d.garcia on Thu, 27 Feb 2014 16:32:38 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Books as "a gateway drug"- Interview with marcel Mars

Books as "a gateway drug"- In discussion with with Marcel Mars 

At the culminating event of the Post Media Lab at Leuphana University, L?neburg 
"Taking Care of Things- I got to know and work with artist/hacker Marcel 
Mars who introduced me to his ambitious project ?Public Library-Memory of 
the World? http://www.memoryoftheworld.org/public-library/

I will be joining Marcel and others in March for an intensive 
phase of development on a number of fronts. The following discussion is the 
first of a number of conversations That will cover questions as they arise 
in the development process.

I began by seeing (don?t be offended Marcel) Public Library seen as a kind 
of anti-capitalist equivalent Amazon. In that for Amazon ?Books are Amazon?s 
version of ?a gateway drug.? ? For Bezos a bookstore was a means to world 
domination ??.. ?It wasn?t a love of books that led him [Bezos] to start an 
online bookstore. ?It was totally based on the property of books as a 
product,? Shel Kaphan, Bezos?s former deputy, says. ?Books are easy to ship 
and hard to break?? (New Yorker - Cheap Words, 17th Feb 2014)

Marcel Mars may love books more than Bezos but what they share is the notion 
of the book as a means to a higher stakes game. The substance of his ?Public 
Library? project lies not primarily in books themselves but in the ways in 
which he creatively exploits their character to play for higher stakes. He 
takes the broad consensus (across the political spectrum) that public 
libraries are an essential component of any democratic, habitable society. 
He then proceeds to extrapolate from this consensus to wider a wider set of 
arguments on the moral poverty of wider Intellectual property regimes and 
thus the heart of 21st century informational capitalism itself. Moreover 
(although he is an artist) his intervention is not restricted to the 
symbolic realm or the gallery but through the provocation of direct action 
by developing a functioning peer2-peer ?public library? application.

The project raises many questions particularly at a point of crisis for 
independent publishing, small book stores and decent news media. If Marcel 
and his associates (I count myself among them) were to be successful could 
they wind up being as bad for books as Amazon has been for small publishers 
and independent book shops? (and maybe even physical libraries that perform 
many important functions in the street life of many local communities). In 
fact as we speak Dee Dee Halleck alerted uus to the Thursday demos against 
Mayor de Blasio to stop the Central Library Plan and the sale of New York 
City?s branch libraries.

David Garcia: This hacker beliefe in the possibility of creating a universal 
spaces of free exchange can have the unintended consequences of eroding the 
specificties of community. I see this as the rise of technological formalism 
akin to the Greenberg?s authoritarian cold-war formalism of late 20th 
century abstraction in the visual arts.

Marcel Mars: I absolutely agree on that one. That?s why i insist on people 
being librarians. Software should always build on top of communication need, 
or need of particular community. That?s how software becomes social. 
Designing sociality by designing desires by developing software is not the 
(social) way software should go. It just fails in both worlds (techno + 
social). Even if it gets some venture capital on its way.

DG: The independent publishing sector has been decimated and I think World 
Memory should be careful that its efforts is seen to be addressing rather 
than hastening this process.

MM: I spent a lot of time in the past thinking about sustainable business 
models in art & culture production. A long time ago (in 2000) together with 
others I started GNU GPL (later CC Share-A-Like) music & video label - 
EGOBOO.bits. In its very narrow market niche it was quite successful (e.g. 
getting #1 hit by ?Zvuk broda? at Croatian national TV). That discussion 
only brings false hopes from all around. Operating in the world where 
scarcity is moved into attention time is not about business. It?s about 
something else. Wasting our time on that false hope just gives time to ones 
who are building network infrastructures based on wet dreams of venture 

I don?t want to get (again) into these talks with people running their small 
((rather not) sustainable) business. When I can see that?s what coming in 
discussion I prefer to revert the whole argument into good old communist 
one. A working class should be empowered. We, workers, should rule our own 
destiny. Small/indie businesses are not the keywords, or goals, which will 
lead us there. Solidarity should become essential part of our culture. I 
don?t see that any legal protection will solve the problem of the time of 
scarce attention. Not the one based on intellectual property metaphor. There 
we need serious reboot. A reboot starting by abolishing intellectual 
property as such ;) Then: solidarity, worker?s rights, labour. That?s the 
scarce and valuable time we need to protect.

I know that very few people will have enough time to listen this rather 
complex argument (on the importance of abolishment/reboot of intellectual 
property regime). That?s why I (tactically) avoid talking on that particular 
subject and rather go with a narrative saying: (the very idea of) public 
library should be defended. Very few such a wonderful dreams became true. 
And we, people, are proud of it. Let?s defend it and then build further on 
top of that dream. At the moment our dream is under attack. Mobilize!

DG: Thinking about your project in its totality I found myself dividing into 
6 distinctive parts. Would you respond to each of these in turn. To begin 
with (Part 1) ?Public Library? is an artwork substituting Joseph Beuys?s 
everyone an artist for every one a librarian. You have in sometimes argued 
that the role of artist offers some special kind of licence and protection 
for necessary acts of civil disobedience.

MM: Yes. I?m glad you noticed that. From early beginning of Public library 
web site there was a small easter-egg: if you moved your mouse over one 
particular paragraph his name would appear.

A room to play is on many different corners of our world. If you have some 
nasty greedy agenda and want to exploit people and natural resources you 
start up a business, a company. If you have some political agenda on your 
mind the only way to go for it is to exploit freedom of expression so you 
have to articulate your mission through art. If it establish itself as some 
relevant threat to the system it will become ?controversial? and an act of 
civil disobedience. When the system is fucked up as it is now, civil 
disobedience is necessarry. We witnessed all of that in case of Aaron 
Swartz. Reaching for protection from the art context for sure weakens the 
political agenda but, hopefully, strengthen the security of an actor.

DG: Part 2. ? Public Library is a classic hacker utopian social enterprise 
designed to create a universal space of free to exchange of all published 
forms of human knowledge. Would you agree?

MM: Yes, that?s why I use the Dream Reference.

DG: Part 3. ? Would you agree that Public Library should not only about 
exchanging books but also function as a living archive in that it is 
operating as a social network of the human ?librarians? acting out all the 
communicative impulses of fans and other knowledgeable people (seen in 
independent book-shops/media stores) who are happy to share their knowledge 
Through the tools and networks you are developing a social media platform to 
facilitate this dimension of sociality.

MM: This is the hardest one. Network effect in its best/worst. As yet this 
aspect is really under developed.

Very good thing about books is that Universe-of-All-books is achievable, 
reachable, comprehensible?. Books are small. It?s mostly text. Text is 
small. Even in Unicode ;)

I really think we can do a lot (I mean A LOT) with only few dozen of 
librarians. That?s still social network but not the one that much depending 
on the network effect (like in millions). Still, few dozens of librarians 
should have at least order of magnitude more ?users?. Avid readers. Or at 
least people who like to, from time to time, unpack their libraries ;)

DG: Part 4. Public Library is a political campaign confronting the 
unparraleled threat to existing public libraries around the world

MM: Ha, another hard one. It?s hard to get the ?real? libraries/librarians 
loud and active. Part of the establishment of that dream, of public library, 
is that people working in the public libraries are public sector workers. 
They are not known to be particularly brave kind of people. In the time of 

There is one thing I remember from Creative Commons time. There was always 
too much of a respect for artists, art world. That stupid fantasy how 
creative people are special and that they have a mandate to control their 
own destiny. The consequences of that fantasy, of a geniuses, of an Author, 
but more than that of intellectual property (related to the fantasy) have 
had always had a consequences way beyond the art world. And at the same time 
(history of) art was just good enough to critically deal with these issues. 
Creative Commons never recognized avangard art as a good representative of 
art world. What a pity. But that?s maybe just the bourgeois lawyers ambient 
happening there ;)

Knowing all of that, or being a very active in the whole Creative Commons 
business, now, I?m not afraid of talking on behalf of librarians without any 
?real? librarians supporting me. Just the same I would do, if I only could, 
to talk on behalf of working class. I?m a librarian! I?m a working class! 
Workers of world, unite! :)

DG: Part 5. The project is an attempt to persuade public libraries to 
embrace the huge possibilities of the digital domain to take the concept of 
public libraries to Their logical conclusion.

MM: I would say that this will come much later (if project will ever become 
that successful). I?m not without hope.

DG: Part 6. as a hack ? focused on developing technical tools to integrate 
the various initiatives into a coherent unified program moving together in 
one direction.

MM: Yes. I?m super happy that Sean and Du?an, during this whole process of 
starting Public library, became my very good friends and that we share the 
common vision of the necessity to take better care of metadata and that 
while harvesting job could be done collaboratively by amateur librarians. 
Hopefully soon, both AAAAARG and Monoskop will get some software tools which 
enthusiasts and supporters will be able to use to take better care of this 
amazing catalogs. Sync and share.

DG: In place of everyone a librarian how about ?everyone a curator?? The 
role of curator (even curating one?s own profile on social media) seems to 
me to be a more accurate characterisation of the current state of affairs in 
all fields moving from a ?creative economy? to a ?curative economy?. Unlike 
librarian modern curating (not only in art) has personal expressive 
dimension in which the personality/ego of the curators are a necessary 
factor in shaping a collection. Traditionally a public librarian is a public 
servant who is there to provide universal access to everything without fear 
or favour neither judging or selecting. The latter judge is the job of the 
reader. Does not this double function of ?creative? librarian create 

MM: I see the point. I?m a little bit afraid of articulating Public library 
through emphasize on curation, especially without a strong focus on catalog. 
Art/curating plays a lot with twists around canons/standards and anything 
well established. I like that. Still, in this particular context we also 
need very strong anchors. Something well established, through the whole 
political spectrum. So no one can object. Playfullness, from political 
perspective, is always easy to object. So, I think our anchors are: 1) 
catalog 2) humans as librarians; and 3) the very public library as 
institution. This time, the (move in the) game is to play revolution from 
conservative positions :)

DG: As you point out there are quite a quite a few related initiatives Open 
Library, Genesis and Public library is the initiative prepared to 
pragmatically use whatever is to hand to unify these initiatives into a 
single direction.

MM: Yes. I got my friends at Leuphana University interested in supporting 
Open library, as we heard project doesn?t have very active support at the 
moment, so Leuphana would like to propose strategic partnership with 
Archive.org on that project. Good.

There is a Piracy lab at Columbia NY, and few more projects coming from 
academia which are not afraid to deal with so called piracy. I think it is 
very relevant to cover that whole phenomena. People all around the world do 
care about knowledge and make how to make the access happen. That knowledge 
should be of interest of anyone caring about education, access to knowledge 
and we need projects which will talk openly about that. Because the whole 
set up with scientific publishing, access to books, to knowledge, to some 
extent anything digital is in a deadlock and institutions together with 
people ?with something to lose? have to play dumb. Kids covering their eyes 
when downloading from AAAAARG, Library Genesis, UbuWeb or Monoskop, but more 
importantly still doing the same when we should discuss that. I don?t want 
to judge anyone here but I can see there is a need to talk openly about 

DG: It would be great to have a ?next steps? section for the project so 
those of us who would like to join and do not have the obvious programming 
skills can discover in what way they might be useful.

MM: Yes. After few workshops I moved from running [let?s share books] from 
terminal into proper point&click Calibre plugin but it is still far away 
from being super user friendly. Hopefully, friendly enough for few dozens of 
amateur librarians (mentioned before) :)

DG: Is there a clear way in for non-technical users or even techno-phobes to 
embrace your sharebooks application do you have a simple intro-video as 
Calibre does to introduce non-techs to the Public Library offer. Maybe it 
would be useful to separate Argument and Advocacy and so introduce a basic 
?user manual?.

MM: I only did this screencast (long time ago): 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQraoDMJErg&list=PL2F263E5C19F2F577&ind ex=5 
It?s not on the website because I plan to do proper ?user manual? section on 
the web site. Soon. Still coding?

d a v i d  g a r c i a

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