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Liberating Knowledge: A Librarian's Manifesto
Posted by dkg on Thu 6 Jan 2011 at 05:52
A friend just pointed me to Liberating Knowledge: A Librarian's Manifesto for Change by Barbara Fister, an academic librarian who also happens to write mystery novels.

She has an excellent perspective on the meaning of libraries, and the tradeoffs involved with the current societal trend toward privatizing knowledge through so-called "intellectual property" regulations. In a great critique of the passivity of academia and libraries in the face of attempts at intellectual enclosure by private corporations, she writes:

This uninformed indifference is laying the groundwork for a new tragedy of the commons: a world in which knowledge is turned into intellectual property, monetizied, and made artificially scarce.

She closes with a six-point manifesto that begins:

Liberation bibliography arises out of outrage at the injustice of the current system. It’s not about saving money, it’s about the empowering nature of knowledge and the belief that it shouldn’t be a luxury good for the few.

The article abounds in examples of heinous arrangements in the current system that seem to be accepted as standard procedure, and clear thinking about what the actual tradeoffs are (and how we, as a society, are making them poorly).

If i had one objection, it would be that she neglects to mention increased surveillance as one of the problems that come with privatization of knowledge. Our abilities to read privately and anonymously, and to correspond confidentially are at risk because of these systems of control.

Anyway, I'd love to see more open allegiances between librarians and free software folks; the ideals and struggles are very much in parallel. Go talk to your librarian friends about this stuff today!


Comments on this Entry

Re: Liberating Knowledge: A Librarian's Manifesto
Posted by Anonymous (68.227.xx.xx) on Mon 10 Jan 2011 at 00:17
Thoughtful comments from Barbara Fister. I agree strongly that we'll be better off with freed up access to thoughts, analyses, & new information.

It's interesting that this goal may come a bit sooner for the few of us who work for the US government as thinkers, analyzers and developers of new data. As a government researcher in health science, my employment status with the govt does not allow me to transfer any copyright on articles I write or co-author while on the job. It's my understanding that my articles in whatever scientific or medical journal may not be subjected to restraint of free distribution since the copyright to the article cannot be handed over to a commercial publisher.

How this "freedom" is ultimately enjoyed by the reader who wishes to see what I wrote, unfortunately, is not so clear. Are such readers "free" only if they buy access to the private journal? That doesn't seem so helpful after all. Can anyone review this puzzle and suggest a way out?

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Re: Liberating Knowledge: A Librarian's Manifesto
Posted by dkg (2001:0xx:0xx:0xxx:0xxx:0xxx:xx) on Mon 10 Jan 2011 at 01:48
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If it's true that you can't assign copyright to the commercial publisher, then you (or your employer) might still retain control over that copyright.

In that case, the simplest way for the public to get access would be for you (or your employer) to simply republish the work elsewhere. For example, arXiv offers free electronic publication for researchers in physics, mathematics, computer science, nonlinear sciences, quantitative biology and statistics. Maybe your work would fall under "quantitative biology" and/or "statistics" ?

It's entirely possible that your employer has signed an agreement with the private journals that they won't do that, though. That would be a real travesty, but it would be a good thing to explicitly expose, if such an agreement was in fact in place.

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