A public library of our own: Building feminist digital libraries

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How can I digitize books? How can I make available rare or at risk materials? Where can I find e-books? What is the best way to manage my electronic library collection? How can I make available the books and documents my organisation and/or community are compiling? How can I develop and maintain a public library that will help others to understand what we are working on? In short, how can I be a good digital librarian? If you have one or several of those questions in mind, this how-to is for you!

Public Libraries can be defined as one of those universal social innovation that benefits everyone. Places where all people can get access to knowledge independent of their sociodemographic, cultural and professional characteristics. It’s one of those almost invisible infrastructures that we start to notice only once they go extinct and we begin to miss their fundamentally inclusive and distributive nature. On the other side, Internet has completely changed our expectations and imagination about a universal access to all available knowledge for every member of society. However, its emergence and development is taking place when a systemic crisis has also begun and nowadays many public libraries are either being closed down, either cannot acquire digital books from the world’s largest publishers. Moreover, for the ones that can afford to purchase e-books, many must destroy those after only twenty-six lending! This introduction of artificial scarcity into digital goods are undermining the sharing potential of libraries. Universal access to knowledge, under the form of public libraries or a neutral Internet, need to be fought for. To do so, what knowledge should be made accessible to all should be addressed by groups engaged with gender social justice and feminism.

Here we propose four steps about how to become a librarian and start with others your own digital public library. Before shaping your own work flow and choosing your tools, keep in mind that all public libraries are defined by a free access to books for every member of society, a library catalog and a librarian. With books ready to be shared, meticulously cataloged, everyone is a librarian. When everyone is librarian, libraries are everywhere.

Need to explain bookscanner + OCR + metadata

  1. First Step: Digitizing books with a book scanner

You can skip this step and still become a librarian and build your own public digital library. However keep in mind that your community or organization might be filled with rare documents that might disappear if they are never digitized, for instance fanzines, posters and flyers, call for actions, old books not edited anymore, local archives etc. Scanning of the book: You can use a scanner or build your own DIY bookscanner (add info)

  1. Second Step: Postproduction of scanned images

You can use ScanTailor (free software available for all OS, http://scantailor.org/) Optical Character Recognition (OCR) which transforms images into proper texts and PDF authoring (free software: Tesarac, gscan2pdf, http://gscan2pdf.sourceforge. or proprietary: Abbyy Finereader)

  1. Third step: Developing your catalog of e-books

You can use Calibre Adding books, adding metadata (author, categories, ISBN, language etc), transfer of files to an e-book reader, converting formats and managing sub-libraries serving books in a local network sharing of books catalogs in Internet with [let’s share books] plugin

  1. Fourth step: Finding e-books and articles online

You can use curated repositories: aaaaarg.org, Ubuweb, Monoskop, memory of the world, feminist fanzines (add) non-curated repositories: Libgen, ebook.farm

Wrapping up, when you notice that someone asks for a book use ebooks repositories to find the book, use Calibre to catalog that book, and use [let’s share books] to share it. If you notice that some particular book on those repositories needs an extra care to split the double pages, or is only composed by scanned images, then you can make an OCR of it and upload it back on those repositories and/or make it available through your catalog of books.

Example: A feminist library on Memory of the world Feminist thinking and theories are rich and diverse reflecting the intense and heterogeneous history of social movements struggles for gender social justice around the world. It is sometimes difficult to understand the many perspectives and sometimes confronting points of views. Building and sharing catalog of books under the public domain or under open or free license can help your communities, your allies and the people you are trying to reach out to better understand what you are standing for and trying to achieve. Besides that enabling decentralized and localized access to digital public libraries enable a better access for all to knowledge.