Memory of the World/Public Library

  • Mars, Marcell, (Principal Investigator)

Project: Research


‘Memory of the World/Public Library’ (MOTW/PL) is a research project addressing the complex implications of the state of access to knowledge in the current digital networking age. The project is situated within the European new media art & cultural scene while being internationally recognized as one of the most prominent examples of the ‘shadow libraries’ phenomenon.MOTW/PL research contributes a distinctive conceptualization of the role of the public library in the current political and institutional landscape. Specifically, MOTW/PL is advocating for universal access to knowledge through a tactical media approach of civil disobedience, and is organised around the work and custodianship of a self-organized distributed network of amateur librarians, who develop and maintain an online public library.The project was launched in 2012 in Ljubljana by enacting a gesture of conceptual art: claiming for itself the institutional status - in line with our proposed vision and definition - of a public library. The proposed concept and definition resonated with key actors in the art world. In the following years, MOTW/PL was exhibited as a project, but also invited to curate and organize conceptual exhibitions, conferences and workshops in numerous art & cultural institutions, such as Museo Reina Sofía (Madrid), Württembergischer Kunstverein (Stuttgart), Calvert 22 (London), Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova (Ljubljana) and (Berlin).Alongside gaining recognition within the art world, MOTW/PL succeeded in creating an accessible online infrastructure at and becoming a relevant intervention and a point of reference within educational, technological and academic contexts. Some of the examples of such international recognition include:- A keynote lecture at Brown University;- Inclusion into the curriculum of the MA programmes in Experimental Publishing at Piet Zwart (Rotterdam) and IZK at TU (Graz);- A peer-reviewed article published in the Association for Computational Linguistics;- A presentation at Europe’s largest hacker conference Chaos Communication Congress;- An interview/chapter “Knowledge Commons and - Activist Pedagogies: From Idealist Positions to Collective Actions” published in “Learning in the Age of Digital Reason” by Petar Jandrić (Sense Publishers, 2017);- The book “Archives” (Minessota Press, 2019), co-authored by Lison, Mars, Medak, Prelinger.MOTW/PL demonstrates that a socially relevant practice-based research today, in order to address a wide range of aspects that constitute its research domain, needs to bridge and exist simultaneously between various fields and disciplines.In opposition to the dominant, North American discourse of disruptive nature of technologies and companies behind them, the European new media scene developed a critical discourse of technologies from the hybrid social institutional landscape that combines culture, art, activism and academia. The scene has emerged and continues to operate between festivals, independent and public cultural institutions, hacktivist communities, contemporary art museums and exhibitions, progressive media departments at the universities as well as independent authors and publishers. Over the last couple of decades in which digital technologies were becoming ubiquitous, the interdisicplinarity and intersectorality of the European scene proved to be a potent environment from which to understand, reflect on, play with, act on and intervene into the world where the digital became indissociable from the rest.MOTW/PL is conceptualised around the understanding that, historically, together with universities, libraries were the institutions able and responsible to negotiate exemptions from (total) commodification and privatization of education and knowledge production. Libraries are institutional, social, technological, epistemic and ethical infrastructures of access to knowledge. Our research is the synergy of these two facets - a critical discourse on technologies and institutional landscape from which knowledge is produced. First, it tries to intervene within the institutional imaginary of what a public library could be today. Second, following that imaginary it explores and develops the real distributed internet infrastructure for amateur librarians.The recent economic crisis, neoliberal policies and austerity measures, together with the restrictive legal regime of intellectual property put the public knowledge institutions into a position where they struggle for financial support needed to continue working, and in parallel, at the legal and policy level, battle with proscription of almost every attempt to implement available technologies which would significantly improve the access to knowledge.MOTW/PL combines the cultural techniques found in the art, technology, media theory, activism and academic research in order to comprehend, critically reflect and intervene into the world in which it is easy to imagine and technologically achieve the 19th century ideals of universal access to knowledge but for various reasons as the times passes we are further and further from that goal. This portfolio lists a number of examples where institutions from a wide range of sectors resonate with MOTW/PL vision and their recognition and acceptance of MOTW/PL make them complicit in the endeavour to reach that goal. The additional files added to this entry are:Rodríguez, Mafalda, and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, eds. Really UsefulKnowledge: October 28, 2014-February 9, 2015. Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de ArteReina Sofía, 2014. What, How & for Whom / WHW. “There Is Something Political in the City Air.” In Extendingthe Dialogue: Essays by Igor Zabel Award Laureates, Grant Recipients, and Jury Members,2008-2014, 286–307. Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory, 2016. Lison, Andrew, Marcell Mars, Tomislav Medak, and Rick Prelinger. Archives. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2019. Jandric, Petar. “Knowledge Commons and Activist Pedagogies: From Idealist Positions to Collective Actions.” In Learning in the Age of Digital Reason, edited by Petar Jandric, 243–69. Educational Futures. Rotterdam: SensePublishers, 2017. Vladimir, Klemo, Marin Silic, Nenad Romic, Goran Delac, and Sinisa Srbljic. “A Preliminary Study on Similarity-Preserving Digital Book Identifiers.” In Proceedings of the 9th SIGHUM Workshop on Language Technology for Cultural Heritage, Social Sciences, and Humanities (LaTeCH), 78–83. Beijing, China: Association for Computational Linguistics, 2015.

Layman's description

‘Memory of the World/Public Library’ (MOTW/PL) is a research project addressing the complex implications of the state of access to knowledge in the current digital networking age.
Short titleMemory of the World/Public Library
Effective start/end date28/11/12 → …


  • art
  • shadow libraries
  • Open Access
  • Library Resources
  • software development