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Radical Library As A Community Project

By Siggi Pönk

Seven years ago I started a library. The purpose was to sow seeds of radicalism in the community, to give people the opportunity to educate themselves on various issues that are not taught at school and are not being covered by the mainstream media.

I began by setting up a few shelves in one of the rooms at Tónlistarþróunarmiðstöðin (TÞM, “The Centre for Musical Evolution” at Grandi) with a couple hundred books from my own collection. Then I started organising hardcorepunk and metal shows at the Centre to raise money to buy more books, and wrote to Anarchist periodicals and publishers about the project, asking for book donations.

Friends have also helped out by bringing their own books and taking shifts at the library to keep it open and when they go travelling, I ask them to bring home radical and provoking titles second hand or wholesale from underground publishers in copies of eight to ten. That way I have scored copies for the library and have been able to sell the extra books at the punk shows.

That’s not to say that it has always gone smoothly. We struggled to organise people to man shifts the TÞM Centre and later at The Peace House. Then we moved to Kaffi Hljómalind where radically minded bookworms helped themselves with reading material. Sadly, after two years there, Hljómalind closed down (because of greedy capitalist landlord problems) and the library moved to Höfðatún 12, with Food Not Bombs and the DIY bike collective Keðjuverkun as neighbours, and Borgarahreyfingin (“The Citizen’s Movement”) offices upstairs. Finally, that hopeful grassroots centre crumbled because of a split within Borgarahreyfingin and we had to pack up all the books once again.

Sowing seeds of radicalism

Now the library has found a steady home in Reykjavíkurakademían, Hringbraut 121, 4th floor. There are around a thousand titles that I organise into roughly five categories; ‘Anarchism’ (from theory and propaganda to anarchist history), ‘Activism’ (various recipes against disaster), ’Environmentalism’ (from veggie cookbooks to animal liberation), ‘Philosophy’ (from French intellectuals to disobedient Thoreau and from spirituality to anti-civilization), ‘Left-wing Politics’ (from Chomsky to Marx to girl power to Palestine issues) and ‘Literature’ (liberating, underground and thought provoking novels and prose).

The library books are fascinating in many ways; they are full of ideas that no other media can or will put forward. Books keep giving me answers to my questions and feeding me new ideas. Books increase the quality of my life and for that I love them. That’s why the library keeps growing and we keep spreading love and anarchy.

When people ask if it works, I tell them the story about the kid who walked into the library one day and asked if I had seen a certain woman. I told him no, I had not seen her around. "Why," I asked. "Well", said the kid, "I wanted to give her fish." I asked, "fish?" He said, "Yeah ... you see, I work on one of the tourist boats by the harbour. The tourists go angling and they always leave the catch and we used to throw the fish away, but after I started coming here and reading these books, I always try to find someone to give the fish to."

A community project that works

That’s how I got proof that setting up an Anarchist library as a community project actually works. And we have not had any real problems with the self-service system. If people want to take out a book, they write their name and contact information into the “big book,” with the date and the title of the book they borrowed, and I email them when I see that the book is still missing from the shelves after a few weeks.

Even if all the books were to slowly disappear, I wouldn't consider this a failed project. It would mean that all the ideas within them are somewhere out among people. The plan was never to set up an institution, but to gather ideas and inspiration.

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Reykjavíkurakademían is open every weekday from 10:00 to 16:00. The library is a tool for self-education and inspiration. Please use it and enjoy it. An incomplete list of books can be found at www.andspyrna.org.

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