The Global Library has no walls.
Its books exist not as actual volumes but as titles, images, reading notes, or any other traces left by their contents. These books were not read by me but by others, and were collected throughout the world.
The Global Library thus involves as many people as books it offers, and is conceived from the point of view of readers. It consists of favorite books, those that have special meaning, and that sometimes change the course of a life.
What is your favorite book ?
On Amazon’s online work platform Mechanical Turk, I asked anonymous people from different countries the question What is your favorite book?
A few hundred cents were paid out to those who responded with a title that matched the precise criteria of my request.
I regularly return to the platform and obtain hundreds of responses in record time.
In Amazon jargon, the Mechanical Turk connects “Requesters” with “Turk workers”. Requesters are entrepreneurs, research laboratories, survey institutes or private individuals who use the web service to gain access to a virtual labor market.
Turk workers are people who complete the tasks offered by Requesters in exchange for small payments, which vary based on the complexity of the request. The completed tasks consist primarily of information production, such as analyzing the content of images, a form of intelligence that has not yet been equaled by computers.
Since its creation in 2005, Mechanical Turk has been organized around a networked principle combining crowdsourcing and microworking.
Whereas crowdsourcing offshores work and calls upon a large number of people to create content—as in the model used by Wikipedia or websites soliciting user participation—microworking divides work into small elementary tasks, requiring little skill other than possessing a computer and Internet access.
These micro-tasks cannot be automated; thus, for a lack of machines, vast numbers of people perform fragments of projects whose final purpose they never learn.
I use the platform to collect favorite book titles, in the first phase of what I have called The Global Library.
Large scale Library
The library draws its titles from the imaginations of individuals spread across a territory determined by Mechanical Turk.
Turk workers are Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani, and live in areas where a few hundred cents accumulated at the end of the day represents a considerable sum.
Other Turk workers, spread across a number of different countries, contribute to the platform alongside their primary activity by responding to offers made by Requesters. Mechanical Turk is thus no longer a source of revenue, but a form of entertainment, with the added appeal of a little extra money to be made at the end of the day.
The composite nature that is characteristic of the library, in its singular blend of manifold cultures and peculiarities, clashes with the common ground reconfigured by Amazon’s invisible borders. Almost permanently connected to the platform, Turk workers exchange content filtered by an algorithm that captures information left—consciously or not—by other Turk workers, thereby generating reading lists and recommendations for products available on Amazon.
As Google has a monopoly over Internet searches, enjoying exclusivity over the answers to our searches, Amazon imposes a plain ordering of the world or, put another way, an absence of ordering, a loss of content, loss of specificities and meaning.
In grappling with this homogenization, the library nevertheless does not adhere to Amazon’s ultra free-market economic model. Various criticisms immediately arise with respect to employment law, especially in that any social law is impossible to enforce due to the offshore nature of the system. A task can be performed by hundreds of people living in dozens of different countries. The very notion of work is disguised behind the appearance of entertainment, a simple occupation that supplements “real” salaried work.
Despite these problematic aspects, I take advantage of Mechanical Turk by using it for ends other than making a profit.
Artist as a Requester
I had to falsify my identity by declaring myself as an American citizen, the only condition required to be admitted as a Requester. During my visits, I infiltrate the Mechanical Turk and go against the grain of the platform’s purpose.
Often identified with the computers behind which they operate, Turk workers have no relations with Requesters other than the task to be accomplished.
The term “Turk worker” is incidentally founded on a mystification that Amazon has taken up as its own. During the eighteenth century, the Mechanical Turk was an automaton that claimed to play chess against humans. In reality, the mechanism was activated by real players hidden in the false bottom of the chessboard console. The hoax has of course been debunked, but the contemporary figure of the Mechanical Turk is embodied in the machine-like future of Turk workers.
What is your favorite book? is the starting point for an exchange.
This question is accompanied by various other elements associated with the favorite book. The collection includes titles and authors, but also images, words and sounds that carry over to the reading. An object of curiosity, the book is the interface allowing me to establish links with Turk workers; it is the object on which the reader fixes a part of his or her personality, fostering a dialogue that I initiate whenever possible, with no particular purpose in mind.
The Global Library contains books that are pretexts for encounters.
Giving form to books, taking into account the Turk worker’s identity, taking one’s time, going against the grain, are so many approaches to be defended.