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I was reading Chris Lambrecht’s article about the benefits of a library with a large diversity of authors, most of them not published in a traditional way, and it made me think of why I personally liked the library. I used to volunteer pretty regularly until school took over, but I’m trying to get back into it now that I have some free time again.
I think what I like about the Read/Write Library and about community projects and organizations in general is that they are small but powerful. I think you could compare the library to a sort of community coffee shop. I am thinking of a specific coffee shop.
It’s located in Rogers Park on the wrong side of the street – the buses going downtown go in the opposite direction, so people will get their morning coffee from the Seven Eleven instead of this coffee shop, which doesn’t really have a name – and it isn’t near any specific landmarks. The couple who owns it will tend to hire people just because they like the way they look. There is an elderly gentleman who washes the floors, and he doesn’t do it very efficiently, but he is a very sweet old man.
Hey there, I’m Todd. I’m from Chicago originally, and I live in Rogers Park right now. Man! It’s really hard to write these things. My hobby is Backpacking. My favorite food is Pizza. My favorite pizza toppings are anchovies, mushrooms and black olives. I plan on eventually writing about Rogers Park, because it is a cool neighborhood.
I like to write about stuff from the nineteenth century. I like writing novels. You can find them on Amazon if you want. My “real job” is basically data entry for a company. I also go to school to earn credits toward taking the CPA, which is an accounting exam. I want to be an accountant because I think accounting is cool. I could seriously geek out on accounting if I chose, but now is not the time!
When I was thinking about why I chose to intern at the Read/Write Library, I found myself stumbling across a fundamental question: what is the benefit of a relatively small library that keeps the majority of its content in physical form? At the beginning of this semester, I found myself struggling to find an answer that I was content with. As my internship at The Read/Write Library comes to a conclusion, I look back at what I’ve learned.
Now that these several months have gone by, I’ve finally begun to grasp what the library means to the community, what a resource like this is to members of the population of Chicago. The Read/Write Library houses a variety of materials in a range of formats, from books to zines to journals and beyond. Each of these pieces of literature has been created by someone of a different background, be it racial, socioeconomic, and so on.
The benefit of such diversity is reflective of the city itself: the content of the library tells a story of the city all its own. Much of the catalog is made up of material that is self-published, with a small number of copies produced and circulated. Though they may be limited in quantity, the quality of these materials is invaluable. Each piece tells a different part of Chicago history; each piece comes from a different voice.
So, to answer my own question, “what is the benefit of a relatively small library that keeps the majority of its content in physical form?”, the benefit isn’t about the library. It’s about the community. It’s about the city. It’s about the voices we hear from the material that often hasn’t reached as many ears as it should. The benefit of the library is for the benefit of everyone.
- Chris Lambrecht
Fans of The Read/Write Library may also be fans of Gaper’s Block, an online publication devoted to posting news from and about Chicago. On April 28, the day of our Rock Paper Scissors event, Gaper’s Block celebrated its 10 year anniversary!
According to an article published to celebrate their decade of operation, Andrew Huff and Naz Hamid founded Gaper’s Block back in 2003, when there were no other blogs devoted to the city. They chose the name to reflect the back-up in traffic caused when “an accident or something else happens on the side of the road,” but chose that term intentionally because it is specific to Chicagoans. The article says that the founder’s intentions were to provide readers with “a place for Chicagoans to find worthwhile news, interesting online projects and cool events” that were often ignored or inaccessible through mainstream media.
The article goes on to discuss the various divisions of the website that have been created over the years. “The original site included Merge, Slowdown and Rearview, which continue to appear on the front page today,” the article notes. “In addition, Fuel asked readers a question every couple of days; Detour, a place for longer feature articles three times a week; Glovebox, a weekly sampling of things we were into at the time; and Transmission — which at the time was a weekly mp3 from a local musical act.” Although some of these sections have since disappeared, the article takes a nostalgic look at the website’s history, which has had nearly 300 contributors over the last decade.
We owe a lot to Gaper’s Block. In 2006, the website posted an invite in their event listings to discuss the idea of The Read/Write Library over coffee. Nearly 40 people responded to the invite and gave us the confidence and kickstart we needed to move forward with our idea.
- Chris Lambrecht
Earlier this year, Britt Julious published an article titled “Neighborhoods: I live here, therefore I am.” In the article, Julious explains how her parents’ families often looked upon each other with a degree of suspicion. Chicago has a notorious past of segregation, and the two families became something of a bi-product of this lingering segregation. As Julious notes, “Chicago is truly a city of neighborhoods,” a city that “both welcomes and stifles diversity.” She goes on to examine how Chicago continues to suffer from a degree of segregation, with different areas of the city often housing different ethnic groups who look warily upon each other.
After spending some time this semester at the Read/Write Library and delving as much as I can into the material, I can claim to have learned very little about any individual culture but I’ve learned a lot about the city and how these cultures connect. Although Chicago is divided by its neighborhoods, it is unified by its desire to express itself, to overcome diversity through self-expression: each cultural community is unified by its struggle to both define and express itself. The Read/Write Library serves as an aggregate for works by peoples of virtually every background, making their work available to anyone interested in learning about the struggles and triumphs of peoples of different cultures. I think what’s most important about a collection like this is that it lets communities speak for themselves. Rather than “giving them a voice” or “telling their story,” these pieces of literature give individuals from nearly every imaginable background a forum to assert themselves, their beliefs, and their values.
- Chris Lambrecht
This is a big weekend for us! Saturday is Self Preservation: Paper Edition. Then Sunday, April 28, we host our FIRST EVER benefit book sale at The Empty Bottle!
Peruse books, magazines, zines, ephemera and all manner of print donated over the years — but for one reason or another never fit our Chicago-centric collection.
- Book and paper letter crafts with The Letter Writers Alliance! http://16sparrows.typepad.com/letterwritersalliance/
- Paper hat and mask-making to be documented in a Glitter Guts Photobooth! http://glitterguts.com/
- Paperkraftwerk Table by Read/Write Library volunteers
And fun with Mystery Bags!
- $5 “Mystery Bags!” A bunch of cool stuff (media and craft), in one big paper bag!
- Try your luck at Double-or-Nothing Rochambeau! Take on a Read/Write Volunteer in Rock, Paper, Scissors for a chance to get your Mystery Bag for free or $10. Start warming up your reflexes now!
- Mystery Bag Lightning Round! In the last 30 minutes, fill your own Mystery Bag for $5!
Rachel Shteir created quite an uproar earlier this month when she published an article in the New York Times that blasted Chicago as a city of “urban apocalypses.” She goes on to note that “of the largest American cities, Chicago had the second-highest murder rate and the second-highest combined sales tax, as well as the ninth-highest metro foreclosure rate in the country.” But her criticism doesn’t stop there: “even as the catastrophes pile up,” she writes “Chicago never ceases to boast about itself. The Magnificent Mile!” All of this precedes a series of three book reviews about Chicago.
Naturally, reaction to Shteir’s article about the city has been strong. It’s worth nothing that she has earned part of her education, lived, and taught in Chicago. Michael Miner published an article in response to her criticism of the city. He notes that an article she published in 2010 criticizes the city as “lamentably stuck in adolescence.” In an interview defending her article, Shteir claims that the recent piece is not “anti-Chicago.”
Is it fair to say that Shteir is really not being “anti-Chicago?” As Neil Steinberg writes in his book You Were Never in Chicago (which is one of the books Shteir critiques), “nobody lives in Chicago alone. It is all a web of relationships and interactions, loyalties and grudges.” Indeed, Chicago is a complicated “web of relationships,” perhaps more complicated than that “urban apocalypse” that Shteir brushes off Chicago as being. It seems to me that Shteir is too quick to judge the city only by its statistics, without regard to its rich cultural diversity and history.
- Chris Lambrecht
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