By the People. For the People.

A new project, where anyone can write their own stories and thoughts in books that have been repurposed for others to check out, has Richmonders digging out their library cards.

Two 2013 VCU graduates have created The People’s Library, taking books headed for the recycling bin and removing pages and shredding the paper to make new paper, then inserting it back into the old covers for the public to author.

Mark Strandquist, a VCUarts photography and film and sociology alumnus, and Courtney Bowles, a graduate with a degree in anthropology and environmental studies, first proposed the idea in hopes of securing funding for a VCUarts undergraduate research grant. The top-ranked arts and design school makes approximately $35,000 available each year for undergraduate students to conduct research and see their ideas come to life. Their innovative project was one of seven funded in 2012/13.

The pair worked with the Richmond Library, building off existing programming, and they continue to partner with library leadership to develop public art offerings. They’ve facilitated dozens of free public workshops at the library, Visual Arts Center, Neighborhood Resource Center, ART 180, Studio 23, and other locations, where hundreds of participants have shared skills, made paper, silk-screened title pages, and bound books.

“They make paper or bind books with the understanding that someone else would be doing the same for them. There’s a generative component that is really exciting,” explains Strandquist.

A spin-off, the People’s Librarians internship program, was initiated with VCU students mentoring local high schoolers. People’s Librarians learn the creative and community-based skills necessary to lead workshops and facilitate their own workshops. They silkscreen, bind books, make paper, and learn how to be community organizers.

Strandquist and Bowles feel strongly that the less tangible aspects of the project are equally important—that the process produces not only books, but a unique, sustainable, and collective social model.

This allows participants to explore and realize new ways of interacting with each other. They believe, rightly, that libraries are some of the most radical spaces in our country, in that they provide free access to information. And they are interested in pushing that further—to help challenge the form and function of a library and to transform it into a space for producing histories and exploring creative community potential.

Librarians all over the country now say they want to start their own People’s Library. One way the team is disseminating information is through an exhibition at Columbia College in Chicago, creating a visual model of the project that will include a DIY-guide for visitors.

Should you decide to check out one of the 300, 10-page blank books, you can write or draw whatever you like. There are a few prompts to get you started. Or, you can check out one or more of the already-authored books, which are part of the permanent collection at the main branch.

Richmonders can check out one of the 300 books at The People’s Library—to write or draw whatever they would like—or check out one of the already-authored books, which are part of a permanent collection.

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