including but not limited to digital technology and
information freedoms, political theory and philosophy, contemporary digital art,
music and cinema. Simultaneously, it has been strongly focused to social and
institutional transformation.
The moment zero of Croatian independence in 1991, which was marked by war,
ethnic cleansing and forceful imposition of contrived mono-national identity, saw
the progressive and modernist culture embracing the political alternative of antiwar movement. It is within these conditions, which entailed exclusion from access
to public resources, that the Croatian civil society had developed throughout the
1990s. To address this denial of access to financial and spatial resources to civil
society, since 2000 we have been organizing collective actions with a number of
cultural actors across the country to create alternative routes for access to resources
– mutual support networks, shared venues, public funding, alternative forms of
funding. All the while, that organizational work has been implicitly situated in an
understanding of commons that draws on two sources – the social contract of the
free software community, and the legacy of social ownership under socialism.


Later on, this line of work has been developed towards intersectional struggles
around spatial justice and against privatisation of public services that coalesced
around the Right to the City movement (2007 till present) (Pravo na grad, 2016)
and the 2015 Campaign against the monetization of the national highway network.
In early 2016, with the arrival of the short-lived Croatian government formed by
a coalition of inane technocracy and rabid right wing radicals, many institutional
achievements of the last fifteen years seemed likely to be dismantled in a matter of
months. At the time of writing this text, the collapse of broader social and
institutional context is (again) an imminent threat. In a way, our current situation
echoes the atmosphere of Yugoslav civil wars in 1990s. Yet, the Croatian turn to
the right is structurally parallel to recent turn to the right that takes place in most
parts of Europe and the world at large. In the aftermath of the global neoliberal
race to the bottom and the War on Terror, the disenfranchised working class vents
its fears over immigration and insists on the return of nationalist values in various
forms suggested by irresponsible political establishments. If they are not spared the
humiliating sense of being outclassed and disenfranchised by the neoliberal race to
the bottom, why should they be sympathetic to those arriving from the
impoverished (semi)-periphery or to victims of turmoil unleashed by the endless
War on Terror? If globalisation is reducing their life prospects to nothing, why
should they not see the solution to their own plight in the return of the regime of
statist nationalism?
At the Multimedia Institute/MaMa we intend to continue our work against this
collapse of context through intersectionalist organizing and activism. We will
continue to do cultural programs, publish books, and organise the Human Rights
Film Festival. In order to articulate, formulate and document years of practical
experience, we aim to strengthen our focus on research and writing about cultural
policy, technological development, and political activism. Memory of the
World/Public Library project will continue to develop alternative infrastructures
for access, and develop new and existing networks of solidarity and public
advocacy for knowledge commons.

PJ & AK: Your interests and activities are predominantly centred around
information and communication technologies. Yet, a big part of your social
engagement takes place in Eastern Europe, which is not exactly on the forefront of
technological innovation. Can you describe the dynamics of working from the
periphery around issues developed in global centres of power (such as the Silicon
MM & TM: Computers in their present form had been developed primarily in
the Post-World War II United States. Their development started from the military
need to develop mathematics and physics behind the nuclear weapons and counterair defense, but soon it was combined with efforts to address accounting, logistics
and administration problems in diverse fields such as commercial air traffic,
governmental services, banks and finances. Finally, this interplay of the military


and the economy was joined by enthusiasts, hobbyists, and amateurs, giving the
development of (mainframe, micro and personal) computer its final historical
blueprint. This story is written in canonical computing history books such as The
Computer Boys Take Over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of
Technical Expertise. There, Nathan Ensmenger (2010: 14) writes: “the term
computer boys came to refer more generally not simply to actual computer
specialists but rather to the whole host of smart, ambitious, and technologically
inclined experts that emerged in the immediate postwar period.”
Very few canonical computing history books cover other histories. But when
that happens, we learn a lot. Be that Slava Gerovitch’s From Newspeak to
Cyberspeak (2002), which recounts the history of Soviet cybernetics, or Eden
Medina’s Cybernetic Revolutionaries (2011), which revisits the history of socialist
cybernetic project in Chile during Allende’s government, or the recent book by
Benjamin Peters How Not to Network a Nation (2016), which describes the history
of Soviet development of Internet infrastructure. Many (other) histories are yet to
be heard and written down. And when these histories get written down, diverse
things come into view: geopolitics, class, gender, race, and many more.
With their witty play and experiments with the medium, the early days of the
Internet were highly exciting. Big corporate websites were not much different from
amateur websites and even spoofs. A (different-than-usual) proximity of positions
of power enabled by the Internet allowed many (media-art) interventions, (rebirth
of) manifestos, establishment of (pseudo)-institutions … In these early times of
Internet’s history and geography, (the Internet subculture of) Eastern Europe
played a very important part. Inspired by Alexei Shulgin, Lev Manovich wrote ‘On
Totalitarian Interactivity’ (1996) where he famously addressed important
differences between understanding of the Internet in the West and the East. For the
West, claims Manovich, interactivity was a perfect vehicle for the ideas of
democracy and equality. For the East, however, interactivity was merely another
form of (media) manipulation. Twenty years later, it seems that Eastern Europe
was well prepared for what the Internet would become today.
PJ & AK: The dominant (historical) narrative of information and
communication technologies is predominantly based in the United States.
However, Silicon Valley is not the only game in town … What are the main
differences between approaches to digital technologies in the US and in Europe?
MM & TM: In the ninties, the lively European scene, which equally included
the East Europe, was the centre of critical reflection on the Internet and its
spontaneous ‘Californian ideology’ (Barbrook & Cameron, 1996). Critical culture
in Europe and its Eastern ‘countries in transition’ had a very specific institutional
landscape. In Western Europe, art, media, culture and ‘post-academic’ research in
humanities was by and large publicly funded. In Eastern Europe, development of
the civil society had been funded by various international foundations such as the
Open Society Institute aka the Soros Foundation. Critical new media and critical
art scene played an important role in that landscape. A wide range of initiatives,
medialabs, mailing lists, festivals and projects like Next5minutes (Amsterdam/
Rotterdam), Nettime & Syndicate (mailing lists), Backspace &


(London), Ljudmila (Ljubljana), Rixc (Riga), C3 (Budapest) and others constituted
a loose network of researchers, theorists, artists, activists and other cultural
This network was far from exclusively European. It was very well connected to
projects and initiatives from the United States such as Critical Art Ensemble,
Rhizome, and, to projects in India such as Sarai, and to struggles of
Zapatistas in Chiapas. A significant feature of this loose network was its mutually
beneficial relationship with relevant European art festivals and institutions such as
Documenta (Kassel), Transmediale/HKW (Berlin) or Ars Electronica (Linz). As a
rule of thumb, critical new media and art could only be considered in a conceptual
setup of hybrid institutions, conferences, forums, festivals, (curated) exhibitions
and performances – and all of that at once! The Multimedia Institute was an active
part of that history, so it is hardly a surprise that the Public Library project took a
similar path of development and contextualization.
However, European hacker communities were rarely hanging out with critical
digital culture crowds. This is not the place to extensively present the historic
trajectory of different hacker communities, but risking a gross simplification here
is a very short genealogy. The earliest European hacker association was the
German Chaos Computer Club (CCC) founded in 1981. Already in the early
1980s, CCC started to publicly reveal (security) weaknesses of corporate and
governmental computer systems. However, their focus on digital rights, privacy,
cyberpunk/cypherpunk, encryption, and security issues prevailed over other forms
of political activism. The CCC were very successful in raising issues, shaping
public discussions, and influencing a wide range of public actors from digital rights
advocacy to political parties (such as Greens and Pirate Party). However, unlike the
Italian and Spanish hackers, CCC did not merge paths with other social and/or
political movements. Italian and Spanish hackers, for instance, were much more
integral to autonomist/anarchist, political and social movements, and they have
kept this tradition until the present day.
PJ & AK: Can you expand this analysis to Eastern Europe, and ex-Yugoslavia
in particular? What were the distinct features of (the development of) hacker
culture in these areas?
MM & TM: Continuing to risk a gross simplification in the genealogy, Eastern
European hacker communities formed rather late – probably because of the
turbulent economic and political changes that Eastern Europe went through after
In MaMa, we used to run the programme g33koskop (2006–2012) with a goal to
“explore the scope of (term) geek” (Multimedia Institute, 2016b). An important
part of the program was to collect stories from enthusiasts, hobbyists, or ‘geeks’
who used to be involved in do-it-yourself communities during early days of
(personal) computing in Yugoslavia. From these makers of first 8-bit computers,
editors of do-it-yourself magazines and other early day enthusiasts, we could learn
that technical and youth culture was strongly institutionally supported (e.g. with
nation-wide clubs called People’s Technics). However, the socialist regime did not
adequately recognize the importance and the horizon of social changes coming


from (mere) education and (widely distributed) use of personal computers. Instead,
it insisted on an impossible mission of own industrial computer production in order
to preserve autonomy on the global information technology market. What a
horrible mistake … To be fair, many other countries during this period felt able to
achieve own, autonomous production of computers – so the mistake has reflected
the spirit of the times and the conditions of uneven economic and scientific
Looking back on the early days of computing in former Yugoslavia, many geeks
now see themselves as social visionaries and the avant-garde. During the 1990s
across the Eastern Europe, unfortunately, they failed to articulate a significant
political agenda other than fighting the monopoly of telecom companies. In their
daily lives, most of these people enjoyed opportunities and privileges of working in
a rapidly growing information technology market. Across the former Yugoslavia,
enthusiasts had started local Linux User Groups: HULK in Croatia, LUGOS in
Slovenia, LUGY in Serbia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and Macedonia. In the spirit
of their own times, many of these groups focused on attempts to convince the
business that free and open source software (at the time GNU/Linux, Apache,
Exim …) was a viable IT solution.
PJ & AK: Please describe further developments in the struggle between
proponents of proprietary software and the Free Software Movement.
MM & TM: That was the time before Internet giants such as Google, Amazon,
eBay or Facebook built their empires on top of Free/Libre/Open Source Software.
GNU General Public Licence, with its famous slogan “free as in free speech, not
free as in free beer” (Stallman, 2002), was strong enough to challenge the property
regime of the world of software production. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley
experimented with various approaches against the challenge of free software such
as ‘tivoizations’ (systems that incorporate copyleft-based software but impose
hardware restrictions to software modification), ‘walled gardens’ (systems where
carriers or service providers control applications, content and media, while
preventing them from interacting with the wider Internet ecosystem), ‘software-asa-service’ (systems where software is hosted centrally and licensed through
subscription). In order to support these strategies of enclosure and turn them into
profit, Silicon Valley developed investment strategies of venture capital or
leveraged buyouts by private equity to close the proprietary void left after the
success of commons-based peer production projects, where a large number of
people develop software collaboratively over the Internet without the exclusion by
property (Benkler, 2006).
There was a period when it seemed that cultural workers, artists and hackers
would follow the successful model of the Free Software Movement and build a
universal commons-based platform for peer produced, shared and distributed
culture, art, science and knowledge – that was the time of the Creative Commons
movement. But that vision never materialized. It did not help, either, that start-ups
with no business models whatsoever (e.g. (bookmarks), Flickr
(photos), Youtube (videos), Google Reader (RSS aggregator), Blogspot, and
others) were happy to give their services for free, let contributors use Creative


Commons licences (mostly on the side of licenses limiting commercial use and
adaptations), let news curators share and aggregate relevant content, and let Time
magazine claim that “You” (meaning “All of us”) are The Person of the Year
(Time Magazine, 2006).
PJ & AK: Please describe the interplay between the Free Software Movement
and the radically capitalist Silicon Valley start-up culture, and place it into the
larger context of political economy of software development. What are its
consequences for the hacker movement?
MM & TM: Before the 2008 economic crash, in the course of only few years,
most of those start-ups and services had been sold out to few business people who
were able to monetize their platforms, users and usees (mostly via advertisement)
or crowd them out (mostly via exponential growth of Facebook and its ‘magic’
network effect). In the end, almost all affected start-ups and services got shut down
(especially those bought by Yahoo). Nevertheless, the ‘golden’ corporate start-up
period brought about a huge enthusiasm and the belief that entrepreneurial spirit,
fostered either by an individual genius or by collective (a.k.a. crowd) endeavour,
could save the world. During that period, unsurprisingly, the idea of hacker
labs/spaces exploded.
Fabulous (self)replicating rapid prototypes, 3D printers, do-it-yourself, the
Internet of Things started to resonate with (young) makers all around the world.
Unfortunately, GNU GPL (v.3 at the time) ceased to be a priority. The
infrastructure of free software had become taken for granted, and enthusiastic
dancing on the shoulders of giants became the most popular exercise. Rebranding
existing Unix services (finger > twitter, irc > slack, talk > im), and/or designing the
‘last mile’ of user experience (often as trivial as adding round corners to the
buttons), would often be a good enough reason to enclose the project, do the
slideshow pitch, create a new start-up backed up by an angel investor, and hope to
win in the game of network effect(s).
Typically, software stack running these projects would be (almost) completely
GNU GPL (server + client), but parts made on OSX (endorsed for being ‘true’
Unix under the hood) would stay enclosed. In this way, projects would shift from
the world of commons to the world of business. In order to pay respect to the open
source community, and to keep own reputation of ‘the good citizen,’ many
software components would get its source code published on GitHub – which is a
prime example of that game of enclosure in its own right. Such developments
transformed the hacker movement from a genuine political challenge to the
property regime into a science fiction fantasy that sharing knowledge while
keeping hackers’ meritocracy regime intact could fix all world’s problems – if only
we, the hackers, are left alone to play, optimize, innovate and make that amazing

PJ & AK: This brings about the old debate between technological determinism
and social determinism, which never seems to go out of fashion. What is your take,


as active hackers and social activists, on this debate? What is the role of
(information) technologies in social development?
MM & TM: Any discussion of information technologies and social
development requires the following parenthesis: notions used for discussing
technological development are shaped by the context of parallel US hegemony
over capitalist world-system and its commanding role in the development of
information technologies. Today’s critiques of the Internet are far from celebration
of its liberatory, democratizing potential. Instead, they often reflect frustration over
its instrumental role in the expansion of social control. Yet, the binary of freedom
and control (Chun, 2008), characteristic for ideological frameworks pertaining to
liberal capitalist democracies, is increasingly at pains to explain what has become
evident with the creeping commercialization and concentration of market power in
digital networks. Information technologies are no different from other generalpurpose technologies on which they depend – such as mass manufacture, logistics,
or energy systems.
Information technologies shape capitalism – in return, capitalism shapes
information technologies. Technological innovation is driven by interests of
investors to profit from new commodity markets, and by their capacity to optimize
and increase productivity of other sectors of economy. The public has some
influence over development of information technologies. In fact, publicly funded
research and development has created and helped commercialize most of the
fundamental building blocks of our present digital infrastructures ranging from
microprocessors, touch-screens all the way to packet switching networks
(Mazzucato, 2013). However, public influence on commercially matured
information technologies has become limited, driven by imperatives of
accumulation and regulatory hegemony of the US.
When considering the structural interplay between technological development
and larger social systems, we cannot accept the position of technological
determinism – particularly not in the form of Promethean figures of enterpreneurs,
innovators and engineers who can solve the problems of the world. Technologies
are shaped socially, yet the position of outright social determinism is inacceptable
either. The reproduction of social relations depends on contingencies of
technological innovation, just as the transformation of social relations depends on
contingencies of actions by individuals, groups and institutions. Given the
asymmetries that exist between the capitalist core and the capitalist periphery, from
which we hail, strategies for using technologies as agents of social change differ
PJ & AK: Based on your activist experience, what is the relationship between
information technologies and democracy?
MM & TM: This relation is typically discussed within the framework of
communicative action (Habermas, 1984 [1981], 1987 [1981]) which describes how
the power to speak to the public has become radically democratized, how digital
communication has coalesced into a global public sphere, and how digital
communication has catalysed the power of collective mobilization. Information
technologies have done all that – but the framework of communicative action


describes only a part of the picture. Firstly, as Jodi Dean warns us in her critique of
communicative capitalism (Dean, 2005; see also Dean, 2009), the self-referential
intensity of communication frequently ends up as a substitute for the hard (and
rarely rewarding) work of political organization. Secondly, and more importantly,
Internet technologies have created the ‘winner takes all’ markets and benefited
more highly skilled workforce, thus helping to create extreme forms of economic
inequality (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2011). Thus, in any list of world’s richest
people, one can find an inordinate number of entrepreneurs from information
technology sector. This feeds deeply into neoliberal transformation of capitalist
societies, with growing (working and unemployed) populations left out of social
welfare which need to be actively appeased or policed. This is the structural
problem behind liberal democracies, electoral successes of the radical right, and
global “Trumpism” (Blyth, 2015). Intrinsic to contemporary capitalism,
information technologies reinforce its contradictions and pave its unfortunate trail
of destruction.
PJ & AK: Access to digital technologies and digital materials is dialectically
intertwined with human learning. For instance, Stallman’s definition of free
software directly addresses this issue in two freedoms: “Freedom 1: The freedom
to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish,” and
“Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements
(and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community
benefits” (Stallman, 2002: 43). Please situate the relationship between access and
learning in the contemporary context.
MM & TM: The relationships between digital technologies and education are
marked by the same contradictions and processes of enclosure that have befallen
the free software. Therefore, Eastern European scepticism towards free software is
equally applicable to education. The flip side of interactivity is audience
manipulation; the flip side of access and availability is (economic) domination.
Eroded by raising tuitions, expanding student debt, and poverty-level wages for
adjunct faculty, higher education is getting more and more exclusive. However,
occasional spread of enthusiasm through ideas such as MOOCs does not bring
about more emancipation and equality. While they preach loudly about unlimited
access for students at the periphery, neoliberal universities (backed up by venture
capital) are actually hoping to increase their recruitment business (models).
MOOCs predominantly serve members of privileged classes who already have
access to prestige universities, and who are “self-motivated, self-directed, and
independent individuals who would push to succeed anywhere” (Konnikova,
2014). It is a bit worrying that such rise of inequality results from attempts to
provide materials freely to everyone with Internet access!
The question of access to digital books for public libraries is different. Libraries
cannot afford digital books from world’s largest publishers (Digitalbookworld,
2012), and the small amount of already acquired e-books must destroyed after only
twenty six lendings (Greenfield, 2012). Thus, the issue of access is effectively left
to competition between Amazon, Google, Apple and other companies. The state of
affairs in scientific publishing is not any better. As we wrote in the collective open


letter ‘In solidarity with Library Genesis and Sci-Hub’ (, 2015),
five for-profit publishers (Elsevier, Springer, Wiley-Blackwell, Taylor & Francis
and Sage) own more than half of all existing databases of academic material, which
are licensed at prices so scandalously high that even Harvard, the richest university
of the Global North, has complained that it cannot afford them any longer. Robert
Darnton, the past director of Harvard Library, says: “We faculty do the research,
write the papers, referee papers by other researchers, serve on editorial boards, all
of it for free … and then we buy back the results of our labor at outrageous prices.”
For all the work supported by public money benefiting scholarly publishers,
particularly the peer review that grounds their legitimacy, prices of journal articles
prohibit access to science to many academics – and all non-academics – across the
world, and render it a token of privilege (, 2015).
PJ & AK: Please describe the existing strategies for struggle against these
developments. What are their main strengths and weaknesses?
MM & TM: Contemporary problems in the field of production, access,
maintenance and distribution of knowledge regulated by globally harmonized
intellectual property regime have brought about tremendous economic, social,
political and institutional crisis and deadlock(s). Therefore, we need to revisit and
rethink our politics, strategies and tactics. We could perhaps find inspiration in the
world of free software production, where it seems that common effort, courage and
charming obstinacy are able to build alternative tools and infrastructures. Yet, this
model might be insufficient for the whole scope of crisis facing knowledge
production and dissemination. The aforementioned corporate appropriations of free
software such as ‘tivoizations,’ ‘walled gardens,’ ‘software-as-a-service’ etc. bring
about the problem of longevity of commons-based peer-production.
Furthermore, the sense of entitlement for building alternatives to dominant
modes of oppression can only arrive at the close proximity to capitalist centres of
power. The periphery (of capitalism), in contrast, relies on strategies of ‘stealing’
and bypassing socio-economic barriers by refusing to submit to the harmonized
regulation that sets the frame for global economic exchange. If we honestly look
back and try to compare the achievements of digital piracy vs. the achievements of
reformist Creative Commons, it is obvious that the struggle for access to
knowledge is still alive mostly because of piracy.
PJ & AK: This brings us to the struggle against (knowledge as) private
property. What are the main problems in this struggle? How do you go about them?
MM & TM: Many projects addressing the crisis of access to knowledge are
originated in Eastern Europe. Examples include Library Genesis, Science Hub,
Monoskop and Memory of the World. Balázs Bodó’s research (2016) on the ethos
of Library Genesis and Science Hub resonates with our beliefs, shared through all
abovementioned projects, that the concept of private property should not be taken
for granted. Private property can and should be permanently questioned,
challenged and negotiated. This is especially the case in the face of artificial
scarcity (such as lack of access to knowledge caused by intellectual property in
context of digital networks) or selfish speculations over scarce basic human



resources (such as problems related to housing, water or waterfront development)
(Mars, Medak, & Sekulić, 2016).
The struggle to challenge the property regime used to be at the forefront of the
Free Software Movement. In the spectacular chain of recent events, where the
revelations of sweeping control and surveillance of electronic communications
brought about new heroes (Manning, Assange, Snowden), the hacker is again
reduced to the heroic cypherpunk outlaw. This firmly lies within the old Cold War
paradigm of us (the good guys) vs. them (the bad guys). However, only rare and
talented people are able to master cryptography, follow exact security protocols,
practice counter-control, and create a leak of information. Unsurprisingly, these
people are usually white, male, well-educated, native speakers of English.
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 to emerge from hiding and put our names
behind this act of 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 for the libraries – care for the metadata – care
for the backup. (, 2015)

PJ & AK: Started in 2012, The Public Library project (Memory of the World,
2016a) is an important part of struggle against commodification of knowledge.
What is the project about; how did it arrive into being?
MM & TM: The Public Library project develops and affirms scenarios for
massive disobedience against current regulation of production and circulation of
knowledge and culture in the digital realm. Started in 2012, it created a lot of
resonance across the peripheries of an unevenly developed world of study and
learning. Earlier that year, takedown of the book-sharing site produced
the anxiety that the equalizing effects brought about by piracy would be rolled
back. With the takedown, the fact that access to most recent and most relevant
knowledge was (finally) no longer a privilege of the rich academic institutions in a
few countries of the Global West, and/or the exclusive preserve of the academia to
boot – has simply disappeared into thin air. Certainly, various alternatives from
deep semi-periphery have quickly filled the gap. However, it is almost a miracle
that they still continue to exist in spite of prosecution they are facing on everyday



Our starting point for the Public Library project is simple: public library is the
institutional form devised by societies in order to make knowledge and culture
accessible to all its members regardless their social or economic status. There is a
political consensus across the board that this principle of access is fundamental to
the purpose of a modern society. Only educated and informed citizens are able to
claim their rights and fully participate in the polity for common good. Yet, as
digital networks have radically expanded availability of literature and science,
provision of de-commodified access to digital objects has been by and large denied
to public libraries. For instance, libraries frequently do not have the right to
purchase e-books for lending and preservations. If they do, they are limited in
regards to how many times and under what conditions they can lend digital objects
before the license and the object itself is revoked (Greenfield, 2012). The case of
academic journals is even worse. As journals become increasingly digital, libraries
can provide access and ‘preserve’ them only for as long as they pay extortionate
subscriptions. The Public Library project fills in the space that remains denied to
real-world public libraries by building tools for organizing and sharing electronic
libraries, creating digitization workflows and making books available online.
Obviously, we are not alone in this effort. There are many other platforms, public
and hidden, that help people to share books. And the practice of sharing is massive.
PJ & AK: The Public Library project (Memory of the World, 2016a) is a part of
a wider global movement based, amongst other influences, on the seminal work of
Aaron Swartz. This movement consists of various projects including but not
limited to Library Genesis,, UbuWeb, and others. Please situate The
Public Library project in the wider context of this movement. What are its distinct
features? What are its main contributions to the movement at large?
MM & TM: The Public Library project is informed by two historic moments in
the development of institution of public library The first defining moment
happened during the French Revolution – the seizure of library collections from
aristocracy and clergy, and their transfer to the Bibliothèque Nationale and
municipal libraries of the post-revolutionary Republic. The second defining
moment happened in England through working class struggles to make knowledge
accessible to the working class. After the revolution of 1848, that struggle resulted
in tax-supported public libraries. This was an important part of the larger attempt
by the Chartist movement to provide workers with “really useful knowledge”
aimed at raising class consciousness through explaining functioning of capitalist
domination and exploring ways of building workers’ own autonomous culture
(Johnson, 1988). These defining revolutionary moments have instituted two
principles underpinning the functioning of public libraries: a) general access to
knowledge is fundamental to full participation in the society, and b)
commodification of knowledge in the form of book trade needs to be limited by
public de-commodified non-monetary forms of access through public institutions.
In spite of enormous expansion of potentials for providing access to knowledge
to all regardless of their social status or geographic location brought about by the
digital technologies, public libraries have been radically limited in pursuing their
mission. This results in side-lining of public libraries in enormous expansion of


commodification of knowledge in the digital realm, and brings huge profits to
academic publishers. In response to these limitations, a number of projects have
sprung up in order to maintain public interest by illegal means.
PJ & AK: Can you provide a short genealogy of these projects?
MM & TM: Founded in 1996, Ubu was one of the first online repositories.
Then, in 2001, started distributing texts in critical theory. After got shot down in early 2004, it took another year for Aaaaarg to emerge
and Monoskop followed soon thereafter. In the latter part of the 2000s, Gigapedia
started a different trajectory of providing access to comprehensive repositories.
Gigapedia was a game changer, because it provided access to thousands and
thousands of scholarly titles and made access to that large corpus no longer limited
to those working or studying in the rich institutions of the Global North. In 2012
publishing industry shut down Gigapedia (at the time, it was known as
Fortunately, the resulting vacuum did not last for long, as repository got
merged into the holdings of Library Genesis. Building on the legacy of Soviet
scholars who devised the ways of shadow production and distribution of
knowledge in the form of samizdat and early digital distribution of texts in the
post-Soviet period (Balázs, 2014), Library Genesis has built a robust infrastructure
with the mission to provide access to the largest online library in existence while
keeping a low profile. At this moment Library Genesis provides access to books,
and its sister project Science Hub provides access to academic journals. Both
projects are under threat of closure by the largest academic publisher Reed
Elsevier. Together with the Public Library project, they articulate a position of civil
PJ & AK: Please elaborate the position of civil disobedience. How does it
work; when is it justified?
MM & TM: Legitimating discourses usually claim that shadow libraries fall
into the category of non-commercial fair use. These arguments are definitely valid,
yet they do not build a particularly strong ground for defending knowledge
commons. Once they arrive under attack, therefore, shadow libraries are typically
shut down. In our call for collective disobedience, therefore, we want to make a
larger claim. Access to knowledge as a universal condition could not exist if we –
academics and non-academics across the unevenly developed world – did not
create own ways of commoning knowledge that we partake in producing and
learning. By introducing 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 over and over again, we
need to publicly and collectively stand behind our disobedient behaviour. We
should not fall into the trap of the debate about legality or illegality of our
practices. Instead, we should acknowledge that our practices, which have been
deemed illegal, are politically legitimate in the face of uneven opportunities
between the Global North and the Global South, in the face of commercialization


of education and student debt in the Global North … This is the meaning of civil
disobedience – to take responsibility for breaking unjust laws.
PJ & AK: We understand your lack of interest for debating legality –
nevertheless, legal services are very interested in your work … For instance,
Marcell has recently been involved in a law suit related to Aaaaarg. Please describe
the relationship between morality and legality in your (public) engagement. When,
and under which circumstances, can one’s moral actions justify breaking the law?
MM & TM: Marcell has been recently drawn into a lawsuit that was filed
against Aaaaarg for copyright infringement. Marcell, the founder of Aaaaarg Sean
Dockray, and a number of institutions ranging from universities to continentalscale intergovernmental organizations, are being sued by a small publisher from
Quebec whose translation of André Bazin’s What is Cinema? (1967) was twice
scanned and uploaded to Aaaaarg by an unknown user. The book was removed
each time the plaintiff issued a takedown notice, resulting in minimal damages, but
these people are nonetheless being sued for 500.000 Canadian dollars. Should
Aaaaarg not be able to defend its existence on the principle of fair use, a valuable
common resource will yet again be lost and its founder will pay a high price. In this
lawsuit, ironically, there is little economic interest. But many smaller publishers
find themselves squeezed between the privatization of education which leaves
students and adjuncts with little money for books and the rapid concentration of
academic publishing. For instance, Taylor and Francis has acquired a smaller
humanities publisher Ashgate and shut it down in a matter of months (Save
Ashgate Publishing petition, 2015).
The system of academic publishing is patently broken. It syphons off public
funding of science and education into huge private profits, while denying living
wages and access to knowledge to its producers. This business model is legal, but
deeply illegitimate. Many scientists and even governments agree with this
conclusion – yet, situation cannot be easily changed because of entrenched power
passed down from the old models of publishing and their imbrication with
allocation of academic prestige. Therefore, the continuous existence of this model
commands civil disobedience.
PJ & AK: The Public Library project (Memory of the World, 2016a) operates
in various public domains including art galleries. Why did you decide to develop
The Public Library project in the context of arts? How do you conceive the
relationship between arts and activism?
MM & TM: We tend to easily conflate the political with the aesthetic.
Moreover, when an artwork expressedly claims political character, this seems to
grant it recognition and appraisal. Yet, socially reflective character of an artwork
and its consciously critical position toward the social reality might not be outright
political. Political action remains a separate form of agency, which is different than
that of socially reflexive, situated and critical art. It operates along a different logic
of engagement. It requires collective mobilization and social transformation.
Having said that, socially reflexive, situated and critical art cannot remain detached
from the present conjuncture and cannot exist outside the political space. Within
the world of arts, alternatives to existing social sensibilities and realities can be


articulated and tested without paying a lot of attention to consistency and
plausibility. Whereas activism generally leaves less room for unrestricted
articulation, because it needs to produce real and plausible effects.
With the generous support of the curatorial collective What, How and for Whom
(WHW) (2016), the Public Library project was surprisingly welcomed by the art
world, and this provided us with a stage to build the project, sharpen its arguments
and ascertain legitimacy of its political demands. The project was exhibited, with
WHW and other curators, in some of the foremost art venues such as Reina Sofía
in Madrid, Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart, 98 Weeks in Beirut,
Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova in Ljubljana, and Calvert 22 in London.
It is great to have a stage where we can articulate social issues and pursue avenues
of action that other social institutions might find risky to support. Yet, while the
space of art provides a safe haven from the adversarial world of political reality, we
think that the addressed issues need to be politicized and that other institutions,
primarily institutions of education, need to stand behind the demand for universal
access. For instance, teaching and research at the University in Zagreb critically
depends on the capacity of its faculty and students to access books and journals
from sources that are deemed illegal – in our opinion, therefore, the University
needs to take a public stand for these forms of access. In the world of
commercialized education and infringement liability, expecting the University to
publicly support us seems highly improbable. However, it is not impossible! This
was recently demonstrated by the Zürich Academy of Arts, which now hosts a
mirror of Ubu – a crucial resource for its students and faculty alike
(, 2016).
PJ & AK: In the current climate of economic austerity, the question of
resources has become increasingly important. For instance, Web 2.0. has narrowed
available spaces for traditional investigative journalism, and platforms such as
Airbnb and Uber have narrowed spaces for traditional labor. Following the same
line of argument, placing activism into art galleries clearly narrows available
spaces for artists. How do you go about this problem? What, if anything, should be
done with the activist takeover of traditional forms of art? Why?
MM & TM: Art can no longer stand outside of the political space, and it can no
longer be safely stowed away into a niche of supposed autonomy within bourgeois
public sphere detached from commodity production and the state. However, art
academies in Croatia and many other places throughout the world still churn out
artists on the premise that art is apolitical. In this view artists can specialize in a
medium and create in isolation of their studios – if their artwork is recognized as
masterful, it will be bought on the marketplace. This is patently a lie! Art in Croatia
depends on bonds of solidarity and public support.
Frequently it is the art that seeks political forms of engagement rather than vice
versa. A lot of headspace for developing a different social imaginary can be gained
from that venturing aspect of contemporary art. Having said that, art does not need
to be political in order to be relevant and strong.




PJ & AK: The Public Library project (Memory of the World, 2016a) is essentially
pedagogical. When everyone is a librarian, and all books are free, living in the
world transforms into living with the world – so The Public Library project is also
essentially anti-capitalist. This brings us to the intersections between critical
pedagogy of Paulo Freire, Peter McLaren, Henry Giroux, and others – and the
hacker culture of Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, Steven Lévy, and others. In
spite of various similarities, however, critical pedagogy and hacker culture disagree
on some important points.
With its deep roots in Marxism, critical theory always insists on class analysis.
Yet, imbued in the Californian ideology (Barbrook and Cameron, 1996), the hacker
culture is predominantly individualist. How do you go about the tension between
individualism and collectivism in The Public Library project? How do you balance
these forces in your overall work?
MM & TM: Hacker culture has always lived a double life. Personal computers
and the Internet have set up a perfect projection screen for a mind-set which
understands autonomy as a pursuit for personal self-realisation. Such mind-set sees
technology as a frontier of limitless and unconditional freedom, and easily melds
with entrepreneurial culture of the Silicon Valley. Therefore, it is hardly a surprise
that individualism has become the hegemonic narrative of hacker culture.
However, not all hacker culture is individualist and libertarian. Since the 1990s, the
hacker culture is heavily divided between radical individualism and radical
mutualism. Fred Turner (2006), Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron (1996) have
famously shown that radical individualism was built on freewheeling counterculture of the American hippie movement, while radical mutualism was built on
collective leftist traditions of anarchism and Marxism. This is evident in the Free
Software Movement, which has placed ethics and politics before economy and
technology. In her superb ethnographic work, Biella Coleman (2013) has shown
that projects such as GNU/Linux distribution Debian have espoused radically
collective subjectivities. In that regard, these projects stand closer to mutualist,
anarchist and communist traditions where collective autonomy is the foundation of
individual freedom.
Our work stands in that lineage. Therefore, we invoke two collective figures –
amateur librarian and custodian. These figures highlight the labor of communizing
knowledge and maintaining infrastructures of access, refuse to leave the commons
to the authority of professions, and create openings where technologies and
infrastructures can be re-claimed for radically collective and redistributive
endeavours. In that context, we are critical of recent attempts to narrow hacker
culture down to issues of surveillance, privacy and cryptography. While these
issues are clearly important, they (again) reframe the hacker community through
the individualist dichotomy of freedom and privacy, and, more broadly, through
the hegemonic discourse of the post-historical age of liberal capitalism. In this
way, the essential building blocks of the hacker culture – relations of production,
relations of property, and issues of redistribution – are being drowned out, and


collective and massive endeavour of commonizing is being eclipsed by the
capacity of the few crypto-savvy tricksters to avoid government control.
Obviously, we strongly disagree with the individualist, privative and 1337 (elite)
thrust of these developments.
PJ & AK: The Public Library project (Memory of the World, 2016a) arrives
very close to visions of deschooling offered by authors such as Ivan Illich (1971),
Everett Reimer (1971), Paul Goodman (1973), and John Holt (1967). Recent
research indicates that digital technologies offer some fresh opportunities for the
project of deschooling (Hart, 2001; Jandrić, 2014, 2015b), and projects such as
Monoskop (Monoskop, 2016) and The Public Library project (Memory of the
World, 2016a) provide important stepping-stones for emancipation of the
oppressed. Yet, such forms of knowledge and education are hardly – if at all –
recognised by the mainstream. How do you go about this problem? Should these
projects try and align with 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 a non-academic with no access to scholarly
libraries, or student/faculty outside of the few well-endowed academic institutions
in the Global North. As much as commercialization and privatization of education
are becoming mainstream across the world, so are the strategies of reproducing
one’s knowledge and academic research that depend on the de-commodified access
of shadow libraries.
Academic research papers are narrower in scope than textbooks, and Monoskop
is thematically more specific than Library Genesis. However, all these practices
exhibit ways in which our epistemologies and pedagogies are built around
institutional structures that reproduce inequality and differentiated access based on
race, gender, class and geography. By building own knowledge infrastructures, we
build different bodies of knowledge and different forms of relating to our realities –
in words of Walter Mignolo, we create new forms of epistemic disobedience
(2009). Through Public Library, we have digitized and made available several
collections that represent epistemologically different corpuses of knowledge. A
good example of that is the digital collection of books selected by Black Panther
Herman Wallace as his dream library for political education (Memory of the
World, 2016b).
PJ & AK: Your work breaks traditional distinctions between professionals and
amateurs – when everyone becomes a librarian, the concepts of ‘professional
librarian’ and ‘amateur librarian’ become obsolete. Arguably, this tension is an
inherent feature of the digital world – similar trends can be found in various
occupations such as journalism and arts. What are the main consequences of the
new (power) dynamics between professionals and amateurs?
MM & TM: There are many tensions between amateurs and professionals.
There is the general tension, which you refer to as “the inherent feature of the


digital world,” but there are also more historically specific tensions. We, amateur
librarians, are mostly interested in seizing various opportunities to politicize and
renegotiate the positions of control and empowerment in the tensions that are
already there. We found that storytelling is a particularly useful, efficient and
engaging way of politicization. The naïve and oft overused claim – particularly
during the Californian nineties – of the revolutionary potential of emerging digital
networks turned out to be a good candidate for replacement by a story dating back
two centuries earlier – the story of emergence of public libraries in the early days
of the French bourgeois revolution in the 19th century.
The seizure of book collections from the Church and the aristocracy in the
course of revolutions casts an interesting light on the tensions between the
professionals and the amateurs. Namely, the seizure of book collections didn’t lead
to an Enlightenment in the understanding of the world – a change in the paradigm
how we humans learn, write and teach each other about the world. Steam engine,
steam-powered rotary press, railroads, electricity and other revolutionary
technological innovations were not seen as results of scientific inquiry. Instead,
they were by and large understood as developments in disciplines such as
mechanics, engineering and practical crafts, which did not challenge religion as the
foundational knowledge about the world.
Consequently, public prayers continued to act as “hoped for solutions to cattle
plagues in 1865, a cholera epidemic in 1866, and a case of typhoid suffered by the
young Prince (Edward) of Wales in 1871” (Gieryn, 1983). Scientists of the time
had to demarcate science from both the religion and the mechanics to provide a
rationale for its supriority as opposed to the domains of spiritual and technical
discovery. Depending on whom they talked to, asserts Thomas F. Gieryn, scientists
would choose to discribe the science as either theoretical or empirical, pure or
applied, often in contradictory ways, but with a clear goal to legitimate to
authorities both the scientific endavor and its claim to resources. Boundary-work of
demarcation had the following characteristics:
(a) when the goal is expansion of authority or expertise into domains claimed
by other professions or occupations, boundary-work heightens the contrast
between rivals in ways flattering to the ideologists’ side;
(b) when the goal is monopolization of professional authority and resources,
boundary-work excludes rivals from within by defining them as outsiders
with labels such as ‘pseudo,’ ‘deviant,’ or ‘amateur’;
(c) when the goal is protection of autonomy over professional activities,
boundary-work exempts members from responsibility for consequences of
their work by putting the blame on scapegoats from outside. (Gieryn, 1983:
Once institutionally established, modern science and its academic system have
become the exclusive instances where emerging disciplines had now to seek
recognition and acceptance. The new disciplines (and their respective professions),
in order to become acknowledged by the scientific community as legitimate, had to


repeat the same boundary-work as the science in general once had to go through
The moral of this story is that the best way for a new scientific discipline to
claim its territory was to articulate the specificity and importance of its insights in a
domain no other discipline claimed. It could achieve that by theorizing,
formalizing, and writing own vocabulary, methods and curricula, and finally by
asking the society to see its own benefit in acknowledging the discipline, its
practitioners and its practices as a separate profession – giving it the green light to
create its own departments and eventually join the productive forces of the world.
This is how democratization of knowledge led to the professionalization of science.
Another frequent reference in our storytelling is the history of
professionalization of computing and its consequences for the fields and disciplines
where the work of computer programmers plays an important role (Ensmenger,
2010: 14; Krajewski, 2011). Markus Krajewski in his great book Paper Machines
(2011), looking back on the history of index card catalog (an analysis that is
formative for our understanding of the significance of library catalog as an
epistemic tool), introduced a thought-provoking idea of the logical equivalence of
the developed index card catalog and the Turing machine, thus making the library a
vanguard of the computing. Granting that equivalence, we however think that the
professionalization of computing much better explains the challenges of today’s
librarianship and tensions between the amateur and professional librarians.
The world recognized the importance and potential of computer technology
much before computer science won its own autonomy in the academia. Computer
science first had to struggle and go through its own historical phase of boundarywork. In 1965 the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) had decided to
pool together various attempts to define the terms and foundations of computer
science analysis. Still, the field wasn’t given its definition before Donald Knuth
and his colleagues established the algorithm as as the principle unit of analysis in
computer science in the first volume of Knuth’s canonical The Art of Computer
Programming (2011) [1968]. Only once the algorithm was posited as the main unit
of study of computer science, which also served as the basis for ACM’s
‘Curriculum ‘68’ (Atchison et al., 1968), the path was properly paved for the future
departments of computer science in the university.
PJ & AK: What are the main consequences of these stories for computer
science education?
MM & TM: Not everyone was happy with the algorithm’s central position in
computer science. Furthermore, since the early days, computer industry has been
complaining that the university does not provide students with practical
knowledge. Back in 1968, for instance, IBM researcher Hal Sackman said:
new departments of computer science in the universities are too busy
teaching simon-pure courses in their struggle for academic recognition to pay
serious time and attention to the applied work necessary to educate
programmers and systems analysts for the real world. (in Ensmenger, 2010:


Computer world remains a weird hybrid where knowledge is produced in both
academic and non-academic settings, through academic curricula – but also
through fairs, informal gatherings, homebrew computer clubs, hacker communities
and the like. Without the enthusiasm and the experiments with ways how
knowledge can be transferred and circulated between peers, we would have
probably never arrived to the Personal Computer Revolution in the beginning of
1980s. Without the amount of personal computers already in use, we would have
probably never experienced the Internet revolution in the beginning of 1990s. It is
through such historical development that computer science became the academic
centre of the larger computer universe which spread its tentacles into almost all
other known disciplines and professions.
PJ & AK: These stories describe the process of professionalization. How do
you go about its mirror image – the process of amateurisation?
MM & TM: Systematization, vocabulary, manuals, tutorials, curricula – all the
processes necessary for achieving academic autonomy and importance in the world
– prime a discipline for automatization of its various skills and workflows into
software tools. That happened to photography (Photoshop, 1990; Instagram, 2010),
architecture (AutoCAD, 1982), journalism (Blogger, 1999; WordPress, 2003),
graphic design (Adobe Illustrator, 1986; Pagemaker, 1987; Photoshop, 1988;
Freehand, 1988), music production (Steinberg Cubase, 1989), and various other
disciplines (Memory of the World, 2016b).
Usually, after such software tool gets developed and introduced into the
discipline, begins the period during which a number of amateurs start to ‘join’ that
profession. An army of enthusiasts with a specific skill, many self-trained and with
understanding of a wide range of software tools, join. This phenomenon often
marks a crisis as amateurs coming from different professional backgrounds start to
compete with certified and educated professionals in that field. Still, the future
development of the same software tools remains under control by software
engineers, who become experts in established workflows, and who promise further
optimizations in the field. This crisis of old professions becomes even more
pronounced if the old business models – and their corporate monopolies – are
challenged by the transition to digital network economy and possibly face the
algorithmic replacement of their workforce and assets.
For professions under these challenging conditions, today it is often too late for
boundary-work described in our earlier answer. Instead of maintaining authority
and expertise by labelling upcoming enthusiasts as ‘pseudo,’ ‘deviant,’ or
‘amateur,’ therefore, contemporary disciplines need to revisit own roots, values,
vision and benefits for society and then (re-)articulate the corpus of knowledge that
the discipline should maintain for the future.
PJ & AK: How does this relate to the dichotomy between amateur and
professional librarians?
MM & TM: We regard the e-book management software Calibre (2016),
written by Kovid Goyal, as a software tool which has benefited from the
knowledge produced, passed on and accumulated by librarians for centuries.
Calibre has made the task of creating and maintaining the catalog easy.


Our vision is to make sharing, aggregating and accessing catalogs easy and
playful. We like the idea that every rendered catalog is stored on a local hard disk,
that an amateur librarian can choose when to share, and that when she decides to
share, the catalog gets aggregated into a library together with the collections of
other fellow amateur librarians (at For the
purpose of sharing we wrote the Calibre plugin named let’s share books and set up
the related server infrastructure – both of which are easily replicable and
deployable into distributed clones.
Together with Voja Antonić, the legendary inventor of the first eight-bit
computer in Yugoslavia, we also designed and developed a series of book scanners
and used them to digitize hundreds of books focused to Yugoslav humanities such
as the Digital Archive of Praxis and the Korčula Summer School (2016), Catalogue
of Liberated Books (2013), books thrown away from Croatian public libraries
during ideological cleansing of the 1990s Written-off (2015), and the collection of
books selected by the Black Panther Herman Wallace as his dream library for
political education (Memory of the World, 2016b).
In our view, amateur librarians are complementary to professional librarians,
and there is so much to learn and share between each other. Amateur librarians care
about books which are not (yet) digitally curated with curiosity, passion and love;
they dare to disobey in pursuit for the emancipatory vision of the world which is
now under threat. If we, amateur librarians, ever succeed in our pursuits – that
should secure the existing jobs of professional librarians and open up many new
and exciting positions. When knowledge is easily accessed, (re)produced and
shared, there will be so much to follow up upon.

PJ & AK: You organize talks and workshops, publish books, and maintain a major
regional hub for people interested in digital cultures. In Croatia, your names are
almost synonymous with social studies of the digital – worldwide, you are
recognized as regional leaders in the field. Such engagement has a prominent
pedagogical component – arguably, the majority of your work can be interpreted as
public pedagogy. What are the main theoretical underpinnings of your public
pedagogy? How does it work in practice?
MM & TM: Our organization is a cluster of heterogeneous communities and
fields of interest. Therefore, our approaches to public pedagogy hugely vary. In
principle, we subscribe to the idea that all intelligences are equal and that all
epistemology is socially structured. In practice, this means that our activities are
syncretic and inclusive. They run in parallel without falling under the same
umbrella, and they bring together people of varying levels of skill – who bring in
various types of knowledge, and who arrive from various social backgrounds.
Working with hackers, we favour hands-on approach. For a number of years
Marcell has organized weekly Skill Sharing program (Net.culture club MaMa,
2016b) that has started from very basic skills. The bar was incrementally raised to
today’s level of the highly specialized meritocratic community of 1337 hackers. As


the required skill level got too demanding, some original members left the group –
yet, the community continues to accommodate geeks and freaks. At the other end,
we maintain a theoretically inflected program of talks, lectures and publications.
Here we invite a mix of upcoming theorists and thinkers and some of the most
prominent intellectuals of today such as Jacques Rancière, Alain Badiou, Saskia
Sassen and Robert McChesney. This program creates a larger intellectual context,
and also provides space for our collaborators in various activities.
Our political activism, however, takes an altogether different approach. More
often than not, our campaigns are based on inclusive planning and direct decision
making processes with broad activist groups and the public. However, such
inclusiveness is usually made possible by a campaigning process that allows
articulation of certain ideas in public and popular mobilization. For instance, before
the Right to the City campaign against privatisation of the pedestrian zone in
Zagreb’s Varšavska Street coalesced together (Pravo na grad, 2016), we tactically
used media for more than a year to clarify underlying issues of urban development
and mobilize broad public support. At its peak, this campaign involved no less than
200 activists involved in the direct decision-making process and thousands of
citizens in the streets. Its prerequisite was hard day-to-day work by a small group
of people organized by the important member of our collective Teodor Celakoski.
PJ & AK: Your public pedagogy provides great opportunity for personal
development – for instance, talks organized by the Multimedia Institute have been
instrumental in shaping our educational trajectories. Yet, you often tackle complex
problems and theories, which are often described using complex concepts and
language. Consequently, your public pedagogy is inevitably restricted to those who
already possess considerable educational background. How do you balance the
popular and the elitist aspects of your public pedagogy? Do you intend to try and
reach wider audiences? If so, how would you go about that?
MM & TM: Our cultural work equally consists of more demanding and more
popular activities, which mostly work together in synergy. Our popular Human
Rights Film Festival (2016) reaches thousands of people; yet, its highly selective
programme echoes our (more) theoretical concerns. Our political campaigns are
intended at scalability, too. Demanding and popular activities do not contradict
each other. However, they do require very different approaches and depend on
different contexts and situations. In our experience, a wide public response to a
social cause cannot be simply produced by shaping messages or promoting causes
in ways that are considered popular. The response of the public primarily depends
on a broadly shared understanding, no matter its complexity, that a certain course
of action has an actual 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 access to scholarly writing: Science Hub and Library Genesis. The letter
is clearly a product of our specific collective work and dynamic. Yet, it clearly


articulates various aspects of discontent around this impasse in access to
knowledge, so it resonates with a huge number of people around the world and
gives them a clear indication that there are many who disobey the global
distribution of knowledge imposed by the likes of Elsevier.
PJ & AK: Your work is probably best described by John Holloway’s phrase
“in, against, and beyond the state” (Holloway, 2002, 2016). What are the main
challenges of working under such conditions? How do you go about them?
MM & TM: We could situate the Public Library project within the structure of
tactical agency, where one famously moves into the territory of institutional power
of others. While contesting the regulatory power of intellectual property over
access to knowledge, we thus resort to appropriation of universalist missions of
different social institutions – public libraries, UNESCO, museums. Operating in an
economic system premised on unequal distribution of means, they cannot but fail
to deliver on their universalist promise. Thus, while public libraries have a mission
to provide access to knowledge to all members of the society, they are severely
limited in what they can do to accomplish that mission in the digital realm. By
claiming the mission of universal access to knowledge for shadow libraries,
collectively built shared infrastructures redress the current state of affairs outside of
the territory of institutions. Insofar, these acts of commoning can indeed be
regarded as positioned beyond the state (Holloway, 2002, 2016).
Yet, while shadow libraries can complement public libraries, they cannot
replace public libraries. And this shifts the perspective from ‘beyond’ to ‘in and
against’: we all inhabit social institutions which reflect uneven development in and
between societies. Therefore, we cannot simply operate within binaries: powerful
vs. powerless, institutional vs. tactical. Our space of agency is much more complex
and blurry. Institutions and their employees resist imposed limitations, and
understand that their spaces of agency reach beyond institutional limitations.
Accordingly, the Public Library project enjoys strong and unequivocal complicity
of art institutions, schools and libraries for its causes and activities. While
collectively building practices that abolish the present state of affairs and reclaim
the dream of universal access to knowledge, we rearticulate the vision of a
radically equal society equipped with institutions that can do justice to that
“infinite demand” (Critchley, 2013). We are collectively pursuing this collective
dream – in words of our friend and our continuing inspiration Aaron Swartz: “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?”
(Swartz, 2008).

monoskop in Medak, Mars & WHW 2015

Medak, Mars & WHW
Public Library

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
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

Marcell Mars, Manar Zarroug
& Tomislav Medak


Public Library (essay)
Paul Otlet


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


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


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
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)


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,, n.d.,


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),
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),
07 Snow, “Melvil Dewey”.

Public library (essay)


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.”,, 27 October 2014,


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
10 Jeremy Greenfield, “What Is Going On with Library E-Book
Lending?”, Forbes, 22 June 2012,

Public library (essay)


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.!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.


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 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,
14 Shannon Mattern, “Library as Infrastructure”, Design
Observer, 9 June 2014,

Public library (essay)


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,, 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


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

ries, such as Gigapedia (later, 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/ 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., 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, “, Book Downloading Site,
Targeted in Injunctions Requested by 17 Publishers,” Huffington Post, 15 February 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.
17 “The Public School”, The Public School, n.d.,

Public library (essay)


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,, 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
19 “Paul Otlet”, Wikipedia, 27 October 2014,


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

20 “Tools”, Memory of the World, n.d.,
21 See
22 “End-to-End Catalog”, Memory of the World, 26 November 2012,

Public library (essay)


Paul Otlet

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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
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


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.


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


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


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


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.


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


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.


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
[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


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-


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


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,
[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.


Paul Otlet



public library


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


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-


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


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


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


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.


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



public library


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,

The Future After the Library


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-


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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
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


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


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


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


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


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, 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-


Tomislav Medak

rative website on the internet — the Wikipedia, as
well as a number of other collaborative platforms. embraces the encyclopedic spirit of
Wikipedia, focusing on its own specific topical and
topological interests. However, from its earliest days 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, 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 archive and to relevant resources for
those persons on the 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
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


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 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


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 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., 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

The Future After the Library



public library


Public Library

What, How & for Whom / WHW
Slovenska 5/1 • HR-10000 Zagreb
+385 (0) 1 3907261 •
ISBN 978-953-55951-3-7 [Što, kako i za koga/WHW]
Multimedia Institute
Preradovićeva 18 • HR-10000 Zagreb
+385 (0)1 4856400 •
ISBN 978-953-7372-27-9 [Multimedijalni institut]
Tomislav Medak • Marcell Mars • What, How & for Whom / WHW
Copy Editor
Dušanka Profeta [Croatian]
Anthony Iles [English]
Una Bauer
Tomislav Medak
Dušanka Profeta
W. Boyd Rayward
Design & layout
Dejan Kršić @ WHW
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
Agrippina 120 g • Rives Laid 300 g
Printed by
Tiskara Zelina d.d.
Print Run
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

monoskop in Sekulic 2018

On Knowledge and Stealing

# Dubravka Sekulic: On Knowledge and 'Stealing'

This text was originally published in [The
Funambulist]( - 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

In June 2015 Elsiver won an injunction against Library Genesis and its
subsidiary platform, 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,
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 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,, 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]( 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](, [Jonathan
Solomon]( and [Valentina


This text was originally published in The Funambulist - Issue 17, May-June
2018 "Weaponized Infrastrucuture".  [A pdf version of it can be downloaded



(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[]( 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.

(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.[](

(8) Ibid.

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

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

monoskop in Sollfrank 2018

The Surplus of Copying

## essay #11

The Surplus of Copying
How Shadow Libraries and Pirate Archives Contribute to the
Creation of Cultural Memory and the Commons
By Cornelia Sollfrank

Digital artworks tend to have a problematic relationship with the white
cube—in particular, when they are intended and optimized for online
distribution. While curators and exhibition-makers usually try to avoid
showing such works altogether, or at least aim at enhancing their sculptural
qualities to make them more presentable, the exhibition _Top Tens_ featured an
abundance of web quality digital artworks, thus placing emphasis on the very
media condition of such digital artifacts. The exhibition took place at the
Onassis Cultural Center in Athens in March 2018 and was part of the larger
festival _Shadow Libraries: UbuWeb in Athens_ ,1 an event to introduce the
online archive UbuWeb2 to the Greek audience and discuss related cultural,
ethical, technical, and legal issues. This text takes the event—and the
exhibition in particular—as a starting point for a closer look at UbuWeb and
the role an artistic approach can play in building cultural memory within the
neoliberal knowledge economy.

_UbuWeb—The Cultural Memory of the Avant-Garde_

Since Kenneth Goldsmith started Ubu in 1997 the site has become a major point
of reference for anyone interested in exploring twentieth-century avant-garde
art. The online archive provides free and unrestricted access to a remarkable
collection of thousands of artworks—among them almost 700 films and videos,
over 1000 sound art pieces, dozens of filmed dance productions, an
overwhelming amount of visual poetry and conceptual writing, critical
documents, but also musical scores, patents, electronic music resources, plus
an edition of vital new literature, the /ubu editions. Ubu contextualizes the
archived objects within curated sections and also provides framing academic
essays. Although it is a project run by Goldsmith without a budget, it has
built a reputation for making all the things available one would not find
elsewhere. The focus on “avant-garde” may seem a bit pretentious at first, but
when you look closer at the project, its operator and the philosophy behind
it, it becomes obvious how much sense this designation makes. Understanding
the history of the twentieth-century avant-garde as “a history of subversive
takes on creativity, originality, and authorship,”3 such spirit is not only
reflected in terms of the archive’s contents but also in terms of the project
as a whole. Theoretical statements by Goldsmith in which he questions concepts
such as authorship, originality, and creativity support this thesis4—and with
that a conflictual relationship with the notion of intellectual property is
preprogrammed. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the increasing
popularity of the project goes hand-in-hand with a growing discussion about
its ethical justification.

At the heart of Ubu, there is the copy! Every item in the archive is a digital
copy, either of another digital item or, in fact, it is the digitized version
of an analog object.5 That is to say, the creation of a digital collection is
inevitably based on copying the desired archive records and storing them on
dedicated media. However, making a copy is in itself a copyright-relevant act,
if the respective item is an original creation and as such protected under
copyright law.6 Hence, “any reproduction of a copyrighted work infringes the
copyright of the author or the corresponding rights of use of the copyright
holder”.7 Whether the existence of an artwork within the Ubu collection is a
case of copyright infringement varies with each individual case and depends on
the legal status of the respective work, but also on the way the rights
holders decide to act. As with all civil law, there is no judge without a
plaintiff, which means even if there is no express consent by the rights
holders, the work can remain in the archive as long as there is no request for
removal.8 Its status, however, is precarious. We find ourselves in the
notorious gray zone of copyright law where nothing is clear and many things
are possible—until somebody decides to challenge this status. Exploring the
borders of this experimental playground involves risk-taking, but, at the same
time, it is the only way to preserve existing freedoms and make a case for
changing cultural needs, which have not been considered in current legal
settings. And as the 20 years of Ubu’s existence demonstrate, the practice may
be experimental and precarious, but with growing cultural relevance and
reputation it is also gaining in stability.

_Fair Use and Public Interest_

At all public appearances and public presentations Goldsmith and his
supporters emphasize the educational character of the project and its non-
commercial orientation.9 Such a characterization is clearly intended to take
the wind out of the sails of its critics from the start and to shift the
attention away from the notion of piracy and toward questions of public
interest and the common good.

From a cultural point of view, the project unquestionably is of inestimable
value; a legal defense, however, would be a difficult undertaking. Copyright
law, in fact, has a built-in opening, the so-called copyright exceptions or
fair use regulations. They vary according to national law and cultural
traditions and allow for the use of copyrighted works under certain, defined
provisions without permission of the owner. The exceptions basically apply to
the areas of research and private study (both non-commercial), education,
review, and criticism and are described through general guidelines. “These
defences exist in order to restore the balance between the rights of the owner
of copyright and the rights of society at large.”10

A very powerful provision in most legislations is the permission to make
“private copies”, digital and analog ones, in small numbers, but they are
limited to non-commercial and non-public use, and passing on to a third party
is also excluded.11 As Ubu is an online archive that makes all of its records
publicly accessible and, not least, also provides templates for further
copying, it exceeds the notion of a “private copy” by far. Regarding further
fair use provisions, the four factors that are considered in a decision-making
process in US copyright provisions, for instance, refer to: 1) the purpose and
character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or
is for non-profit educational purposes; 2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the
copyrighted work as a whole; and 4) the effect of the use upon the potential
market for the value of the copyrighted work (US Copyright Act, 1976, 17 USC.
§107, online, n.pag.). Applying these fair use provisions to Ubu, one might
consider that the main purposes of the archive relate to education and
research, that it is by its very nature non-commercial, and it largely does
not collide with any third party business interests as most of the material is
not commercially available. However, proving this in detail would be quite an
endeavor. And what complicates matters even more is that the archival material
largely consists of original works of art, which are subject to strict
copyright law protection, that all the works have been copied without any
transformative or commenting intention, and last but not least, that the
aspect of the appropriateness of the amount of used material becomes absurd
with reference to an archive whose quality largely depends on
comprehensiveness: the more the merrier. As Simon Stokes points out, legally
binding decisions can only be made on a case-by-case basis, which is why it is
difficult to make a general evaluation of Ubu’s legal situation.12 The ethical
defense tends to induce the cultural value of the archive as a whole and its
invaluable contribution to cultural memory, while the legal situation does not
consider the value of the project as a whole and necessitates breaking it down
into all the individual items within the collection.

This very brief, when not abridged discussion of the possibilities of fair use
already demonstrates how complex it would be to apply them to Ubu. How
pointless it would be to attempt a serious legal discussion for such a
privately run archive becomes even clearer when looking at the problems public
libraries and archives have to face. While in theory such official
institutions may even have a public mission to collect, preserve, and archive
digital material, in practice, copyright law largely prevents the execution of
this task, as Steinhauer explains.13 The legal expert introduces the example
of the German National Library, which was assigned the task since 2006 to make
back-up copies of all websites published within the .de sublevel domain, but
it turned out to be illegal.14 Identifying a deficiently legal situation when
it comes to collecting, archiving, and providing access to digital cultural
goods, Steinhauer even speaks of a “legal obligation to amnesia”.15 And it is
particularly striking that, from a legal perspective, the collecting of
digitalia is more strictly regulated than the collecting of books, for
example, where the property status of the material object comes into play.
Given the imbalance between cultural requirements, copyright law, and the
technical possibilities, it is not surprising that private initiatives are
being founded with the aim to collect and preserve cultural memory. These
initiatives make use of the affordability and availability of digital
technology and its infrastructures, and they take responsibility for the
preservation of cultural goods by simply ignoring copyright induced
restrictions, i.e. opposing the insatiable hunger of the IP regime for

_Shadow Libraries_

Ubu was presented and discussed in Athens at an event titled _Shadow
Libraries: UbuWeb in Athens_ , thereby making clear reference to the ecosystem
of shadow libraries. A library, in general, is an institution that collects,
orders, and makes published information available while taking into account
archival, economic, and synoptic aspects. A shadow library does exactly the
same thing, but its mission is not an official one. Usually, the
infrastructure of shadow libraries is conceived, built, and run by a private
initiative, an individual, or a small group of people, who often prefer to
remain anonymous for obvious reasons. In terms of the media content provided,
most shadow libraries are peer-produced in the sense that they are based on
the contributions of a community of supporters, sometimes referred to as
“amateur librarians”. The two key attributes of any proper library, according
to Amsterdam-based media scholar Bodo Balazs, are the catalog and the
community: “The catalogue does not just organize the knowledge stored in the
collection; it is not just a tool of searching and browsing. It is a critical
component in the organisation of the community of librarians who preserve and
nourish the collection.”16 What is specific about shadow libraries, however,
is the fact that they make available anything their contributors consider to
be relevant—regardless of its legal status. That is to say, shadow libraries
also provide unauthorized access to copyrighted publications, and they make
the material available for download without charge and without any other
restrictions. And because there is a whole network of shadow libraries whose
mission is “to remove all barriers in the way of science,”17 experts speak of
an ecosystem fostering free and universal access to knowledge.

The notion of the shadow library enjoyed popularity in the early 2000s when
the wide availability of digital networked media contributed to the emergence
of large-scale repositories of scientific materials, the most famous one
having been Gigapedia, which later transformed into This project
was famous for hosting approximately 400,000 (scientific) books and journal
articles but had to be shut down in 2012 as a consequence of a series of
injunctions from powerful publishing houses. The now leading shadow library in
the field, Library Genesis (LibGen), can be considered as its even more
influential successor. As of November 2016 the database contained 25 million
documents (42 terabytes), of which 2.1 million were books, with digital copies
of scientific articles published in 27,134 journals by 1342 publishers.18 The
large majority of the digital material is of scientific and educational nature
(95%), while only 5% serves recreational purposes.19 The repository is based
on various ways of crowd-sourcing, i.e. social and technical forms of
accessing and sharing academic publications. Despite a number of legal cases
and court orders, the site is still available under various and changing
domain names.20

The related project Sci-Hub is an online service that processes requests for
pay-walled articles by providing systematic, automized, but unauthorized
backdoor access to proprietary scholarly journal databases. Users requesting
papers not present in LibGen are advised to download them through Sci-Hub; the
respective PDF files are served to users and automatically added to LibGen (if
not already present). According to _Nature_ magazine, Sci-Hub hosts around 60
million academic papers and was able to serve 75 million downloads in 2016. On
a daily basis 70,000 users access approximately 200,000 articles.

The founder of the meta library Sci-Hub is Kazakh programmer Alexandra
Elbakyan, who has been sued by large publishing houses and was convicted twice
to pay almost 20 million US$ in compensation for the losses her activities
allegedly have caused, which is why she had to go underground in Russia. For
illegally leaking millions of documents the _New York Times_ compared her to
Edward Snowden in 2016: “While she didn’t reveal state secrets, she took a
stand for the public’s right to know by providing free online access to just
about every scientific paper ever published, ranging from acoustics to
zymology.” 21 In the same year the prestigious _Nature_ magazine elected her
as one of the ten most influential people in science. 22 Unlike other
persecuted people, she went on the offensive and started to explain her
actions and motives in court documents and blog posts. Sci-Hub encourages new
ways of distributing knowledge, beyond any commercial interests. It provides a
radically open infrastructure thus creating an inviting atmosphere. “It is a
knowledge infrastructure that can be freely accessed, used and built upon by

As both projects LibGen and Sci-Hub are based in post-Soviet countries, Balazs
reconstructed the history and spirit of Russian reading culture and brings
them into connection.24 Interestingly, the author also establishes a
connection to the Kolhoz (Russian: колхо́з), an early Soviet collective farm
model that was self-governing, community-owned, and a collaborative
enterprise, which he considers to be a major inspiration for the digital
librarians. He also identifies parallels between this Kolhoz model and the
notion of the “commons”—a concept that will be discussed in more detail with
regards to shadow libraries further below.

According to Balazs, these sorts of libraries and collections are part of the
Guerilla Open Access movement (GOA) and thus practical manifestations of Aaron
Swartz’s “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto”.25 In this manifesto the American
hacker and activist pointed out the flaws of open access politics and aimed at
recruiting supporters for the idea of “radical” open access. Radical in this
context means to completely ignore copyright and simply make as much
information available as possible. “Information is power” is how the manifesto
begins. Basically, it addresses the—what he calls—“privileged”, in the sense
that they do have access to information as academic staff or librarians, and
he calls on their support for building a system of freely available
information by using their privilege, downloading and making information
available. Swartz and Elbakyan both have become the “iconic leaders”26 of a
global movement that fights for scientific knowledge to be(come) freely
accessible and whose protagonists usually prefer to operate unrecognized.
While their particular projects may be of a more or less temporary nature, the
discursive value of the work of the “amateur librarians” and their projects
will have a lasting impact on the development of access politics.

_Cultural and Knowledge Commons_

The above discussion illustrates that the phenomenon of shadow libraries
cannot be reduced to its copyright infringing aspects. It needs to be
contextualized within a larger sociopolitical debate that situates the demand
for free and unrestricted access to knowledge within the struggle against the
all-co-opting logic of capital, which currently aims to economize all aspects
of life.

In his analysis of the Russian shadow libraries Balazs has drawn a parallel to
the commons as an alternative mode of ownership and a collective way of
dealing with resources. The growing interest in the discourses around the
commons demonstrates the urgency and timeliness of this concept. The
structural definition of the commons conceived by political economist Massimo
de Angelis allows for its application in diverse fields: “Commons are social
systems in which resources are pooled by a community of people who also govern
these resources to guarantee the latter’s sustainability (if they are natural
resources) and the reproduction of the community. These people engage in
‘commoning,’ that is a form of social labour that bears a direct relation to
the needs of the people, or the commoners”.27 While the model originates in
historical ways of sharing natural resources, it has gained new momentum in
relation to very different resources, thus constituting a third paradigm of
production—beyond state and private—however, with all commoning activities
today still being embedded in the surrounding economic system.

As a reason for the newly aroused interest in the commons, de Angelis provides
the crisis of global capital, which has maneuvered itself into a systemic
impasse. While constantly expanding through its inherent logic of growth and
accumulation, it is the very same logic that destroys the two systems capital
relies on: non-market-shaped social reproduction and the ecological system.
Within this scenario de Angelis describes capital as being in need of the
commons as a “fix” for the most urgent systemic failures: “It needs a ‘commons
fix,’ especially in order to deal with the devastation of the social fabric as
a result of the current crisis of reproduction. Since neoliberalism is not
about to give up its management of the world, it will most likely have to ask
the commons to help manage the devastation it creates. And this means: if the
commons are not there, capital will have to promote them somehow.”28

This rather surprising entanglement of capital and the commons, however, is
not the only perspective. Commons, at the same time, have the potential to
create “a social basis for alternative ways of articulating social production,
independent from capital and its prerogatives. Indeed, today it is difficult
to conceive emancipation from capital—and achieving new solutions to the
demands of _buen vivir_ , social and ecological justice—without at the same
time organizing on the terrain of commons, the non-commodified systems of
social production. Commons are not just a ‘third way’ beyond state and market
failures; they are a vehicle for emerging communities of struggle to claim
ownership to their own conditions of life and reproduction.”29 It is their
purpose to satisfy people’s basic needs and empower them by providing access
to alternative means of subsistence. In that sense, commons can be understood
as an _experimental zone_ in which participants can learn to negotiate
responsibilities, social relations, and peer-based means of production.

_Art and Commons_

Projects such as UbuWeb, Monoskop,30 aaaaarg,31 Memory of the World,32 and
0xdb33 vary in size, they have different forms of organization and foci, but
they all care for specific cultural goods and make sure these goods remain
widely accessible—be it digital copies of artworks and original documents,
books and other text formats, videos, film, or sound and music. Unlike the
large shadow libraries introduced above, which aim to provide access to
hundreds of thousands, if not millions of mainly academic papers and books,
thus trying to fully cover the world of scholarly and academic works, the
smaller artist-run projects are of different nature. While UbuWeb’s founder,
for instance, also promotes a generally unrestricted access to cultural goods,
his approach with UbuWeb is to build a curated archive with copies of artworks
that he considers to be relevant for his very context.34 The selection is
based on personal assessment and preference and cared for affectionately.
Despite its comprehensiveness, it still can be considered a “personal website”
on which the artist shares things relevant to him. As such, he is in good
company with similar “artist-run shadow libraries”, which all provide a
technical infrastructure with which they share resources, while the resources
are of specific relevance to their providers.

Just like the large pirate libraries, these artistic archiving and library
practices challenge the notion of culture as private property and remind us
that it is not an unquestionable absolute. As Jonathan Lethem contends,
“[culture] rather is a social negotiation, tenuously forged, endlessly
revised, and imperfect in its every incarnation.”35 Shadow libraries, in
general, are symptomatic of the cultural battles and absurdities around access
and copyright within an economic logic that artificially tries to limit the
abundance of digital culture, in which sharing does not mean dividing but
rather multiplying. They have become a cultural force, one that can be
represented in Foucauldian terms, as symptomatic of broader power struggles as
well as systemic failures inherent in the cultural formation. As Marczewska
puts it, “Goldsmith moves away from thinking about models of cultural
production in proprietary terms and toward paradigms of creativity based on a
culture of collecting, organizing, curating, and sharing content.”36 And by
doing so, he produces major contradictions, or rather he allows the already
existing contradictions to come to light. The artistic archives and libraries
are precarious in terms of their legal status, while it is exactly due to
their disregard of copyright that cultural resources could be built that
exceed the relevance of most official archives that are bound to abide the
law. In fact, there are no comparable official resources, which is why the
function of these projects is at least twofold: education and preservation.37

Maybe UbuWeb and the other, smaller or larger, shadow libraries do not qualify
as commons in the strict sense of involving not only a non-market exchange of
goods but also a community of commoners who negotiate the terms of use among
themselves. This would require collective, formalized, and transparent types
of organization. Furthermore, most of the digital items they circulate are
privately owned and therefore cannot simply be transferred to become commons
resources. These projects, in many respects, are in a preliminary stage by
pointing to the _ideal of culture as a commons_. By providing access to
cultural goods and knowledge that would otherwise not be available at all or
inaccessible for large parts of the general public, they might even fulfill
the function of a “commons fix”, to a certain degree, but at the same time
they are the experimental zone needed to unlearn copyright and relearn new
ways of cultural production and dissemination beyond the property regime. In
any case, they can function as perfect entry points for the discussion and
investigation of the transformative force art can have within the current
global neoliberal knowledge society.

_Top Tens—Showcasing the Copy as an Aesthetic and Political Statement_

The exhibition _Top Tens_ provided an experimental setting to explore the
possibilities of translating the abundance of a digital archive into a “real
space”, by presenting one hundred artworks from the Ubu archive. 38 Although
all works were properly attributed in the exhibition, the artists whose works
were shown neither had a say about their participation in the exhibition nor
about the display formats. Tolerating the presence of a work in the archive is
one thing; tolerating its display in such circumstances is something else,
which might even touch upon moral rights and the integrity of the work.
However, the exhibition was not so much about the individual works on display
but the archiving condition they are subject to. So the discussion here has
nothing to do the abiding art theory question of original and copy.
Marginally, it is about the question of high-quality versus low-quality
copies. In reproducible media the value of an artwork cannot be based on its
originality any longer—the core criterion for sales and market value. This is
why many artists use the trick of high-resolution and limited edition, a kind
of distributed originality status for several authorized objects, which all
are not 100 percent original but still a bit more original than an arbitrary
unlimited edition. Leaving this whole discussion aside was a clear indication
that something else was at stake. The conceptual statement made by the
exhibition and its makers foregrounded the nature of the shadow library, which
visitors were able to experience when entering the gallery space. Instead of
viewing the artworks in the usual way—online—they had the opportunity to
physically immerse themselves in the cultural condition of proliferated acts
of copying, something that “affords their reconceptualization as a hybrid
creative-critical tool and an influential aesthetic category.”39

Appropriation and copying as longstanding methods of subversive artistic
production, where the reuse of existing material serves as a tool for
commentary, social critique, and a means of making a political statement, has
expanded here to the art of exhibition-making. The individual works serve to
illustrate a curatorial concept, thus radically shifting the avant-garde
gesture which copying used to be in the twentieth century, to breathe new life
in the “culture of collecting, organizing, curating, and sharing content.”
Organizing this conceptually concise exhibition was a brave and bold statement
by the art institution: The Onassis Cultural Centre, one of Athens’ most
prestigious cultural institutions, dared to adopt a resolutely political
stance for a—at least in juridical terms—questionable project, as Ubu lives
from the persistent denial of copyright. Neglecting the concerns of the
individual authors and artists for a moment was a necessary precondition in
order to make space for rethinking the future of cultural production.

Special thanks to Eric Steinhauer and all the artists and amateur librarians
who are taking care of our cultural memory.

1 Festival program online: Onassis Cultural Centre, “Shadow Libraries: UbuWeb
in Athens,” (accessed on Sept. 30, 2018).
2 _UbuWeb_ is a massive online archive of avant-garde art created over the
last two decades by New York-based artist and writer Kenneth Goldsmith.
Website of the archive: (accessed on Sept. 30, 2018).
3 Kaja Marczewska, _This Is Not a Copy. Writing at the Iterative Turn_ (New
York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), 22.
4 For further reading: Kenneth Goldsmith, _Uncreative Writing: Managing
Language in the Digital Age_ (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).
5 Many works in the archive stem from the pre-digital era, and there is no
precise knowledge of the sources where Ubu obtains its material, but it is
known that Goldsmith also digitizes a lot of material himself.
6 In German copyright law, for example, §17 and §19a grant the exclusive right
to reproduce, distribute, and make available online to the author. See also:
(accessed on Sept. 30,
7 Eric Steinhauer, “Rechtspflicht zur Amnesie: Digitale Inhalte, Archive und
Urheberrecht,” _iRightsInfo_ (2013), /rechtspflicht-zur-amnesie-digitale-inhalte-archive-und-urheberrecht/18101>
(accessed on Sept. 30, 2018).
8 In particularly severe cases of copyright infringement also state
prosecutors can become active, which in practice, however, remains the
exception. The circumstances in which criminal law must be applied are
described in §109 of German copyright law.
9 See, for example, “Shadow Libraries” for a video interview with Kenneth
10 Paul Torremans, _Intellectual Property Law_ (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2010), 265.
11 See also §53 para. 1–3 of the German Act on Copyright and Related Rights
(UrhG), §42 para. 4 in the Austrian UrhG, and Article 19 of Swiss Copyright
12 Simon Stokes, _Art & Copyright_ (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2003).
13 Steinhauer, “Rechtspflicht zur Amnesie”.
14 This discrepancy between a state mandate for cultural preservation and
copyright law has only been fixed in 2018 with the introduction of a special
law, §16a DNBG.
15 Steinhauer, “Rechtspflicht zur Amnesie”.
16 Bodo Balazs, “The Genesis of Library Genesis: The Birth of a Global
Scholarly Shadow Library,” Nov. 4, 2014, _SSRN_ ,
, (accessed on
Sept. 30, 2018).
17 Motto of Sci-Hub: “Sci-Hub,” _Wikipedia_ , /Sci-Hub> (accessed on Sept. 30, 2018).
18 Guillaume Cabanac, “Bibliogifts in LibGen? A study of a text-sharing
platform driven by biblioleaks and crowdsourcing,” _Journal of the Association
for Information Science and Technology_ , 67, 4 (2016): 874–884.
19 Ibid.
20 The current address is (accessed on Sept. 30, 2018).
21 Kate Murphy, “Should All Research Papers Be Free?” _New York Times Sunday
Review_ , Mar. 12, 2016, /should-all-research-papers-be-free.html> (accessed on Sept. 30, 2018).
22 Richard Van Noorden, “Nature’s 10,” _Nature_ , Dec. 19, 2016,
(accessed on Sept. 30,
23 Bodo Balazs, “Pirates in the library – an inquiry into the guerilla open
access movement,” paper for the 8th Annual Workshop of the International
Society for the History and Theory of Intellectual Property, CREATe,
University of Glasgow, UK, July 6–8, 2016. Online available at: https
(accessed on Sept. 30, 2018).
24 Balazs, “The Genesis of Library Genesis”.
25 Aaron Swartz, “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto,” _Internet Archive_ , July

(accessed on Sept. 30, 2018).
26 Balazs, “Pirates in the library”.
27 Massimo De Angelis, “Economy, Capital and the Commons,” in: _Art,
Production and the Subject in the 21st Century_ , eds. Angela Dimitrakaki and
Kirsten Lloyd (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2015), 201.
28 Ibid., 211.
29 Ibid.
30 See:> (accessed on Sept. 30, 2018).
31 Accessible with invitation. See:
[]( (accessed on Sept. 30, 2018).
32 See: (accessed on Sept. 30, 2018).
33 See: (accessed on Sept. 30, 2018).
34 Kenneth Goldsmith in conversation with Cornelia Sollfrank, _The Poetry of
Archiving_ , 2013, (accessed on Sept. 30, 2018).
35 Jonathan Lethem, _The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, etc._ (London:
Vintage, 2012), 101.
36 Marczewska, _This Is Not a Copy_ , 2.
37 The research project _Creating Commons_ , based at Zurich University of the
Arts, is dedicated to the potential of art projects for the creation of
commons: “creating commons,” (accessed on
Sept. 30, 2018).
38 One of Ubu’s features online has been the “top ten”, the idea to invite
guests to pick their ten favorite works from the archive and thus introduce a
mix between chance operation and subjectivity in order to reveal hidden
treasures. The curators of the festival in Athens, Ilan Manouach and Kenneth
Goldsmith, decided to elevate this principle to the curatorial concept of the
exhibition and invited ten guests to select their ten favorite works. The
Athens-based curator Elpida Karaba was commissioned to work on an adequate
concept for the realization, which turned out to be a huge black box divided
into ten small cubicles with monitors and seating areas, supplemented by a
large wall projection illuminating the whole space.
39 Marczewska, _This Is Not a Copy_ , 7.

This text is under a _Creative Commons_ license: CC BY NC SA 3.0 Austria

monoskop in Thylstrup 2019

The Politics of Mass Digitization

The Politics of Mass Digitization

Nanna Bonde Thylstrup

The MIT Press

Cambridge, Massachusetts

London, England

# Table of Contents

1. Acknowledgments
2. I Framing Mass Digitization
1. 1 Understanding Mass Digitization
3. II Mapping Mass Digitization
1. 2 The Trials, Tribulations, and Transformations of Google Books
2. 3 Sovereign Soul Searching: The Politics of Europeana
3. 4 The Licit and Illicit Nature of Mass Digitization
4. III Diagnosing Mass Digitization
1. 5 Lost in Mass Digitization
2. 6 Concluding Remarks
5. References
6. Index

## List of figures

1. Figure 2.1 François-Marie Lefevere and Marin Saric. “Detection of grooves in scanned images.” U.S. Patent 7508978B1. Assigned to Google LLC.
2. Figure 2.2 Joseph K. O’Sullivan, Alexander Proudfooot, and Christopher R. Uhlik. “Pacing and error monitoring of manual page turning operator.” U.S. Patent 7619784B1. Assigned to Google LLC, Google Technology Holdings LLC.


I am very grateful to all those who have contributed to this book in various
ways. I owe special thanks to Bjarki Valtysson, Frederik Tygstrup, and Peter
Duelund, for their supervision and help thinking through this project, its
questions, and its forms. I also wish to thank Andrew Prescott, Tobias Olsson,
and Rune Gade for making my dissertation defense a memorable and thoroughly
enjoyable day of constructive critique and lively discussions. Important parts
of the research for this book further took place during three visiting stays
at Cornell University, Duke University, and Columbia University. I am very
grateful to N. Katherine Hayles, Andreas Huyssen, Timothy Brennan, Lydia
Goehr, Rodney Benson, and Fredric Jameson, who generously welcomed me across
the Atlantic and provided me with invaluable new perspectives, as well as
theoretical insights and challenges. Beyond the aforementioned, three people
in particular have been instrumental in terms of reading through drafts and in
providing constructive challenges, intellectual critique, moral support, and
fun times in equal proportions—thank you so much Kristin Veel, Henriette
Steiner, and Daniela Agostinho. Marianne Ping-Huang has further offered
invaluable support to this project and her theoretical and practical
engagement with digital archives and academic infrastructures continues to be
a source of inspiration. I am also immensely grateful to all the people
working on or with mass digitization who generously volunteered their time to
share with me their visions for, and perspectives on, mass digitization.

This book has further benefited greatly from dialogues taking place within the
framework of two larger research projects, which I have been fortunate enough
to be involved in: Uncertain Archives and The Past’s Future. I am very
grateful to all my colleagues in both these research projects: Kristin Veel,
Daniela Agostinho, Annie Ring, Katrine Dirkinck-Holmfeldt, Pepita Hesselberth,
Kristoffer Ørum, Ekaterina Kalinina Anders Søgaard as well as Helle Porsdam,
Jeppe Eimose, Stina Teilmann, John Naughton, Jeffrey Schnapp, Matthew Battles,
and Fiona McMillan. I am further indebted to La Vaughn Belle, George Tyson,
Temi Odumosu, Mathias Danbolt, Mette Kia, Lene Asp, Marie Blønd, Mace Ojala,
Renee Ridgway, and many others for our conversations on the ethical issues of
the mass digitization of colonial material. I have also benefitted from the
support and insights offered by other colleagues at the Department of Arts and
Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen.

A big part of writing a book is also about keeping sane, and for this you need
great colleagues that can pull you out of your own circuit and launch you into
other realms of inquiry through collaboration, conversation, or just good
times. Thank you Mikkel Flyverbom, Rasmus Helles, Stine Lomborg, Helene
Ratner, Anders Koed Madsen, Ulrik Ekman, Solveig Gade, Anna Leander, Mareile
Kaufmann, Holger Schulze, Jakob Kreutzfeld, Jens Hauser, Nan Gerdes, Kerry
Greaves, Mikkel Thelle, Mads Rosendahl Thomsen, Knut Ove Eliassen, Jens-Erik
Mai, Rikke Frank Jørgensen, Klaus Bruhn Jensen, Marisa Cohn, Rachel Douglas-
Jones, Taina Bucher, and Baki Cakici. To this end you also need good
friends—thank you Thomas Lindquist Winther-Schmidt, Mira Jargil, Christian
Sønderby Jepsen, Agnete Sylvest, Louise Michaëlis, Jakob Westh, Gyrith Ravn,
Søren Porse, Jesper Værn, Jacob Thorsen, Maia Kahlke, Josephine Michau, Lærke
Vindahl, Chris Pedersen, Marianne Kiertzner, Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Stig
Helveg, Ida Vammen, Alejandro Savio, Lasse Folke Henriksen, Siine Jannsen,
Rens van Munster, Stephan Alsman, Sayuri Alsman, Henrik Moltke, Sean Treadway,
and many others. I also have to thank Christer and all the people at
Alimentari and CUB Coffee who kept my caffeine levels replenished when I tired
of the ivory tower.

I am furthermore very grateful for the wonderful guidance and support from MIT
Press, including Noah Springer, Marcy Ross, and Susan Clark—and of course for
the many inspiring conversations with and feedback from Doug Sery. I also want
to thank the anonymous peer reviewers whose insightful and constructive
comments helped improve this book immensely. Research for this book was
supported by grants from the Danish Research Council and the Velux Foundation.

Last, but not least, I wish to thank my loving partner Thomas Gammeltoft-
Hansen for his invaluable and critical input, optimistic outlook, and perfect
morning cappuccinos; my son Georg and daughter Liv for their general
awesomeness; and my extended family—Susanne, Bodil, and Hans—for their support
and encouragement.

I dedicate this book to my parents, Karen Lise Bonde Thylstrup and Asger
Thylstrup, without whom neither this book nor I would have materialized.

# I