Peer-to-peer libraries

There are private libraries and there are public libraries. Walk-in libraries and appointment-only libraries. Libraries that are easy and fun to use and libraries where you only go to when you really need to.

Whatever they are, libraries are institutions, places of permanence and stability. Historically, libraries emerged in places that were least likely to disappear overnight, like religious instututions or imperial, royal and princely courts. That is because building a library doesn’t happen overnight. In many ways, a library is like a family, it grows over generations depending on how well family members – its custodians – look after it. And like any institution, libraries outlive their stewards.

It’s never been easier to access a library, at least in the Western world. The days of book scarcity – or chained library books, for instance – are over. Not every book may be available to a given reader as easily as a Netflix film, but it is nevertheless available. And online libraries, digitisation, public-domain publishing have pushed the envelope of book accessibility even further.

Despite all the inroads made into book democratisation, there is no such thing as peer-to-peer libraries, depositories not guaranteed by a third party. While there might be a trend for micro, pop-up libraries where a few handful of books are offered on a ‘library basis’ to community readers, the concept doesn’t come close to what a peer-to-peer library system at scale might look like. That might be a library which doesn’t need a library to exist, physical or online. A disembodied library which is able to pick itself up by its own bootstraps and walk – or float. A peer-to-peer library is one where the readers are the curators, but it is hard to see how this convergence of roles can keep a library going and not be reduced to a sum of transactions, not unlike crypto-currencies.

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