Artpool40Active Archives and Art Networks

International Conference of the Artpool Art Research Center

February 20–21, 2020 Museum of Fine Arts, Schickedanz Hall, Budapest

Agustina Andreoletti | Zdenka Badovinac | David Crowley | Katalin Cseh-Varga | Mela Dávila Freire | Lina Džuverović | Meghan Forbes | Daniel Grúň | Sarah Haylett | John Held | Roddy HunterJudit Bodor | Jasna JakšićTihana Puc | Klara Kemp-Welch | Kaja Kraner | Emese Kürti | Karolina Majewska-Güde | Lívia Páldi | Henar Rivière | Sven Spieker | Kristine Stiles | Katalin Timár | Tomasz Załuski | Elisabeth Zimmermann

Agustina Andreoletti [Biography]
Shadow Libraries: Distributed Models for the Creation and Circulation of Digital Archives


Shadow libraries are defended as a way to take back the autonomy of knowledge production and rebuild grounds of solidarity. Based on previous library configurations, shadow amateur librarians revise their values in the digital age to demonstrate that the library is neither a monolithic system nor an abandoned utopia, and they demand new readings of its organizational frameworks. Under this idea, the shadow library turns into a social space for communication and information, which houses a body of knowledge and experience organized by the community that is using it. The opportunity to participate is something institutional libraries could learn from: users having a say in the catalog and collection process.

This new hybrid model is based on the cheap availability of digital books and allows different access to knowledge, one that can be unrestricted, explorative and nomadic. Due to their disregard of copyright, cultural resources of the shadow libraries exceed the relevance of most official libraries complying with the law. In this way, the purpose of these projects is at least twofold: knowledge circulation and conservation. Although their impact is different in the Global North and the Global South, shadow libraries and amateur librarians emerge as forms of self-education to counteract spaces of privilege.

The debate around shadow libraries demonstrates that the phenomenon cannot be reduced only to its copyright infringing aspects. On the contrary, it needs to be contextualized within a more extensive socio-political debate that positions the requests for free and unrestricted access to knowledge within efforts against the logic of capital, which currently aims to commodify all aspects of life. Given the imbalance between educational requirements, copyright law, and technical possibilities, it is not surprising that private initiatives are being established to collect and preserve cultural memory. These initiatives make use of the affordability and availability of digital technology and its infrastructures, and they take responsibility for the preservation of cultural goods.

With a focus on online shadow libraries, this paper frames the projects “Memory of the World / Public Library” and “AAAAARG” as sites of resistance to traditional notions of value. Both projects draw on the autonomy of art, which gives art its own laws and to not be controlled by external forces (Stakemeier and Vishmidt 2016). The claims of autonomy create a shielding cover of untouchability, using the public status of art institutions to communicate free access and circulation of knowledge. This kind of publicity intensifies the influence shadow libraries could have in the public sphere without jeopardizing or risking their existence. In his way, they explore the grey zones of copyright laws, engaging with loopholing strategies (Wright 2013). Loopholing connects shadow libraries with previous models of resistance, such as sabotage. It rejects the idea of withdrawal or exit, and moves out from the arrangements and subjectivities of capital. Aligned with the undercommons (Harney and Moten 2013), amateur shadow librarians loophole the system without being against the institutions to disarticulate the for-or-against logic in institutional critique. In this way, they propose a double agent model, engaging both the institution and the crime.