The Sparrows’ Nest is a self-styled ‘Centre for Anarchist Culture and Education’ in St. Ann’s, Nottingham. It was set up in Autumn 2008 by the Anarchist Federation’s Nottingham group. We wanted to make contemporary, classical and international Anarchist ideas accessible to an even wider number of people in a town already vibrant with anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist culture.
Anarchism has a very literate tradition. Its early history features working class autodidacts, radical educators, migrants composing powerful polemics in a second language, and people learning how to write and produce literature in order to get their ideas across. We have always had to do this for ourselves, and against the odds. In Nottingham we wanted to celebrate this culture and make more of it available to people in a spirit of self-activity and mutual aid. So, we pooled our book collections, spare-time and resources to make a space where people can read and discuss anarchist ideas with both people firmly committed to them and people encountering them for the first time. We got the idea from Anarchists from southern Europe and South America who we met through the International of Anarchist Federations. Hearing about their own info-shops, education projects and libraries was inspiring enough, but the developing economic crisis made it seem more important than ever that people should encounter anarchist ideas freely and easily. The printed word still has an important role to play in bringing anarchist ideas to a wider audience.
As well as approx. 1200 old and new books and pamphlets we have archives including thousands of papers and periodicals, many going back into the 1980s and beyond, and materials internal to the Anarchist Communist movement internationally. Most aren’t even available on-line, and many documents are unique. Some of them we are scanning and making available electronically via our website, starting with a 1964 edition of Anarchy featuring Nottingham. But when you look at a publication such as Bristol’s Stuff It, the artefact is important in itself. How can a paper of which every page was hand silk-screened in lurid coloured ink, left over from other print jobs, be scanned in and viewed on a computer screen, without losing a sense of what it was all about? We also have large holdings from the dynamic DIY Anarcho-Punk fanzine culture of the 1980s, international materials – including some probably not available anywhere else in Britain and huge amounts in Spanish – Anarchist art and fiction, and self-help guides and publications like Counter Information that influenced the nature of working-class resistance as well as reflecting it. We also have extensive runs of the current British and Irish Anarchist press.
Then there is our collection of materials produced specifically by Anarchists in Nottingham in the 1980s and 90s; Nottingham Anarchist News, Spot the Bomb, Police News and The Nottingham Agitator, for example. Material on local groups throughout Britain is an area we really want to specialise in. We already have quite a few relating to the Sheffield scene.
Finally, Anarchism in Nottinghamshire is just one aspect of a long tradition of working class struggle and self-activity in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire area. We’ve got materials from all sorts of workplace and community struggles, and the Peace and Troops Out movements, all donated by Nottingham activists. One of these is an ex-miner. He promised us a copy of the paper he and his NUM mates used to produce, The Gedling Standard. He said they used to give it out “so the bosses didn’t know; underground”. We thought he meant in secret, but when we saw it was covered in coal dust!
We think The Sparrows’ Nest is a significant resource for the movement. We hope to attract activists from all over who want to read more about Anarchists and Anarchism to come and use it. It has great potential for academic research too. We know for a fact that most of our back issues and DIY publications aren’t available anywhere else publically (although we’re pretty picky about who gets to see material internal to the movement).
The space is also being used to host talks, discussions and other events on topics related to Anarchist literature. We’ve had good feedback already from the movement generally. Freedom Bookshop very generously donated of dozens of titles. The wider Anarchist community of Nottingham has also been really enthusiastic about the project and several non-AFers are heavily involved. We’ve had far more visitors so far than we actually expected. But this brings us to an interesting issue. We are based in a house and it isn’t at all obvious that it’s really a library. We haven’t publicised the address very widely at all. Most people find out about us via word-of-mouth, Indymedia, which covered our opening event, or by looking for Anarchist activity in Nottingham on the web. People are given the address as and when they get in touch. What are we afraid of? Well Nottingham AF doesn’t exactly have a cosy relationship with the City Council or the cops, but at some point they’ll just have to deal with our existence. Nothing illegal goes on here and nothing seditious gets planned (we have proper insurance and everything!). But the Nottinghamshire fash scene being what it is, some parties may be looking to take revenge on whoever they can after the BNP national contacts list was published.
But we do need a controlled way to open up more and more publically. There’s an alternative education project starting up in Nottingham (see elsewhere on Autonomous Nottingham). By running some sessions here, e.g. on Anarchism itself, contemporary and Historical, or radical history more generally, we hope to attract some of those same autodidactic workers and (increasingly) other sorts of people we started the article by talking about, making it easy for them to read about Anarchism in its own words and get involved in the struggle.
Almost all of the books and pamphlets are inventoried now and can be found on the on-line catalogue via our (temporary) website: www.thesparrowsnest.org.uk (at the time of writing, the latest version of this still needs uploading, but you’ll get the general idea). We are still cataloguing like mad the thousands of papers and other items we have acquired, so contact us if there’s something you are specifically interested in. Join our (low-traffic) mailing list. Best of all, come and see us! Mail us at email@example.com (we can also provide accommodation, for a small donation to the library).
We have no funding and want to improve our collection, keep up to date with new titles and in particular acquire second copies of key texts so that we can lend them out to people (at present, everything has to be read at the library itself). So please consider donating books and other materials by and about Anarchists to us and, if you can, please take out a supporter’s subscription to the library (the amount is up to you). And when you publish something, why not send us a couple of copies so that it can be even more widely read.
The Sparrows’ Nest and Nottingham Anarchist Federation.
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