The Third Library & the Commons - Curated Futures

peter.suber's bookmarks 2022-01-16


"The idea of the “commons” is often invoked in discussions of the academic library’s future, but these references are usually vague and rhetorical. What exactly does it mean for the library to be organized as a commons, and what might such a library look like? Does the concept of the commons offer a useful lens for identifying the library’s injustices or shortcomings? How might we draw on the concept of the commons to see beyond the horizon of the contemporary library, toward a “Third Library” that truly advances decolonial and democratic ends?

This essay engages with such questions and explores how the constituent elements of the academic library—its knowledge assets, its workers, and its physical spaces—might be reoriented toward the commons. It argues that such an orientation might facilitate the emergence of a Third Library that is able to organize resistance to contemporary capitalism’s impetus toward the privatization and enclosure of knowledge, and to help recover a democratic conception of knowledge as a public good....

To be sure, libraries and library staff are already involved in important political advocacy and institution-building efforts to expand the knowledge commons and defend it from enclosure. One prominent example is of course the open access movement, which aims to provide free and equitable digital access to scholarly materials that currently live behind proprietary gates established by for-profit publishers, who seek to appropriate monopolistic rents through their ownership of the journals that serve as central platforms of scholarly communication (Edlin and Rubinfeld 2004). This movement has been shaped by grassroots efforts, as well as by directives from funding agencies within the government and private sectors (McKiernan 2017).

Within universities in particular, the locus of this organizing activity has been within libraries, which bear the costs of the increasing price of journal subscriptions (i.e., the “serials crisis”) most directly (Shu et al. 2018), and whose institutional mission of expanding society’s knowledge commons is most directly constrained by barriers to open access that are erected by traditional journal publishers. Suber and Whitehead (2020) provide an account of such activities at Harvard, while the open-access efforts of library staff and stakeholders at the University of California have also received considerable attention for their role in framing a broader political agenda (Fox and Brainard 2019)....

However, while these efforts are to be commended, they do not explicitly offer a critique of knowledge capital or attempt to challenge its prerogatives. The open access movement offers a critique of the abusive practices of a handful of monopolistic corporations, and attempts to mobilize against them. It does not, however, explicitly question the legitimacy of the broader framework of political economy that encourages the privatization and commodification of essential public infrastructure. For example, prominent members of the open access movement take pains to emphasize that open access is entirely compatible with the very intellectual property regime that underpins knowledge capitalism (Suber 2012, 21). Though it may be true that open access can accommodate the basic institutions of knowledge capitalism, this accommodative rhetorical stance is not uncommon within contemporary movements to secure and build a democratic knowledge commons. It is a stance that attempts to finesse the inherent tensions between the broader logic of the commons and the logic of capital accumulation, rather than overcome these tensions by mobilizing politically to defend the knowledge commons against capitalist encroachment....

Library work must be a centerpiece not only in building the knowledge commons, but also advocating for free and open access to information and resisting the encroaching demands of knowledge capitalism. A Third Library is possible when building physical spaces that allow for the collective power of a workplace commons, which in turn makes it possible to advocate for a true knowledge commons."


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Open Access Tracking Project (OATP) » peter.suber's bookmarks

Tags: oa.libraries oa.commons oa.economics_of

Date tagged:

01/16/2022, 10:33

Date published:

01/16/2022, 05:33