Dawn of the Occult Library
I always follow arguments about the book industry and piracy with interest and fascination. For one reason, as a writer learning the ropes of what is at times a baroque system of production and distribution, and secondly as an avid reader and person who has worked in libraries for over 13 years. I’m also pretty much of a bibliophile. In a way, I’ve devoted my life to literature, and working as a shelver in a place with nearly two million items (including Audio/Visual) suits my lifestyle as a textual junky. The library supports my habit when I can’t afford to buy a fix on my own. Sometimes I think of myself as a monk in service to all the people who utilize the vast resources of this institution. It’s not the highest paying job, but it serves me well in my pursuits of magic, writing, and radio.
So it was with great zest that I sunk my teeth into Jack Faust‘s recent post on book piracy that was in itself a response to a post from another magician Andrieh Vitimus, whose offering I also read with zeal. I wanted to offer a couple of my own ideas to this conversation, about the role of libraries, the buisness of books, and their place in occulture.
A THIRD PATH
Libraries offer a third path that is neither piracy nor strictly commercial. I’ve never heard of any author complaining about the exposure given of their work to readers from being in a library collection. Some people, who aren’t collectors, or who otherwise don’t have the money to spend on books, or the space to keep them, become avid patrons of a library. In fact, some of the most well-read people I know don’t have much of a personal book collection to speak of, but have educated themselves through the library. Authors still gets paid, for one book or multiple copies in some systems, but word of mouth and reader recommendations can help build an audience for the other people who may buy her books. A really large library will also preserve a lot of books that won’t remain on bookshelves in a store for more than a year. These are the less popular volumes that none-the-less might have intrinsic value even if only one person read them in a decade or more. The problem with a continually growing library though, is that some stuff does have to be discarded to make room for new titles. In my library these discards are usually sold at regular our huge annual used booksale, and smaller sales throughout the year. Unfortunate as it is though some materials are thrown away. Into the garbage. I rescued two copies of The Cincinnati Journal of Ceremonial Magick and a book by Wilhelm Reich from the trash, among other things.
Not all library employees are occultists by any means. Nor are all even aware of the important work (in my opinion) of a man like Wilhelm Reich -they may not even know his books have suffered censorship and burning during the McCarthy era. Which brings up another issue as far as “collections development” goes, as it is known in the field. While the public library I work at has a number of titles from Llewellyn and Weiser, and some smaller companies, they aren’t shelling out the heftier amount of dough it would take to purchase copies from Fulgur, for example. Even with Scarlet Imprint‘s Bibliotheque Rouge paperback editions, I don’t think anyone in collections development is aware of their existence. Some of the independents are represented such as NewPage, but other ones such as Immanion are not. The thing is, much of the development is done through an automated service and through recommendations from the American Library Association (in the country where I leave and speak of, anyway.) They didn’t even buy a copy of Carl Jung‘s Red Book which was a publishing sensation, and would have added immensely to our collection of Jung’s work and related materials. That leaves young students of the Mysteries to go for what they see available in the 133 and 299 dewey range. On the other hand, what the library doesn’t have in terms of even newer releases from the most widespread occult publishers, is made up for by our selection of academic works on religion, philosophy and mysticism as well as an immense collection of folklore literature.
Collections development has also become automated to a degree. “…libraries have increasingly moved to powerful, second-generation interfaceable or integrated systems that can control all aspects of library operations. The libraries presented as examples show that increasing user expectations, the siren call of cyberspace and network connectivity, and administrative faith in the savings to be obtained from electronic technical services continue to drive the migration to higher-level library management systems.” (Blurb from New Automation Technology and Collections Development) While I enjoy computers and use them in a variety of ways, not all aspects of culture should be decided by algorithms.
As I spoke about in the talk I gave at the 2011 Esoteric Book Conference, there are a few projects to build occult libraries or archive materials. These include The New Alexandrian Library begun by the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel and well under way at this point. There is also the archival project of the good folks at Black Moon Publishing, Linden Mishlen and Louis Martinie. There is also the Sheneset Project started by John Michael Greer to preserve not just magical texts, but those that might be important in navigating and increasingly turbulent planetary future. The Open Hearth Foundation launched a public pagan library in Washington D.C. with a collection that currently consists of “3,000 titles, 250 tarot decks, and 40 different periodical and newsletter series“. And when I was in Seattle last year I also learned about their Metaphysical Library, a membership library.
It is my belief that more of these types of specialized libraries need to appear to preserve, protect, and champion this kind of knowledge, creating a place for both noobs and veterans to engage in study, research and collaboration. Short of starting a library or archive at these scales, it remains within the power of the individual to develop a personal collection that she or he is also willing to lend to trustworthy individuals. If you have a lot of books there is the BiblioteQ Open Source Cataloging Software available free (one can always donate to the developers) to create a computer catalog of your own, or you could have a pen-and-paper check out system.
PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE
Building occult libraries in our individual communities is important for a number of reasons (as is supporting and getting involved with those that may already exist in your area). One reason that I am most familiar with is due to the fact that library budgets are being cut all over the country. Because public libraries must answer to politicians and taxpayers they do what they can to boost circulation statistics. And because many have adopted a policy of catering to the most popular trends and tastes, this helps boost those circulation statistics. This means large numbers of books by the most popular authors (James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, Dan Brown and the like) are bought, whereas up-and-coming authors, literary titles, and books by lesser known genre writers may get passed over or not purchased at all. In I see this as a mirror of the corporate publishing situation.
A library should cater to the needs of their patrons, and their desires to a degree. In my own experience some of the best books I’ve read have been the ones I didn’t know I was going to read when I first went into a library. The more choices and diversity in materials there are, the more the Field of Possibility opens up to move a person in an unexpected direction. To a place of discovery.
With the amount of books being published by Indie Authors as soloists, and with the amount of active small and specialty presses around the world, libraries are even more in need of individuals within the respective institutions to forge alliances with authors, and presses to secure titles for them so that collections don’t stagnate into homogenized pools of pulp.
Private & Membership libraries offer an alternative to the public funded/corporate model. But like many non-profits they require a dedicated patronage to pay yearly dues, as well as being involved in additional ongoing fundraising. At the beginning of this year I joined Cincinnati’s oldest library The Mercantile, at the beckoning of a dream. I did it in part to honor the dream, and to become involved with the literary community there on the one hand, and also to learn more about how a membership library operates. One thing is clear to me about the private library vs. the public: the quality of programming and speakers they get is more impressive to me than the public libraries because they have the support of the community who is vested in its survival, and who want to have interesting lectures and discussion groups about books. I don’t think it’s an either/or issue. Both serve different needs and purposes. Both can be strengthened as well. I choose to support a membership library for a number of reasons, but in part because governments and the public at large are fickle. The money spent on public libraries could just as easily be moved somewhere else, in which case it is wise for a community to have other centers of learning in place.
A TEXT LIFE IN THE E-VERSE
Regardless of what a person may think of the content from some of the publishers involved in producing fine editions, it should be remembered that at the very least they are doing an immense service in keeping the art of bookmaking alive. Keeping that art alive is of tremendous importance at a time when E-books are on the rise. E-books have advantages, and I’m not so much of a luddite as to be against them, but they also have disadvantages. Due to the changes that will happen to any given digital format over time an E-book has a much shorter shelf life than a traditional book made by an artisan -that if properly cared for could become an heirloom and last a few generations. A digital E-reader as a device, for that matter, will also break, or be superseded by a newer model, long before a book will be worn out. That being said, I do like the idea of being able to eventually have, say, the entire Library of Congress in a device that fits in my backpack. More than I’d ever be able to read in my life.
Digital Rights Management is another issue with E-books. Some authors or companies put this on a work so it can’t be copied or transferred to another device, as a preventive against piracy. I believe this is fundamentally flawed. No one stops a person from re-selling a physical book they have bought, buying used books, or giving away or letting people borrow books. All of these things are part of the culture of books and E-books should be no different.
QUIT SCHOOL AND CREATE YOUR OWN LIFE
The only qualms I have with Jack Faust’s response to the Andireh Vitimius’ is the example he uses of a twenty year old in school. “Let’s imagine I’m currently 20 years old. I work at Taco Bell making 8.50$ an hour, or the minimum wage in California. Let’s imagine I go to school and I’m not getting much help paying for it, and I’m carrying a full course-load while working just beneath the full-time arrangement. Something like 34 hours a week or so. Discounting what comes out of my paycheck for taxes, social security, etc: I make about $315 a week. Or I make $1260 a month.” He uses this scenario to explain why pirating books can be justified. I’m not interested in stopping piracy. I don’t think it can be done. I’d rather be creating. That’s why I dropped out of college myself and that’s the advice I’d give to anyone in this situation.
It may sound like bad advice to those who’ve been programmed with the belief that a degree is necessary to make it in the real world. I’ve lived in the real world my whole life and I don’t have a degree. A person in the above situation would be far less likely to be able to afford books after he graduated than if he just quit school and started doing the Work necessary to build the life he really wants. After graduation he’ll be saddled with a debt larger than a mortgage, and making a delayed entry into a workforce only to compete with last years graduates for a position as a barista. Then he’ll really have to pirate books…if he has any time or inclination left to read after work.
Granted, I still think its a good idea for doctors and the like to get some extra schooling, but for most jobs a degree isn’t necessary. Working with a Master of the skill you are trying to learn is a different matter altogether. That’s why I’m all for rebirthing Guilds into the 21st century. Libraries are a good example of an existing institution and profession where a Guild would be effective. To be a librarian professionally requires a Masters degree. That’s 6+ years of school…and 6+ years of debt. Having worked, as I mentioned, in libraries for 13 years, I know that many of the duties a librarian does I could be trained to do if given the opportunity to work under one. In coming into a job like this the traditional three-fold path of Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master could be applied to learn about all aspects of the field. I’ll be exploring the idea of guilds in contemporary settings further in future posts.
Quitting school will also give you an opportunity to spend more time at a library learning about what you really want to do and a bit of extra free time to make it happen. This is the path I took and it hasn’t always been easy. It has been mostly fun though. I paid off my student loans from the year and a half I went to school and have worked ever since at the things I love: writing stories,poetry and essays, playing in bands, being on the radio, practicing magic, dreaming. There is also a lot of other stuff going on in my life, the triage of wife, house and kids. I may not have reached all my goals in the time I thought I would. On the other hand, since I started early, by the time some of my peers are just finishing off paying for school, the kids will be well out of the house (close to that time already) and a little further down the line my wife and I will, barring misfortune, have the house paid off. I can tell you now that my study is already quite cozy when I want to settle in for a good read and a glass of Scotch.
As Robert Moss is fond of saying “The time is always NOW.”
As magicians and creative spirits let us build the culture we ourselves would like to live in.
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Justin Patrick Moore
Husband. Father/Grandfather. Writer. Green wizard. Ham radio operator (KE8COY). Electronic musician. Library cataloger.