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21.10.19 - Eva Olthof, in the XPUB studio

Eva Olthof is an artist who is conducting a research project titled "Public Library Of". I was interested in talking with her about her work with libraries, and in particular, how they are managed. Recently, I've been telling everyone that the bootleg library is not my library, but ours. The feedback I've received in response has been that this is a potentially dangerous position - in trying to be democratic, I may be creating confusion and a lack of confidence that I am responsible for the bootleg library. Eva believes in a democratic approach to library infrastructure, in which experts and non-experts are both involved. She sees herself as a initiator of libraries, rather than an administrator, or a librarian.

Eva's most recent project is a residency with PrintRoom Rotterdam, producing a series of zines called "Dear Bieb", in which Olthof outlines an upcoming research project she plans to conduct within the Bibliotheek Rotterdam, the main municipal library here in Rotterdam.

We talked about this project, which began with her approaching the Bibliotheek Rotterdam to request a space in which she could conduct her research. At the basis of this project is a very simple question, but one that warrants asking: What does library membership mean? This is a very pertinent question, as library members are treated as customers; for a start, library membership is not free (you have to pay a small fee), and also the Bibliotheek Rotterdam recently announced plans for the building of a Starbucks cafe, and a Blokker (a commercial bookshop). Public library spaces are becoming commercial spaces, as businesses try to capitalise on the sociability that libraries produce.

She said that she spent quite a few months getting passed around from person to person within the administration of the Bibliotheek (who didn't really know how to place her request - was it art? was it research?). She spoke of her wishes with the project, including the creation of a small collection of member-contributed texts, and the possibility of publishing from the space within the library. We talked about possible ways that I could be involved in this project, and the potential for using some of the digital publishing knowledge I have gained to publish from the space of the library.

We also discussed the initiation and development of Leeszaal, which is a successful model of a community space based around a collection of books. Eva said that Leeszaal was initiated after many small local public libraries were closed. The initiators of Leeszaal, Joca and Maurice, met with members of the local community, and asked two questions: 1) Do we need a library? and 2) If so, how can you contribute? These seem to be very pertinent questions, asked in a way that includes non-expert opinions. This was inspiring to hear, as I'm also working in an amateur librarian way, with other people who are also not professional librarians.

20.11.19 - Yin Yin Wong, at Publication Studio Rotterdam

I met with Yin Yin at PS Rotterdam to talk about book production, and the particular publishing model that Publication Studio works with. Publication Studio is a federated publishing initiative, with branches all over the world. It began in Portland, founded by Matthew Stadler (who talks about the difference between publishing and publication in "What is Publication?") and Patricia No, motivated by the simple desire to self-publish at low cost. Yin Yin told me that the rudimentary equipment used at each Publication Studio is a hot glue hand-binder machine, a laser printer, and a guillotine. The main idea is to provide perfect bound (softcover) books cheaply, and locally.

All of the Publication Studios worldwide print books from a shared catalogue. The idea is to provide an inexpensive POD service for their own books, and for others. Economic considerations mean that the books are usually printed on the same inner text stock, with coloured paper covers printed usually with a stamp, or in simple black ink. Differences in availability of machinery, paper stock and technique mean that all the books produced are slightly different from each other. In this sense, it's kind of like they are all following a recipe, with slightly different ingredients. This made me think of the singular, and multiple text - producing many books at the one time locks it into an edition, which are quite controlled in traditional publishing. At Publication Studio everything seems to run in open editions, with little concern for maintaining a tight consistency in the materiality of the book. What is most important is producing a book in reasonable quality, cost and time.

Alongside running PS Rotterdam, Yin Yin also runs a service called "Moonshine Editions". It was interesting to see that she had been thinking along the same lines as myself in terms of the bootlegging aspect (moonshine is hard liquor that was originally made and sold during the prohibition years). We talked about the gesture of homage in bootlegging, and how this is aligned with how we look at this process (rather than the cheap knockoff definition floating around contemporary notions of what bootlegging is). She showed me some books she made during her time studying at the Werkplaats Typografie, in a series called "Mary Shelley Frankenstein Facsimiles". The books were made by photocopying an entire book, annotating relevant sections, printing it from one paper stock (quite low gsm, around 80/90) with a self cover, and perfect binding the book. The materiality interested me - was this some kind of spectre of a book? The whiteness, the economy of just wanting the text and not introducing new typographic considerations, the self-cover with handwritten title.

Yin Yin, along with the editor Isabelle, staff Paula, and an intern (whose name escapes me) were busy producing a set of ten books. We talked about the production process - they were working towards a deadline, so they were hot glue hand-binding them, rather than using the cold glue automated machine. Cold glue is much more flexible, and allows the book to be opened wider than hot glue, however the lack of rigidity in the spine means that if it is glued to the cover, the cover is likely to bend as well.

Yin Yin generously offered for me to come and bind some books sometime - I talked about problems I was having with the machinery here at WdKA. We also talked about paper grain direction - at PS Rotterdam they get their paper custom cut and delivered, A5 sheets which they print one-up on (Yin Yin said 2-up was problematic with the paper grain direction).

11.12.19 - lunchmeeting #3, in the Research Station

Wilma Knol (embedded librarian in the Research Station) invited me to a lunchmeeting, a series of informal hour-long open meetings based on a directive to "future-proof" the collection. Wilma is part of a group that is determining news ways for acquisitions to take place within the WdKA Research Station/Library. Other members of the group are ginger coons and Jojanneke Gijsen, both teachers at WdKA. The group have established certain directions and strategies, highlighting these interests:

  • acquisition requests
  • the legacy of the collection
  • displaying and distributing the collection

I'm interested to see if the bootleg library can be of assistance with this directive - especially in informing a bottom-up method of acquiring new books by looking at what is being read/downloaded/uploaded.

13.12.19 - Matthew Stadler, at Leeszaal

Matthew Stadler is a writer, and one of the founders of Publication Studio, a federated publishing house which operates worldwide. I met with him at Leeszaal, where we discussed our mutual interests in texts, reading, libraries and open access to knowledge. Matthew was able to give some valuable insights on what makes certain publishing models, (and libraries) successful, including Publication Studio, and Leeszaal, where he works as a volunteer. His response to my bootleg library was very encouraging. It affirmed some of the hypotheses I have proposed, and offered some insights that I found quite inspiring:

  • a successful publishing practice resembles an estuary, which is a fertile ecological environment formed by the confluence of saltwater, freshwater and minerals. The metaphor is extended to the practice of contingent librarianship, which doesn't opt for one stream of activity, but provides a meeting point of many
  • what I'm most interested in is readers, and shared the act of reading as the thing that binds together a library
  • the haptic experience of reading a printed book is fundamentally one of a circuit-based spatial relationship with the book - holding the verso with the left hand, and the recto with the right. In this way the body and the text form a loop
  • small, spur-of-the-moment actions, in response to immediate needs is most effective in establishing a collective publishing project; i.e. you look at what you have to do today, you print a book, tomorrow you develop the library, a little at a time, rather than as part of some grand scheme that can very quickly become oppressive and driven by ideology instead of a practical response to circumstances

As a writer, Matthew's interests are in the extension of the life of the book post-publication, and how it survives after it is published. There is quite a proliferation of "unofficially published" books made by artists and designers, but these are usually tied to an event: an artwork, a catalogue, a book launch; soon to be forgotten. For him (like myself), the visibility of readers supports the argument for a library's existence. This was the impetus behind a series of books published by Publication Studio, which were free to annotate using software called an.notate. Further to this interest, he co-wrote and published a book called Revolution: A Reader, which is a book made from annotations made on the topic of revolution. I showed him the system of annotation on the bootleg library, which at present is just a link to an etherpad in the description. He pointed out that while the etherpad is a fertile and dynamic collaborative writing environment, having annotations in a separate window to the text lacks fixidity, and proximity.

Matthew also brought up the topic of renumeration for publication - asking if I charged a fee for the services I offer. To me, it is not only unnecessary, but also contradictory to the type of culture the bootleg library should foster. I prefer to exchange bootlegged books for something else, and I'm printing and making them at very little material costs, only my time is expensive. I realise that this luxury is one I can afford only now, and that the question of money (as a necessary part of sustaining a publishing practice) will be an important one to address in the future.

I'm quite interested in the aspect of publication that Matthew champions; one that ensures the survival of a publication after the fanfare of the launch event. Thinking about the use of the text in 20, 30 years time gives a very different set of priorities to thinking about how it will be read as a "current" publication. The way texts are read, distributed, and most importantly shared, precipitates a form that must be durable, and suitable to the long-term needs of the public it is presented to.

13.02.20 - Sam Hart (Cybernetics Library), online meeting

Sam Hart is a programmer and the initiator of the Berlin chapter of Cybernetics Library, a "reverse catalog" of loaned printed books that are checked in to various spaces for visitors to read. I met with him online to discuss our interests in libraries, cybernetics and access to knowledge.

Cybernetics Library is an initiative that began in New York City, with an installation of books at various locations. The books are checked in to these spaces, becoming available for visitors to read. At present, they are not checked out of the space. The interest of the library is the field of cybernetics, and the collection is catalogued on LibraryThing and

Sam invited me to join a slack channel where discussions around the activities of Cybernetics Library are most active.

Feedback from initial bootleg library sessions: introduction

Some feedback collected during introductory sessions, December 2019:


user feedback decision
1. Descriptions of non-English texts: what is the best protocol?

2. Finding texts in non-English languages - possibly hard to find digital files, easier to find in print?

1. They should be in the language of the text, with an English translation if possible

2. Digitise printed texts using the bookscanner


user feedback decision
1. There is a lot of redundancy on the "categories" page. Categories are defined by tags - which are written subjectively, or downloaded from existing data on the uploaded books. There should be a distinction between categorising texts, and tagging them.

2. Tags are case-sensitive, leading to multiple entries of the same tag (e.g. Media Theory vs Media theory vs media theory)

1. Create a series of general categories, and then tags can exist as sub-categories. Further to this, can tags also be used dynamically? E.g. being able to highlight more popular tags? Tagging people?

2. Force all tags to be in lowercase


user feedback decision
1. We noticed that if an article is uploaded from JSTOR, the book automatically takes the JSTOR logo as the cover. Is this because it is watermarked on the first page of the PDF?

1. Could watermarking be a way to make covers of future uploaded PDFs?


user feedback decision
1. Upload cover from local drive - currently only accepts jpegs, and the field remains empty after you choose a jpeg to upload

2. "Submit" button vs "Upload format" button - a bit confusing because of placement, similarity of meaning between "submit" and "upload"
3. "Get" metadata is ambiguous
4. Not possible to create shelves while in book view, limiting the functionality. Being able to create a shelf while looking at a book would be a more immediate use of the shelves 5. At the moment, it's not possible to see who uploaded what. This limits the sociality of the site - it might be a nice way to recommend other texts if we can see who uploaded them
6. If you click on a shelf, you get the option to download its contents - this is currently done one-by-one.
7. No ability to change username at present - what if people want to use a handle rather than their real name, but don't think about this when making their account?
8. Journal articles - how do you enter a season, e.g. "Autumn, 1977"?
9. At present, there is no ability to see the whole collection without filtering - e.g. you can only see by "recently added", "read" or "unread" etc. What if you want to see the entire collection? 2. "Submit" vs "upload format" 4. Book view - can't create shelves

1. Allow png to be accepted, and make it clearer within the interface that the cover image has been uploaded (perhaps with a thumbnail of it?)

2. Create a clear distinction between uploading a new format of the same text, and submitting metadata, e.g. "upload", and "add new format"
3. Change "get" for "download"
4. Create this functionality
5. Implement a feature in book view that recommmends books that are related, and/or recommends the reader who uploaded the book
6. Include an option to download everything on a shelf
7. Create this functionality
8. Create this functionality
9. Implement a feature allowing user to browse everything without filtering