A history of the Radical Librarians Collective

Disclaimer: This does not claim to be a definitive history of RLC. Many have written much more eloquently and theoretically about RLC and about radical librarianship, so this is instead an attempt at a concise history of the beginnings and development of RLC. It is a personal and therefore subjective account written by Binni Brynolf (helped by trawling through several years of emails and Twitter feeds), who despite being around since the beginning, is but one of many who have been and are still involved in RLC. Therefore we welcome comments, feedback, corrections and additions.

Early 2013

Conversations between friends in person and on Twitter over concerns about increasing commodification and marketisation in libraries, about creeping neoliberalism and managerialist attitiudes within the profession, about the decimation of the public library system, and much more, had left us feeling very much “but what can *we* do about this?”. However, finding other like-minded people began to make us feel: “but we *can* do something about this!”. People knew about and had taken part in LibraryCamp and other unconferences (= “participant-driven meetings”), and the idea began to form that a grassroots gathering would be a good start.

Seven like-minded folks (some already friends, some soon to become) began to organically yet concretely discuss organising an event. This became the first national meeting of the Radical Librarians Collective, held in Bradford in September 2013, and we called it Radical Library Camp. The name was chosen simply to give an idea of what the gathering, and us, were about i.e. an unconference format, related to libraries, with a radical perspective.

Since we weren’t all in the same place, we planned the gathering online, by email (so many emails), G**gle hangouts and a Wikispaces page.

We made a Twitter account: RLC’s first tweets on 11th July 2013 (back then, known as @RadicalLibCamp, now @radicallibs):

The hashtag for the event was #radlibcamp where you can still read tweets related to the event.

We also created the RLC Facebook page, an event page, and a somewhat neglected Tumblr blog.

However we used EventBrite for registration and we’ve done so since because of useful features such as emailing registered attendees, checking in people on the day, stats, waiting lists and so on.
RLC EventBrite profile.

Saturday 28th September 2013the very first RLC gathering
Venue: Bradford Resource Centre
Hashtag: #radlibcamp

We followed the unconference model, asking people to pitch ideas for sessions in advance and at the start the day. The suggesters would lead the sessions, but it would be a discussion, not a lecture, and no presentations were allowed! The law of two feet applied, meaning that people were free to move around between sessions.

We provided some food and drinks, and asked attendees to bring food to share. We also asked for donations to cover costs, with any leftover going towards future events.

The event was really successful and we’ve followed a similar arrangement at subsequent gatherings and meetings.




Early 2014

Since we’d enjoyed Bradford so much, we decided we needed to organise a second gathering, so we began to plan. The venue this time was the London Action Resource Centre (LARC), in keeping with the principle of using radical spaces. The same seven people plus one new brave soul formed an organising committee this time around. Since then, organising committees for events have been temporary and made up of anyone who is interested and can spare the time i.e. it isn’t always the same people and anyone is welcome to pitch in.

Three of us went to a LARC members meeting to introduce ourselves and ask if we could use the space (The London & SE RLC group, which formed after this national gathering, has been an active member of the LARC community ever since).

We set the date and set up the EventBrite page, and first invited all attendees from Bradford. We then put the word out on Twitter, Facebook and other places.

February 2014

This was a busy month! Planning was well underway for the London event in May, and it is also when we decided upon the name:

Radical Librarians Collective

This wasn’t when RLC started – as explained above, that was early 2013, if not earlier, but it was when we first put a name to the wider group/concept/future developments. For Bradford, we had chosen an event name. During planning for this London event, we did the same: Radical Librarians (in) London. But we became more and more aware of the need for a name for the whole… thing (in fact “Radical Thing” was an early suggestion). We hoped and thought that RLC would become something bigger than these two events, and so we had to decide on a name that worked.

We talked a LOT about this, and finally settled on Radical Librarians Collective for several reasons, including:

  • To keep the acronym RLC since it was beginning to be used and recognised (and we already had a logo).
  • To make clear the perspective, ethos and methods of the group, by deliberately using the words “radical” and “collective”.
  • We knew that “Librarians” wasn’t perfect since we meant to include all library workers and interested comrades, but we decided we would include a description to make this clear.

We sent out a primer to registered attendees of the London event to give an idea of what we meant by “radical”, including a link to Colin Ward’s “Anarchism as a theory of organisation”,  Steven Sherman’s  “Another Structure of Knowledge Is Possible: The Social Forum Process and Academia” and a link to the new (recycled from Ok Café) safer spaces policy, which is now found on the website and read aloud at the beginning of each meeting and gathering.

This was also when the Twitter name was changed to @radicallibs.

March 2014

The RLC website was created on WordPress, (later moved to this domain and hosted on Reclaim Hosting).

Saturday 10th May 2014the second RLC gathering in London
Twitter hashtag #radliblon
Venue: LARC in Whitechapel

The day was run along similar lines to Bradford, but this time we provided a vegan lunch rather than a bring-and-share. We again asked for donations, and this plus the money remaining from the Bradford event covered food, refreshments and a donation to LARC for use of the venue.





Other projects this year:

November 2014 – the JISCMail mailing list was set up, now with over 200 subscribers.



At the end of the London gathering, it was decided that we would have a third gathering. An organising committee was set up and took care of the details. It took a while to find a suitable venue, which led to the creation of the list of radical spaces here on this website (please let us know of additional places).

Saturday 4th September 2015RLC gathering in Huddersfield
Venue: Brian Jackson House (part of Yorkshire Children’s Centre)
Hashtag #radlib15 (also #radicalroadtrip)

By now, we’d begun to be more consistent when thinking up the event hashtag…




Other projects this year:



Saturday 9th July 2016RLC gathering in Brighton
Venue: Cowley Club
Hashtag: #radlib16

Lunch was provided by the Cowley Club kitchen. Donations covered lunch and venue hire. Discussions at this meeting led to actions such as https://rlc.radicallibrarianship.org/2017/03/08/follow-up-to-barriers-to-engagement/ and https://rlc.radicallibrarianship.org/2017/02/15/radical-librarianship-in-daily-practice/.




Other projects this year:

Working Committees
In order to facilitate organisation of various administrative tasks, to increase transparency and to encourage participation, two committees were formed:

  • Admin committee formed to oversee organisation (basically an informal arrangement made formal).
  • Finance committee formed and a bank account opened to facilitate money matters.


Local groups

Local RLC groups began to form after the 2014 London gathering. For example, the London & South East group had its first meeting at LARC on Saturday 25th October. We held monthly meetings at LARC on either Wednesday evenings or Saturday afternoons to allow more people to attend, and we also held some meetings at the Cowley Club in Brighton. In 2017, we’ll be moving to one-off, themed events, such as cryptoparties.

Examples of London & SE activities:

  • LARC Library work – reclassifying and sorting the collections, cataloguing in LibraryThing, and improving the physical space by cleaning and decorating.
  • Anarchist Bookfair – held a meeting about RLC in 2015.
  • Cryptoparties – discussing digital privacy and key signing is a standing item on the agenda.
  • Presentation at ORG day on hacking in 2016 on web surveillance project – which led to ORG participation at the 2016 Brighton RLC gathering and hopefully further collaboration in the future.

Other local groups have met in Oxford, Manchester, Yorkshire and Ireland.


Tangent: Tech for planning and communication

As we learnt more about and ran our own workshops on digital privacy, we moved away from G**gle and similar and now use e.g. Riseup for email, Sandstorm for collaborative documents, Loomio for decision making, Framadate for date planning, and so on.