Vendor Interview: The People’s Library

One day left before the very first day of the very first PHILALALIA! Today, we bring to you this great interview with The People’s Library. Since they’re an atypical vendor, they’ve included some basic information to catch you up on what it is that makes what they do so awesome:
The People’s Library is an ongoing collaborative project featuring libraries designed, built and authored by community members. The project transforms and repurposes discarded books into blank canvasses for the production and exchange of local histories.
We’re from Richmond, VA but are doing a 6 month residency in North Philly at the Village of Arts and Humanities. For that residency:
The People’s Library and Paper Collective works with a multitude of individuals and community partners to start a People’s Library storefront in North Philadelphia that will serve as:

  1. A command center for criminal record expungement workshops, community think tanks, legal literacy and know your rights workshops, voter registration drives, and other interventions that engage collectively with the causes, effects, and alternatives to social  justice issues in North Philadelphia.
  2. A start-up creative business and workforce- development program where re-entry adults and youth create hand-made fine papers and books from discarded paper-based material (shredded criminal records from the expungement clinics), author community histories, host open-mic spoken word and poetry readings, and lead weekly writing clubs that encourage dialogue with incarcerated friends and family. 

1. What should attendees of PHILALALIA expect from People’s Library??

We’ll be selling our People’s Paper Co-op materials (all proceeds go to supporting our co-op members through the re-entry process), doing public paper making workshops where we’re inviting students to transform materials they want to discard or write about things in their life they want to transform…these will all be pulped and turned into blank paper for Philalalia participants to write on during our presentation and workshop on Saturday

2. What is something people might not know about People’s Library?

When Courtney Bowles and I first started the People’s Library (two years old this coming February!!!) we were undergraduate students and had never made a sheet of paper or bound a single book. Now we’ve helped make over 5,000 sheets and hundreds of blank books for libraries in a multitude of cities…and we’re still really really amateur book/paper makers! 
3. When was People’s Library born and how has it evolved since its inception?
More info on the PL can be found here:
The project began in Richmond, VA in February 2012. Courtney Bowles and I went to the Main Library branch with a proposal; that their library could be filled with histories written by community members, that those histories could fill books that were totally built from recycled materials, and that those books could be made right in the center of the library, where we’d work with hundreds of community members in free public workshops where blenders are whirling, kids are screaming, strangers meeting, really transforming the space…that was basically what we proposed…and thankfully they said yes!
Since then we’ve held over 60 workshops at the Main Branch, worked with hundreds of individuals from all walks of life, brought books into jails, senior citizen centers, worked with teens, refugees, and many others to author the handmade books that are now part of the library’s permanent collection.  As the project has grown and gotten some much appreciated press! Libraries across the country have asked to start their own branch. Working with our People’s Librarian internship program we designed a ‘how-to’ guide to starting your own branch and have it free and available on our website.  Branches are starting in NY, Chicago, Indiana, Oakland, and many others.

We’re currently raising funds to build a mobile People’s Library paper-making studio/micro library (our bio-diesel People’s bookmobile!). We’re planning to do a national tour where we work with branches in cities and towns to start their own branches.   
In the mean time we’re doing a ton projects in North Philly where we’re working with individuals in re-entry, civil rights lawyers, teens, and a variety of amazing people to creatively and collectively engage with the impacts of incarceration in North Philadelphia. We’re always in need of volunteers, supporters, and future collaborators…more info at:

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