This is a slightly modified version of the text (and slides) from my talk at Oh, the Places You’ll Know, a part of SFU’s Public Square on September 19, 2012. We were encouraged to put practical considerations aside, hence the “damn the lawyers; full speed ahead!” approach advocated within.
My big idea for public libraries is that they should embrace the role of “Your Friendly Neighbourhood Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy.”
To begin, and to situate us here, I agree with R. David Lankes when he says “the mission of librarians is to facilitate knowledge creation in their communities.” That’s a great mission, but I think it is very easy for us to mis-define our communities. I want my library (and this is a hypothetical library – I’m not representing anyone’s views but my own here) to serve the community it’s in and not the rules of publishers, movie studios or lawmakers.
I want librarians to talk like pirates. See, September 19th is “internet traditionally” known as International Talk Like a Pirate day. It’s a stupid internet thing, but I couldn’t pass up the connection. I want libraries to make it easier to share all sorts of electronic content and integrate better with how people actually use the internet. And that includes breaking all sorts of rules.
I’ll be talking about collections, programming and philosophy for the next four minutes.
First we’ve got the plunder of libraries, our collections. When we talk piracy I mean I want libraries to buy material and then share it as widely as possible instead of treating digital content like it’s physical. This is the kind of behaviour that content-providers don’t want from us so we are saddled with 26-checkouts-then-self-destruct kinds of ebooks or 3 downloaded songs per week. I want us to buy ebooks and crack the DRM on them so they can be used on any device. When we buy CDs/DVDs/Blu-Rays I want us to rip them to hard-drive arrays and seed the torrents ourselves. If we’re serious about “facilitating knowledge creation,” giving away electronic files is way more useful than making them hard to use.
The picture here is of a PirateBox and a model of what I want libraries to encourage. In that PirateBox is a battery-powered WiFi router (you can see the antenna on the right) and a USB stick full of download-only media (there’s also the more library-specific project based on the Pirate Box called LibraryBox which is what my project would be more directly based on). You can put that anywhere and someone can connect to its network and get information, connecting local space with electronic content. I love these things. They’re the electronic equivalent of Little Free Libraries.
But we’re here to talk about community. One of the things about internet media piracy is the isolation aspect of it. We know we’re not supposed to be downloading complete seasons of Clone Wars and feel a little ashamed, doing it by ourselves in the dark.
When I show people how easy it is to make their Kindle books readable on a Kobo, or strip the stuff from digital library content that returns it, people are amazed. We’re taught that we have to follow the rules, but when you talk about breaking the rules, you’re engaging people with a different kind of illicit connection.
I want the library to be a place where you can talk about this stuff freely, that it’s not some back-alley of information usage you should never mention to a fine upstanding librarian. I want librarians who are comfortable with 4chan and torrenting and can help their community members navigate some of those parts of the internet to have some fun or learn something or bring down an evil empire.
And here I like the parallel to sex education. You can teach a pirated media abstinence only policy and let your members pick up their knowledge piecemeal (from downloading porn and getting viruses), or you can say “downloading TV shows is fun, and here’s how to do it safely, thoughtfully and have a better experience.”
So my library project does programs teaching people about the processes and ethics of seeding and leeching torrents, about how to use Tor to hide what exactly you’re doing from people who might be of a mind to prosecute you, and using VPNs to get around location restrictions so we can watch shows on Hulu in Canada goddamnit.
Because I love the PirateBox thing we’d run workshops on how to build them and share their own content (stuff they’ve stolen or created themselves) outside of the library ecosystem. Because really, libraries aren’t the point here. We’re trying to facilitate knowledge creation, not pump up our circulation stats.
Establishing trust within your community that being an outlaw doesn’t make you a bad person plays into the whole idea that to live outside the law you must be honest. (I couldn’t find a Lego version of the Blonde on Blonde album cover, sorry.)
When we teach our community about those tools people use to engage in piracy we also get to talk about intellectual property rights and why people do Creative Commons and privacy and all that good Electronic Frontier Foundation stuff. We get to discuss the difference between giving money to record labels versus supporting local artists. And we get to do this not from a position of on-high false moral rectitude but from down in the muck, in a “we’re all in this together” kind of way. Loads of people aren’t going to buy media anyway, but that doesn’t mean the library can’t be a place to get them to share their knowledge.
So our final choice is to let people be bound by terrible rules *koff koff Access Copyright* enforced by publishing empires or we can become outlaws. At the opening gala last night Larry Beasley talked about how the law is a manifestation of us and we should be crafting new laws to build what we want.
I think librarians should be allying themselves with the upstarts in their seedy cantinas who might do some crappy things and occasionally shoot first, but end up changing the galaxy.
Thank you very much.
I got to attend the IFLA Indigenous Knowledges Conference because of the research project I’m working on about IFLA (the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions), and there was a lot of good stuff.
One of the big issues I find myself thinking hard about when thinking about aboriginal information issues and especially Traditional Knowledge is the notion that there’s some information that people just shouldn’t see (because it’s sacred stuff, and if you aren’t a priest you don’t have the proper context, to simplify it down a lot). Not being religious and being a Creative Commons/Open Access loving kind of guy, my hackles go up at the idea that communities would obstruct the free flow of information I see librarians as being instrumental in (I commented on this a little bit last year after attending a colloquium on Digital Repatriation). But I’m also a big fan of Community-Led Library issues, learning from the communities you’re serving instead of coming in with solutions in search of problems (the whole “improve society by facilitating knowledge creation in their communities” new librarianship deal works really well in this context). So I came into this conference ready to learn stuff that we don’t talk a lot about in our more traditionally focused courses.
And learn stuff I did.
Val Napoleon talked about the way oral cultures and knowledge representation is gaining legitimacy in the Canadian legal system as law, not just a cultural artifact. She also talked about how lofty principles are kind of meaningless without application and consultation. Community Consultation and Informed Prior Consent were recurrent themes throughout the two days.
Another recurrent theme was the situation of knowledge in place. This is one of those ideas that’s completely foreign to me. I don’t have any deep connection with any place, and for me the digital future is interesting because of its disconnection from a location, that I can go anywhere and bring all my stories with me. But that’s not the only way to think of things. Recordings are a crutch and they separate the stories from the people and without stories you become the walking dead, said Cry Rock, a video that was presented.
On Friday afternoon people were talking about indigenous training methods and indigenous subject heading and knowledge organization which was very interesting, but a bit annoying that the guy on the panel spoke about his (admittedly neat) online dictionary for as long as the three women did combined. On Twitter I referred to him as a white guy, but that was an assumption on my part, since I didn’t hear how he self-identified. The self-identification of where everyone was from and who they were was fascinating throughout the conference. And the thanking of the Musqueam nation for hosting the conference on their unceded land. I can’t remember ever hearing that kind of acknowledgment of land issues back in Winnipeg, but it happens a lot at UBC and did in Sydney too.
Oh, thinking of Sydney, on Saturday Alana Garwood-Houng was talking about Traditional Knowledge and copyright issues in regards to WIPO, but while there were some good things happening in that realm, there are also terrible human rights abuses going on in the Northern Territory. It was an emotional issue (check Stand for Freedom for the video she showed us) and she stressed that protecting cultural knowledge is important but protecting people and their human rights needs to come first.
I’m going to give my favourite part of the conference its own post, but in general, that was my experience with it. There were some boring parts, and I think IFLA missed the point of conversation about intellectual property issues in its Guiding Principles document they presented. Grand Chief Ed John called them out on their “respect for human rights so long as… access to information is unimpeded.” I’m all for access to information (remember, I’m a CC-loving info-sharing librarian) but I think serving the community has to come first. Harald von Hielmcrone did say there’s no human right to look through someone’s private papers, but the Guiding Principles bury that sentiment (if it’s there) in bureaucratically hellish clauses and doublespeak. I am not a fan of policy documents, I guess.
I am a fan of this conference and the information I came away with. I didn’t network as much as I should, but I was tweeting and taking notes. Hopefully this response was useful. It was only the first conference of a bunch this summer, so expect more of these writeups. I hope the rest will spark such cool shifts in perspective.
I wrote a post about creating stakes to fight apathy on Librarianautica.
Using social media as a way of creating a space for people to have a stake in their culture is hugely important. That’s how you fight apathy and how you a human is alive. The notion of people asking Why Wasn’t I Consulted? more in the internet age compared to the TV age is huge.
“Politics, as constructed by the news, becomes a spectator sport, something we watch but do not do” (Jenkins 2008: 10).
That is a terrible thing. If there’s going to be a revolution it can’t be televised because everyone needs to participate in it.
This is an issue that affects librarians even beyond the actual serving of our patrons, but in keeping our jobs. A bit on library student apathy from Magpie Librarian:
We’ve been thinking of who our next advocates might be. I thought I was pretty damn brilliant to think of trying to tap into the MLS student population. I figured that a) they’re already passionate about libraries and b) they have a vested interested in wanting library jobs to open up. I went to speak at a NY library school that I will leave unnamed. They well-publicized my event during curriculum space (a time when there would be no classes). I spoke in the student lounge to a group of students glued to their textbooks. I talked about library closures, layoffs, the future of libraries. I didn’t get much of a response, other than an uncomfortable wall of silence. One of my fellow Urban Librarianites called out, “Do any of you care about advocacy? You know, the apathy is what’s going to kill us.” A girl looks up from her textbook, “I have a lot of reading to do.” I silently handed out some advocacy tips and got the hell out of dodge.
R. David Lankes’ states in his Atlas of New Librarianship:
The MISSION of LIBRARIANS is to IMPROVE SOCIETY through FACILITATING KNOWLEDGE CREATION in their COMMUNITIES.
I love the concept of librarians being agents of change, and how it requires more than simply lurking. There has to be creation going on, not just talking, but creating a space for people to participate in creation is one of the most important things a library can do.