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01 July

The library and the thousand and one activities

[World Social Forum] 

A world social forum consists of thousand and one activities. And the catalog of the on-going first US Social Forum here in Atlanta also mentions hundreds of activities: workshops, seminars, lectures, discussions, brainstormings, etc.

These hundreds and thousands of activities of the social fora need to be documented in libraries and archives so that information about them can be transmitted to future generations of social forum participants, and to posterity. Here, the librarians undoubtedly have a very important role to play.

However, the social forum activities as such should also be present in public libraries throughout the whole world. In other words: both the the documentation of the activities and the activities themselves should be accessible and available in the library.

But what does it mean to say that the activities themselves should be accessible and available in the library? It means that the librarians should maintain webpages about those activities. The webpages should be of the easily editable Wiki-type, like in the Wikipedia. Wiki-techniques and wiki-pages are suitable when documenting ongoing activities, because: "The information is often very dynamic, meaning that some facts are prone to change quickly and need to be updated." (quoted from Guzman, Manuel & Verstappen, Bert(2003): What is Documentation? - a manual from HURIDOCS, accessed via www.huridocs.org, and quoted here just a little bit out of its context).

But before starting the documentation of the activities themselves, a very basic problem should be given some careful thought, and a viable (if not final) solution. Librarians would probably call this problem the problem of classification.

In short, in order to organize and present the hundreds and thousands of activities in the social forum process, we must agree upon a common classification scheme.

A classification of activities is not a classification of knowledge. Take the list of ministries of a modern state, or the table of contents of a political programme, e.g. the would-be political programme called "The Bamako Appeal", to quote an example from our own social forum context. Or imagine what the main headlines in a programme of a "world government" would be like. That should give you an idea of what the classification of the activities of the social forum must be like.

The International Council of the World Social Forum actually came up with a classification of the activities some months before the Nairobi WSF in January 2007. I am referring to the the 21 actionable themes. For the list of the 21 actionable themes plus some viewpoints by the librarians and library activists who participated in the Nairobi WSF, see http://www.wsflibrary.org/index.php/Actionable_themes .

The problem is, however, that these 21 actionable themes did not become established. They were not taken seriously.

Now, librarians happen to be a group who takes a serious, professional interest in the problem of classification. We would probably have no libraries at all if they did not. Nor would we have what is called civilization, but that is another story.

The point which I obviously would like to make here is that we, who want to take the process of the social forum a step further, have to civilize ourselves. We need to have real libraries and thus we must cooperate with the librarians, who understand the necessity of classification and serious information management. This will help us to navigate the ocean of social forum information. Obviously, it is also essential for the continuity of the process, and for the understanding of the nature of the social forum as an open space.

The openness of the open space is an ideal, a core value of the ethic of the public librarian. The librarian is supposed to deliver all the information without delay to all the people. The librarian must have an open mind and be intellectually free. The open space is the space where the intellectual freedom reigns.

We will remain divided on many political, economical, cultural, religious and scientific issues. That is another way of saying that we must by all means guarantee that the social forum lives on as an open space. And that we simply cannot do without public libraries and public librarians if we want to keep it open.

The librarians themselves also need the social forum, because as long as the librarians serve the political systems which we have to day, they cannot really be free. In order to liberate themselves, the librarians must proceed to build an independent worldwide public library system.

With whom shall they build this necessary institution? With the NATO? With the Commission of the EU? With the government of China? With UNESCO? Or with the World Trade Organisation, which grew out on of the effort of transnational industrial corporations and banks to make all our "intellectual property" - the accumulated knowledge of the human race - tradable? (In their book "Information Feudalism", Drahos and Braithwaite tell the story of the birth of the WTO from the marriage between intellectual property and international trade - and that is a story, which every librarian and social activist need to know.)

No, that institution, the independent, cosmopolitical public library system for the people, will never be built by the corporate-led governments of the national states and their international organisations. It is simply incompatible with the so called Information Society of today.

The library is the mildest and kindest institution, which helps to fulfil the information needs of everybody. But it can give a hard blow to the imperialisms and dictators of this world, if the librarians decide to raise from their subordinate position together with the peoples of the social forum.

  • - -

The envisioned WSFLibrary of activities, has to be built on the internet with the digital networking tools of the internet. As somebody wrote a long time ago: mankind always takes up only such problems as it can solve; and this problem of how to build the cosmopolitical public library is one of those problems that can now be solved, thanks to the internet.

The quality of the networking tools have matured over the last decade. They are are now available to librarians everywhere as FOSS (free and open source software) and in the form of relatively affordable hardware and internet connections. - Some, like Alfredo Lopez in his excellent essay "The Organic Internet" (May First, 2007 - by the way, this is a book and an author whom I met at the US Social Forum in Atlanta), think that the internet in itself is a vast social movement, the biggest which mankind has ever seen. I think they have a good point. However, I also think that the internet itself should be put in a long historical perspective. "The library is a growing organism", wrote Indian library scientist Ranganathan. The internet is the latest branch on that old tree.

The library of the printed word has swiftly adapted itself to the technical revolution of the internet. It must now go further and take the lead as an organizer and producer of social information on the internet. Firstly and foremostly: librarians must no longer accept that their webpages, the webpages of the libraries, follow rules and apply technical solutions which are dictated by others than the librarians themselves.

To sum up: let us continue to build (because we have already started) our envisioned WSFlibrary together on the internet, and in the public libraries. It should become a "Civipedia" of activities towards "another world". Without that library, we will not be able to take the alterglobalization process (the global justice movement) further. The social forum process should extend to all communities which have a library and the public librarians should become involved in the course of their daily work.

Last, but not least: The social forum opposes the Neoliberal globalization, which passes through global financial deregulation and the establishment of the most unjust and protectionist global intellectual property regime (the TRIPS). We oppose the information feudalism. We demand debt cancellation and abolishment of the tax havens. We want to introduce a global levy on the speculative money trade in order to finance the necessary public service, such as the public library service.

Greetings from the US Social Forum in Atlanta| Paradsidan | Evergreen
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