Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

TinyCat’s March Library of the Month: The Feminist Library on Wheels

To read more about TinyCat’s Library of the Month feature, visit the TinyCat Post archive here.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re proud to feature The Feminist Library on Wheels, our first (free) mobile lending library to join the feature! They’re doing a great service promoting marginalized voices throughout their local communities.

Co-founder and library volunteer Dawn Finley answered my questions this month:

First, what is your library, and what is your mission—your “raison d’être”?

The Feminist Library On Wheels is a free mobile lending library of donated feminist books, founded in July 2014. Our mission is to celebrate and promote feminist works, and move them among communities to center marginalized voices and experiences. F.L.O.W. joyfully empowers people to find tools for liberation, making feminism accessible to all. We try to make feminism, books, and human-powered transportation more available and visible; all three can be tools for self-determination, greater mobility, and welcoming community. Our main branch is located at the Women’s Center for Creative Work, a nonprofit focused on supporting feminist creative communities in Los Angeles.

Tell us some interesting ways you support your community.

We reach a variety of audiences, all of whom have very different relationships to feminism, books, and mobility. A common query from people who approach us at events is something like, “I wish I knew more about feminism but I don’t know where to start.” We try to meet people where they are, and to make feminism less scary and intimidating.

Another question we’re often asked is whether we have men among our cardholders: we do, and we’re glad to offer a free and nonjudgmental resource to men who might not feel comfortable or confident seeking out feminist books elsewhere. We’re also able to provide materials that aren’t on the shelves at local public libraries, or are in such high demand at academic libraries that they become hard for students to find. Because we bring small pieces of the library to so many different settings, it’s interesting to both consider and watch how the books and their new readers connect with whatever is happening—the way someone attending an art opening discovers a collection of essays on an as-yet-unarticulated idea, or someone new to political activism comes to the Women’s March and walks away from our booth with an introduction to anarchism.

Now that we have more volunteers on duty for office hours, we’ve been able to more directly help people in the network of the Women’s Center for Creative Work, like when one of our volunteers provided unique and in-depth research advice for one of the artists-in-residence here. Each month the Women’s Center prints a bulletin and calendar, which includes both news and themed reading recommendations from F.L.O.W., connected to programming and events in our community.

That’s incredible! Speaking of recommendations, what are some of your favorite items in your collection?

We have a neat selection of items in our special collections, which includes signed copies of books authors have sent us or devoted readers have gifted, as well as several uncommonly available publications like the Woman’s Building’s Chrysalis magazine and Country Women (pictured right). We’re also lucky to have a substantial zine collection, donated by small organizations and individuals, which helps us support an expansive and generous take on the idea of authority in our collection. New visitors are often surprised and pleased to know we have a large section for young readers and teens too.

What’s a particular challenge you experience, as a small library?

Since our lending policy is intentionally very open and generous, there’s a decent percentage of the books we check out that are never going to find their way back to us (which is fine, we want the books to live long and full lives out in the world). Since we don’t have a lot of money in the bank, it’s hard to keep some of the titles we’d like to have as staples on our shelves to meet the demand we have for them from cardholders (things like bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody, Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, anything by Octavia Butler or Sandra Cisneros, and more). We often find ourselves just outside the qualifying criteria for grant funding, and we’re small enough that both writing and implementing large grants would be a major commitment of labor we can’t quite manage yet (not to mention our more ethical concerns about participating in the non-profit industrial complex).

It sounds like your library accomplishes quite a bit despite its challenges. As far as using TinyCat to help your library: what’s your favorite aspect? Anything you’d love to add?

I love it that TinyCat gives us the ability to have a “real” online catalog anyone can use to browse our collection using tools that don’t require a degree in library science to master. A lot of our volunteers are or have been librarians, or are currently in MLIS programs, but some of our volunteers don’t have any kind of professionalized training, and we like the idea of being able to readily share both the books themselves and the labor involved in running the library with people from many backgrounds, who have lots of different kinds of experience and expertise. I can’t leave out my second favorite thing: the amazingly efficient and cheerful help from staff!

I’d love it if we could search and manipulate our circulation data a little more easily (to generate a list of most-checked-out books to update our donation wishlist, for example). Since we’re mobile, a TinyCat app would also be amazing!

I hear you! Although we don’t have mobile scanning capabilities at this time, TinyCat is mobile-friendly (you’ll just need to keep a bookmark for your TinyCat in your browser, most likely). As far as circulation reports and statistics are concerned, those are high on our list of features we hope to add in the near future—we’ll be sure to let you know if/when anything changes on that front.

Want to learn more about the Feminist Library on Wheels? Follow them on Facebook and Instagram, visit their website here or on Squarespace, check out their Patreon page, and be sure to explore their library on TinyCat.

To read up on TinyCat’s previous Libraries of the Month, visit the TinyCat Post archive here.

Calling all TinyCat libraries: become TinyCat’s next Library of the Month—just send us a Tweet @TinyCat_lib or email Kristi at

Labels: libraries, Library of the Month, TinyCat


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