Bag of onions

Guest post from Kevin Sanders about creating onion services for open access content to protect intellectual privacy in the scholarly commons:

Growing bulbs of intellectual freedom from academic libraries

As many of us are increasingly aware, data pertaining to our online behaviour- when and where we have been, what we did whilst occupying that space, etc.- have become increasingly valuable to a range of stakeholders and bad actors, including unethical hackers, commercial organisations, and the state. The weaknesses inherent across various web infrastructures, their deployment, and their ubiquitous, multipurpose uses are routinely exploited to capture the private data and information of individuals and entire communities.

For many librarians, this technological and cultural problem has been increasingly acknowledged as part of a wider political concern that is directly relevant to our professional requirement to protect the right to intellectual privacy (Fister, 2015; Smith, 2018).

Through both my professional and voluntary labour with the Library Freedom Project and the Radical Librarians Collective, I have been trying to directly offer support for individuals in their attempt to protect their privacy through their behaviours and the digital tools they choose to make use of. However, consistently weaving intellectual privacy throughout my professional praxis is a significant challenge.

Peeling back the layers of libraries and the scholarly commons

I am currently employed as the Research Support Manager for Library Services at the University of West London (UWL). A significant aspect of my role is to manage and administrate the UWL Repository, which is the institution’s repository of research outputs. The repository makes these outputs discoverable and accessible through what is known as green open access.

The collection, storage, management, and sharing of information demonstrated in the administration of a repository are all core elements of library work. However, this specific aspect of library work directly contributes towards the development and maintenance of the scholarly commons as an accessible body of work that “admit[s] the curious, rather than [only] the orthodox, to the alchemist’s vault” (Illich, 1973), and to allow people to re-use the research for their own purposes.

In all areas of library work, ensuring that the personal data and information of our user communities is stored securely is very important for the preservation of intellectual privacy. However, in the contemporary environment, libraries’ digital connections to external sources and services can make this challenging. Libraries are reliant on services that are served externally, and as such libraries lack the ability to control how these services share data required for the use of these services.

As the University have control over the repository through an agreement with a hosting service, it has been easy enough to enable some security enhancements. As such, from January 2018, the UWL Repository has been wrapped in HTTPS to respect our user communities’ information security by ensuring that all connections to it are encrypted.

Unfortunately, the scholarly commons is only as accessible as it is permitted to be on the clear-net, as there are many powerful stakeholders that have the ability to suppress access and thus censor scholars and other publics from accessing the published results of academic research and scholarship.

Onions don’t grow on trees; environmental ethics and the scholarly commons

Some popular online services and networks for scholars, such as Sci-Hub, ResearchGate,, also offer users the option to share their scholarly and research outputs gratis. The latter two are capital venture funded, commercial services. Part of their business operations include providing data around research that can, it is claimed, offer insights into its ‘impact’. However, these services do not take responsibility for the frequent breaches of licences that help to calcify the commodification of scholarly knowledge (Lawson et al., 2015,). Many of these services also have vested interests in the data stored and created through the use of their services.

For the scholarly commons, publishing via open access (through both gold open access publishers and via institutional and subject repositories) and making use of appropriate Creative Commons licences is a significantly more effective and ethical way to share and access research and scholarly outputs. Institutional repositories are commonly sustained by institutional funding (i.e. they serve not-for-profit functions), for instance, and they also commonly run on free (libre) and open source software such as EPrints software, which is licensed under GPL v3.0.

Here, we can see that libraries actively support a libre approach to free, online access to scholarly information.

Layering up for intellectual privacy, access, and the scholarly commons

As referred to above, various fields of informational labour hold a broad consensus view around users’ right and need for intellectual privacy (Richards, 2015). In this context, ensuring that the research and scholarly outputs are accessible in ways that allow users to retain their privacy seems essential.

As such, I have made the UWL Repository accessible from within the Tor network as an onion service.

I briefly consulted Library Services’ director, Andrew Preater, prior to undertaking this work, but I was able to make use of Enterprise Onion Toolkit (EOTK) to create a proxy of the repository without requiring root access to the webserver of the clear-net site, and without having to make copies of the files held on that server. As a proof-of-concept, it is now accessible via https://6dtdxvvrug3v6g6d.onion, but may be moved to a more permanent .onion address in the future, subject to institutional support. (Please note that an exception has to be granted to access the onion service due to some of the complexities of HTTPS over onion services. This is something that I would hope to resolve with institutional support. Please see Murray’s post for further details).

This provision allows global access to the UWL Repository and its accessible content in a form that allows users to protect their right to intellectual privacy; neither their ISP nor UWL, as a service provider, will be able to identify their personal use of UWL Repository when using https://6dtdxvvrug3v6g6d.onion/.

Having repositories available as onion services is of significant benefit for those accessing the material from, for instance, oppressive geopolitical contexts. Onion services offer not only enhanced privacy for users, but also help to circumvent censorship. Some governments and regimes routinely deny access to clear-net websites deemed obscene or a threat to national security. Providing an onion service of the repository not only protects those that may suffer enhanced digital surveillance for challenging social constructs or social relations (which can have a severely chilling effect on intellectual freedom), but also on entire geographical areas that are locked out of accessing publicly accessible content on the clear-net.

The expansion of intellectual privacy for the scholarly commons is bringing tears to my eyes

Although this is a small step for the scholarly commons, it is an important one. In our politically fragile world, marginalised communities often suffer disproportionate risks, and taking this simple step helps to reinstate some safety into this digital space (Barron et al., 2017). As Ganghadharan (2012) notes, “[u]ntil policy–makers begin a frank discussion of how to account for benefits and harms of experiencing online worlds and to confront the need to protect collective and individual privacy online, oppressive practices will continue”.

I hope that other library and information workers, repository administrators, open access publishers, and their associated indexing services will take inspiration from the step that I have taken and help us to lead a collective charge that places intellectual privacy at the centre of both the scholarly commons and digital library services.


I would like to thank Murray Royston-Ward and Simon Barron for their technical support (if you do not have access to a server, Murray has written a guide to trialling a Tor mirror of services via Google’s Cloud Engine), Alec Muffett for his development of EOTK, Alison Macrina and the Library Freedom Project for their advocacy of digital rights within libraries, the Radical Librarians Collective for providing spaces to support my professional development and practical skills, and to all those involved in the Tor Project that support and provide tools that allow us to make good on our right to digital privacy.


Barron, S., Regnault, C., and Sanders, K. (2017). Library privacy. Carnegie UK. [Retrieved from:]

Fister, B. (2015). Big Data or Big Brother? Data, ethics, and academic libraries. Library Issues: Briefings for Faculty and Administrators. [Retrieved from:]

Gangadharan, S. P. (2012). Digital inclusion and data profiling. First Monday, 17(5)

Illich, I. (1973). Tools for conviviality. [Retrieved from:]

Lawson, S., Sanders, K., and Smith, L. (2015). Commodification of the information profession: A critique of higher education under neoliberalism. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, 3 (1). [Retrieved from:]

Richards, N. (2015). Intellectual privacy: Rethinking civil liberties in the digital age. Oxford University Press, USA

Smith, L. (2018). Surveillance, privacy, and the ethics of librarianship. Cambridge Libraries Conference, 11/01,2018. [Retrieved from:

This is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Licence


Statement of RLC’s solidarity with Leicester Square School of English

The Radical Librarians Collective would like to send out fullest solidarity to the workers at the Leicester Square School of English. The owner, Craig Tallents, closed down the school without notice, owing staff thousands of pounds in unpaid wages.

On top of this, LSSE management literally left students out in the cold. Having not been told of the school’s decision to close, newly arrived international students came to the school on Monday morning, having already paid for and been promised accommodation that LSSE management knew they would no longer be in a position to provide. Luckily, occupying teachers were their to help them out, but LSSE management were perfectly happy to leave these vulnerable students stranded in central London.

In response to these injustices, staff occupied the school and have organised a campaign to secure their rightful wages. So far, they caused the owner, Craig Tallents, to resign from the posh Bancroft’s School and have caused him to take down the website of his company, Asparagus Management Consulting.


Journal of Radical Librarianship

An open access academic journal, created after discussions at the Radical Librarians Collective meetings, has now been launched. Here’s the call for papers:

Journal of Radical Librarianship is now open for submissions.

Journal of Radical Librarianship is an open access journal publishing high quality, rigorously reviewed and innovative scholarly work in the field of radical librarianship. It also publishes non-peer-reviewed commentary and reviews. The scope of the journal is any work that contributes to a discourse around critical library and information theory and practice. We are inviting article submissions on any topic which is related to this area.

The journal publishes on an ongoing basis, so you may submit articles at any time. Visit our Submissions page for further details.’

Join the Radical Librarians Collective mailing list

Radical Librarians Collective now have a mailing list.

The list is for anyone involved with or interested in RLC, and exists to develop ideas, facilitate discussion, stay up to date, and maintain contact between those supportive of RLC’s aims. In short it’s for discussion and announcements.

How to join

The RLC-DISCUSS list is on JiscMail. This is a private list, which means only list members can email the list and that list archives are not publicly available.


In using Jiscmail, you agree to the JiscMail service policies. To this we add that the RLC Safe Spaces policy applies to the mailing list as much as it does to RLC events.

We know we may need additional policies specifically for the list. If so we will develop these by consensus in consultation with RLC as a whole.


JiscMail lists have owners who administer them. For RLC-DISCUSS this is Anna Brynolf and Andrew Preater, you can contact us at:

Can RLC help support HE in refugee camps?

Dr. Gül İnanç from Nanyang Technological University is looking to design HE programmes for refugees. Please read these slides for further information on the back ground to the project

However, so for the role of librarians has been omitted from the discussion, and I see a great opportunity for RLC  to contribute…Basically, we reckon we can offer the sorts of things many of us do, but for refugees. Sounds good, right?

A few emails later, Gül has asked “how Radical Librarians can contribute to [planned] online courses, which will be designed for the refugee students.” This will be discussed at the SNIS Workshop ( in Geneva on the 24th of Nov.

I imagine some technical/infrastructure possibilities in terms of LibraryBox (although if the courses are online, possibly not… that might need some clarification, but a possibility?) , Critical Information Literacy, OA/information sources etc. Indeed, I recognize the limited information about infrastracture may make this difficult to form concrete ideas, but we may be able to help frame this if we can think of necessary tools etc.

So, how can we support Higher Education for refugees? Do you have presentations that could be used as a basis for the project, then modified as appropriate? Can you think how you of opportunities for learners in this context? Please feel free to chuck your ideas in and discuss in the comments here.

A statement against all forms of oppression and in direct support of #TeamHarpy

Sadly, even in 2014, manipulative behaviour by those in dominant positions of power continue to occur. Earlier in the year, several cases of men exerting pressure on women emerged from the vlogging community, and there is evidence from within the library and information profession that oppressive practices occur in our professional spheres.

However uncomfortable these revelations have been for us as a community, it is important that we can freely challenge, critique, and debate such behaviours. Radical Librarians Collective strongly believes that this is the way a resilient and supportive community can evolve towards true equality, and this cannot be achieved reactively. Radical Librarians Collective believes in creating and propagating safe spaces by consciously examining our relative positions of power.

We believe that the lawsuit launched by Joe Murphy against Lisa Rabey and nina de jesus  sets a dangerous precedent of hampering open discussion of such issues. Litigation will put many more women at risk and will alienate those whose voices vitally need to be heard in order to ensure safe spaces. Abuse in itself occurs under domination. Stripping victims of their means of defence amounts to victim-shaming, and that is the message that this litigation sends.

We therefore issue our full support for #TeamHarpy. Litigation in the face of allegations of sexual harassment is an assault on the rights and freedoms of women. We urge that this action be halted and, furthermore, that all conferences and gatherings within the profession provide a strict safe space policy that is stringent and binding to all who attend. Safe space policies must be articulated and consciously accepted by all members present. Anything less amounts to complacency, and allows only the loudest voices to be heard. A recommended policy can be found here, and the Radical Librarians Collective have effectively used this for our own previous meetings.

No matter the setting, everyone should feel not only able to voice concerns about harassment in all its forms, but to expect that such concerns are tackled head on rather than ignored or overlooked.

Radical Librarians Collective 22/09/2014



Radical Librarian Collective in London – What Now?

RLC in London

We would like to thank you all for a most fantastic day at LARC last Saturday. Thank you for your participation, your ideas and conversations. We feel very optimistic that good things will come from this.

If you have blogged about the day, please send/tweet us the link (Lauren Smith is writing some excellent pieces about the day here). If you would like to write something for this blog, just let us know and we’ll put it up. We’ll also put up photos and anything else from the day so send them in if you’d like to share.

With many thanks to Sara, the various mind-maps and notes from the day have been digitised and are available as follows:

Tweets and discussion from the day can also be found on the Storify we created here.

Local RLC Groups

There was a will in the plenary session to look at the creation of localised groups (LOCALISM FTW!) that would meet up, arrange similar events locally and help to establish networks of like-minded radical librarian folk across the country. Some preliminary discussions and organisation are beginning emerge, with local networks beginning to organise themselves in the north east, south west and south east. We want to facilitate this as much as possible, so if you are interested in either beginning to organise a group or wish to be involved in one, get in touch and we will do our best to connect you with others. The key to all these groups is to stay true to the ethos of the ethos of the first Radical Librarians Collective gathering in Bradford (and subsequently in London). In other words, they must be radical, open and horizontalist; they just reflect a rejection of the marketisation of libraries and the profession; must adhere to a safe space policy and must avoid any form of sponsorship (no “This event is brought to you courtesy of [insert name of faceless corporate entity or professional body here]” please!).

Aside from putting you in contact with emerging local groups, please do feel free to contact us if you require any advice/support/guidance etc and we will do our best to help out.


The Wiki

Related to the above, if you wish to build on some of the things discussed at the gathering, create projects collectively etc, don’t forget to make use of our Projects wiki (see here for information). There are already some interesting ideas being developed there so do request membership and get involved.

Obligatory non-capitalist financial information section

We paid for the venue with the remainder of the donations from the Bradford RLC: £80 (£40 venue hire + £40 donation – LARC are always struggling financially so we wanted to contribute more to the frankly low venue cost).

Donations on the day totalled £175 which covered lunch from Shambhu‘s plus a small extra donation to LARC (£15).


If not now, when? If not you, who?

Research at the Radical Librarians Collective in London

We received the following request via one of the delegates for the gathering on Saturday. If you are uncomfortable with being observed for research on the day, please approach one of the organisers or Katherine in person so that we are aware of your concerns. The priority is to ensure that everyone is able to attend whichever session they wish without being made to feel uncomfortable. To that end, Katherine has agreed not to conduct any observations in sessions where people have made it clear they are uncomfortable with her doing so. We will reinforce this once more on the day.

The Radical Librarians Collective

Hi! I’m an MA student studying Librarianship at the University of Sheffield doing research on the effects of marketisation in UK HE libraries. I’m really interested in engaging in the attempts that are being made to counter these trends by groups such as RLC.

My working title is “Resisting Neo-Liberalism: The challenge of activist librarianship in the UK HE context.”

As well as carrying out semi-structured interviews with a variety of library workers and academics in the future, I would also like to carry out some unintrustive observations at RLC on Saturday, and therefore would like to let you all know of my plans, so that you opt out if you aren’t comfortable!

–          In accordance with the University’s Research Ethics Policies, these observations would not encroach on the privacy of any individuals and no individuals would be identifiable from my observations. I will not use anyone’s names or place of work (unless anyone would really like to be named!) but rather will be anonymising names to categories when it comes to interpreting the data. Rather than using individual pseudonyms, by anonymising to categories (eg. subject librarian, library assistant etc) there is no risk of it being possible for readers to link up quotations to ascertain who might have said what. With categories, several individuals’ quotes will be scrambled up together, so your confidentiality is guaranteed.

–          I am happy to make myself known as a student researcher (as well as aspiring radical librarian!) at the start of the camp, and to give people the opportunity to refuse consenting to being included in any observations. If anyone has any problems with my presence at any of the workshops, I’ll go to a different one so as not to inconvenience their enjoyment of the day.

–          Observations will be mainly noting down the events of the day, workshops/speeches delivered, and pertinent contributions and discussions.

–          Data may be collected via voice recording on a Dictaphone, (if I can get hold of one/a smart phone before Saturday…) or through observations noted by hand.

–          Following collection, all paper copies will be kept in a secure locked room and data held digitally will be saved on a password protected university drive, password protected laptop hard drive, and backed up on a usb which will also be kept in a secure locked room.

–          Data will not be shared with third parties and any reuse will only be by me for future research.

I would be happy to provide additional information on my research if you would like, as well as the results of my research once it’s completed.

I also just want to reiterate that I have chosen this to be my topic of research because it’s something that concerns and excites me, and I don’t consider myself an outsider observing RLC proceedings, but rather as a contributor. With that in mind I really hope nobody feels uncomfortable by my observations, and would be happy to chat to anyone who might have concerns!

Cheers, and see you Saturday!



Two days until the Radical Librarian Collective hits London

With just two days to go until RLC at LARC, here’s some last minute information.

The day starts at 10am with the first half hour for pitches and general information. If you can, aim to arrive before 10am so you’ve got time to get a cup of tea or coffee before we get going. The sessions start at 10.30am sharp.

Preliminary itinerary

We’re expecting people to pitch sessions at 10am but there’s still time to pitch in advance.

The after event social will be a donations bar at LARC where we’ll mingle, carry forward exciting discussions from the day, and have fun! This starts pretty much as soon as the sessions finish, but you’ll have a chance to pop for some fresh air and to get some food. There are plenty of food options in the local area and we’ll have information about this on the day.

The social will be open for non-RLC attendees as well, so feel free to invite your library friends.

If you have any questions at all, please get in touch, and also take a look at:





See you on Saturday!

Radical Librarian Collective in London…two weeks to go

The clock is ticking down to the next Radical Librarian gathering, we’re looking forward to some interesting and stimulating discussion on the day and hope you are too. There are a few things we thought it would be worth reminding you of as the day gets ever nearer:

  • Most importantly, if you either know now that you cannot make it, or you find out between now and the day, please release your ticket as soon as possible. You can do this by contacting us via email or by following the instructions on Eventbrite. The waiting list has been building up and we want to ensure as many people as possible can make it so, if you can’t, it would  be great if you could make your ticket available to the next person in the queue.
  • Although you can pitch your sessions on the day (there is no obligation to do so beforehand!), it would be great if you could pitch your session in advance to get people interested and to help with the running of the day. Head to the pitches page and throw in your ideas (no matter how half-formed – it only need be a nugget of an idea, not something fully formed!).
  • If you have difficulties with travel and accommodation, please feel free to use the space on the wiki to make arrangements!
  • Aside from the above, if you are interested in writing something of a radical nature for this blog, regardless of whether you are coming to the gathering in London or not, please do get in touch.

No doubt there will be more communiqués between now and the day itself so stay tuned!