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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

"an activist organisation that examines issues of censorship, freedom and ethics amongst library and information workers..."

ISC 20. Editorial

'Library Documentation, Libraries and the Working Class, Anti-Semitism, Knowledge and Social Change'

By Ruth Rikowski and John Pateman
(Co-Editors of ISC)

Welcome to ISC Issue No. 20. Having passed the 10-year mark, we are now looking ahead, with hope and enthusiasm towards the next 10 years! As ISC members we will continue to seek out positive social trends during this period - i.e. for signs that offer some hope towards the possibility of creating a fairer and more equal world, where the needs of people are put before profit!

Once again, this issue covers a wide variety of topics, including information about a documentary film entitled The Library in Crisis, which was made in 2002, and an interview with Julian Samuel, the maker of the film. We also have articles on Public Libraries and the Working Classes; the meaning of Anti-Semitism, Library Work and Ill Health; Knowledge Organisation and Creating Value from Knowledge.

The first piece is about a documentary film entitled The Library in Crisis , which was made by Julian Samuel, a Montreal film-maker and writer in 2002. The Library in Crisis covers a wide variety of topics, including libraries; literacy and the French Revolution; libraries morphing into centres of E-commerce; the impact of copyright and the digitization of text and the World Trade Organisation and democracy. Julian Samuel interviews a number of people in the film, including Brian Campbell, Past-Chair, Canadian Library Association; Martin Dowding, Assistant Professor, School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, University of British Columbia and Fred Lerner, author of The Story of Libraries, from the Invention to the Writing of the Computer Age. Vinita Ramani provides an introduction to the film, and in referring to the documentary says that:

Its considerations of how writing and ideas have developed through time make it a relevant tool in fields such as history, cultural theory and media studies, especially if one considers the library as a core institution within the academy.[Furthermore].it draws attention to how globalization concretely threatens intellectual freedom as well as political and economic liberties. By raising the idea of a library as a community whose reading rooms provide presence, distance and a space to engage in debates, it implicitly compels us to question how we understand the growing presence of web-based communities and what limits will be imposed upon this method of social activism.

Following on from this, Vinita Ramani interviews Julian Samuel. He asks Julian Samuel questions on a variety of topics, including, the possible casting aside of history; the threat of privatisation and its impact on libraries and information; digitization; bibliocide - the de-accessioning of books; globalization and charging for library cards. Julian Samuel is very concerned, for example, about the threat of privatisation of libraries and information, which is an area that Ruth Rikowski has written about extensively and passionately in ISC and elsewhere. Julian Samuel says that:

Privatizing information means that it becomes easier for the elites to control who gets to see information (and documents) .

He then considers this within the context of globalisation, emphasising that:

The term "globalization" means privatizing everything from libraries to health care. and even privatizing the process of privatizing itself - this process has produced a litigious culture the likes of which we have never seen.

He also points out that there is "an ugly trend afloat" - namely, charging for library cards, which is another issue that Ruth Rikowski has addressed, particularly in relation to micropayments and Smart cards. Furthermore, Julian Samuel refers to Nicholson Baker's work Double Fold, Libraries and the Assault on Paper (2001), which highlights how microfilming and digitisation often replace books. Baker concludes by saying that many books have been destroyed during this process, that this has been quite unnecessary, but that it has resulted in a casting aside of history in various ways, particularly given the fact that microfilms often have missing text. This is referred to as 'biliocide' or the de-accessioning of books. Julian Samuel concludes by saying that:

Without the public library we are dead and finished as a civilization.

Leading on from this, as Ruth Rikowski has emphasised time and time again, we surely need to become more aware of what is/could happen to libraries on a global base, and from this, then seek to change the tide.

Then, we have an article by John Pateman on Public Libraries and the Working Classes. He considers the fact that there is a dearth of research into the use and non-use of public libraries by the working class. Also, the fact that there is a general trend today to regard class as being an irrelevant concept. John's article provides an historical analysis of public library use by the working class in Britain from the mid-nineteenth century until the Second World War. Jonathan Rose, in his book The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class (2002), highlights the fact that historically public libraries only played a very minor part in the intellectual life of the British working class. Instead, as John Pateman emphasises the working class set-up their own libraries and reading rooms, through organisations such as the Working Men's Clubs and various Co-operative Societies. People also read aloud in pubs and on street corners. As John Pateman says:

When public libraries were established, they were used by some working class people. But this was never a mass activity. Working class people who used libraries were the exception rather than the rule.

Furthermore, that state-funded public libraries were largely set up by the Victorian establishment, in order to control the reading habits of the working class. All those involved with public libraries would benefit from some knowledge and understanding on the historical background within which UK public libraries developed, we would suggest.

There then follows two articles by Michael Neumann, the first of which is entitled Israelis and Indians and the second is entitled What is Anti-Semitism? These articles move us out of what can sometimes be a rather confined library and information world, to consider information within a broader context. Both articles demand that we look at moral issues in a different light. The first article, Israelis and Indians considers if and when it is acceptable to kill others. As Neumann says:

Sometimes.we treat the deliberate killing of civilians with reverence, or at least feel a special moral pride in our refusal to condemn it.

Here, Neumann gives the example of American Indians. American Indians sometimes deliberately killed civilians, including children, but we do not, in general, condemn these acts. This is because, as Neumann says, the Indian people were threatened. In fact:

More than threatened; their society doomed without resistance. They had no alternative. Moreover, every single white person, down to the children, was an enemy, a being which, allowed to live, would contribute to the destruction of the Indians' collective existence.

He then draws comparisons between the Palestinians and the Indians, saying that:

Like the Indians, the Palestinians have nowhere to go. All the Arab states either hate them, or hate having them there.Like the Indians, the Palestinians have not the slightest chance of injuring, let alone defeating Israel through conventional military tactics. Like the whites, every single Israeli Jew, down to and including the children, are instruments wielded against the Palestinian people.

Neumann says that the Palestinians, like anyone else, will kill if it helps to prevent the destruction of their society and that:

No people would do anything less to see they did not vanish from the face of the earth.

This gives us 'food-for-thought'. Furthermore, this piece can also be related to the Open Marxist theoretical analysis on globalisation that Ruth Rikowski is developing. In her forthcoming book, Globalisation, Information and Libraries (2005), she emphasises how capitalism is not sustained by morals or any set of moral principles at all. Instead, it is sustained by value, and this value can only ever ultimately be created and derived from labour. When it is convenient for capitalism, then moral issues will be raised. In the case of the Palestinian situation, it is in America's interest to try to ensure that Israel is the dominant force in the Middle East. So, from this position, it becomes convenient to undergo moral indignation against Palestinians. However, such moral indignation is surely essentially shallow, one-sided and groundless.

The second article by Michael Neumann is about the meaning of anti-Semitism. Neumann thinks that too much credibility is given to anti-Semitism but instead that:

.we should almost never take anti-Semitism seriously, and maybe we should have some fun with it.

He considers the situation of the Jews and the Palestinians, saying that:

Today, when Israel could have peace for the taking, it conducts another round of dispossession, slowly, deliberately making Palestine unlivable for Palestinians, and livable for Jews. Its purpose is not defense or public order, but the extinction of a people.

Neumann argues that "Israel is building a racial state, not a religious one." As a German Jew, he says that "Palestinians are being squeezed and killed for me, not for you." Furthermore, that Palestinians are

.being shot because Israel thinks all Palestinians should vanish or die, so people with one Jewish grandparent can build subdivisions on the rubble of their homes. This emerging evil, the deliberate strategy of a state conceived in and dedicated to an increasingly vicious ethnic nationalism.

Neumann then raises the question as to whether it is anti-Semetic to accuse Jews of complicity in these crimes. Clearly, this cannot be anti-Semetic. So, the task then becomes one of defining just what we mean by 'anti-Semetic', but this is not an easy task. As Neumann says, it can include racially based acts and hatreds, for example, but these might not be simply anti-Semetic acts. He concludes by saying that:

In short, the real scandal is not anti-Semitism but the importance it is given.

Then, there is a short piece by Marytn Lowe, a library and information worker in a public library in a London borough, asking whether library work can be a recipe for ill health. He considers the fact that library assistants work long hours with low pay, and that the work can also be quite stressful, especially when the library assistant is the first port of call. He would be interested to hear the views of other library workers on this topic.

Meanwhile, John Lindsay considers knowledge organisation. He emphasises the fact that although librarians have no control over what is published they do:

.exercise control over the terms that are allocated in controlled vocabularies, and the associations that are established in classification schemes as well as the terms. Control is also exerted over the shelf mark.

He then focuses on the term 'gay', and its associated terms 'homosexuals', 'homosexuality and 'queer', within the context of controlled vocabularies and classification schemes in libraries and other sources of information. With this in mind he undertakes some searches on these terms - namely, in university libraries, public libraries, bookshops, electronic resources and the Internet. When searching on the terms 'gay', 'homosexuality', 'homosexual' and 'queer' in the library catalogue at Kingston University (where he lectures), for example, he found that the records that were retrieved from these searches all had "widely differing classification numbers". He concludes by emphasising that this whole topic is important because:

.to know about ourselves is partly the consequence of knowing what exists, what may exist, and what does not exist. This is the heart of knowledge organisation.

The final article in this issue is by Ruth Rikowski, and is entitled Creating Value from Knowledge in the Knowledge Revolution . This builds on her article in ISC No. 19 - On the impossibility of determining the length of the working-day for intellectual labour. In this article, Ruth demonstrates how business people today largely recognise both the importance of creating value, in general, and of the importance of creating value from knowledge, in particular, in the knowledge revolution that we find ourselves in today (this being the latest phase of capitalism). In arriving at these conclusions, Ruth draws on contemporary business and information literature, as well as her own empirical research that she undertook on knowledge management (KM), between 2001-2003. Meyer says, for example, that:

Value is in the intangibles like knowledge, information, services, software and entertainment. (Meyer, 2000, p.193)

Furthermore, effective KM practices assist with the process of extracting this value.

However, the meaning of value itself is not, on the whole, considered in the business and information literature, and it is this point, in particular, that Ruth wishes to draw the readers' attention to. Ruth argues that in order to understand the meaning of value, we need to return to a Marxist analysis of value. Furthermore, that as Marx said, only labour can create value. However, in the knowledge revolution, this value is created more from intellectual labour than from manual labour. Ruth concludes by emphasising that the process of extracting value from labour:

.means that labour becomes exploited, alienated and objectified. In order to break free from this we need to break from capitalism itself and look towards an alternative social system - i.e. move towards socialism and ultimately to communism. In this way, humans can enjoy and rejoice in the world that they have created with their own labour, rather than being dominated by it. Let us shape the future together; let us look towards a better world.

The issue concludes with a book review by Sheila Conroy on the book The Truth by Mike Palecek. Palecek considers how democracy is threatened in the United States. There is an emphasis on how this democracy is threatened not only by the Bush administration, but also by the inertia of the American public themselves. Sheila Conroy concludes by saying that:

It is without hesitation that I urge everyone to read this book. For those who are lost in the chaotic events of our times, it is illuminating and for those who are familiar with the aspects that Mike describes, his lucidity and fine perceptions further organize our thinking.

We hope you enjoy reading ISC 20.

If you would like to comment on any of the articles in this issue and/or would like to write an article for ISC, then do contact us at:

John Pateman - johnpateman9at

Ruth Rikowski - rikowskiat or rikowski.ukat

Ruth Rikowski and John Pateman, December 2004


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