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Demonstration mot kriget i Irak, Helsingfors mars 2003
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Entries : Category [ World Social Forum ]
Since the first WSF in Porto Alegre 2001, this is an open space for the transnational social movements and campaigns for justice and peace

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26 April

Be creative on World IP Day!

For academic and other educational librarians
[World Social Forum] 

Remember dr Alan Story, who co-organized our WSF workshop "Unlocking the Global Information Fortress" in Nairobi last January?

I just read a message from Alan about The Copy/South Dossier, and then I went on to the website of Copy/South, and found a comment by Ghanaian librarian Emmanuel Mensah Darkey. The comment is about PHOTOCOPY AND EDUCATION IN GHANA. I believe it may be of particular interest to educational librarians, and of general interest to everybody. But I do not copy that one here. You have to go to www.copysouth.org and look for it yourself.

      --- Some years ago, the copyright term was extended from 50 to 70 years. I was reminded of this, again, when I read the notes from our Ghanaian colleague.

Why did WE let that happen?

Originally, there was no copyright at all. Then, at the moment of its invention under Queen Anne of England at the beginning of the 18th Century, the term was 14 years, which was later extended to 28 years.

I do not say that copyrights should be abolished altogether. What we have got now, however is totally absurd, especially so, in our age of the digital revolution and the internet.

The answer to the WHY is that WE have let ourselves be brainwashed and scared. Copyright does not belong to the basic human rights. It is like taxes, something which can and should be continually discussed and agreed upon in democratic ways. Let's have the term of copyrights shortened to 30 years for a change! And, in the case of educational textbooks, let's have textbooks which are Copyleft, that is, freely copyable. Copyrights and Author's rights are different matters. The Author's rights need to be respected, and in this case there should be no end to the terms. The Author of a work remains its author for ever.

Finally, let us not forget about Users' rights, because WE have a special responsibility to defend our own rights.

World Intellectual Property Day? See http://www.wipo.int/about-ip/en/world_ip/2007

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06 May

Libraries and the public sphere

[World Social Forum] 

`` [...] libraries in their collective existence in democracies embody and enact much of Habermas’s classical definition of the public sphere. For instance:

• Libraries house and further rational discourse through the organization of collections coupled with the principle of unfettered information access.

• The field enacts the principle of critique and rational argumentation through the commitment to balanced collections, preserving them over time, and furthering inclusion through active attempts to make collections and resources reflect historical and current intellectual diversity.

• By their very existence libraries potentially verify (or refute) claims to authority in making current and retrospective organized resources available to check the bases of a thesis, law, book, article, policy etc. continuing the process of debate which lies at the heart of the public sphere and democracy.

• By policy and practice, my field has sought to reach out to those not served - or sometimes not wishing to be served! - to make access to information and education more widely and universally available. ´´

    “On Libraries and the Public Sphere,” John Buschman. Library Philosophy and Practice Vol. 7, No. 2 (Spring 2005)
       The social forum goes to the library
       The forum and the library go together
       The happy marriage between the library and the forum
       Libraries and the public sphere
       The readers, the writers and the social forum 
       The social library and the public forum 
       Open Spaces: Libraries, Internet and Social Fora
       The Cosmopolitan Library 
       The Library - A World Social Forum?

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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.

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09 May

Another ownership and government

[World Social Forum] 

The undersea fiber optic cables around Africa are owned and run by private for profit corporations. Tomorrow, they could be owned and run by public not-for-profit libraries. Another ownership of the cables and the satellites is possible.

And world self-government could be imminent because of the organic growth of the library, which delivers all the information to all the people without delay.

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22 May

How "multicultural" is "multiculturalism"?

[World Social Forum] 

The article by Ronald Elly Wanda about the immigrant and "Britishness" in Britain in the most recent issue of ISC has several good critical points about Multiculturalism, starting with its first sentence: "The contestation of multiculturalism in Britain is not as new as 'multiculturalists' would have us believe, in actual fact, it has always been around."

Multiculturalism is a strategy and policy of many states. "As state policy, multiculturalism has so far been a way of managing cultural diversity by focussing on superficial aspects of cultural identity rather than structural inequalities related to de facto cultural dominance and institutional racism."(Wikipedia) German sociologist Ulrich Beck (in Der Kosmopolitische Blick - which I read in a Swedish translation, found in the public library of nearby Borgå) also finds multiculturalism to be a superficial and even dangerous concept. He proposes realistic Cosmopolitanism as an alternative to Multiculturalism.

* * *

Edgardo Civallero, in his prefacio to Librarianship and Human Rights (by Toni Samek, Chandos publishing 2007) speaks about the librarian, who should help people to look in each other's eyes on an equal footing:

    En realidad, no puede hacerlo. Debe hacerlo
Civallero writes.

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29 June

Greetings from the US Social Forum in Atlanta

[World Social Forum] 

We had a workshop at the US Social Forum. [Photos at http://librarian.lishost.org/?p=801 ] Ten people attended. I think 80 percent were librarians, and by the way, this workshop, like many other of the USSF workshops, was held in a public library. The Auburn Avenue Research Library, in our case. 10 percent of the participants were a Veteran for Peace, and the resting ten percent were library activists - myself among them. Two Danish students and a film-maker from (?) Arizona also showed up at the workshop at a later stage.

Eileen Harger from the Progressive Librarians Guild, a nation-wide network that published "Progressive Librarian", chaired the meeting. The PLG brings up many important issues for debate and resolution within the American Library Association. The ALA, unfortunate coincidence, finished its yearly conference in Washington just yesterday, so some of the PLG activists went there instead of coming to the USSF. The ALA has some 70.000 members, and some of their conferences have more participants than the USSF, although I do not know how many we are here at the USSF. Maybe 15.000? That is a figure I have heard.

Elaine was seconded by Melissa Morrone, a public librarian from Brooklyn and an activist of Radical Reference. Melissa has prepared a little survey with questions for social activists, such as "Do you use your library for anything related to your activist work? If Yes, in what manner?". I have so far conducted only one interview with Melissa's form in hand. The guy I asked said No. He does not use his library. He uses the internet instead.*

Dr Kathleen de la Peña McCook, who is a library scientist teaching at the university of South Florida, spoke about the role and the duties of libraries for human rights, especially the human rights of the immigrants (in the USA). The library is, or should absolutely be, a place where the immigrant can go and feel welcome, and find the needed information! (This is an example of issues that are discussed in the PLG and the ALA, too). I, as a library acitvist, tried to explain why the library and the social forum need each other and belong together. I believe some people are starting to understand this now. Although many still believe that the library is a marginal thing, which comes after water, food, peace, health etc. Just as an experiment of thought: start with the library, and everything else will follow.

We are collecting materials from the USSF in a box near the media center. It will of course be more like a sample than the full documentation. Hopefully, other librarians will follow the example at other social fora. With the help of the accumulated library science we will ultimately develop and refine our methods. The social forum process will get the memory and the continuity it deserves. I still have a dream that world society will get a world library. To be continued.

  • Mikael
  • I think the internet, too, is a library and, off the record, told him so.

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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.

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09 July


An Open ILS for Free LIS
[World Social Forum] 

Before leaving Atlanta Tuesday morning, I met up with librarian Elizabeth Garcia from Georgia Public Library Service to interview her about the free and open source integrated library system Evergreen.

The interview is available in English with the title An Open ILS for Free LIS among the Occasional Papers at the website of Information for social Change (ISC) (www.libr.org/isc/occasional_papers).

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11 July

News from another USA

[World Social Forum] 

There has been almost nothing about the US Social Forum in the European mass media. The same goes for the mass media in the USA. I was there. As many of us have already said: it was an inspiring and hoperaising event. I concentrated on the library aspect (some of that covered earlier in this blog). But I also participated in a workshop on the re-opening of the 911 investigation, and in the closing plenary sessions on Sunday 1 July, where a representatative of the 911 Truth Movement read a statement saying that we need to have ''a new independent and international investigation on the causes and circumstances surrounding the events of September 11, 2001''. (You may read the text of the statement here )

This demand is supported by many citizens and intellectuals of the USA and other countries. Whether France's Housing Minister Christine Boutin actually supports it (as was reported by Yahoo News), I do not know. She would certainly not be the first European official to air suspicions about 911 having been an inside job. For instance Michael Meacher, former minister for the environment of the Blair government, and Andreas von Buelow, German ex-minister of Technology, who is also a renowned expert on state intelligence, certainly do support the demand for a re-opening of the investigation.

After the closing plenary of the US Social Forum I went to the stand of the 911Truth Movement to get a paper copy of the statement I had just heard. Then I walked around for a while among the thousands of social activists at the Civic Center of Atlanta -- a very colourful and heterogeneous bunch of people, by the way. I took some of them apart, showed them the statement, asked them to read it and say what they thought about it. In this way, I might have talked with perhaps six, perhaps eight persons, none of whom I had ever met before. It turned out that all of these persons agreed: Yes, there should be a new independent and international investigation! I also support this demand.

I want to add something about the 911-truth-workshop I took part in. It was chaired by Janice Matthews, one of the leaders of the 911 Truth movement in the USA. A very good moderator, by the way, besides being a courageous citizen, a mother of six kids etc. There, I learned that at least one of the presidential candidates, Mr Dennis Kucinich, is taking up the case. I also heard some other actualities. However, I do not think that I got any important information which I could not already have read from http://www.911truth.org http://www.911blogger.com/ , etc.

One episode remains on my mind, though. That was when the guy sitting next to me asked for the floor to present his own theory. And that really was one of those crazy conspiracy theories! He spoke about the Illuminati, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" (which is "an antisemitic text that purports to describe a Jewish plot to achieve world domination" - Wikipedia), and what not. This man could have been an agent provocateur for all I know. However, the curious thing is that nobody in the hall, including myself, did stand up to ask him to stop giving us this shit. Why so?

Here is my advice as a library activist: If you want to form your own opinion on the thorny issue of the causes and circumstances of the 911-crimes (because crimes they were, whoever planned and committed them), you should read 1) the official "9/11 Report", by Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, and 2) "The 9/11 Commission Report. Omissions and Distortions", by David Ray Griffin.

Those are not very nice things to read about. In case you need something to cheer yourself up with, how about that old "Candide" book, for instance?

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03 October

Elementary lessons from the events in Burma

[World Social Forum] 

The mirror of the mass media is misleading, as usual. It diverts our attention from the essential questions.

The Buddhist monks were the moral leaders of the uprising. But the monks failed to provide the needed political leadership.

A military junta can be defeated by non-violent means, if the people is well organized. But strong organization equals effective political leadership. Without that, the revolution will be crushed.

The Buddhist monks of Burma were very courageous, but they failed to estimate the reactions and moves of their adversary. They did right, but they did not do well enough.

Our political leaders are morally corrupt, and utterly so. Therefore, they are weak. Yet we must not underestimate their force and brutality. We must continue to analyze and assess what we are up to.

Naomi Klein provides some interesting new elements in her speech on YouTube

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