10 months ago


Book-Café The Barricade Voorstraat 71 3512 AK, Utrecht Sun 16:00-23:00 Issue 1 Book-Café The Barricade Libraries Bookshops Practices People Spaces UTRECHT, DECEMBER 2017 ABOUT BOOK/ACTION Book/Action is a research project which seeks to highlight the hidden values and practices surrounding alternative library spaces and bookshops. By delving into people, places and practices, it aims to address their educational and cultural value, exploring questions of how the library or bookshop is used as a political tool for self-organizing, community-building and empowerment. An Interview with Luigi Interview Can you explain the meaning behind the name Book-Café The Barricade? LUIGI: The first thing that comes to mind was what is involved when you say, ‘let’s go to the barricade’. That's already a sign of protest. We thought, at least when we decided on it, we liked the way the ‘barricade’ contrasted with the name ‘book-café’ which is in a way, a bit hipster. That was already a way of showing that we are not just a normal library or a normal café. Another thing we liked to evoke and which is part of the logo - of the barricade – it’s this form of protest that was started in Italy around 2011 and it was called the book bloc. Basically, these students were going on demonstrations where they often ended up in fights with the police. They used the shields as protective fronts and on these shields, they wrote names of books. So, then you had the logo and this picture and the police attacking the books and we liked this idea of what it evoked. So, books are important tools for protest. These were two things that came together. What is your role in the project? I started this project with other people. In the beginning, there were three. Now, it’s always a fluctuating number, with some who are active and others who are not so active. At the moment, we are starting to introduce new people to manage the library but that started recently. Now we are with eight in total but it’s always a difficult process between trying to make all the things fit together – running the library, organizing events, running the group as a community and trying to attract new people to help. It’s always a lot of different things. For me personally, I have tried to be active in all of this. But I’ve also been splitting myself with helping the kitchen group that goes along with the library. It’s my involvement but it’s also the involvement of other people. It goes from dumpster diving to cooking, to contacting political groups to organize talks, to look for new zines and new books we might want to order, to reminding people to return books and all these day-to-day tasks which are necessary to run the library. How did you initially source the books? Most of the books which are in the collection come from another library which was traveling around between squats. Some of the books come from Nijmegen, other books come from a squat in Utrecht but got evicted five or six years ago and they had been staying unused in a parking lot somewhere in the north of the Netherlands. When we heard about this, we decided to take the books and restart it for use in a library. When we brought the books here, we found ourselves with around 2000 books that belonged to the previous collection, and a number of other archival material - old zines and magazines which had been collected by people active in the squatting movement for maybe 15 years or more. There are even books which are not for loan - books from the 19th century. It was very overwhelming to start with a library because basically, we started from two contrasting points - by having no experience as librarians and by finding ourselves with a collection of 2000 books we had no idea what they were about. So, we spent the summer going through all the books and trying to categorize them, understand what they were about. Out of these 2000 books we selected around 500 or 600 for this permanent collection and the other ones are still in our archive. The library appears to be many things - it expresses an attitude of asserting agency, autonomy and reclaiming public space. How do you conceptualize the library? I think a very important thing for the library is how it started. It was started by people who were already active in this space. We felt at the time that the space was not as political as it should be. Two years ago, this wall was empty and there were no books here whatsoever. Also, there were very little political events so it was a stagnant phase for political activity. When we asked ourselves, how can we change this, we thought that a library would be a good way to start. It was reclaiming space by already having this every day even when we are not open as a library. When people look around and they only see beer bottles and when people look around and they see books that are about anarchism or other political books they get a different impression. So, that was the main start of the library to us - to use books and the library as a way to make this whole space more political. You’ve staged platforms for collective thinking through lectures - say, the lecture by the anti-militarist collective Xupoluto Tagma. Can you talk about the practical aspects of inviting these guests over and the hospitality you provide for them? The Barricade library first caught my attention during my first visit to Utrecht. Strolling aimlessly through Voorstraat, I caught out a stack of political zines and books from the corner of my eye. Naturally, my body responded to this. Moments later upon entering ACU, I found myself at the bar - with a zine in one hand and a beer in the other. A starting point my interview with Luigi was trying to identify what actions have emerged from the library. But it was quickly pointed out to me that itʼs hard to pinpoint at what exact moment the library produced what action, because they are in themselves catalytic of a fluid network of converging bodies - whose agencies, values and experiences interweave to collectively shape the library. Luigi acknowledged this by talking about his past experience volunteering for a soup kitchen in Copenhagen - similarly equipped with a library. While these actions may not always have immediate consequences, they can inadvertently set off a chain reaction of actions here and there, quietly giving profound meaning in our lives. Looking across the array of curated titles, zines and ephemera laid out at its usual place, the table reveals a rich network of social relations and actions. It is a living, breathing library, albeit a messy one. But it is a ʻgrowing organismʼ in the sense that it exists at the heart of a community who are using the library as a way to enact new ways of being together - rebuilding social relationships based on the currencies of solidarity and trust. The library itself does not ask for a deposit for loaning a book. Rather, it puts its trust in each member of the community (So, remember: donʻt forget to return your books!). The table is also representative of the kind of politics which the Barricade engages in. When the Barricade celebrated their first anniversary this year, a friend of the collective made badges for the library and similarly, the stickers were brought in one day by another member of the community and it has since become a feature of the library. It is these kinds of small gestures - reflective of the networks of support and mutual trust, that provide the beating heart of the library. So, next time youʼre in Utrecht, letʼs meet at the Barricade. Usually, we try to contact groups who are active in the area because it’s easier to organize. In the case of the talk by Xupoluto Tagma on Greek militarism, it was a bit different because we were contacted by the person involved. He was passing by Utrecht and he heard about us, and he wanted to talk about his actions and he identified us as a place to give that talk. Then of course, we tried to arrange for him to come. I found that it was very nice to be contacted by another group because you feel more legitimized as a political place when this happens. In general, it’s about trying to identify groups that we think are important and that are moving in a direction which we really appreciate. But it’s always a bit harder to try to arrange a constant stream of events, especially when you have another job and you’re trying to spend your free time arranging this. The things which you want to do and the things which you have to do pile up and you kind of struggle between surviving as a library and trying to organize events which is always something that takes more effort. Usually, we try to use the donations that people give us at our dinners on Sundays to pay the costs for speakers. If they are coming from Amsterdam or someplace else, we try to repay the costs and give them some extra refund. In this case for example, I hosted him (the speaker from Xupoluto Tagma) at my place because he needed a place to stay. It’s always a very nice thing when you are hosting people from political actions because you get a chance to talk next to the talk event itself that you are maybe too busy organizing and you’re not completely enjoying it. This also changes the type of relationship you have so it’s not like a contractor that calls you. It brings it to a more personal level which is kind of important for these kind of places and actions. Do you collaborate with other projects? I wouldn’t say that we ‘collaborate’ in a way that's helping these projects with what we do, but yes. When we order zines (from the PaperJam Collective, for example), we speak to them and we support them through the donations. When we order books, we try to order books from Fort Van Sjakoo itself. While our projects have a different end use, we are related and they kind of converge in the end. So, if Fort van Sjakoo sells books, we can use them to acquire new books, and if Paper Jam Collective are printing zines and making all these works then we can definitely use it to put here. Especially the zines, I think it's a different way ‘THE LIBRARY IS A GROWING ORGANISM’ On Rebuilding Social Relationships Through Do-It-Together Libraries By Yoshiko Teraoka to access political information than books. When we discussed last time how we want to move forward as a space with let’s say, information sharing, or information gaining, we try to divide it into two levels. Zines, or political thought are more accessible to people that are coming here just for the dinner. But they’re checking the zines and they’ll say, ‘well, this is interesting’. It’s much easier to take a zine than to loan a book because a book might be heavier or longer and people might also feel more scared. Loaning a big book takes a lot of commitment. While, if you’re not so sure about your political ideas, a zine is a kind of an exploratory tool so it’s much more accessible that way. We find that the zines are very useful, they’re going out a lot more. Is that something you’re conscious of – making activist spaces more accessible? I feel like this space is, at least to me, like the good and bad of it is that this space is open with a lot of different initiatives. It's definitely much more accessible for every kind of audience that is not just identifying as activist. In a way, the same thing works for the dinner. The dinner is political in a number of ways – you’re using a space for collective dinner that doesn’t require people to pay money, you’re saving food waste and you’re also attracting people to a political space without having some kind of heavy connotation that you might feel pressure in getting into. Making anarchist politics as accessible as it can be without crossing a certain threshold or being arrogant in a way – that’s definitely important. Libraries are by nature, intrinsically linked to education. Having gone through the traditional education system yourself, what ideas have you formulated through this project- with regard to education and making a safe space for learning? Education easily becomes a hierarchical process, there is a person that knows more who is going to show you the way and decide what you’re going to read, what you’re going to study and give you a framework in which you need to think. With regard to how we try to escape this through the library is…I mean of course, there are things you cannot escape. You need to have a selection of books because you cannot possibly have all the books that might interest everybody. But this is a thing I care a lot about, because I know of other anarchist libraries that are quite strict on the kind of books they want to have - books which are clearly anarchist.While here, we are not doing that. We believe that any kind of political book has something to say, it doesn’t have to necessarily enter an anarchist framework of politics. We have Marxist books and feminist books which people might relate more to a certain liberal way of making politics or books on parliamentary politics which are still in our collection because we see the library as a tool for self-learning. It is not an anarchist way of running the library, deciding that all the books you need to read are in an anarchist framework. That’s my view and it’s also a view shared by other people in the group. Do anarchist principles inform the internal structure of the group? How do you try to maintain horizontality? That’s for sure. That is one of the basic things and ACU as a space is organized horizontally. Of course, there is a difference when you say, ‘we are a non-hierarchical group’ and trying to make the space or group horizontal. But that is a more complicated topic. It’s definitely a struggle that remains, so we try to make information accessible to everybody and try not to patronize people that are getting involved. That’s definitely always in our minds when we deal with certain things. And when this behavior happens, it’s much more easily spotted in our small library group because we pay more attention to these problems. Do you envision this as a long-term project? Well, I would be very surprised if we managed to stay open for forty years like Fort van Sjakoo, I think that’s an incredible achievement. I’m not sure about seeing this as a long-term project. What I’d like personally is, to know that it will go on, even if I and the other people who started it leave this project. That for now would be the biggest long-term project. -So, it’s very much dependent on community support and having volunteers actively involved? Yes, that is still something, especially in the last month when we started talking to external volunteers, people who were coming to the space even if they were not actively involved in the library. They felt the same kind of necessity or feelings about how this project was important. Those are very good things to feel, to know that you’re not alone in what you’re doing because sometimes you’re too busy doing all the running necessary and sometimes you don’t even realize all the people who are around. There’s a lot of people who have been supporting us – people behind the bar and everyone coming to the dinner. Their donations are not mandatory, it’s something that we state before serving, that dinner is free and donations will support the library. Yet still, we manage to gather quite a meaningful amount of donations and that makes our life a lot more easier – being able to acquire books and inviting speakers and sustaining daily expenses. Luigi is one of the founding members of Book-Café The Barricade. Book-Café The Barricade is a volunteer-run public library with a focus on anarchism and leftist politics. Becoming a member and borrowing books is free. Acknowledgements Thank you to Luigi and members of the Barricade Library for allowing me to share your experiences. Next Issue: An interview with Jeroen from Fort Van Sjakoo, who helps supply books for the Barricade Library and was invited to a talk event held by the Barricade to mark their one year anniversary. Book/Action is a research project initiated by Yoshiko Teraoka. For enquiries, please email

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