Information as Capital: The Commodification of Archives and Library Labor

  • Jasmine E. Burns Cornell University
Keywords: capitalism, labor, archives, public good, vendor relations, Karl Marx


This paper explores the commodification of archival information through the exploitation of library labor related to the ongoing management, preservation, description, and digitization of unique and rare materials. Through this discussion, the author highlights the cultural, social, and economic factors that play a central role in creating an ideal environment for the sale and distribution of public information by commercial vendors. The result of this commodification is a reclassification of library labor from what Marx defines as “unproductive” to “productive” labor, which the author demonstrates through a case study at her own institution. Finally, the author provides recommendations for maintaining core values and open access to information as a public good, while still participating in the market structures in which libraries and cultural heritage institutions are entrenched.

Author Biography

Jasmine E. Burns, Cornell University

Jasmine Burns is the Visual Resources Metadata Librarian at Cornell University Library. This paper was written as the final project for the course "Science, Technology, and Capitalism" during Spring 2018.

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