Radical, alternative and community libraries are crucial for promoting inclusivity, empowerment, and education outside of traditional frameworks. By prioritizing marginalized voices and offering resources that challenge dominant narratives, these libraries provide spaces where individuals can explore their identities, histories, and experiences while fostering critical thinking and activism.
Serving as gathering places for like-minded individuals, they build networks of support and contribute to the creation of vibrant communities. Through their efforts, these libraries resist hegemonic power structures, offer alternative perspectives, and inspire social and political change. Here is a list of radical, alternative and community libraries in Australia and around the world.
Radical, alternative and community libraries are important because they provide access to knowledge, promote inclusivity and empowerment, foster critical thinking and activism, build community, and challenge dominant narratives. They serve as vital resources for social and political change.
For a list of archives in Australia and around the world see Documenting social change in Australia: A list of archives at your fingertips.
If you have any suggestions to add to the list please let us know. Thank you to the Commons volunteers for help in collating this list.
Libraries in Australia
This list is organised alphabetically.
Another World Library, Melbourne/Naarm
Another World Library is a portable library and project for other-worldly dreaming, critical utopias, and imagining socially and ecologically just futures. The library is focused on theory, poetry, and fiction that opens up possibilities for radical change. AW has previously been in residence at Bus projects, Watch This Space Gallery, and Arts Gen, and has run multiple workshop series on utopian and speculative theory and fiction. Learn more about Another World Library.
Community Reading Room
The Community Reading Room aspires to be a life-affirming space for BIPOC communities to encounter texts that acknowledge, validate and place their lived experience and creative practice at the centre, rather than the margin. It was founded in 2013 by Fijian-Australian artist and educator, Torika Bolatagici and grew out of a community need for a collection and space for First Nations, Black, global Indigenous artists of colour to connect with each other and an archive of books and ephemera that privileged the creative practices of their kin, ancestors and peers.
Đất Nước Library, Melbourne/Naarm
The Đất Nước Library is a community-curated library collection of texts from Vietnam and the diaspora. Our aim is to encourage collective literacy, develop shared archives and create connection across the Vietnamese experience.
Incendium Radical Library IRL, Melbourne/Naarm
Incendium Radical Library & Press is a community library and publisher founded in 2016 to bring together a collection of leftist literature and marginalised voices to promote social change and collective learning. The library runs writers’ residencies, poetry events, writing workshops, and publishes emerging writers. In 2018, Incendium joined with IRL Infoshop, a community space focused on building community, connection, and resistance.
Jessie Street National Womens’ Library, Sydney/Warrane
Jessie Street National Women’s Library is a unique specialist library dedicated to the preservation of Australian women’s work, words and history. The Library was established in 1989 and is named after Jessie Street, a lifelong campaigner for women’s rights, the peace movement and the elimination of discrimination against Aboriginal people. The Library’s charter is to collect, preserve and promote knowledge and understanding of the cultural heritage of all women; social justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; international friendship and peace. The idea of establishing a women’s library was born of frustration with the difficulty of finding and accessing material on women in Australia
Melbourne Art Library, Melbourne/Naarm
Melbourne Art Library MAL is a not-for-profit lending library that collects specialised art and design texts. Our reading room in the Testing Grounds Emporium in Naarm/Melbourne’s CBD is open four days a week. Melbourne Art Library was established in 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, as a uniquely independent art library in Australia. The library’s development – which may be equated to a kind of practice-lead-research exploring what a library is. MAL is a volunteer-run organisation. They are run by a small core team and an expanded group of Library Assistants and Library Technicians.
Murmur Library, Melbourne/Naarm
The Murmur Library is dedicated to highlighting and housing Black, Indigenous and other culturally diverse voices in all forms of literature including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature, zines and magazines.
The Women’s Library, Sydney/Warrane
The Women’s Library in Newtown, Sydney/Warrane is a community-based library and a hub of lesbian and feminist activity. The collection of The Women’s Library in Sydney is predominantly made up of books donated by supporters, publishers, and authors. See timeline and video to learn more about how the library was set up.
Libraries around the World
This list is organised by geographic regions.
- Capetown Women’s Library, Capetown, South Africa
A library where women can come not only to read but to hold small workshops, book launches, poetry readings or meetings. “To take the concept of sharing stories, spoken or in print, into other communities around Cape Town. We call it “sistering”, a female form of “partnering”.
- Chimurenga Library, Zimbabwe
The Chimurenga Library is an ongoing invention into knowledge production and the archive that seeks to re-imagine the library as a laboratory for extended curiosity, new adventures, critical thinking, daydreaming, socio-political involvement, partying and random perusal. Curated by Chimurenga, it offers an opportunity to investigate the library and the archive as conceptual and physical spaces in which memories are preserved and history decided, and to reactivate them.
- Lavender Library, California, USA – LGBTQ+ library, archive, and community space
The Lavender Library is a volunteer-run LGBTQ+ library, archive, and community space in Sacramento with queer books, films, archives, zines, and more.
- The Free Women’s Black Library, New York City, USA
The Free Black Women’s Library is a social art project that features a collection of over five thousand books written by Black women and Black non-binary writers, a virtual Reading Club, a weekly book swap, and a wide array of free public programs that happen in our Reading Room. The Reading Room is a literary hub, social site, Black Feminist archive, and community care space located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
- Anchor Archive Zine Library, Halifax, Canada
The Anchor Archive Zine Library is a collectively-run, non-profit zine library with a collection of over 5000 zines from Halifax, Nova Scotia and around the world.
- The Women’s Library and the Information Center Foundation in Istanbul, Turkey
The Women’s Library and Information Centre Foundation (WLICF) is the first and only women-centred library and archive in Turkey.
- ECHO for Refugees Mobile Library, Greece (Books for refugees) and read more about ECHO, Athens, Greece
The ECHO mobile library currently travels around 250km to 11 locations in and around Athens each week, offering access to free reading material for the 115,000 refugees currently in Greece.
- The Women’s Library, London, England
The Women’s Library is the oldest and largest library in Britain devoted to the history of women’s campaigning and activism. It was officially inaugurated as the Library of the London Society for Women’s Service in 1926 and it had two aims: to preserve the history of the women’s suffrage movement and to provide a resource for newly-enfranchised women to take their part in public life.
- Kate Sharpley Library, London, England
The Kate Sharpley Library exists to preserve and promote anarchist history. We preserve the output of the anarchist movement, mainly in the form of books, pamphlets, newspaper, leaflets and manuscripts but also badges, recordings, photographs etc. We also have the work of historians and other writers on the anarchist movement.
- May Day Rooms, London, England
MayDay Rooms is an archive, resource space and safe haven for social movements, experimental and marginal cultures and their histories. Our building in the centre of London contains an archive of historical material linked to social struggles, resistance campaigns, experimental culture, and the expression of marginalised and oppressed groups.
- Marx Memorial Library, London, England
Library, archive and education charity on Marxism, socialism and the working class movement.
- The Feminist Library, Beirut, Lebanon
The Feminist Library in Beirut sees books and reading as tools for survival and liberation for women and oppressed individuals, or those who do not feel a sense of belonging to their community. They offer collections in Arabic, French and English, as well as Knowledge Workshops that promote more access to feminist knowledge as a way to improve women’s rights.
- Samoa House Library
Samoa House Library is an independent art library and alternative education platform, located in the Samoa House building at 283 Karangahape Road, Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland. It is an artist-run and community-grown space that first emerged in response to the closures of specialist libraries at The University of Auckland.
- Network of Radical Libraries and Archives (NORLA)
NORLA is the Network of Radical Libraries and Archives. We are made up of independent archives from around the UK that hold material relating the radical histories of struggle, emancipation and liberation movements, and counter culture.
- List of Women’s Libraries Worldwide
- List of Zine Libraries around the World
Fugitive libraries are an ‘undercommons,’ a place allowing for ‘ongoing experiment’ with informal ways of learning together, of building futures together. Source
The Commons Social Change Library
Australian based with an international scope, The Commons Social Change Library exists to make social movements smarter and stronger. The Commons is an online library for the change makers of the world and for those interested in activism, advocacy and justice. They support the power and effectiveness of progressive social change efforts by collecting and sharing resources from Australia and around the world.
- Radical Collections Re-examining the roots of collections, practices and information professions, 2018, Senate House Book (Book) – Creative Commons
Do archivists ‘curate’ history? And to what extent are our librarians the gatekeepers of knowledge? Libraries and archives have a long and rich history of compiling ‘radical collections’- from Klanwatch Project in the States to the R. D. Laing Archive in Glasgow, but a re-examination of the information professions and all aspects of managing those collections is long overdue. This new book shines a light on pressing topical issues within library and information services (LIS)- to encompass selection, appraisal and accession, through to organisation and classification, and including promotion and use. Will libraries survive as victims of neoliberal marketization? Do we have a responsibility to collect and document ‘white hate’ in the era of Trump? And how can a predominantly white (96.7%) LIS workforce effectively collect and tell POC histories?
- Fugitive Libraries, Places Journal, 2019
Public libraries may be a democratic commons, but they have often excluded Black voices and perspectives. Communities have responded by creating their own independent, itinerant libraries — spaces for learning together and building futures together
- Occupy Wall Street Library, New York, 2011
- Freedom Libraries: The Untold Story of Libraries for African Americans in the South, Mike Selby, 2019 (Book)
- “To Teach Empathy and Fight Racism:” Exploring the Necessity of Fugitive Libraries in Black Canadian Contexts, 2022
- Mechanics Institutes of Australia – Libraries
- Amplify Bookstore – Australia’s only online bookstore specialising in BIPOC books
- BIPOC Book Publishers – Annotated listing of presses publishing books for, by and about black, indigenous and people of color
- Bolerium Books – Radical bookshop that carries rare titles on American social movements & political memorabilia
- No Name Bookclub – Black-Owned & POC-Owned Bookstores Across the U.S. and World