Memorial to a Mass Atrocity: Reflecting on Librex

Illustrated by Anasthasia Shilov

What is, or rather, what was Librex? I know the formal answer: an anonymous online discussion platform for Ivy League students, founded by Ryan Schiller, BF ‘23. But as I turned this answer over in my head, it felt too simple for such a lively and storied space. It was too terse an obituary. My own Librex experience was pretty casual, and I understood it mostly as a place for people to express their frustrations over the newest COVID policy or university email. Wanting to understand what else there was to Librex, I turned to other Yale students. I wanted help unpacking what exactly Librex was and did, and whether it will be missed. I interviewed seven students, meeting all of them in various bowels of Yale University. The locations felt deeply appropriate for an app that prided itself on housing students’ freest thoughts thanks to a policy of complete anonymity. All the interviewees are students in the class of 2025. Yalies 1-5 all met me together in a dingy room in the Welch basement. I interviewed Yalie 6 over the drone of washing machines in a small laundry room, and Yalie 7 I accompanied on a treadmill walk in the Davenport/Pierson gym. In keeping with the spirit of Librex, I have anonymized all sources. 

Yalies 1 and 4 are suitemates. They are excellent party hosts, and were both Librex savants. 

Yalie 2 enjoys biking and lovingly described Librex as a “cesspool.”

Yalies 3 and 5 were delightful additions to the chemistry but are not quoted in this article.

Yalie 6 is a musician and a self-described Librex latecomer.

Yalie 7 loves Mitski and was an avid Librex scroller.

Yale OP (me): Can you tell me about when you first got on Librex?

Yalie 1: I remember [another student] was talking about it. It sound[ed] like Reddit and I hate Reddit. He told me, “No, it’s not like Reddit, because it’s easy to use.” So I went on the app and I instantly loved it because people are so unhinged and they say things that they would never say in real life.

Yalie 6:  I didn’t know Librex existed until someone was describing to me the process of buying drugs… I asked how they had a plug here, and they said, “Oh, Librex!” … [It was introduced to me as] Reddit but for Yale. And basically, you use it if you’re horny or if you want drugs… I just think perhaps it’s a platform through which to fulfill your desires.

Yale OP: How do you think anonymity affects people’s interactions on Librex?

Yalie 1 began reminiscing about the olden days, before “the update,” when users were free to comment on their own posts, and no one would know it was the same person. 

Yalie 1: I would post straight up false [information] and then respond to it with other false [information]. 

Yalie 4: I would just post hot takes. I don’t know, I can’t doxx myself.

Yalie 7: [I] think a lot of freshmen got a lot of their understanding of social things from Librex. [Those understandings] are not actually truly accurate because they’re anonymous, so people can just say bullshit that’s not true. And once you’re actually in the spaces and you realize that the things that they said on Librex that got 30 upvotes and everyone fucking saw are not true. It makes you realize how much power something like that can have because it’s anonymous.

Yalie 6: There’s obviously a liberation to… being anonymous. Also, as a person you are in some way defined by the things you do when you’re being perceived. If you are doing stuff only because you know you’re not being perceived, is that really more authentic, or is that in some ways you playing pretend? 

People wanted to maintain Librex’s culture of anonymity even when discussing the app post-shutdown. They were worried about being retroactively identified if they were not in danger of anyone seeing them ever again. But some students recounted with glee the fun they had with the anonymity of the platform. It seems that anonymity allowed people to “say things they would never say in real life,” while also performing for a public audience, and in some cases, just straight up lying. Somehow, both authenticity and disinformation sprung from the ability to hide behind the screen. 

Yale OP: What did you use Librex for?

Yalie 4: It’s weird because I don’t even remember what I posted. It was just whatever came to mind, which is probably kind of obnoxious, like you don’t even have to think it through.

Yalie 1: This was one of my best moments: “acting mysterious at the airport so you can get on the FBI watchlist.” 

Yalie 1 told me stories of matching with random people and just having conversations with strangers. 

This conversation with Yalies 1-5 got away from my questions pretty quickly, as the group started reminiscing together about favorite old posts (“do you think YSECS people explore each other’s bodies”), stories about friends meeting drug dealers off Librex, and manufacturing social gatherings out of thin air through Librex posts. It was a lively conversation, and it served as evidence to me of Librex’s power. 

For all its strangeness (exemplified by the litany of M4F posts, in which people seek to hook up over Librex, a genre termed “Hornibrex”), Librex drew people in as a study of psychology. It fulfilled our desire to know what was going on in other people’s heads, enabled us to relate, and not merely connect, as other social media sites do, to others around us while we sat procrastinating in a Bass Library cubicle. Librex was also a social event—you could have conversations with people in real life about what you saw on Librex in a way that you couldn’t with other apps. The anonymity meant that you weren’t gossiping about people you knew, and the Yale-only user pool meant that everyone had seen the same post you were talking about.

Yale OP: Why did you use Librex?

Yalie 1: I just miss how entertaining it was. We would do “Best of the ‘Brex” and all sit around the living room [and share our favorite Librex posts]. 

Yalie 7: I’ve always had some sort of thing where I process people’s thoughts…and then I move on. It’s a way of getting news that’s not actually intellectual… I just consider Librex to be another social media app, not in the sense of posting things but of observing other people. [Like] Instagram, for example, or Snapchat. I don’t really post on those but I enjoy going on there because I think we as people just enjoy looking at other people’s thoughts and lives.

Yalie 7: [I think people have an] embarrassment about Librex, about using it. I think it’s because they associate it with Reddit, because Reddit is very like incel vibes, right? And I feel like Librex gives incel vibes too, but the thing is, it’s kinda camp to use Librex as a non-incel… That’s just my take.  

I loved the thought that Librex somehow retained the weird Reddit vibe while being an incredibly niche and closed off community. Yes, it was a free-for-all for Yalies, who could go wild as their anonymous personas, but it was much more like a private subreddit, within which everyone could be sure that everyone else would know what they were talking about. 

Yalie 7: [Yea, and for me it was also a way] to feel like Yale was present in my life being back home [over breaks]. 

With Librex shutting down, I wondered if there was a market for some other app to come in and replace it. It seemed natural that, if Librex were truly a social service, someone would fill that gap. However, when I spoke to the group, no one was very interested in an off-brand Librex. Maybe Librex is like the family dog—we all need to mourn the one who just died before we can think about getting a new one. 

Yale OP: Do you use any of the replacement apps like Sidechat? 

Yalie 1: The point is to be anonymous. If you’re doxxing people, that’s just not fair.

Yalie 2: I think it’s also the moderation. The moderation’s important. I feel like, there’s a line of unhinged that you want but you don’t want things that are actively harmful. And on other sites [that I’ve seen on friend’s phones], it’s just like explicitly calling people out by name. And that’s not interesting, that’s just mean.

Yalie 4: They didn’t hit. There’s something off about them…partially the interface.

Yaile 1: So true, they just didn’t hit. I didn’t even try. 

If Librex won’t be replaced, that brings me back to my original question: What was Librex? A channel for Yale’s pent-up emotions, a sublime space for sublimation, a source of entertainment, a news outlet, a social education, a platform for authenticity, for performance, and for actualization, a community, an escape from the community, a thoroughly bizarre place, sometimes a disgusting place—and despite the anonymity (or perhaps because of it), a very human one. Librex, like all the best things in life, contained multitudes. Every facet engrossed us because any post could have been made by us—or by someone only a few hundred feet away. On Librex, Yalies were both sample and scientist, alternately looking through the microscope and being deeply, deeply scrutinized. And Librex did all of this under a veneer of privacy, allowing us to go through life at this university without admitting to ourselves that if anyone else could be the degenerate who made those posts on Librex, we might be too. Yalie 1 had a fitting, if somewhat dramatic characterization of this article: they called it a “memorialization of a mass atrocity.” And if that doesn’t sum up the effect of anonymity on what people are willing to say, I don’t know what does.

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