If you haven’t guessed yet, this is a website that loves books and in particular the homes that books live in. There is no better embodiment of this principle than The Sparrows Nest, an anarchist library that is actually situated in a house in St. Anne’s. It’s a volunteer-run organisation that has never received funding and recently celebrated their fifth birthday. You can visit on a Tuesday between 11 and 2 but they are flexible and can open up on request.
They specialise in anarchist and anti-authoritarian writings and history as well as local working class struggles that go beyond this particular niche of the radical spectrum. Most of their stock is through donations but they do buy books in as well. They are also home to some of the Ray Gosling archives, thereby ensuring his legacy remains in the community he fought so hard to protect from city planners in the 1960s. The large majority of the Ray Gosling Archives are held at Nottingham Trent University under the careful eye of Professor John Goodridge, local activist Colin Haynes and Ray’s sister Juliet. But more of this in a future post as I’m on a working group to help digitise these archives to make them more accessible.
Although the Sparrow’s Nest has all of the classic books, pamphlets and journals that you would expect to find in such a specialist archive, what separates them from, say, a university library, is that they have twenty meters of shelf space dedicated to anarchism. As a lot of this has been donated this includes unique correspondence, such as minutes from meetings, flyers, etc which helps document the progress of ideas and thoughts in a way that academic publications can’t.
For the last eighteen months they’ve been digitising the archives to make it more accessible but are limited by the equipment they have at their disposal. They have considered applying for funding from places such as the National Lottery but this, of course, throws up ethical problems as to the suitability of such organisations in line with their own principles: “Funding anti-capitalist political activities by exploiting other peoples gambling habits is an ethical dilemma” said one of the volunteers who requested to remain anonymous “but it would be nice to update our digital library and make it easier for people to find information. This kind of cost is something that could only be funded through a large grant of some sort or other.”
In an ideal world I would love to see our local universities and the county council help to fund such initiatives as their archives are invaluable and are often used by PhD students after obscure journals. Financial support would enable them to raise awareness about their collection which would be most beneficial for academics.
A good example of this would be a collection of 1,100 documents about a London based group of Syndicalists from 1940-60s. This is a period often neglected as it is the void between two key events in anarchist studies: The Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and the student uprisings in France in 1968. The collection includes correspondence between members around the country and across the globe and is the kind of material that nowadays would be sent in an email that would be deleted once read. It’s an incredible archive and the letters discuss issues such as anti-war demonstrations that were going off in their area during the Cuban missile crisis and the resistance the civil rights movements encountered by the local Klu Klux Klan.
But the thing I love most about this library is the name. It mocks the Nottingham Arrow, described by one of the volunteers as “the city council’s propaganda rack”.
To arrange a visit contact the volunteers via their website
To donate books please send to Box AF c/o The Sumac Centre, 245 Gladstone Street, Forest Fields, Nottingham, NG7 6HX, England UK.
- The Fire Next Time (afed.org.uk)
- The Anarchist Federation in Nottingham (nottsblackarrow.wordpress.com)
- No Borders Nottingham (nobordersnottingham.org.uk)
- Sumac Centre (blogs.xtreamlab.net/sumac)
- People’s Histreh (peopleshistreh.wordpress.com)
- Autonomous Nottingham and Nottingham Anarchist Black Cross (network23.org)
- Nottingham City Council LOLS (ncclols.blogspot.co.uk)
- Nottingham Branch of Industrial Workers of the World Union (nottsiww.wordpress.com)
- 24 Library-Centric Websites we Love (mentalfloss.com)
- The Black Dossier and the Invisible Library (strangehistory.net)