A Library for Every Neighborhood
In the past decade there has been a proliferation of radical media throughout the US. Countless hundreds of independently published periodicals, journals, newspapers and ‘zines make the rounds every year. Some last for many, many years while others come, create an impressive body of work and disappear almost before we even get a chance to appreciate them. The micro and pirate radio movement of the late 80’s / early 90’s has mushroomed into a massive battle with the FCC and Federal and local governments over the homogenization of corporate owned radio, winning important struggles over the right to free speech and the importance of a truly diverse representation of voices on the airwaves. Perhaps the greatest tool of all for those not spoken for in the mainstream media has been the explosion of the Internet since the mid 1990’s. With the Internet continuing to gain accessibility, people now can for the first time in history not only instantaneously have the option of reading and dissecting an issue like 911 from a widespread diversity of voices and cultures, they can take things one step further and directly participate in the dialogue by contributing to the public discourse on the Internet. One can search a topic from a variety of locales and stitch together a more balanced, thorough overview of an important topic, if you can’t find what you’re looking for or disagree with what is offered you can literally become the media and publish your own views and accounts of that which represents you.
In Richmond, Virginia members of my community of radicals and allies have experimented with many forms of media creation and information sharing over the years. In 1996, when I first arrived and began to plug in with various organizations one of the first things I got involved with was a local youth based, anarchist-oriented collective that was self publishing a free quarterly community newsletter that had as its primary focus issues and stories about the poor and marginalized citizens of Richmond. We did fundraisers and paid out of pocket for the 1,000 press-run which we passed out at events, homeless meal sharings, rallies and left in stores and businesses around the downtown area. Although it was a small circulation, many folks came to enjoy our area of coverage and looked forward to each issue.
Feeling media plays a crucial role in shaping and nurturing the mindset and the value system of many folks, we knew it was extremely important to create a strong radical counter voice to that which poisons us everyday. In addition to the newsletter we worked with a local pirate radio station, a cable access station and brought in countless activists from around the country to lead workshops and teach-ins. Ironically enough it was a tiny little project that we started near the end of our existence that thrives to this day.
A local used bookstore was having a giant fifty percent off blowout sale. About seven or eight of us pooled our finances and went to the sale with the intent of picking up as many radically themed titles as we could get our hands on. Being that there were many of us there, we collected a pretty diverse area of interest amongst our fifty or so selections. We brought them to the home of one of the collective members, organized the books and printed out a list of titles and a sign out sheet for larger numbers of people to come and utilize the books. A small, independent library was born.
The following year, six of us, including four former members of the defunct collective moved into a house together and inherited the books. We lived in a grand old house with ample room for a variety of projects ranging from bike repair and sewing supplies to a flourishing garden in the back. However, we decided our centerpiece would be an expanded version of the radical library in a sizable room in our house. By the time we combined the old books with the personal collections of six individuals with varied tastes, the collection had swollen from a few dozen books to several hundred. In addition to the books, we added a two-drawer file cabinet with national underground periodicals and a healthy number of file folders on local issues as well as two, Internet accessible computers. A small pamphlet and zine section was added also. Once we got things cleaned up and organized we put word out to everyone we knew and in turn everyone they knew about the resources that we had available for perusing and check out.
What naturally happened over the course of years was that more and more people became aware of the library and benefited from its existence. Although the six of us had pretty voracious appetites for reading and were always buying new books and adding them to the collection, what really made the library grow was when others who felt like the library was an extension of them began to donate their personal collections of ‘zines and files and books in new areas of coverage that we were thin in. By the time the house disbanded in 2002 and three of us moved the library four blocks over in the same neighborhood the library had swollen to twice the size it was three years earlier.
Today with the library in a new house we have over 2,000 books, 1,500 periodicals, 500 ‘zines and pamphlets, twenty plus file folders on local issues and another fifty on national issues. We continue to get donations and visits from new faces all of the time. The desire for radical and alternative forms of media is stronger than ever. In Richmond we undoubtedly have the largest collection of books that you’re not likely to find in the city library system. We have an extensive collection of books on gender politics, anarchism, feminism, third world struggles, do –it – yourself guides and anti-capitalism. Wouldn’t it be great if there were hundreds of household libraries in every neighborhood in every city and town, each one offering its own unique slice of life for their neighborhood’s interests and hobbies? Instead of having to depend on a city library’s confusing hours, bland and mainstream book titles and government surveillance of computers we can all get busy creating our own visions for the libraries we would like to see. Get in touch with us to share and brainstorm for the neighborhood library revolution.
Notes: The Flying Brick Library is always looking for zines, periodicals, pamphlets and audio and video materials for our collection. Please send all donations to the address below.
The newest issue of Complete Control (#12 – July, 2004) is now out and is available for $3 PPD directly from me. It contains stories/info on: a riot, a fire, a lighthouse, punks, diners, hitchhiking, new urbanism, riverfront development, a blackout, parks, bikes, religious shrines and reviews of eleven cities and towns. For the first time ever I paid to have the zine produced. This has forced me to drastically reduce the number of free copies that I send out to radical spaces and bookstores around the country. So, this is a shout out for any of you out there who might have access to low or no cost copies to help support Complete Control to continue to be cheap and available in the future. I know you exist, so please get in touch.
Please send all letters, orders and donations to: Greg Wells – PO Box 5021 – Richmond, VA. 23220.