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The People and the Library: Reflections on Grass-Roots Efforts to Preserve and Expand the Library As a Commons

June 1, 2023

I was recently invited to participate in the People’s Budget Office, a participatory project by facilitating artist Phoebe Bachman and Mural Arts Philadelphia. A cohort of four different Philly artists tackled different aspects of the city’s budget process, aiming aim to “increase public awareness through popular education on the city’s budget process and offer a platform for residents to share what the city should fund.”

I was inspired by the example of the Coalition to Save the Libraries, a multi-class, multi-racial, multi-neighborhood movement which successfully saved 11 branch libraries from closure under Mayor Nutter’s proposed austerity budget in 2008, to create a people’s history zine entitled the People And the Library. I interviewed six activists who were pivotal to the movement, from neighborhood elders to the lawyer who plead their case in the city courts, on the joy of fighting City Hall and winning, building community-worker alliances that bring together disparate parts of the city, and the enduring importance of the library as a vital community space.

In addition to this braided oral history narrative from the Coalition, I included discussions with Emily Drabinski, a self-proclaimed Marxist lesbian who is the incoming head of the American Librarians Association and Kate Drabinski, a Philly librarian and organizer about contemporary grassroots struggles within the library today as a kind of coda/addendum.

The whole zine can be downloaded as a free pdf here!

I also created six cut paper black-and-white graphics celebrating the role of the library in our everyday lives that can be accessed here.

Anti-capitalismEducationHistoryInspirationSocial Movements

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