BRATTLEBORO—As part of Brattleboro’s First Friday Gallery Walk and May Day festivities, The Root Social Justice Center hosts the opening reception for its new Radical Lending Library at 5:30 p.m. on May 1.
Organizers say people will be able to become members, borrow books, or donate books to the collection at the all-ages reception, and there will be refreshments and music.
The Root Social Justice Center, located in the Whetstone Studio for the Arts on Williams Street, “provides a physically and financially accessible space to support and bring together communities working for social justice,” says the Center’s statement of purpose.
“I’m very excited about the library,” says Dena Marger, library project coordinator.
“The Root Radical Lending Library is a collection of materials to support the activist communities, specifically in Brattleboro, but it’s open to anyone,” Marger says, adding, “it’s also a space — and this is important — where people can come together and learn."
So, what do they mean by “radical?"
According to their website, The Root Radical Lending Library’s collection focuses on “making available key ideas, tools, and history behind contemporary and historic left movements for liberation,” including materials that are, “among other things, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, queer, feminist, or anarchist, and address various contemporary and historic social justice movements, including movements for economic and environmental justice and against identity-based oppression.”
The library will acquire all materials through donations.
“We have no budget” — the library was built with donated labor, supplies, and books, and is staffed entirely by a volunteer collective — “so we’re making no purchases,” Marger says, adding, “but our fundraising plan might allow us to purchase some books.”
Donations have already come in, Marger says, adding, “we encourage people to buy books at their local independent shop. It’s a win-win.”
“Gently-used books are also okay,” Marger says, but “we don’t want anyone’s old textbooks. Or romance novels,” she says, then pauses and adds, “unless there’s a good reason."
“No hate literature, but that gets tricky,” Marger notes, giving a few examples of places where interests and positions collide in the world of social activism: “My feminism is your transphobia. My Palestine liberation is your anti-Semitism."
“We have room for 1,000 books, period,” Marger asserts.
Add to that the positive motivation of creating a place where people can “introduce themselves to some of the important history, ideas, traditions, and individuals that comprise activist movements and communities.”
The library organizers came up with the “core collection."
“These are books that are so important to our movement histories that we didn’t really think we could call ourselves a radical lending library without them,” according to the website.
The collection — currently operating mostly as a wish-list to guide potential donors — includes authors, subject, titles, and publishers they would like to have in the collection.
Some of the 33 authors the library’s list currently includes are Alison Bechdel, Kate Bornstein, Cornel West, and Howard Zinn, and the subjects range from Animal Liberation to Workplace Rights and Activism.
“Although our collection will primarily focus on books, we are hoping to collect materials in a variety of formats, including CDs, DVDs, large print books, etc.” says Marger.
“We are also hoping to collect materials that meet our collection policy that are accessible to a variety of age levels and reading abilities,” she adds, including “a decent collection for children."
“[W]e are hoping to have books that are not just written in academic-ese, but ones that are practical oriented and readable. We’ll also have fiction and poetry that focus on social justice issues and movements,” Marger says.
The library also plans to have a “small zine collection,” Marger says, explaining: “Zines are self-created, self-published, and self-distributed publications, and as such they are somewhat unique."
“The Root has events and doesn’t like people just walking in, so that limits when we can be open,” Marger says. Currently open every Monday evening, library organizers hope to recruit volunteers to staff additional times, she adds.
Marger, a librarian at Keene State College, says her “fantasy project” has long been to combine her profession and her “background as a social justice activist."
“I’d wanted to do this by myself forever,” Marger says.
Through her friendship with some of the members of the collective, she saw an opportunity for collaboration.
“They’d been thinking of having a radical lending library, too. It was serendipity,” she says. Marger initially thought of establishing the library as an independent entity from The Root, and just subletting the space from them, but all parties agreed including the library under the umbrella of the center made the most sense.
About a year ago, she began meeting with Root collective member Mel Motel, director and founder of the Just Schools Project. “We had to figure out the process and the relationship” between the library and the center, Marger says.
“When The Root opened in 2013, our main priorities were to have a social justice office collective; open up space for community events; and host four social justice forums each year,” Motel says.
“Books can be such an important part of building social movements. And since collaboration and sharing are important to our collective (whether it’s office space, ideas, resources, or reading materials), the library idea fits right into what we’re going for,” she adds.
“The Root Radical Lending Library is our first ‘project’ outside of those initial goals, and we’re really excited to be expanding! When Dena came to us [the four collective members] with the idea, we were impressed with the clear vision and plan for the library and were glad to see an additional use for our cozy conference room, which has been underutilized,” Motel adds, noting “it has been great to see the library unfold.”
“One thing that was a big jump forward was getting help from [Brattleboro] Time Trade,” Marger says, of the organization that connects people to exchange goods and services without the use of paper money.
Rick Neumann, owner of Neumann Studios, the Brattleboro stained glass studio, built shelves for the library as part of his work as a Time Trade member.
“He was totally awesome,” Marger says of Neumann, adding, “once the shelves got built, it gave us a real boost in morale.” Now the library had something tangible to show potential members, instead of just an idea.
“Currently, anyone can come and look” at the library’s materials, but “we’re still working out the details” for membership, which will allow people to check out books, films, and other items from the library.
Accessibility is the library’s goal. Marger wants people to use the materials, noting the library is not a museum.
“Nothing [in the collection] is unique or rare,” she says, noting many of the books are available at the public library, but “we’re bringing this special collection together for a specific population."
“The collection is really interesting, and our volunteers are incredibly friendly!” Marger says, adding, “the potential for amazing things to happen here is palpable.”