PROVIDING OBJECTS OF LIBERARATION
(BOOKS!) TO GREATER LOS ANGELES
From: Lit Hub
By Michele Filgate
The Feminist Library On Wheels (aka F.L.O.W.) was started by Jenn Witte and Dawn Finley, with the aim of bringing feminist literature and media to the people of Los Angeles, with a focus on diversity and inclusion. I recently spoke with Finley to find out more.
When did you start the library on wheels? Who is behind it?
F.L.O.W. began in July 2014, when Jenn Witte was thinking about how to make a library for the Women’s Center for Creative Work. She brought that idea to the Feminist Reading Group I helped facilitate for the WCCW, and wondered, “Could it be on my bike?” I had recently become a big cycling enthusiast, and the idea sounded absolutely brilliant. We met to chat about it, and before we knew it we were well on our way. It’s all still run primarily by the two of us, Jenn Witte and Dawn Finley.
What’s the goal of the project? Why was it started?
The Feminist Reading Group began with bell hooks’ Feminism is For Everybody, in which she writes:
Imagine a mass-based feminist movement where folks go door to door passing out literature, taking the time (as do religious groups) to explain to people what feminism is all about. . . Most people have no understanding of the myriad ways feminism has positively changed all our lives. Sharing feminist thought and practice sustains feminist movement. Feminist knowledge is for everybody.
I’m not sure how to describe our goal in a finite, concrete sense—I suppose the ultimate prize would be to help create a world in which feminism is a natural part of how the world is structured, how we relate to each other, ourselves, the planet. In a more practical short-term sense, the goal is to make as much feminist material as available to as many different people as possible, using bicycles and tricycles, with minimal reliance on cars. Not because we have a singular idea of what feminism is and how it should be encouraged, but because we have a tool we want to share, for people to use in ways that are productive and meaningful for them, their families, their communities.
How many people are involved?
We have had some volunteers come and go, and there are a couple working in the library now. But primarily Jenn and I are the people who make this happen day-to-day. We also have about 700 card holders, around 2,000 followers on Facebook and another 2,000 on Instagram. We’re also very grateful for the institutional support we get from the Women’s Center for Creative Work.
What are some of your favorite books that are part of the library, and why?
As we have around 3,000 volumes in the library now, I find this an extraordinarily difficult question to answer succinctly. We do have some special items, like signed editions delivered directly from authors: Maggie Nelson’s The Red Parts, Kate Schatz’sRad American Women A-Z, Emma Cline’s The Girls, and Hope Larson’s Chiggers. We also have autographed editions of several books by Kate Millet, and a complete set of the periodical Chrysalis, published at the Women’s Building in Los Angeles from 1977 to 1980 (the Women’s Building played a big part in inspiring the founders of the Women’s Center for Creative Work).
As far as you can tell, are you the only Feminist Library on Wheels in the country? Do you hope to see this expand to other cities?
It would be wonderful to see F.L.O.W. grow! There is The Free Black Women’s Library in NYC, which is close to what we do but I think they’re not a circulating library, as we are. As far as I know we’re unique, although we also share a lot of kinship with the book bikes increasingly used by public libraries around the world (we had a t-shirt swap organized online with a public library in Canada!), and Little Free Libraries, popping up in more and more neighborhoods near us.
Where do you get the books from?
All of the books are donated. We have both occasionally added books personally, but everything in our catalog has been donated. Some have come from donors who gave us one or two items, others around a half-dozen at a time—we’ve also received donations in the mail. A couple of large private donations have considerably increased our collection as well. Building our library this way means we are building a collective definition of feminism; a F.L.O.W. library card doesn’t tell you what feminism is—it’s a tool you can use to figure that out for yourself. Read Rest of Interview Here