In the catalog of History the Public Library is listed in the category of phenomena that we humans are most proud of. Along with the free public education, public health care, scientific method, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Wikipedia, Free Software…
It’s one of those almost invisible infrastructures that we start to notice only once they go extinct. A place where all people can get access to all knowledge that can be collected seemed for a long time a dream beyond reach — dependent on the limited resources of rich patrons or unstable budgets of (welfare) states.
Internet, however, as in many other instances, has overturned what we take as given and as possible. The dream of all people getting access to all knowledge suddenly came within our reach. It seemed just an issue of interpreting when the trajectory curves of global personal computer distribution and internet access penetration would finally make universal access to knowledge a reality. However, the actual trajectory of development of public libraries in the age of internet are pointing in the opposite direction – that the phenomena we people are most proud of are being undercut and can easily go extinct.
Public libraries now cannot receive, and sometimes not even buy, the books of some of the largest publishers . The books that they already hold they must destroy after lending them 26 (?!?) times. And they are loosing the battle to the market dominated by new players such as Amazon, Google and Apple.
In the catalog of History the emancipatory revolutions are listed in the category of phenomena that we humans are most proud of. They empower the oppressed and give them the means to reach their dreams. That the dream of Public Library in the age of internet, the dream of universal access to all human knowledge, should now be relinquished, that cannot be let happen. And artists and hackers, as in many other instances, are taking upon themselves to make dreams a reality.
Melvil Dewey would be happy. “Free schools & free libraries for every soul” shall never wither away.