Occupy Libraries: Guerrilla Librarianship for the People

What is Guerrilla Librarianship?

Guerrilla librarianship involves building and maintaining libraries directly where people and the need for information intersect. It can mean building them on a beach, in a bar, or at an occupation.

Guerrilla libraries exist for many reasons:

  • To meet the information needs of a hard to reach group
  • To surprise and entertain
  • To enhance people’s enjoyment of an event
  • To educate and inform as conveniently as possible
  • To offer a common space for education and intellectual engagement outside of traditional spaces like universities and public libraries

Guerrilla librarianship is well grounded in Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science:

1. Books are for use.
Books found at guerrilla libraries are particularly easy to use because the books are brought to the readers, rather than readers being expected to make the trek to the library.

2. Every reader the right book.
The key word in this law is every. Guerrilla libraries help to broaden access to the books and information by providing access to populations who might never visit a library. There are many people who, for a variety of reasons including legal status, fear of being kicked out because of how they dress or look, and uncertainly about what the library offers, won’t visit a physical library building. Guerrilla libraries offer them a welcoming alternative to meet their information needs.

3. Every book the right reader.
Authors all have something say and this law is based on the idea that each book has a reader; that someone, somewhere wants to discover what each author has to say. By providing access to a wider variety of readers, guerrilla libraries help to make the match between book and reader.

4. Save the time of the reader.
By bringing books to gatherings and other settings where people already are, guerrilla libraries facilitate a faster and more convenient experience for the reader. They offer materials directly to users at the point of need—and often at times when traditional libraries are closed for the evening. Most guerrilla libraries are also organized to facilitate easy browsing on topics of interest to the community.

5. The library is a growing organism.
Libraries do grow, but more than just growth, this law is about change. Guerrilla libraries are constantly shifting, growing, being remade, and transforming. Each day that a guerrilla library is opened it takes on a new form as new materials arrive, new labels are created for new subjects, and different librarians cycle in and out.

Most of all guerrilla librarianship is an act of resistance . . .
• Guerrilla libraries are usually a common, a place where materials are held by the community at large for the joint benefit of all members. By their very existence they reject the idea that relationships should be constructed and mediated by a market. They also provide a stark alternative to the vision presented by market theorists of a human nature based in self-interest and competition.

• Guerrilla libraries are generally underground, that is, they are created without the approval or support of the state or other authority. Instead, they provide a space for people to arrange their own relationships and provide for their own needs.

• Guerrilla libraries often provide space in their collections for ideas that are not typically well-represented in other kinds of library collections. Erotica, ‘zines, and radical political ideas all find a place on the shelves of guerrilla libraries.

• Guerrilla libraries often reject hierarchy as an organizing principle for the librarians. Rather than arrange themselves into a power structure with some sitting at the apex of a pyramid, guerrilla libraries usually have a horizontal organizational structure. They also tend to rely on consensus to make decisions.


Filed under Mandy, OccupyLibraries

18 responses to “Occupy Libraries: Guerrilla Librarianship for the People

  1. Mandy,
    I was extremely excited by this post when I first read it and shared it with others. I just returned to it again and would like to offer to print it on paper – as a thousand copies of a doublesided half-letter size free postcard through the Public Collectors initiative that I organize (www.publiccollectors.org). If you see this, please get in touch! (marc [at] publiccollectors.org) And thank you again for this provocative essay. It’s great!

  2. Pingback: Occupied? Or Censored?! Protesting Veterans & Librarians | Emerging Technologies Librarian

  3. occupymag

    Dear Occupy Librarians and Publishers,

    And anyone else who likes to read! Here is a link to a new forum that has been created for the purpose of supporting discussion between everyone in the occupy movement involved with books, magazines, newspapers and even online publications. It is a new initiative started by Occupy Magazine from Occupy Nova Scotia, in Canada. Sign in, introduce yourself, and let us know what you`re doing and what your vision is for this movement so that we can coordinate our activities and provide an antidote to the main stream propaganda machine.

    James Green


  4. Pingback: What’s Going On | Blatherskite

  5. Lisa

    free range chickens are cool, right?. free range libraries are those that you find in the wild, adapted to their environment. :)

  6. What a wonderful thing you’re doing! Thank you for your dedication and energy!

  7. Wonderful post! In addition to guerilla librarians, I have also heard of an orangutan librarian. <3 Terry Pratchett

  8. Great bog idea. Great cause.
    This stuff doesn’t get done by magic. Thank you for your time and efforts.

  9. Pingback: Des bouquins, pas des bombes : les bibliothèques du peuple « Bibliomancienne

  10. Librarians Unite!

    free range?

  11. I am so incredibly proud to be a librarian right now. You guys are AWESOME! And and inspiration.

  12. Librarians Unite!

    At the heart of every true librarian, a guerrilla librarian will be found.

    • Librarians Unite!

      whoa – I am sitting in a school district administration building and just as I finished the comment above a man with a back pack and long shaggy hair just walked by mumbling about libraries…. which reminded me that not too many people, no matter how they are dressed, ever get kicked out of public libraries.

  13. Lisa

    I always like the term “free range libraries” :)

  14. Thanks for the mention! Super honored. And Guerrilla librarians and libraries are the heart and soul of the profession!

  15. Michael

    Awesome post! I’m immediately going to stop calling us volunteer librarians, and instead use guerrilla librarians!

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