By Elise West
Decolonising trans/gender 101, by b. binaohan, is a critical book about transgender theory and discourse. It is written for Indigenous people, and people of colour, and connects gender with colonialism and privilege.
There are two libraries in Australia that will lend it to you: the University of New South Wales, and Incendium, the radical library upstairs at Hot Shots on Buckley Street, Footscray.
Hot Shots was once a pool hall and soon enough it will be demolished for development. In the meantime, it is a DIY social space hosting bands, events, fundraisers, skill shares, and – up a spooky set of stairs - the library.
When the Westsider visited recently, Alex was on duty. He is one part of a small collective that has cared for the library, through a series of upheavals, for several years.
“A lot of this collection has been around for a while, and some of the archives and zines are from the 1970s. Some of the books came from Barricade (an anarchist bookshop in Brunswick), then it moved to Hop, a social space in Reservoir. When Hop closed down, one of our collective had some of it in her own mobile library. When Hot Shots started up as a social space, we stored the books here, until we got re-energised to set up the library in August 2016.”
Radical librarianship – also called progressive, or socially responsible librarianship – is an international movement. Generally, radical librarians are concerned about intellectual freedoms, the rights to access information and express ideas, the commodification of information, and the way that libraries – by collecting some books and not others, for example – play a part in shaping society. Libraries, from this point of view, are not neutral places, and have a role to play in social change.
“We did debate about that term, ‘radical’… what we mean is we want a degree of autonomy or independence, and to work within our interests: theory, history, politics. Radical also means that we try to be critical. We don’t take one critical position over others. We don’t say, “We are anarchists”, or “We are anti-capitalists”. We want to acknowledge that there are many ways of looking at things.”
A lot of the inherited books in the library are “very leftist”, but the collective wants to build the most popular parts of the collection: “critical intersectional theory, for want of a better term.”
These are books that present a new way of thinking about how different forms of discrimination (like sexism and racism) combine and accumulate.
Books like Talkin’ Up to the White Woman by Indigenous scholar Aileen Moreton-Robinson, and binaohan’s critique of transgender discourse, are always on loan.
“There’s a lot of really good work (on intersectional theory) but it’s not in mainstream libraries. You probably won’t find much down at the Footscray library.” (He is correct. The Maribyrnong library catalogue returns one record for ‘intersectional’.)
Growing the collection to meet reader’s interests is difficult. The collective are volunteers. The library is free to join.
There are no late fees, and the library will post you a book for free if you can’t come in yourself. People are welcome to use the library for meetings and events, or just to sit and read, and that is free too.
There’s tea: free. Rent, though, is $50 a month and books are expensive.
“We fundraise. We get donations. We only buy books that we think are vital. We also try to create things – we had a writer’s residency – rather than only being a collection of things that are already written.”
What’s not in the library is also important. Old, troublesome, or discredited books are weeded out; as are common or outdated books.
Fewer, and better, books make a more purposeful library.
“Our friend who is a librarian came in and she’s like, ‘Ok, you have to have this stuff here, put these sections together, a gap between the books here, label this collection like this, get rid of all of those books over there’. We said, ‘Oh, why all these rules!’ but she was totally right. Because there’s a logical progression, things go together, and the quality of the collection is better.”
Hot Shots is slated for demolition and the library will soon need to move again.
Visit while you can, on Sundays between midday and 6pm. Enter from the alleyway off Nicholson Street, and go up the spooky stairs.
For the catalogue, information about events, library wishlist, how to donate, or to offer a new home for the library: incendiumradicallibrary.wordpress.com/