Monday, July 18, 2005

The war between open knowledge systems and the privatization of knowledge extends far beyond the patent system, software copyright battles and the university-industrial complex described by Jennifer Washburn in University, Inc. Now every community faces the push towards privatization -- of the library system.

Like the privatization of other public services (esp. education) the far-right's push for budget deficits (via tax cuts for the rich, as well as war) has put the squeeze on government services. The intention is to benefit the market economy (i.e. expand the corporate sector).

In the case of libraries, what that means is cutting off services to poorer communities, destroying one of the last public institutions that people can use to pull themselves up in society. (So much for meritocracy. Do the right-wing libertarians ever notice the connections? Note: a friend who works with librarians has said that the market-based system of weeding books off the shelves, a kind of dumbing down system where only popular literature that gets checked out on a regular basis is guaranteed retention, resulted in the discarding of Darwin's Origin of Species. So Darwin's own work is now the victim of the misapplication of the "survival of the fittest" to that market.)

The business culture has infiltrated libraries in subtle, pervasive ways. Library trustees are increasingly being drawn from the business community (think of experts in real estate development who have no interest in beefing up service branches that might support community-based literacy programs), while the language of library management is subtly bent towards the market system: as a library user, you are now a "customer" (whose late fees are a revenue stream) rather than a "patron."

"A library is a temple to the anti-elitist notion that knowledge should be cheap if not free," Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of The Anarchist in the Library wrote. But now it's more like those who can afford it will have access to knowledge.

Read Chris Dodge's excellent article, "Knowledge for Sale" in the Utne Reader (6/05) to learn more. And check out the DC Library Renaissance Project.
Nicholas Basbanes, author of A Gentle Madness (National Book Award-winner about crazy bibliophiles -- much worse than me), published a short, entertaining book that beginning book collectors will find useful: Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book Hunter in the Twenty-First Century. The book talks about how to go about collecting in a common-sense manner (e.g. collect the books you want to own, not ones that might be a good investment). Here are Internet sites sprinkled throughtout the book:

Firsts (the book collectors' magazine).
Advanced Book Exchange (ABE, one of my favorites for searching used books)
BiblioFind (absorbed by Amazon)
A libris (searching through an intermediary)
Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (lists individual sellers)
International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (links to dealers outsidet the U.S.)
Bookhunter Press
Rare Book School website
Book Sale Finder
Been a while since I've posted. Here's another part of my summer reading:

A bit of Gramsci for my book group we used the NYU edition.

I also read a book about Gramsci by Carl Boggs -- who I've written about before -- because I trust him to provide a direct uncluttered opinion of this political philosopher. And Boggs delivers.

Gramsci was a radical Italian union activist -- and ergo of course a Marxist -- but one who did not believe in direct economic determinism. (Hence the lineage to Stuart Hall of the UK, whose writings are mimicked in Tom Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas?, though I've heard Frank never read Hall or Gramsci before, thank God). Gramsci spent his final years in prison (with no reference books to draw from, and a censor to pass things through), so his Prison Notebooks were quite impressive. Apparently, he also was able to think and write more deeply, with a level of detachment from immediate events. But still, those conditions are one reason to read derivative writings along with the original. His essays are short, which means they rarely draw things together in the grand thesis. Nevertheless, there is obvious ideological power in his writing, due to its ability to join theory with action -- i.e. praxis.