Mining & Onlining Memory: The Foundation, Organization, Preservation, Access, and Control of Unfettered Cultural Records for All

Toni Samek and Gustavo Navarro


This paper explores the application of communications technologies to the foundation, organization, preservation, access, and control of unfettered cultural records for all peoples, ethical and related issues, and implications for social change and the development of human rights.

The newly minted August 28, 2004 manifesto Declaration from Buenos Aires On Information, Documentation and Libraries recognizes that “information, knowledge, documentation, archives, and libraries are communal cultural goods and resources. They are based upon and promoted by democratic values, such as: freedom, equality, and social justice, as well as tolerance, respect, equity, solidarity, communities, society, and the dignity of individuals.” i Yet historically, it has been argued, marginalized populations, such as indigenous peoples, women, oral communities, and political radicals (i.e., the least socially and politically favored) have not been “represented” by the world’s cultural and civic identities. In this critical view, cultural workers, such as educators, publishers, librarians, archivists, and documentalists have both consciously and unconsciously participated in tasks and policy elaborations that have resulted in absences, omissions, and negations (e.g., misrepresentation of racialized and immigrant cultures).

These records are not (until very recently in some cases) well apparent in the cultural and literary canons, the subject headings of the Library of Congress, the Universal Decimal, or the Dewey Decimal Classification systems (which critical library and information workers worldwide acknowledge continue to discriminate by sex, race, ethnicity, ideology, economic status, social class, disabilities, migration, sexual orientation, religion, and language), the mostly middle-class library systems worldwide that organize their collections by these knowledge systems, the epistemological foundations of these knowledge systems, global information policies informed by the discourses of capital, community value/family-value based school curricula, propagandistic textbooks of political regimes, or the ashes of cultural destruction brought about by violence.

The authors explore the following theoretical questions:

  • What are the implications (epistemological, institutional, societal, historical, political, economic, and legal) of the forgotten, buried, and contaminated memories of individuals, societies, and institutions? Of a flattened cultural record that reflects standardization, generalization, and homogenization?
  • How can opportunities provided by communications technologies, interconnectivity, and the global digital network be applied to improve upon discriminatory knowledge practices (collection, organization, access, preservation, and control) to make them for everybody, not just for some? To what extent can improved practices redress the failed promotion of cultural distinctiveness, cultural literacy, and cultural democracy?
  • Most importantly, how can people working in the information and communication technologies fields (and sharing the principal that knowledge and information access is free, open, and egalitarian for everybody) consciously improve knowledge practices to facilitate human rights conditions, such as: critical and free inquiry, freedom of expression, authentic opinion, free decision making, free dissent, the democratization of information and knowledge, and the prerequisite promotion of literacy (in all its forms)?
  • Development of bias-free descriptors (both in terminology and in how topics are linked to each other) for indigenous and other marginalized populations. Example: American library activist Sanford Berman’si ground-breaking treatment of demographic differences in subject headings and classification in Hennepin County (Minnesota, U.S.A.) Library’s online catalogue.
  • Direct collective scholarship based on the creation of free electronic databases, multimedia encyclopedias, and other resources to support critical, pluralistic, and egalitarian knowledge and inquiry – reflecting complex collaborative processes, in which social bonds, gratuitousness and self-organization are conditions. Example: RAEC electronic network, which: modifies the parameters of knowledge production, builds (through wiki) a new content carrying system through collective contributions in CLACSO’s (Latin American Council of Social Sciences) network, and eliminates the role of the traditional author.
  • Note: Outside the software’s domain, open source projects remain relatively marginal and novel. Thus comes the question of how projects like RAEC and Wikipedia (an international project managed by volunteers, with the scope of creating a free and gratuitous encyclopedia) will be maintained in the future. To what extent will the generosity that is inherent in the domain of these networks at present become wealth in the future?
  • Development and sustaining of virtual libraries/archives/depositories as open places/public spaces that support public sphere and a holistic human legacy. Example: CLACSO’s full text digital library, which keeps the pattern of the traditional author, but modifies the process of disseminating ideas and knowledge, and holds pluralism and critical inquiry as conditions.
  • Development and sustaining of virtual communities that support social change. For instance, the coalition and action of information ethics and global information justice groups worldwide via cyber-activism and other new forms of social movement that strive to accommodate social transformations and aim to harness knowledge to compel action rather than inaction. Example: First Social Forum on Information, Documentation and Libraries: alternative action programs from Latin America for the information society, which in August 2004 broke with traditional closed circuit library and information rhetoric by directing a bold new manifesto to the broad information constituency.

he authors combine their subject backgrounds in information studies, social sciences, ethics, and communications technologies, their varied academic and applied work, their north (Canada) and south (Argentina) experiences, and their mutual interest in intercultural information ethics and global information justice to tackle issues of co-opted and censored memory, as well as the extraction of voice and agency from the knowledge society. Toni Samek draws on her university research, teaching, and service in the areas of intellectual freedom and censorship, critical librarianship, information ethics, and education for global citizenship and human rights. Gustavo Navarro draws on his NGO work for the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (under the UNESCO umbrella), where he coordinates the innovation of knowledge works (such as Raecpedia) that contribute to the rethinking of social problems from critical and pluralist perspectives in the context of global interconnectivity (e.g. governance, urban life, sustainable development, women and gender, the struggle against discrimination, indigenous populations, and multicultural and multi-ethnic issues).

The significance of this work is to:

  • Explore ethical understanding in the context of a knowledge society.
  • Help understand historical inequities in the development of cultural and civic identities.
  • Help understand citizenship and agency in the context of global interconnectivity.