THE ROLE OF THE LIBRARY
The subject of how to actually USE the Library in a world that is rebuilding is one that comes up occasionally. Here's my take on it...
Let's assume an EMP has occurred. The actual event which caused a collapse could be a number of things with varying effects. The technological infrastructure is down. Some or all of it is damaged and unusable. Electrical power sources,if any, are purely local, The grid is gone and there are no sources for spare parts other than salvage or making them yourselves.
The population has been drastically reduced probably by as much as 80%-90%, conceivably even more, due to disease, hunger, dehydration, exposure and violence (though violence is actually the smallest factor).
The massive refugee migration of people seeking food and water and safety has ended. The immediate emergency of living through the collapse and it's immediate aftermath has been achieved. The survivors have begun to come together to form communities/villages/towns.
Living through the immediate aftermath of a societal collapse is NOT the subject of the Library. There are literally thousands of site devoted to "survival" skills and techniques and tools. How to build a shelter. How to hide in the woods. How to store food for that emergency. How to collect edible plants. How to fight a running tactical battle with bandits and which set of night vision goggles is best for the Zombie Apocalypse.
There's a famous military saying.. "Amateurs study tactics. Professionals study Logistics."
One of the brutal realities of living through that kind of collapse is that the largest part of your survival will actually most likely come down to sheer chance. I don't care how many guns you have, how much food you have stored, how isolated and secure your bunker is.
If someone finds it and knows you have food they WILL take it. Fixed and isolated fortifications cannot stand. Individuals and small groups WILL fall if attacked.
The people who survive will survive as much by chance as by skills and planning. So don't count on forming a community with a bunch of former Navy Seals and Army Ranger and Marine Force Recon who can all makes headshots at 50 yards, are Scout-Sniper qualified and who toughed it out like a post apocalypse novel.
Next time you leave your house look at the first 50-100 people you see. It is people just like that THAT is who will be the other survivors with whom you will be living.
Once the worst of it has passed people will start having to plan for the long term. Not just the next hour or day or week but next month, next year and the year after that.
The reality is that single families and lone individuals have little chance of long term survival. No individual or even a large family can master all of the skills required for long term survival beyond mere subsistence level. There is safety in numbers, there is security, socialization and the ability to have a wide variety of skills and capabilities and most important the ability to generate surpluses.
People will quickly begin to form communities. A few families getting together at first. The more successful groups like that will attract others and before long villages, towns and other forms of communities will form.
The first priority of a community is Physical Security. Without that nothing else matters. There is no point in trying to grow a crop that someone is going to come take away from you. You would not survive the first winter.
So the first responsibility of those capable of doing so will be to provide security for the community. That is not a full time occupation and will likely only require lookouts initially while everyone else farms. Everyone will either carry weapons or keep them close at hand and respond to a warning. That is also one of the main driving forces behind communities forming. Ten isolated families can't defend against a gang of bandits. Ten families united have a much better chance if for no other reason than the bandits will most likely look at the defenses and simply go find some isolated families which are much easier pickings with much less risk.
As soon as feasible the community will send out parties to eliminate local bandits, raiders and those individuals or groups which threaten the security of the community. No. They won't be arrested and tried in a court. They will will be dealt with in whatever way necessary to ensure they will no longer pose a threat.
Once reasonable security is established the next priority is food production which will take precedence over everything except security.
If a single individual or family on their own loses their crops the result is most likely to be starvation and death. If a family's crops fail in a village of 50 families everyone will likely survives because the margin between starvation and survival is much larger. In a village almost every crop would have to fail before there was starvation. Even a severe level of crop failure would still provide enough food for at least minimal survival. The larger the community the larger the margin of survival.
More importantly in subsistence farming almost everyone works in agriculture. That is the priority and everything else is secondary except security and rightly so. You get up with the sun and you work in the fields till you fall exhausted into bed at night. That is your life.
In a community once security is ensured and people can share their knowledge of agriculture food production will increase. That produces surpluses of food and it will, in time, reach the level where there is no longer a need for every able bodied individual to be working in agriculture.
Once there is a sufficiency of food and surpluses can be realized individuals can be freed from agricultural jobs. Individuals can begin to spend at least part of their time on specialized skills such as smithing, building, lumber production, carpentry, weaving, livestock and animal husbandry, horse rearing and training, leather making, etc.
The first one to three year after a community forms the primary tasks are going to be providing security, providing security, eliminating immediate security threats and food production. Little else will matter until those requirements are met. Even if people have to live in tents or old vehicles or shacks or salvaged houses, being safe and being able to eat are the most important things.
Once a reasonable level of security is established and food production becomes more established there will begin to be a specialization in agriculture. The guy who used to be a farmer or avid gardener is probably going to be producing a LOT more food than the guy who used to be a corporate executive or a policeman. When the farmer tells you that he will provide you with 25 bags of wheat if you work on his farm and your best yield to date has been 10 bags you won't hesitate long before working for him.
Within 3-7 years food production will begin to specialize and once started will accelerate as those most proficient at producing food expand and hire workers.
If you see you can trade your labor for more food than you can grow yourself who would hesitate?
If you can trade your physical labor doing farm work for more food than you can grow yourself the choice is a no-brainer. Even better if you can provide a service that no one else can your labor becomes even more valuable.
As the surpluses grow and food security become less of an issue it becomes possible for one or more members of a family to do simple farm labor while one specializes in a skill or service that is needed. Or it might be as simple as having a little leisure time and figuring out how to make a basic oil lamp from salvaged materials that works well. As more people have even a little leisure time to improve their living conditions such as their homes, heating, lighting and a few comfort items little things like a working oil lamp will be in great demand.
A piece of salvaged metal beat into shape with a hammer and attached to a stick can make hoe. It doesn't take a huge level of smithing skill to produce basic tools that are in demand. A hoe, a shovel, a pick, nails. Those are products that were traditionally made by novices since they took the least amount of skill and provided needed experience. Someone who can make even simple tools like that can quickly have a valuable commodity to trade for foods or other goods.
Someone who can spin and make thread or weave and make cloth, someone who can repair or even make shoes and boots. someone who can build chairs or produce firewood and lumber or even produce the tools needed for any of those things would be highly valuable to a community. All of those skills become currency that can be traded for food and the work of others.
The ability of a blacksmith to make ganged plows can dramatically increase food production through the application of "technology" to replace manual labor.
As the more basic skills are provided; food, smithing, lumber, carpentry, weaving, leather, animal husbandry, etc. the technological level of the community increases. The quality of products produced by the community become higher, the standard of living increases and trade becomes possible with other communities who perhaps have other desired products and commodities. Trade builds larger communities and "wealth".
The increasing "wealth" of a community fuels further growth, trade, attracts more people, attracts investment, it provides the means to form full time governments and professional security forces (Police, Militia).
One of the largest factors that promoted trade and growth in the medieval period was professional security personnel who provided and maintained security on the roads between towns and cities. When it is safe to travel and ship goods between cities and towns trade and the spread of technology explodes.
Most people think of "government" as providing those services. What most people don't understand is that it was merchants, traders and business men who provided the funds (the wealth) to staff a full time government and to hire the security personnel.
Businesses did not come into being and grow because governments created a safe environment for them. Governments grew and created a safe environment for business because the businesses created the wealth and paid them to do so.
That is the way people rebuild the world.
So how does the Library fit into that? What is it's role?
Even in the worst case of a Solar EMP which damages or destroys virtually all computer technology there will be some working computers.
Parts salvaged from stores to build one, pieces of equipment sitting in metal buildings which survived the EMP surges, laptops sitting in Faraday cages or even metal sheds, new laptops in static bags or delivery vans, even salvaged hardened military computers. One person with even a modicum of technical knowledge will be able to piece together a working computer, perhaps several. The same applies to printers. No matter how bad the EMP some working computers and printers will be salvageable and available for at least a few years.
Electrical power is not really an issue. At the simplest level someone pedaling a bicycle connected to a car alternator can make electricity. Hand built windmills using alternators and permanent magnet DC motors, even salvaged solar panels for a time. Salvaged batteries will last at least a few years until they become useless. The basic ability of create electrical power and store it in at least a specific location for a specific task will be relatively simple.
In the long term there will be no spare parts. Toner and ink will run out and there will be no more salvageable sources. But for at least a few years there will be some working computers and printers available to a community even after the worst solar EMP.
In a community with even a single working computer the Library can provide an invaluable source of knowledge. What if no one in the community was a farmer or gardener? What if no one has anything other than theoretical knowledge of growing food? Even those with some agricultural experiences are used to having access to chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides and powered farm equipment that is no longer available.
BOOK OF THE FARM AND OTHER SPECIALTIES
The Book of the Farm in the Library is a detailed, almost step by step, textbook on how to operate a farm from an era when there was no electricity and no powered farm equipment. That single set of books alone on a computer where it can be consulted, read or even printed in multiple copies could mean the difference between starvation and plenty for a community. Evan a hand copied text of it would provide an incredible amount of knowledge of how to operate a pre-electrical era farm.
Some references in that set of books such as how to make lime or fertilizers is not always addressed in enough detail since it was assumed that even in the 1800s there were supply chains for some common materials. There are, however, other books in the Library that detail how to make lime, how to make fertilizers and most other commonly needed materials, how to recognize and treat crop diseases, how to diagnose and address livestock diseases. All of it would be on a computer for the members of the community to consult, read print or copy.
As specialization begins to appear within the community the Library becomes an even more valuable tool.
One person starts beating some salvaged metal into a needed tool like a hoe by heating it and bashing it with a hammer. Crude perhaps but functional. Once he makes one someone else will ask him to make some other tool.
There are a lot of books in the Library on smithing and how to form metal into tools. Consulting those books will provide the essential knowledge of how to become a better blacksmith until that person develops enough skills to become a full time smith. Clearly experience will be required to turn someone into a skilled blacksmith but with the sources in the Library they will not be building those skills through trial and error. The knowledge will be available. Their task will be to master how to apply that knowledge.
Exactly the same principle applies to every other needed skills, weaving, making leather, sewing horse harnesses and saddles, making shoes, cutting timber and creating lumber, making furniture, building wagons, making wheels.
And here's the rub. Even if you were a professional, manufacturing almost any of those products your skills were developed in a world where there was a supply and technology infrastructure and a source of power.
Will those skills transfer to a world without those supply chains, that infrastructure, that reliable source of electricity? Most likely no. Someone who relies on electrically powered machines to manufacture items will have to learn an entirely new set of skills in a world without electricity.
Someone who is a skilled hobbyist leatherworker would almost certainly be completely ignorant of how to actually make leather from hides and even how to collect and preserve those hides to start with not to mention hunting and skinning the animals whose hides they need.
The Library provides a wide range of knowledge of how to manufacture items and perform skills in a world without electricity and sophisticated supply chains.
Those books do often assume access to an 1800s supply system but you can find other books which provide the knowledge and techniques to produce those items yourself.
Need sulfuric acid which is the basis of many industrial processes? There are books detailing how to make it. Need the sulfur required for that process? There are books on mining and extracting sulfur from a number of sources.
In short virtually the entire "technology" of the 1800s is documented in the Library in a wide variety of books from how to mine limestone to how to dig the ovens to how to cook it into lime to how to use it on farm fields to how to make it into whitewash to paint your house or barn to how to use it in as an ingredient in medicines or use it to make cement or concrete.
If a community is lucky they might have a doctor among their number. That doctor, however, trained and practiced in a world of high tech equipment, sophisticated labs, sterile hospitals and a massive world wide supply chain of medicines, materials and supplies. None of which would be available.
For a short time perhaps some medicines and supplies could be salvaged but they would quickly run out and not replaceable. Even that is unlikely since in the aftermath of a collapse the vast majority of medical supplies and medicines would be used up trying to treat the massive number of sick and dying people until even the medical system itself collapsed. There would little left to salvage in the aftermath.
Even the most highly trained modern Doctors do not know how to manufacture medicines. They do not know how to make surgical instruments. They do not know how to make anesthetics or antibiotics.
The level of medical technology,even after a community became well established, would essentially be that of the mid to late 1800s. Even surgery would become a major issue until someone started manufacturing anesthesia. There are books in the Library on how to do that.
Anesthetics and pretty much every type of medicine would have to be manufactured locally once salvageable supplies were exhausted. There a number of books with the formulas for making a wide variety of medicines, antiseptics, Anesthetics and other medical supplies. There are other books which detail how makes some of the more sophisticated ingredients needed in the manufacture of many of those medicines.
Most doctors know modern surgical techniques. Most of those techniques are, again, built upon access to sophisticated modern technology. Few doctors have knowledge of something like an amputation on a kitchen table or an appendectomy using nothing but the surgical tools in their bag. Oh there are "field surgery" techniques but they almost all assume that the surgery is an emergency measure and that the patient will be transferred to a hospital subsequently.
There is a large collection of books on the Medical skills and techniques using the technology of the late 1800s and up to World War 1.
Few people realize how much surgical knowledge still used today was developed during WWI when doctors had little technology available and in a time before antibiotics. That knowledge is preserved in the Library as is a wide range of medical knowledge from the era before electricity and antibiotics. WWI was in one sense a massive experimental surgery lab which operated for several years virtually uninterrupted.
While reading some of those books may chill your blood... imagine this situation...
Your child has acute appendicitis and is in agony. The ONLY medical information available is a surgery textbook from 1916 detailing how to perform an appendectomy.
Let's lessen the horror of that by assuming that someone has managed to produce some nitrous oxide anasthesia. Unlikely, but lets pretend at least that.
Watch you child die slowly in horrific agony knowing you can do nothing to even ameliorate the suffering.
Operate using 1916 surgical knowledge with at least a chance of a successful recovery.
SANITATION AND PUBLIC HEALTH
Most people know or can figure out simple things like don't build your outhouse uphill from your well. Don't dump sewage and waste upstream from where you draw drinking water.
But once communities start to form issues of sanitation and public health become an issue. Few people know what happens to what in their toilet once the flush it. Oh some folks might have septic tanks or even outhouses and know at least some basics of it. Few people know much about their water sources other than it comes out of the tap and the shut off valve is at the sidewalk.
Of course some folks have wells and might even have drilled them themselves but that's not the norm.
The reality is that once the communities start to form preventing disease and maintaining public health, clean water and safe disposal of sewage, garbage and waste becomes an issue. Right now in some American cities garbage and human waste on the streets have increased the rat populations to the pint that Bubonic plague is once again present in our cities along with a host of other diseases once thought eradicated.
The year is 2020 with the most advanced technology and the highest standard of living the world has ever seen. Yet in some of America's cities there are enough rats that you have a real chance of contracting bubonic plague and other diseases visiting those cities.
If even a modern city in 2020 America has that problem do you imagine a community trying to rebuild after a collapse wont?
Fortunately there are entire categories in the Library devoted to sewage, garbage disposal, water treatment, rat eradication and other disease prevention and public health subjects. And none of them require technology any more advanced that that of the 1800s.
The survivors won't have to learn all of those public health lessons the hard way like our ancestors did.
As communities expand and mature they will quickly, I suspect, start to expand beyond simple manual technology. Horses, oxen and mules are adequate for pulling plows. A water wheel might be adequate for a village grain mill or a small weaving operation powering looms.
But quickly there will be a need for more powerful and reliable motive power. Internal combustion engines are not something you can easily make in a blacksmith shop. Even if you could make them the gas stations would be closed... permanently.
Steam engines CAN be made by a skilled blacksmith. Most of the early one were. Even a simple steam engine requires only wood or coal to produce steady, reliable power.
It was the development of the steam engine which powered the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s which grew to the spread of railroads, steamships, factories, deep shaft mining and a wide variety of manufacturing simply not possible without that source of power.
There is a large section of the Library devoted to Steam Engines since they are the foundation of an industrial economy being rebuilt.
There are a wide variety of books on other aspects of an emerging industrial infrastructure; telegraph, radio, railroads, chemical processes, engineering, industrial processes, even how to build and manage factories themselves.
All of the growth of a community beyond the basic Security/Food level ultimately relies on education. Those who survive whatever event causes a collapse will likely be reasonably well educated. They will, at a minimum, probably be able to read which makes the library usable.
The children who grow up in that world will not. Unless they were older they might not even be literate.
The rebuilding will not happen overnight. It will take decades and more likely generations for the world to recover and rebuild to anything like our current level of technology. That means that educating those children will be a high priority as well.
Most communities will realize this and soon after Security/Food needs are met parents will establish at least part time schools to teach the young to read even if they teach nothing else
The Library contains a large selection of books on Teaching and Education. From the simplest forms such as the McGuffey Readers to teach the most basic levels of literacy up through the higher levels, books on History, Math, Science, Social Studies, Civics, Geography and all of the basic subjects.
There are a number of books on HOW to teach, how to manage classrooms, how to operate schools and school systems.
Despite the what the catechism of modern educational theory promotes one does not need a degree in Education to teach a child phonics and the basics of reading. One simply needs the tools. The Library provides those tools.
In a community with even a single computer the Library can provide an immense wealth of knowledge of HOW TO rebuild a technological civilization.
Better still a small network of computers which all have access to it. It does not require a high degree of technical knowledge to build a basic network of computers to share files or even to copy all of the files onto each computer.
Even better is to print out and bind books which are most applicable to that climate and geographical location. (There is an entire category of the Library on Bookbinding. I learned it from those books.) Clearly books on steamships are unlikely to be of much value to a community on the Great Plains. A book on mining coal is of little value to a community in a part of the country with no coal deposits.And so on. Some books will be useless to some communities. Those same books will be invaluable for others.
Eventually the last computers will die or break and there will be no more salvageable parts. It will be several generations before anyone is making new ones. Hopefully in the time that they are available every book that contains useful information will be printed or even hand copied if necessary to preserve the knowledge.
PASSING THE KNOWLEDGE ON
Eventually of course there will be printing presses and book publishers and public libraries. There will be textbooks. There will be skilled craftsmen and manufacturers teaching their skills to others. There will be trade schools teaching specialized skills and trades.
In that period between starting to form communities again and the days of printing presses, publishers and trade schools the Library, in whatever form it is maintained on even a single computer, can provide a width and depth of knowledge and skills that can spell the difference between a perpetual subsistence level life and a growing, expanding developing community rebuilding a technological civilization.
And that is why I distribute the library. Please pass it on to others. Make copies for your friends. Every book in the Library is Public Domain or so far out of copyright as to be defacto Public Domain. There are no limitations on copying them or printing them.
Flash drives are inexpensive. Whenever you replace an old hard drive with a newer one copy the library on the old one and stick it away somewhere. When you replace a laptop copy the Library onto the old one and stick it away somewhere.
If we ever do have a solar EMP, or rather WHEN we have a solar EMP, or some other major collapse that takes down the infrastructure all the survivors will need will be one copy of the Library.
Hopefully if there are enough copies out there in enough hands and in enough places that one copy will be there when they need it.