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viduals who cooperate with each other
without relying on either market signals or managerial
commands."^[49](#fn-2025-49){#fnref-2025-49}^ *Aleph* answers the
definition of peer production, resembling in many respects projects like
*Linux*, *Wikipedia*, and *Project Gutenberg*.

Yet, *Aleph* is also patently a library. Its work can and should be
viewed in the broader context of Enlightenment ideals: access to
literacy, universal education, and the democratization of knowledge. The
very same ideals gave birth to the public library movement as a whole at
the turn of the 20th century, in the United States, Europe, and
Russia.^[50](#fn-2025-50){#fnref-2025-50}^ Parallels between free
library movements of the early 20th and the early 21st centuries point
to a social dynamic that runs contrary to the populist spirit of
commons-based peer production projects, in a mechanism that we describe
as peer preservation. The idea encompasses conflicting drives both to
share and to hoard information.

The roots of many public libraries lie in extensive private collections.
Bodleian Library at Oxford, for example, traces its origins back to the
collections of Thomas Cobham, Bishop of Worcester, Humphrey, Duke of
Gloucester, and to Thomas Bodley, himself an avid book collector.
Similarly, Poland's Zaluski Library, one of Europe's oldest, owes its
existence to the collecting efforts of the Zaluski brothers, both
bishops and bibliophiles.^[51](#fn-2025-51){#fnref-2025-51}^ As we
mentioned earlier, *Aleph* too began its life as an aggregator of
collections, including the personal libraries of Moshkov and Traum. When
books are scarce, private libraries are a sign of material wealth and
prestige. In the digital realm, where the cost of media acquisition is
low, collectors amass social capital. *Aleph* extends i


complexity with the maturation
of the community, further widening the rift between senior and junior
peers. We are then witnessing something like the institutionalization of
a professional "librarian" class, whose task it is to protect the
collection from the encroachment of low-quality contributors. Rather
than serving the public, a librarian's primary commitment is to the
preservation of the archive as a whole. Thus what starts as a true peer
production project, may, in the end, grow to erect solid walls to
peering. This dynamic is already embodied in the history of public
libraries, where amateur librarians of the late 19th century eventually
gave way to their modern degree-holding counterparts. The conflicting
logistics of access and preservation may lead digital library
development along a similar path.

The expression of this dual push and pull dynamic in the observed
practices of peer preservation communities conforms to Derrida's insight
into the nature of the archive. Just as the walls of a library serve to
shelter the documents within, they also isolate the collection from the
public at large. Access and preservation, in that sense, subsist at
opposite and sometime mutually exclusive ends of the sharing spectrum.
And it may be that this dynamic is particular to all peer production
communities, like *Wikipedia*, which, according to recent studies, saw a
decline in new contributors due to increasingly strict rule
enforcement.^[54](#fn-2025-54){#fnref-2025-54}^ However, our results are
merely speculative at the moment. The analysis of a large dataset we
have collected as corollary to our field work online may offer further
evidence for these initial intuitions. In the meantime, it is not enough
to conclude that brick-and-mortar libraries should learn from these
emergent, distributed architectures of peer preservation. If the future
of *Aleph* is leading to increased institutionalization, the community
may soon face the fate embodied by its own procedures: the absorption of
smaller, wonderfully messy, ascending collections into larger, more
established, and more rigid social structures.

 

 

**Biographies**

Dennis Tenen teaches in the fields of new media and digital humanities
at Columbia University, Department of English and Comparative
Literature. His research often happens at the intersection of people,
texts, and technology. He is currently writing a book on minimal
computing, called *Plain Text*.

Maxwell Foxman is an adjunct professor at Marymount Manhattan College
and a PhD candidate in Communications at Columbia University, where he
studies the use and adoption of digital media into everyday life. He has
written on failed social media and on gamification in electoral
politics, newsrooms,


peer preservation in Thylstrup 2019


f shadow libraries is distributed
globally. Multiple sources attest to the fact that most Sci-Hub usage occurs
outside the Anglosphere. According to Alexa Internet analytics, the top five
country sources of traffic to Sci-Hub were China, Iran, India, Brazil, and
Japan, which account for 56.4 percent of recent traffic. As of early 2016,
data released by Sci-Hub’s founder Alexandra Elbakyan also shows high usage in
developed countries, with a large proportion of the downloads coming from the
US and countries within the European Union.64 The same tendency is evident in
the #ICanHazPDF Twitter phenomenon, which while framed as “civil disobedience”
to aid users in the Global South65 nevertheless has higher numbers of posts
from the US and Great Britain.66

This brings us to the second cultural-political production, namely the
question of distribution. In their article “Book Piracy as Peer Preservation,”
Denis Tenen and Maxwell Henry Foxman note that rather than condemning book
piracy _tout court_ , established libraries could in fact learn from the
infrastructural set-ups of shadow libraries in relation to participatory
governance, technological innovation, and economic sustainability.67 Shadow
libraries are often premised upon an infrastructure that includes user
participation without, however, operating in an enclosed sphere. Often, shadow
libraries coordinate their actions by use of social media platforms and online
forums, including Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook, and the primary websites used
to host the shared files are AvaxHome, LibGen, and Sci-Hub. Commercial online
cloud storage accounts (such as Dropbox and Google Drive) and email are also
used to share content in informal ways. Users interested in obtaining an
article or book chapter will disseminate their request over one


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