Monday, December 16, 2013

Library/Biblioteca 451 brings education to the people

By Cheryl O’Connell
Edited by Lauren Quirici

Library/Biblioteca 451 is a people’s library founded by myself along with a group of students from Holyoke and Springfield just over a year ago. After attending Holyoke Community College together and being involved in organizing in our community, we decided to make the critical education that we had access to more available to the rest of our community. We placed bookshelves in public spaces such as barber shops, restaurants, and community programs around the area, and provided pop-up libraries, and facilitated teach-ins to learn with our community about social justice issues.

We took the name of the project from the book Farenheit 451. The project started off with just a few people. Over the last year, more volunteers have started working with us. The number of volunteers involved fluctuates, but there's a core group of about seven of us.  The group is structured in a non-hierarchical way, so we all work together and make decisions collectively.  We have made great connections throughout the community and hear often that people stop by our shelves for books.

One goal of mine was to get the project more organized and make our system more efficient. This semester, we were able to organize the warehouse space where books are stored before they are distributed. I also created a blog and set up a partnership with local bookshops for donations.

The biggest challenge for Library/Biblioteca 451 has been finding a way for our project to stay relevant and inclusive. We want people in the community to feel a sense of ownership in what we're doing. We have also had to work on re-evaluating our system of obtaining donations. We get a lot of books through social media, but this hasn't proven to work well for getting Spanish language books. We are currently working to find a new way to accomplish this goal.  We’re hoping to continue to build a stronger relationship with our community where there will be more mutual learning opportunities.

I'm changed by this project all the time. I learn so much from my community about what issues we should be focusing on, how to actively listen, and what it means to build community. I love the literature and the conversations that arise out of sharing in the learning process. It's frustrating for me that I don't have more time to dedicate to 451. Hopefully that will change in the future.

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