Note: I have reformatted the entries to work better in blog form. Don’t worry. I do know how to properly format an annotated bibliography!
Caine, Rachel. Ink and Bone (The Great Library Book 1). Berkley, 2015. – Caine’s 2015 novel is about a world where the Great Library of Alexandria never fell, but instead became the overriding authority for the world that she has created. When the novel begins, the reader is given the impression that it takes place within an alternate-history 19th century, however, it is clearly stated at the end of the prologue that the novel takes place in the 2020s. It is also made clear to the reader that 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 the 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. It is eventually revealed that the printing press has been developed many times over the centuries since the Library took charge 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 “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). Similar arguments have often been heard from Open Access opponents.
As such, this source is one of the foundations around which I’ve built my work. The rhetoric that the library uses to justify their actions, hyperbolic as it may seem, is very similar to that which is used by Open Access opponents. This novel simply takes the idea of academic elitism to a literal end by locking up people and ideas before they are able to infect and agitate the regular folk. It is because of this source, as well as the other primary sources, that I began to truly research the issues behind Open Access and its opposition.
Cogman, Genevieve. The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library Novel Book 1). Ace, 2016. – Cogman’s 2016 novel is about a vast multiverse that is held together by a seemingly-infinite library. This multiverse is populated by humans, dragons (beings of order) and the fae (beings of chaos). Cogman’s library resembles Borges’ Library of Babel, however, the librarians aren’t trapped in quite the same way. The Librarians in Cogman’s novel are quite literally bound to the library by an alchemical brand across their shoulder blades. 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.
Some Librarians are aware that there is much that is being kept from them. In this first novel of the series, Junior Librarian Irene Winters tells the readers that “The question of why some books were unique and occurred only in specific worlds was one of the great imponderables, and hopefully Irene would actually get an answer to it someday. When she was a senior Librarian herself, perhaps” (25). Essentially, Junior Librarians are sent out to buy, trade, or steal works that balance the worlds but they are never told why this is necessary. And the greater need for the Library is almost never revealed to non-Librarians because it is believed that most civilians could not handle this knowledge.
This hoarding of knowledge and secrets resonates with my study of Open Access because we have a library that believes that they alone are the ones who know what is best for the multiverse that they are, ostensibly, protecting. It is made clear that this library is ancient but the nature of its founding and secrets is unknown to most within that library. This library has decided that only certain people should be privy to certain knowledge, based on rules that they themselves have set. They keep information from their own people, as well as the general public, which often leads to catastrophic results. While the effects of such knowledge hoarding may be less-chaotic in the real world, it is also unclear how much scholarship and progress is lost in the process. The setting and knowledge source for this novel provides an alternate view of this kind of closed access
Duncan, Rod. The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter (The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire Book 1). AngryRobot, 2014. – Duncan’s 2014 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. While 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. Without a free-flowing stream of ideas to refresh the zeitgeist, societies and cultures cannot move forward in any meaningful way.
As one will have in a controlled world such as this, there are those that fight against the tide. One such is the main character, the Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter. Elizabeth Barnabas was the child of a circus owner and lived a happy, if nomadic, life until she was fourteen and gained the attention of a duke of the Kingdom. Through the inherent corruption of the Patent Office, the duke is able to buy up and call in all of the debts of Elizabeth’s father in order to gain Elizabeth as an indentured servant. Elizabeth makes her escape by utilizing the stage trick that she had performed since she was a child: she donned the clothes and manners of a boy and escaped as Edwin, her “brother,” which would also allow her to earn a living when she is forced to flee to the neighboring Republic, where women are much more controlled than they are in the Kingdom. The situation isn’t ideal but it is Elizabeth’s only option. If she is caught, she will be a prisoner of the Patent Office until she is returned to the duke that bought her. In order to support herself, Elizabeth (as Edwin) becomes an “intelligencer,” or private investigator, and will inevitably stumble across evidence of Patent Office corruption and the truth of the secrets that they’ve been keeping for two hundred years.
While this steps out of the hidden library trope, its relevance to my scholarship lies in the fact that it focuses on hidden science and the concept that greater knowledge and mysteries are only for a select few and not for the general public. One body has unilaterally decided that they will be the gatekeeper and the world has gone along with this, largely due to the absence of war and international conflict. Stagnation is chosen over progress. This same concept can be seen among those who oppose Open Access on the grounds that it may weaken scientific advances.
Irby, James E., translator. “The Library of Babel.” Labyrinths, edited by Donald A. Yates, by Jorge Luis Borges, New Directions Publishing Company, 1964, pp. 51–58. – Borges’s short story, published in 1941, concerns a library that is a mystery to its own librarians. It is believed that the story was a metaphor for the boredom that Borges experienced while working as a library clerk in the 1930s and 1940s in Argentina (Keiser 39). The story’s opening line, “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) makes it clear that this world is an unnatural place. Borges describes an entirely enclosed world-scape in which librarians live in individual hexagonal cells that are monastic in their barrenness and simplicity. They are provided 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 books.
The books within the library are an enigma in and of themselves as they cannot truly be read by the librarians. The language of the books is unknown but the narrator believes that there must be, somewhere in this vast world, books that can be read, as well as every possible permutation of every book that has been written or ever will be written. The narrator also holds the theory that a language could perhaps be devised that could translate these books, which might be in Portuguese, Yiddish, Samoyedic Lithuanian, Guarani, or some other language as yet undiscovered. The librarians no longer know and so this lack of knowledge, when surrounded by so much potential knowledge, leads the librarians into a despair that often ends in suicide. Those that don’t fling themselves over the railings into the vasty nothingness may find themselves slipping into cult-like behaviors and rampant superstition, including a search for a fabled book entitled The Crimson Hexagon. This book, and others like it, are being sought by a group known as the Purifiers, who sweep through the library, burning books they believe have no value. Some also seek a mythical figure known as “The Man of the Book,” who is said to have read a book that contains a complete index of all the library’s contents and knows everything that can be known about the library.
The primary reason for including this story in my study lies in the fact that Borges’s maze-like library of confusion stands as a clear precursor to the other novels that I will be discussing, especially Cogman’s Invisible Library series. It is believed that this great and unknowable library holds deep and secret mysteries, if one can only get to the heart of the library itself. But one must also live with the idea that there may actually not be anything at all at the center of the library except more nothingness. This struggle for knowledge in the face of overwhelming apathy and resistance is echoed in each of the novels that are included in my study.