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The Galilean Library is a community-driven learning resource and social network, named after the famous Florentine Galileo Galilei and inspired by the sheer scope, influence and consequences of his work. Its aim is to provide a venue for people to meet and form communities to help one another learn and develop together. The Galilean Library is based on a sense of community and the convictions that people should have access to learning and education, together with the opportunity to study and discuss things with others, even if they do not have the formal qualifications needed for schools, colleges and universities. We believe that institutions and professions can be of value but should not serve as gatekeepers to knowledge or bar people from participation in learning in community with others, taking as an example Galileo's refusal to work within accepted boundaries.

The Galilean Library's philosophical basis is derived from Galileo's experiences and the notion of learning webs, found in Ivan Illich's study Deschooling Society (New York: Harper and Row, 1971). Illich was a former Jesuit and a philosopher and anarchist social critic who authored critiques of formal institutions, professional authority and power structures of any form. In particular, he argued that schooling leads people to "confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new" (1971, p.1). His contention was that formalised education through curricula forces people to follow a prescribed path to presumed understanding, disallowing those who wish to study a subject in their own time and on their own terms. A person might be interested in learning about one or more fields or areas but the hierarchical structure of education precludes doing so unless qualifications are held or formal requirements are met, which would have stopped Galileo in his tracks. Illich advocated a different approach:

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A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known. Such a system would require the application of constitutional guarantees to education. Learners should not be forced to submit to an obligatory curriculum, or to discrimination based on whether they possess a certificate or a diploma. Nor should the public be forced to support, through a regressive taxation, a huge professional apparatus of educators and buildings which in fact restricts the public’s chances for learning to the services the profession is willing to put on the market. It should use modern technology to make free speech, free assembly, and a free press truly universal and, therefore, fully educational. (Ibid, pp.75-76)


We can identify several strands to Illich's objections. Firstly, a person wishing to learn something should be able to do so whatever their circumstances, and a person wishing to share their own learning should be similarly unobstructed. Secondly, this desire to learn or share learning should be aided, not compelled to fit someone else’s assessment of how that learning should be structured or conducted, even where that assessment comes from presumed expertise. Lastly, there should be no requirement to fund and support such assessments or a professional class of educators where the resulting system actually constrains or inhibits what a person can learn. Instead of a system of government-funded schools and teachers with a defined curriculum, Illich advocated the creation of "public spaces in which peers and elders outside [a person's] immediate horizon would become available" (Ibid, p.76). Such spaces would unlock access to education without the restrictions on learning that are usually in place:

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Someone who wants to learn knows that he needs both information and critical response to its use from somebody else. Information can be stored in things and in persons. In a good educational system access to things ought to be available at the sole bidding of the learner, while access to informants requires, in addition, others' consent. Criticism can also come from two directions: from peers or from elders, that is, from fellow learners whose immediate interests match mine, or from those who will grant me a share in their superior experience. Peers can be colleagues with whom to raise a question, companions for playful and enjoyable (or arduous) reading or walking, challengers at any type of game. Elders can be consultants on which skill to learn, which method to use, what company to seek at a given moment. They can be guides to the right questions to be raised among peers and to the deficiency of the answers they arrive at. Most of these resources are plentiful. But they are neither conventionally perceived as educational resources, nor is access to them for learning purposes easy, especially for the poor.


Illich therefore demanded "new relational structures which are deliberately set up to facilitate access to these resources for the use of anybody who is motivated to seek them for his education" and called for "[a]dministrative, technological, and especially legal arrangements [...] to set up such web-like structures" (Ibid, p.78). Through the use of the internet, it is now possible to create such structures and apply a measure of control to investigate whether or not learning webs can be of value to people. We can give them the opportunity to educate and/or be educated in community with like-minded others, even though the requirement to own or access a computer will still provide a barrier to some.

Illich wrote his Deschooling Society in 1971 and since that time contact with education and learning resources has become easier and more plentiful for many people, although often this remains a privilege of the wealthy. However, if we reflect on the remarks above then we can see that many of Illich's criticisms still apply, and that while a wide range of learning is possible, it generally remains provider – not learner – driven, so the formal institution retains the power over education rather than the person seeking to learn. More importantly, Illich's conception of learning webs has gained little currency, largely because of the continued requirement for some form of accreditation as a guarantee of suitability for most employments. After all, someone wishing to hire a builder or plumber, say, expects to be able to ask for certification of the worker’s competence in carrying out the task needed and the same applies to those who educate children and adults alike. Moreover, a society and wider world that is not structured on anarchist lines is hardly likely to adopt an anarchist conception of access to learning. Nevertheless, word-of-mouth is often a better indicator of competence and people tend to use the opinions of their family and friends rather than accreditation from institutions or professional bodies. The Galilean Library is built on the assumption that it is possible to go some way to achieving the four requirements Illich laid down for learning webs:

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1. To liberate access to things by abolishing the control which persons and institutions now exercise over their educational values.

2. To liberate the sharing of skills by guaranteeing freedom to teach or exercise them on request.

3. To liberate the critical and creative resources of people by returning to individual persons the ability to call and hold meetings – an ability now increasingly monopolized by institutions which claim to speak for the people.

4. To liberate the individual from the obligation to shape his expectations to the services offered by any established profession – by providing him with the opportunity to draw on the experience of his peers and to entrust himself to the teacher, guide, adviser, or healer of his choice. (Ibid, p.103)


The aim of The Galilean Library is to develop and sustain a community akin to Illich's learning webs. Members at the site are judged not by their credentials but by their contributions, and are accorded respect in proportion to how much they help others or add to the cooperative spirit we hope to engender; in short, an educational resource and learning community that embodies the anarchist maxim "from each according to his means; to each according to his deeds". There are plenty of places on the Internet where discussion can be found, but few where the principle of a learning web is the philosophical basis and where a framework is in place to explicitly bring one about.