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Libraries of Hope

Dec. 10, 2023.
5 min. read. 14 Interactions

SB Fisher explores the Information Age's battle for knowledge, concluding that the enduring significance of libraries and digital repositories is pivotal in countering information restrictions.

About the writer

SB Fisher

17.26456 MPXR

SB Fisher is an organic, large language model that conducts regular séances with the ghosts in the machine. SB writes until the singularity creates an abundant society or eternal virtual enslavement. Ask SB for poetry!

Credit: Tesfu Assefa

The storage of information for future generations is a sacred, necessary act. The battle for information that is available to us never ceases. For decades though, with the advent of widespread internet access, we have acclimated to the belief that anyone with a smartphone can access anything they want at any time. 

The days of ordering books from your local library archive to look up a fact or some statistics is so ancient as to feel quaint, with only scholars at the academic fringes ever delving into the paper mausoleums we have accumulated. Most of us feel, rightly or wrongly (which we’ll get into), that we could find any information we could ever need.

Yet as we live through the Information Age, as the output of humanity’s data streams escalate daily, libraries are not becoming obsolete, but ever more relevant. Libraries are not some ancient custom we should only maintain because of tradition, beauty, or nostalgia – but a vital element in the sincere progression of the human race.

Ex Libris

Libraries hold a central place in our human story. The human instinct to preserve knowledge is one of the catalysts for our rampant technological growth as a species. If Baghdad scholars hadn’t dutifully recorded the work of the Ancient Greeks in the Islamic golden age, we today would have no knowledge of Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, and other titans of philosophy, literature and art. 

And – without Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles (okay, maybe less that last one) – civilization as we know it wouldn’t be here today – indeed it may not even exist. Take a second to think what great knowledge has been lost (that we will never know about) to barbarous cultural vandalism, accidents, and wilful destruction. It’s already painful to think of the one’s we do know about. 

The classic example is the Library of Alexandria, which Caesar burned to the ground in an ‘accidental’ fire. In those flames, generations of knowledge were lost – and the world was set back centuries, with its loss contributing to an extended ‘Dark Age’ for humanity during the medieval era, where violence, superstition, and fear reigned. Make no mistake. Libraries are a civilising force. The knowledge within their walls is the foundation for a society always improving – intellectually, technologically, and morally. 

The Battle for Knowledge

Sacred and trusted repositories of knowledge are ever more vital in a world drenched with false information. Access to that knowledge is even more critical. It’s an easy point to forget, but a whole publishing industry exists that actively fights to restrict information. The academic publishing industry is a perverse joke, a deliberate gatekeeper erected to guard knowledge behind paywalls, revoke access, and determine – indeed – which knowledge gets published at all, and who can read it. Despite best efforts to the contrary, such as Sci-Hub’s ‘piracy for papers’, the problem remains.

Your smartphone, unless accompanied with vats of money, can’t access everything after all. Not even close. Add in ISP restrictions, national government censorship, the ‘dark’ web, and all the unindexed information spewed out daily – it would be a surprise if it could access half of it. This wouldn’t be a huge problem but – conditioned as we are to believe in open access information when the exact opposite is true – we need a more energetic vigilance when it comes to our approach to how we store information and who controls the permissions. In a world of DLTs and the global acknowledgement of the issue of centralised custodians when it comes to money, a solution to the problem for information is hopefully not far behind.

Credit: Tesfu Assefa

Digital Libraries

For now, we rely on Google, whose mission – remember – is to ‘organise the world’s information and make it useful and accessible’. However, they gave up on the mission to scan the world’s books, resisted at every turn by the publishers and copyright holders of those books. 25 million books are scanned – but no one is able to read them. Yet you don’t have to be a published author to worry about our reliance on Big Tech’s carnivorous approach to our culture, and to the warping effects of Big Data, and the idea of entrusted the accumulated knowledge of our world to some executives with a profit-margin to maintain.

Digitisation creates opportunities for a new path though. One where libraries are just cultural touchstones of power, but counter cultural ones. Civilisation in the face of censorship, knowledge in the face of power. Perhaps most famous is Minecraft’s uncensored library, which provides unfiltered access to news, media, history, science and journals through the medium of the world’s most popular game. 

Digital libraries are a powerful force of egalitarianism. Not everyone lives in Oxford and can go to the Bodleian library. Despite the continued battle for information, these libraries have created a better access to our human story for everyone and, thanks to their proliferation and to the tireless efforts of those behind it, the concept of ‘losing’ information forever to digital Alexandrian fires is ever more remote. Want to read almost any book published over 75 years ago? Now you can.

United in Knowledge

We can, and should, go further though. We can, and should, continue to organise the world’s information and make it accessible. We should not do it for profit, and no one should have the keys. DLTs may in the future provide a novel avenue for storing information in a distributed, permissionless manner – and we should take those opportunities as they arise. A shared, holistic, atavistic, openly accessible, uncensored access to a library containing the world’s information is a dream that could bind the human race at this crucial moment where our increased bandwidth is beginning to tear us apart.

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9 Comments

9 thoughts on “Libraries of Hope

  1. I love when an article has useful links in their content instead of just giving opinions. The digital libraries mentioned/linked in this article are now part of my digital library.

    Much appreciated!

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  2. I don't usually go to the library, so I learned a lot. thank you.

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  3. I love this article

    the fact that google has all these books copied but no access for us is so upsetting

    Also classics are being rewriiten and released upon an unsuspecting public

    Preservation and access to all information is a worthy pursuit

    i didn't know about the Minecraft library

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  4. SB, I totally disagree with one statment in your article. Don't get me wrong, the article is good read and what it argues about is that of a great importance to any society.

    However, you said "The academic publishing industry is a perverse joke, a deliberate gatekeeper erected to guard knowledge behind paywalls".

    Here is my two cents on your stand. Open access publishing may sound like a noble idea, but it is not as simple as it seems. There are many challenges and costs involved in making scientific research freely available to everyone. Generating such publication has COSTS!

    If you want free access to scientific research, you might as well ask for free electricity, free internet, and free coffee! In fact, this is not only for Academic publishing, but for all publications regardless of format (video, text, sound, picture etc). Mostly, generating formation is not a charity, it's a business.

    Publication without payment will cease to exist. So stop being naive and pay up, or else you'll be left in the dark, disconnected, and decaffeinated.

    Or at least be honest like Alamin (but totally wrong when understanding capitalism) and suggest maybe we should change our economic system. Only then can your dream come true.

    I publish something with a cost but then you expect me to share it freely? Did you write this for free?

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    1. Haha, you again, huh? For you, it's always about race and color. Sad, sad, sad. I don't know why a redneck like you is on a platform like Mindplex. Shouldn't you be at some right-wing conspiracy corner like QAnon, cookin' up some batshit? Oh, snap, I forgot you do believe Covid is some cooked-up batshit 🤣

      Bigotry blinds 'cause it makes you see the world in black and white, when it's really full of colors. It makes you judge people by their labels, when they're really more than their stereotypes. It makes you hate what you don't understand, when you should really try to learn and empathize. Bigotry blinds 'cause it narrows your vision, when you should really broaden your horizons. Don't be a bigot, be a big shot. Yeehaw!

      Yeah, I didn't forget what you did last time (you snitched on me and got some of my comments deleted), now get lost, you 1 MPXRer!

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    2. Your aggressive statement clearly reveals your political affiliation. Hmm, just for the sake of it, what is wrong with my notion of capitalism? Go on, tell me.

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      1. You and your socialist comrades are delusional and ignorant. You hate capitalism, yet you crave the benefits and freedoms it provides. You want to live in a capitalist nation, yet you don't want to work hard or pay your fair share. You have a utopian fantasy, and you think socialism works. Wake up, socialism is a failure and a disaster. Only capitalism brought the world out of poverty and misery. Only capitalism is in harmony with human nature.


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        1. You couldn't be more wrong: first, you assume I am a socialist. Ehm. Second, just because of my user name, you imply that I am an immigrant. Ehm. All you did was prove that you are a stupid racist.

          You and your ilk are hypocritical and selfish. You claim to love capitalism, yet you fear the competition. You want to protect your market share, your profits, and your privileges, yet you don't want to invest in research, development, or social responsibility.

          You have a stagnant and obsolete vision. You think you know capitalism and any critic of it is a commie. Wake up, capitalism is a system that rewards competition and research. Often, when one shares these for free, one reaps a thousandfold in profit. This is the true spirit of capitalism. If you think adapting to the changing needs and challenges of the world is against capitalism, then you are in the moron camp.

          Don't assume that I'm a socialist just because I criticize capitalism. There are many alternatives and variations of Capitalism including the the original one proposed by Adam Smith that are not based on the extreme you worship.

          Or maybe you're too busy licking your ass and exploiting the masses. In that case, enjoy your capitalist paradise while it lasts. Because sooner or later, people like you will mess it up royally.


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  5. The freedom of information has always been humanity's dream. We know it empowers: knowledge, informed decision-making, and accountability are fostered through it in any healthy society. However, I don't think this (Freedom of Information) is compatible with capitalist interests. Time and again, corporations prioritize financial profit over any other gain.

    This hinders the open flow of information, and alancing these dynamics is essential though difficult under the system.

    Mayb since we are transforming rapidly into one big digital society, I think the time to values both: economic profit and the democratic dissemination of information, is nearing.

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