Below, please find a continuation to the libraries-and-WSF-related message which I distributed some weeks ago (available at http://www.kaapeli.fi/book/mural_library.html ) This message was not written for you social and political activists-researchers. Instead, I wrote it for a group of concerned librarians from Northern and Central Europe. Hope you find it interesting anyway.
The Cooperative Library
(Letter to librarians Re: libraries and an article by Monbiot)
George Monbiot's article A Vehicle for Equality is about worker's cooperatives as an alternative to stock companies. The article is of special interest to somebody like me, who has for the last fifteen years worked in/for the internet provider Katto-Meny, which is a cooperative of network users.
But I think that the cooperative idea may also be an interesting reference in the discussion about the future of the libraries in a world dominated by finance capital and where tax competition and evasion, stimulated by e.g. the WTO agreements, are eroding the economic and social base of the public services.
At a time which preceded the birth of the cooperative movements Benjamin Franklin and others based their "Library Company of Philadelphia" on cooperative ideals. This was a so called subscription library of the members of the Junto, "a club of mutual improvement" (B.Franklin) . Actually, it was, a at the same time, a cooperative of consumers, that is of readers, and of producers, the desired product being the "mutual improvement".
"In March 1732, they sent forty-five pounds and a list of titles to London merchant Peter Collinson; and in October they had their books. The library, housed at first in the Junto's meeting room and later in the room in the State House, was open to any "civil gentleman", but only subscribers could borrow books" (Lerner, The Story of Libraries, p. 141).What we badly need today is a universal library, i.e. a library which is not controlled by the national states and governments and which is also economically self-sufficient, that is, independent from the banks and corporations which dominate world finance. What we see today, however, is the opposite development, that is, the onging, incremental subordination of the library to the particularistic economic interests of media moguls and information merchants. The "cooperation" of the libraries with Google Inc., recently introduced in the stock market, is an example which illustrates my point.
The universal or global public library is technically possible. The internet and the cellphones provides its necessary technical infrastructure. And it is economically viable: the cooperative is a classic solution whereby those who lack economical and political resources strive collectively to improve their situation. It has been done before, and with success, although not on a global scale. In a global library cooperative, each reader should own one share and one vote.
The World Social Forum (WSF) provides an open space for the elaboration of this and other progressive ideas. The public library must return to its revolutionary roots and reformulate the agenda 'for mutual improvement'.