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08 May

A public service which provides intellectual goods

The library is a threatened institution, but it is also a potential menace to the forces which are threatening it.
[World Social Forum] 


By engaging itself in the world-wide process of the social forum, the library community will give a signal of rebellion against the ruling powers. At first, this signal will probably not penetrate the white noise of our mainstream media. Yet many people will hear and understand it.

What is to be understood? Librarians must show greater loyality to the common causes of mankind than to the existing political and economic system. The library associations and the IFLA should join the various local, national and regional social fora and the World Social Forum. And the library should set its own imprint on the process of the social forum. The social forum, and the future world society, have to build on the information ethic of the public library - the intellectual freedom.

Rebellions start when people cannot continue as before, that is, by necessity. More and more people now decide that we cannot continue as before. The existing political and economic order has become obsolete, because of the nuclear and space weapons, the bio- and nanotechnologies, and the Internet, which is a new kind of library and public sphere. The consumerist way of life, and the further industrial expansion along the present lines are impossible, because they threaten us all with global catastrophe, caused by, for instance, the climate change.


The relation of the library to the internet, and the role of the library within this universal cooperative, digital network, are prime questions. Some traditional librarians have still not understood it, but the internet actually is a new kind of library because it stores, systematizes and presents all kinds of information and documents. The internet differs from the traditional public library in the way it is governed. It is is to a greater extent self-regulating (cybernetic) than the traditional public library:

    "We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear",
wrote John Perry Barlow in A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.

And yet the internet, too, needs to be governed. Somebody has to keep its catalog of assigned addresses and numbers. This is still being done by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and it will remain an important, technical task within a system of world self-government. In the future this task of keeping the books of the internet, so to speak, should not be taken care of by the governments of one or more national states. Keeping the catalog of the internet, and the other limited functions of internet governance that may be needed, can only be trusted to a cosmopolitan and self-governing library institution.

It is time that the librarians and the international non-governmental organizations of the social forum start to build that cosmopolitan and self-governing library.


With the internet, the library is growing with yet one order of magnitude. But the library needs to become more self-conscious, better aware of its own potentiality and power. In these days the political leaders of the USA and the EU are negotiating a major deal about a trans-atlantic free-trade zone, a new economic pact in analogy with the existing military pact, the NATO.

Key questions in these transatlantic negotiations concern the "harmonization" of what is nowadays called "the intellectual property". The librarians, if anybody, should have a say in talks about the intellectual goods.

When dealing with "the intellectual property", the politicians and statesmen are acting as agents for the transnational business corporations. "Intellectual property" is the language of the corporatocracy. The meaning of this term, the corporatocracy, is explained by John Perkins in Hiatt, S.(ed.): A game As Old As Empire. The Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 2007. Another feature of the present world, which is also being illustrated by the writers of that same book, are the "leaks" in the financial flows from the global North to the global South, and, in particular, from the global South back to the global North. The amount of this stolen money - through tax evasion, money laundering and debt servicing, primarily - is almost incredible. Imagine if it would be invested in public services which would provide intellectual goods, such as... you know which word I intended to write.

But I stop here. What is intellectual is the property of mankind, not of corporations. In the end, intellectual freedom and intellectual property are incompatible entities.

Libraries and the public sphere| Paradsidan | Another ownership and government
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