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s: 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
bi


hive 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 peopl

 

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