Note: this essay contains spoilers for Jorge Borges’s “The Library of Babel,” Rachel Caine’s The Great Library Series, Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library Series, and Rod Duncan’s The Fall of the Gaslit Empire Series.
In theory, the concept of Open Access publishing is relatively simple: a scholar writes a paper and then publishes it in a peer-reviewed journal that is made freely available to anyone who wants access to it. In this way, scholarly communications and research can be disseminated on a much greater scale. As with any theory, however, this one is not perfect and has to contend with inherent flaws in the system, such as predatory publishers and journals with a serious lack of peer-review and oversight. These flaws are not unknown and they are something that Open Access supporters have been working to combat for many years. However, despite these flaws, the system still has merit and it has the potential to change the world of scholarly publishing in real and meaningful ways. This kind of publishing allows those who come from smaller and less-well-funded institutions to get their work in print and it allows them to access the most up-to-date research, which furthers their own studies.
This is especially important when it comes to the sciences, which advance at a rapid pace. Anyone who can’t afford the subscription journals could get lost and left behind. As Bo-Christer Bjo ̈rk stated in a 2017 article, “The basic ethos of science has always been openness, and building on the work of others. In few other publishing industries has been [sic] such a strong case for open access to information” (252). When described in this manner, it would be hard to imagine that anyone would have misgivings about Open Access, much less be outright opposed to it.
Having said that, in a 2016 co-authored article, former academic librarian Jeffrey Beall made the hyperbolic claim that Open Access journals “have created problems so serious that we believe they threaten the very existence of science, more so than at any time since it began to emerge in 17th century Europe…” (1). If this statement seems a bit dramatic and over-the-top, you would not be wrong in feeling this way. In fact, the first time I read this statement, it immediately put me in mind of a similar sentiment that I read some years ago in a novel by Rachel Caine: “Imagine a world in which anyone, anywhere, could create and distribute their own words, however ignorant or flawed! And we have often seen dangerous progress that was only just checked in time to prevent more chaos” (19). Rachel Caine’s The Great Library series put forth a world where the Library of Alexandria never fell and instead became the state authority for an alternate Earth. The Great Library decided who received what knowledge, when, and how.
In making these decisions, the rhetoric the Great Library uses often parallels the rhetoric used by Open Access opponents. These same rhetorics can also be seen in Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library series, and Rod Duncan’s The Fall of the Gaslit Empire series. Each author has created a world where libraries and archives set the rules and decide who will be given knowledge and who will not. The authorities that rule these worlds, libraries, and archives have placed themselves in the position of gatekeeper, even if the inhabitants aren’t always aware that anything is being kept from them.
Some of these libraries are places of infinite space and wonder, some of them act as state authorities and make the rules when it comes to knowledge dissemination, and some of them exist in a place between repression and dissension. All of them depict libraries in unique ways and each one poses questions to the reader about who should have control of knowledge and whether it should ever be freely available to all. And too, once the fear and repression has been overcome and the voices of dissension and resistance have toppled the system, how do they avoid creating a new version of the same tactics? In order to better understand the deeply elitist and privileged gatekeeping that emerges from Open Access opponents and how supporters may be in danger of falling into old behaviors, it is important to analyze their fictional counterparts, as well as the short story that inspired the creation of these worlds
The Library as a Place of Infinite Space
Written in 1941, Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Library of Babel” introduced the concept of “library as universe” and opened the door to a host of stories that would follow this model. Borges’s library is one that is vast and it is clear–from the moment the story begins–that this is an unnatural world. The story’s opening line tells us everything we need to know about this unnerving place: “The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by upper railings” (51). Borges has created an entirely enclosed world-scape in which librarians live in individual hexagonal cells that are monastic in their barrenness and simplicity. They are provided with only the very few things that one needs to survive, as well as walls lined with books. Borges’ narrator describes a space that is both awe-inspiring and desolate at the same time. It is a world of great order but also a world that within itself may not be real and true, due to the presence of mirrors that reflect and repeat the surroundings, serving to increase the emptiness and unreality of this world composed of unreadable and unknowable books.
In the 1995 article “Modernism/Postmodernism in ‘The Library of Babel’: Jorge Luis Borges’s Fiction as Borderland,” Grace Keiser examines the world of Borges’s unnamed narrator and explains that “Underneath its deceptive sameness and uniformity, the Library embodies the postmodernist conception of language as multiplicity and dissemination, illustrating Derrida’s concept of ‘differance.’ Its books disperse and defer meaning endlessly” (41). In the world of the narrator, knowledge is all around but it is as inaccessible as if it were not even there at all. The idea that potential knowledge is right there but still so far away is enough to drive the librarians of Borges’s world mad.
What is certain is that the library that Borges has created is an unnatural place that could not exist in the real world. This idea of improbable and unnatural worlds such as the one that Borges created was the subject of a 2010 article in which Jan Alber and his colleagues expressed the opinion that though “the projected worlds may resemble the actual world we live in, they obviously do not have to: they can also confront us with physically or logically impossible scenarios or events” (Alber et al. 115). The library is a familiar place for many people but Borges has taken that familiarity and turned it in a new direction, where all is order, even though all is also chaos at the same time. This is a library that is not a place of comfort for its librarians.
In his 1998 article “Flaubert, Foucault, and the Bibliotheque Fantastique: Toward a Postmodern Epistemology for Library Science,” Gary Radford ruminates on the discomfort and unnaturalness of Borges’s library in comparison to real-world library experiences. For Radford, Borges’s library represents “important undercurrents that structure the user’s interaction with the library.” In this place where the library is the entirety of the world “The user is confronted with the ‘librarian-god,’ the guardian of rationality and knowledge, whose domain of order the user dares to violate, and who has the power to render discipline and punishment” (621). This is an unchanging, unnatural, impossible place where order and chaos live side by side and even the librarians are unsure of how to behave or what the future holds. And so they create their own myths and legends about this place that is their prison. They don’t know what lies at the heart of the library but it must be something truly great and terrible.
This theme of knowledge being just on the other side of a barrier, if only one can break through, carries into Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library series. This series focuses on a library that is very similar to Borges’s in that it is a vast and infinite space; one that even the librarians who have dedicated their life to it do not entirely understand. However, where Borges’s story focuses on the library as being the entire universe where the librarians are incapable of understanding the books in their care, Cogman’s work places this unknowable library as the center of a vast multiverse where the librarians are the only ones who speak the secret and incomprehensible language of The Library. According to Cogman, “Listeners who weren’t trained in it heard it in their native language, but with a certain unplaceable accent. Librarians, of course, heard it for what it was…” (46). This library, the Invisible Library, is the axis around which the multiverse rotates, and it is only through acquisition of specific books from specific worlds that the library is able to maintain balance.
And while Cogman’s library resembles Borges’ Library of Babel, the librarians aren’t trapped in quite the same way. Cogman’s librarians are quite literally bound to the library by an alchemical brand across their shoulder blades. They will eventually learn that the brand of their service allows them to be controlled by the Library if it so chooses, and will kill them if they come too close to the Library’s secrets. These bound Librarians venture out into the various universes in order to obtain key works of literature that will ensure that those universes continue to remain stable and don’t lean too far into either order or chaos. They obtain these critical works through various methods, although the most common is outright theft. The Library and its Librarians are, ostensibly, an unknown entity and are intended to operate secretly but those secrets extend into the Library itself with the rampant compartmentalization of knowledge.
Cogman’s multiverse is one that switches rapidly between worlds that are reminiscent of the past and filled with fairies to worlds of high future that are kept in check by dragons. As such, her series does not fall neatly into any one category of science-fiction or fantasy. Therefore, it is generally placed in the wider category of “speculative fiction.” When considering books like Cogman’s and the overall nature of speculative fiction, it is clear that speculative fiction has become something of a catch-all for anything that can’t be described, one way or the other. This isn’t a bad thing, however, as Richard Gill points out in his 2013 article “The Uses of Genre and the Classification of Speculative Fiction.” In discussing the nature of speculative fiction, Gill points out that “The varieties of speculative fiction and the looseness of the category itself give us the opportunity to explore systems of classification and uses of genre” (71). Essentially, speculative fiction allows the author to play with literary conventions, adding alchemy to science-fiction, and quantum mechanics to fantasy. The speculative fiction author is free to let their imagination go where it wants to, without worrying about genre specifics, and this often includes the liminality of library spaces.
This liminality and playful back and forth between science-fiction and fantasy is also what makes Cogman’s series so ripe for analysis, given that it does hold so many varying worlds within its multiverse. Christine Rose Brooke has stated that “Science fiction is opposed to the fairy-tale, which contests the author’s empirical laws, simply in order to escape them” (73). While I do not necessarily dispute what Rose is saying, Cogman’s series stands as a direct contradiction to this thought. Some of her worlds are quite literally fairy tales, due to the fact that the fairies that exist within her multiverse are creatures of their own narratives, embodying archetypes out of myth and legend, which can often draw unwitting humans into the story. And some of her worlds appear to be straight out of the cyberpunk futures of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. All of these contradictory narratives revolve around a vast and infinite library that appears to have no end. It is the kind of place that Radford, et al., describe when they state that libraries are “constitutive of experiences of continual change, excitement, surprise, and discovery. In the library…one never knows what experience is going to come next…’’ (746). Unlike Borges’s library, Cogman’s library is a place where change and surprise are a constant but both libraries carry the paradoxical fears of what might be hiding in the center and that there is actually nothing there at all.
The Library as a Place of Authority
In his 2018 book The Archive Incarnate: the Embodiment and Transmission of Knowledge in Science Fiction, Joseph Hurtgen describes archive anxiety narratives as being those that “deal with the fear that governments, corporations, or clandestine groups have or might alter archives in ways damaging to populations” (15). This is a very real fear, both in fiction and in fact. Anxiety surrounding the idea of archives permeates every line in Borges’s “Library of Babel” as “…the past’s hopeful search for totality and illumination is superseded by the present’s skeptical aimlessness, and by glimpses of an apocalyptic future–in the narrator’s words, humanity is ‘on the road to extinction.” (42). If the library is the place where all of the world’s knowledge exists, what do we do when the library becomes the strong arm of authority in that world?
This idea of a library that controls all things and keeps many secrets is the subject of Rachel Caine’s 2015 novel, Ink and Bone, and the series that followed. In Caine’s world, the Great Library of Alexandria never fell, but instead became the overriding governmental body for the world that she created. When the novel begins, the reader is given the impression that it takes place within an alternate version of the 19th-century, however, it is stated at the end of the prologue that the novel takes place in an alternate version of the 2020s.
This is a world where knowledge is heavily controlled and access is based entirely on societal position and academic hierarchy. The Great Library decides who will be given access, how, and when. The essential issue at play in the novel is the fact that everyone in this world is tied to the Great Library by devices called codexes, which operate similar to iPads. It is from these devices that they are able to access select sections of the library’s catalog. Very few people are given dispensations to own real books, which are always hand-written. There is no such thing as a machine-printed book in this world and the only real insurgency that the Great Library faces is from the guerilla fighters known as the Burners, who are not averse to self-immolation via Greek fire in order to make their point. In one such demonstration, a man declares “The Library owns our memories, yet you cannot own your own books! Why? Why do they fear it? Why do they fear to allow you the choice?” (33) shortly before he sets himself ablaze.
It is eventually revealed that the printing press has been developed many times over the centuries since the Library took charge and they have systematically destroyed all evidence of this each time, up to and including imprisoning and even killing the inventors, including Johannes Gutenberg. When discussing Gutenberg’s invention, one high-ranking library leader proclaims “Without the Library’s steady guidance, this device would allow the uncontrollable spread of not only knowledge, but folly” (19). Similar arguments have often been heard from Open Access opponents, the loudest voice of which is Jeffrey Beall.
Beall, a former academic librarian from the University of Colorado-Denver, believes that Open Access is an “anti-corporatist” movement that will eventually “eliminate private businesses” (589). In a 2013 article, Beall even goes so far as to employ antisemitic dogwhistles when he states that Open Access mandates are “set and enforced by an onerous cadre of Soros-funded European autocrats” (596). This wasn’t the first time that Beall used this tactic and it wouldn’t be the last. Unfortunately, this kind of hateful rhetoric has not stopped people from taking his words as the only truth when it comes to Open Access. As influential as it is, however, Beall’s work has not gone unchallenged. In a 2017 letter to the editors of KOME, “Why Does Retraction Watch Continue to Offer Support to Jeffrey Beall, and Legitimize His Post-Mortem ‘Predatory’ Lists?,” Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva issues a direct challenge to the staff of the science blog, Retraction Watch. Teixeira Da Silva insists that they stop supporting Beall, given that many of his claims about Open Access journals have proven to be “faulty, controversial and misleading… (and thus potentially libelous)” (147).
Teixeira da Silva is not the only scholar who understands that Beall’s work unfairly maligns a very valid avenue for scholarly publishing. Unfortunately, Teixeira da Silva’s words have done little to sway popular opinion, or even Beall’s own opinion of himself. As recently as 2019 Beall had a chapter in Pseudoscience: the Conspiracy Against Science, a book published by MIT Press. In his chapter, “Scientific Soundness and the Problem of Predatory Journals” Beall takes wild swings at Open Access, calling Open Access supporters a “vocal, demanding, and militant social movement” (284) and ending his essay with the pronouncement that “The future of scientific soundness in the context of scholarly publishing is grim” (296). For Beall, the real issue appears to be more about controlling knowledge than it does about expanding scholarly research.
While he wasn’t talking about Jeffrey Beall when he wrote his 1993 article “Principles of Critical Discourse Analysis,” Teun Van Dijk summed up the issue of academics who abuse their rhetorical power by stating that “Critical scholars should not worry about the interests or perspectives of those in power, who are best placed to take care of their own interests anyway” (253). Van Dijk then goes on to make it clear that “Most male or white scholars have been shown to despise or discredit such partisanship, and thereby show how partisan they are in the first place, e.g. by ignoring, mitigating, excluding or denying inequality” (253). This is an important thing to keep in mind when considering Open Access opponents, many of whom are white male scholars.
These same white male scholars, such as Jeffrey Beall, will often slant their arguments in a way so as to make them appear to be on a moral high ground. In considering this rhetorical tack, Van Leeuwen believes that “Moral evaluation is a key aspect of the way discursive practices legitimize social practices – or delegitimize them, critique them” (147). By using a moral stance, Open Access opponents can plant the seeds of illegitimacy into the concept. This same idea is repeated in the Fairclough’s 2018 article “A Procedural Approach to Ethical Critique in CDA” in which they state that “In deliberating over what to do, and in critically questioning proposals and decisions, agents are expected to give due weight to the overriding force of such reasons” (175). Open Access opponents like Jeffrey Beall carry the weight of years in the academy behind them and so it makes sense that people would listen, even knowing that these accusations and concerns are largely unfounded.
Looking back to Caine’s counterfactual world, where knowledge is carefully controlled and disseminated, and taking into account the hyperbolic rhetoric of librarians like Jeffrey Beall, one has to consider just how probable this improbable scenario really is. Caine’s work reveals the ways in which history could have gone, given a few minor changes. Karen Hellekson’s 2000 article, “Toward a Taxonomy of the Alternate History Genre” makes the point that “The alternate history concerns itself with plausible causal relationships, and as such, it concerns itself with narrative and time” (Hellekson 1). These kinds of alternate, or counterfactual narratives, where the world is different due to the removal of key historical figures and technological advances–such as Johannes Gutenberg and the printing press–are not uncommon, given that “people tend to remain quite close to reality when they envisage counterfactual situations” (De Smedt and De Cruz 62). The inherent importance of these kinds of counterfactual and often impossible narratives lies in the fact that “the role of literature has historically always been not only ‘to delight’ but also ‘to teach’…” (Lewis et al. 201). While Open Access opposition may not be as dire a situation as that of a world controlled by the closed fist of the Great Library of Alexandria, these narratives still teach the reader the danger of this kind of knowledge control. And too, Jeffrey Beall may not be a villainous Alexandrian librarian from an alternate history novel but his words have weight and rhetorical power.
While Rod Duncan’s 2014 novel, The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, focuses on a secret archive of scientific inventions and texts instead of secret literary archives, it is the first novel in another historical counterfactual series that serves as a valuable source when analyzing the concept of scientific censorship “for the greater good.” Duncan’s novel is about an alternate Earth in which the Gas-Lit Empire holds an abundance of power over scientific knowledge and inventions. The Gas-Lit Empire is composed of most of the United Kingdom (which isn’t so united), Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Though the book takes place in the late 2000s, it is not a world that we would recognize. England is split into the Kingdom and the Republic, both of which have benefits and drawbacks. In this world technology is so tightly-controlled and so much is hidden away that the world is essentially stuck in the late 19th-century.
This control of “unseemly science” is enacted by an agency known as the Patent Office, an organization that has “built great libraries of books, the only purpose of which is to attempt to divide the seemly from the unseemly, the legal from the illegal” (210). The Patent Office is the arbiter of what technology can be utilized by the general public and what must be hidden because it would be too much for them. And while it is true that this containment of technology has also led to the almost complete abolishment of war, it has also led to a stagnation in art and culture as well. Without a free-flowing stream of ideas to refresh the zeitgeist, societies and cultures cannot move forward in any meaningful way and the same goes for real-world scientific developments. While absolute peace and prosperity is undeniably a good thing, controlling the potential of any society serves no one in the end, whether in fiction or in real world debates about Open Access and the future of scientific progress.
This point is also highlighted in Dale Sullivan’s article “Keeping the Rhetoric Orthodox: Forum Control in Science.” Sullivan makes it clear that this kind of rhetoric–that Open Access will be the downfall of the academy and of legitimate science–is a type of forum control and while “techniques of forum control are necessary, they are nevertheless, exercises in political power and they are sometimes used in unethical ways” (126). This behavior is mirrored in Beall’s own rhetoric, which revolves around a narrative that he has constructed about the catastrophic damage that he believes Open Access will do to scientific publishing.
Beall’s actions can also be judged through the thoughts of William Kirkwood, who stated in his 1992 article “Narrative and the Rhetoric of Possibility” that “By stipulating critical narrative details, people can tell stories that do not merely imply possibilities, they demonstrate them” (43). People like Beall have created a very effective narrative in which the mere thought of free and open access to information will bring about the downfall of science as we know it. He was an academic librarian of long standing and we have been taught that these are the voices of authority, the voices that should be trusted the most when it comes to legitimate research. By creating his list of “predatory” publishers, without giving any real information on why he believes they are predatory, he implanted the idea that all Open Access publishers are potential predators and, therefore, none of them should be trusted. Beall and his followers understand the importance of strong rhetorical tactics and they employ them mercilessly.
The Library as a Place of Repression and Dissension
Libraries hold a peculiar place in the real-world cultural zeitgeist as both fearsome entities of repression and sites of dissension. The image of the library in American culture is one of vast spaces, towering shelves, and limitless knowledge. There is an idea that “A library is a place where knowledge is first classified and then kept, stored in texts of all kinds… Such an understanding imposes a rigid structure of expectations that come to define the library experience for both librarian and library user” (Radford 618). The rapid descent of a lawless concept like Open Access into this rigid structure of uneven power dynamics was always going to be a cause for concern among academic librarians and researchers, as evidenced by Jeffrey Beall and his crusade against Open Access. Instead of learning how to evolve with the times and engage in a real conversation about the possibilities of Open Access, Beall and his followers choose the path of repression by attempting to stamp out any possibility of change and progress.
In “Critical Rhetoric: Theory and Praxis” Raymie McKerrow asserts that “a critical rhetoric seeks to unmask or demystify the discourse of power. The aim is to understand the integration of power/knowledge in society” (1989). This is important when attempting to untangle the rhetorical traps that Open Access opponents have built around this subject. Distribution of power lies at the heart of many arguments against Open Access. The rhetoric that has been created is that academic librarians are using the power of their education and wisdom to protect scholars and researchers but they have instead infantilized their patrons and students under the assumption that they are incapable of critical thinking on their own behalf.
Open Access has a growing cadre of supporters, however, who are going to bat for a concept that they know can work. Supporters like Benlamri and Klett point out that Open Access resources and materials can help to serve “knowledge, skills, and competency advancement in novel educational settings”(2). And in a 2013 article, Gasparyan, et al. made the assertion that smaller scientific communities and non-Western countries have begun to use Open Access as an “opportunity of presenting their best research papers to the global community and advancing science in their countries” (403). Open Access allows smaller scientific communities to get their research out and into the global scientific community. This process, in turn, allows these smaller communities to access research from larger and better-funded institutions, which can only serve to enhance research for everyone involved and move science forward in a more inclusive way.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Open Access supporters don’t recognize the inherent flaws in the system, such as Author Processing Fees (APCs). In a 2021 article for the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, Richard Dudley explores both the pros and cons of Open Access and comes to the conclusion that “Ideally, true open access should remove financial barriers to publish articles as well as to read them—so-called platinum open access. In this way financial barriers would be removed, and articles could, in theory, be judged solely on merit” (13). Right now, APCs are often the only way that Open Access journals can offset the cost of the infrastructure needed to maintain their digital publications. This isn’t a perfect system and it has created barriers, the very thing that supporters have been trying to eliminate but in the end, the costs of APCs are much less than the cost of subscription journals. What is needed is for more universities to offer programs that help to cover the cost of publishing in these journals but this can’t happen if Open Access journals continue to be denigrated and repressed by academic and scholarly opponents.
Open Access has the potential to be what the scholarly world needs it to be but it needs more supporters in order for this to happen and it needs people brave enough to create dissension among the staid ranks of academic librarians. More academic librarians are needed to fight the repression that Beall and his followers are attempting to create within the academic library. In his 1992 article “Spaces of Invention: Dissension, Freedom, and Thought in Foucault” Kendall Phillips discusses how “The capacity for thought hinges on experiencing points of uncertainty…where the habitual ways of knowing and doing fail. In other words, entering a space of dissension, a space of concrete freedom” (338). These spaces of dissension are needed in the modern academic library but change is a difficult concept. This becomes especially difficult when that much-needed change is being fought by those that should be the champions of free and open thought. But free and open thought in the academic library is not always a welcome concept.
Lawrence Frey and Joshua Hanan have stated that “…ideological critics have opened up robust and critically informed accounts of rhetoric, domination, oppression, and other concepts that are central to the pursuit of social justice” (851). This is especially pertinent in light of the fact that Jeffrey Beall has repeatedly referred to Open Access as a social justice movement, something that he does not consider to be a good thing. Beall’s words often have an almost hysterical tinge of panic to them, which leads one to believe that he understands very clearly that Open Access creates the possibility for dissension and change in the way scholarly publishing is achieved and who is allowed to share their words with the world.
For the protagonists of the aforementioned book series, the library and the archive become these places of dissension. In the case of Caine’s and Cogman’s characters, this dissension happens almost by accident. They believe in the idea of the library; they were raised with the rhetoric of the library as a good force in the world. It is a shock to them when they learn the truth about the deep secrets and the knowledge that has been hidden away, and in some cases utterly destroyed. For the protagonist of Duncan’s series, dissension is a means to survival. She rebels because she has to, in order to gain her freedom. Her intent is not to topple a system but simply to clear her own name and a debt that has been unfairly attributed to her due to the system that has been created by the Patent Office.
For each of these series, the authors have injected real world concerns into worlds of completely implausible scenarios, allowing the reader to confront contemporary issues in a format that may be easier to digest, including the concept of a post-truth world. In her 2019 article “Conspicuous Fabrications: Speculative Fiction as a Tool for Confronting the Post-Truth Discourse,” Elise Kraatila discusses how post-truth discourse can affect readers, by “creating conspicuous fabrications – stories that free their audiences from pressures to wonder whether they are believable, because they are obviously not…” (419). While Kraatila speaks more to the fantasy end of speculative fiction, her point holds true. The re-imaginings of the genre, in which improbable and unnatural elements are becoming more and more common, allow for thought experiments that the reader may not have considered previously.
Unfortunately, the thought experiments taking place in this recent explosion of speculative fiction paint libraries as fearful places of intellectual domination and repression. They play on a concept that has existed in popular culture for a very long time and is only further served by librarians like Jeffrey Beall. Kornelia Tancheva explains that this view is tied into our beliefs about librarians themselves, which is often “overwhelmingly stereotypical and emphasizes negative features such as lack of imagination, dowdy appearance, excessive orderliness, indecisiveness, and, generally, a ‘mousy’ character’”(530). It is true that librarians have a particular image in American media, which the Radfords discuss in depth in their 2001 article “Libraries, Librarians, and the Discourse of Fear.” The Radfords believe that much of this fear and stereotyping of American librarians comes from the cultural idea that “The Library Police” are “the ultimate and exaggerated manifestation of the fear and consequences of a user bringing disorder to the otherwise complete and perfectly shelved collection” (318). In acting to repress the use of Open Access in academia, Jeffrey Beall, and others like him, have placed themselves in the position of gatekeeper and thus, they perpetuate the stereotype of “Library Police” within the academic library.
One explanation for the origination of this fear of the “Library Police” is something that American librarians caused themselves, largely due to their behavior during the World Wars. This is not a history that modern librarians tend to advertise, however, preferring to paint themselves as eternally neutral guardians in the fight against censorship and oppression. As Victoria Thur explains in her article “War, Law, and the Librarian: The Creation, Precedence, and Passage of the USA PATRIOT Act and Its Effects on Libraries,” during World War II, American libraries were commonly used as listening posts to intercept intelligence and librarians were pressed into service as spies for the FBI (439). American librarians were allowing themselves to be puppet-mastered by American intelligence agencies in the name of freedom and democracy. These actions were supported by the American Library Association (ALA) and made out to be a very good and patriotic act. It would be years before the ALA decided that a patron’s civil liberties were more important than governmental oversight.
David Lincove also addresses these wartime library efforts in his 1994 article “Propaganda and the American Public Library from the 1930s to the Eve of World War II” in which he discusses the fact that American librarians openly engaged in censorship because they believed that “Books that seemed to be unpatriotic did not conform with the American institutional approach to the war.” This was a bold stance to take but it was not an uncommon one. The Wisconsin State Library Commission “proclaimed that ‘the library must remain beyond suspicion’ by removing from library shelves those books that seemed to question American tradition” (513). Librarians placed themselves as the arbiters of what was good and what was bad. They acted as gatekeepers to knowledge, expecting that the American public would accept this without question. The rhetoric that they invoked was meant to strike a deeply patriotic chord within their patrons and it worked in that time and place. And while these moments from library history are rarely spoken of now, they make it easy to understand why popular culture has come to view librarians with fear and not a little disdain. We are left with a view of the library as a place between states of wondrous infinity and rigid conformity, which is a difficult concept for anyone to reconcile, even the librarians that work in these spaces.
Focusing on the rhetoric surrounding knowledge control and dissemination using these and many other, similar sources will give me a better understanding of the Open Access debate and will allow me to better explain it to others. Using works from narrative studies, rhetorical theory, and library science to analyze how these kinds of rhetorics are woven into our fictional and factual lives allows us to gain greater control over the conversation and move this particular Overton window to a more accepting opinion of Open Access and its benefits. It is in this way that I can become a more effective academic librarian and speak from a place of experience and expertise, which will provide for a greater career trajectory, one that is in line with my own beliefs about the importance of equity and equality in knowledge dissemination.
While there is no way for this literature review to be as comprehensive as I would like, I have tried to include the most pertinent information. The study of a subject like this will necessarily need to draw from all of these disparate fields. My goal has been to collect these pieces and demonstrate how they come together into one unified field of study that attempts to analyze concepts of knowledge control and dissemination in both fact and fiction and the archive anxiety that is woven into these concepts. I chose this subject for many reasons, the primary reason being that I am deeply invested in Open Access and the future of scholarly communications. I intend to build my career around this idea. When I first decided to undertake this as my third area, I did not realize how extensive the research would need to be nor how much I would learn. Having said that, I am excited to see where this path leads. This appears to be a relatively unique area of study and I believe that my work will help to shed some light on the discourse surrounding Open Access.