BB is a love letter to the buurt bieb (from buurt (neighbourhood) and a shortening of bibliotheek (library)): the spontaneously-organized, multilingual, communal neighbourhood bookshelves of Amsterdam.
BB exists as three components: photographs, RISO prints, and a zine.
The buurt bieb is a beloved Dutch cultural object. In its most simple form, a buurt bieb is simply a bookshelf or other piece of furniture left on the street where anyone can leave a book or take a book. Sometimes other items creep in, such as toys, puzzles, or even leftover food. The contents of a buurt bieb have an incredible range from outdated tech manuals to kid’s books to romance novels. The biebs are also noticeably multilingual, with books mostly in Dutch, but one can easily also find titles in English, French, German, Italian, and occasionally other languages.
The buurt bieb is a temporary street architecture which can move and change. The simplest buurt bieb is just a crate balanced on a wall, or a spare bookshelf pulled onto the street. Some are more planned, with doors that close, ornate paint jobs, and signage. You can buy quite fancy ones online if you don’t feel like making one yourself to install in your neighbourhood. While one might expect chaos, it’s extremely rare to spot a bieb that has been taken over by junk or that is spilling onto the street. Many hands make the bieb tidy and keep it full of books and other useful things.
Of course this is not just a Dutch thing, street libraries have been spotted in numerous other cities around the globe. What is striking about the trend here is that it is such a popular thing. On a meander of a few kilometres in a residential neighbourhood, it would not be strange to come across several biebs. It also fits well with other informal sharing mechanisms, such as the kringloopwinkel, a place where a wide range of objects (clothing, furniture, appliances, etc) can be dropped off and either picked up for free or purchased for a very low price.
During the Low Carbon Design Institute talk given by Rebecca Trevalyan, she asked the audience to share what they thought of when they thought of the “sharing economy”. I reflected that it had mostly become a buzzphrase which was useful cover for socially and ethically dubious platforms. The buurt bieb and what it represents is something more pure: a simple, popular form of sharing, unfunded and unregulated by anyone in particular.
In my photographs I aim to document as many of these sharing sites as possible. I have informally recorded dozens on my smartphone, but went back and took some better photographs with my DSLR, and will continue to revisit and reshoot these sites. I then took some of the photos, rasterized them, and experimented with RISO printing different representations of the buurt bieb locations, overlaid with text. I chose RISO printing as it is one of the most environmentally responsible printing options: it is a cold process, and uses soy-based inks. It is prone to error, and not archival at all, but this also appealed to me as the buurt biebs themselves are hardly permanent structures.
Lastly I decided to treat the buurt bieb as a kind of network which I could use to broadcast on. In this way, the BB zine was conceived. Over the coming weeks I will distribute texts around environmental responsibility and notions of prosperity and abundance. These texts will be given a RISO printed cover and distributed through local buurt biebs. With several copies in circulation to unknown parties, the readers of the BB zine will form a decentralized reading group.
Dr. Michelle Kasprzak is an established contributor to the field of digital culture as an educator, curator, writer, and artist. Michelle recently completed her PhD in Digital Media within the UT Austin | Portugal CoLab, supervised by Sandra Silva (University of Porto) and Chris Csíkszentmihályi (Cornell University). Michelle currently teaches and supervises graduates in the New Frontiers minor programme at the Willem de Kooning Academy, Rotterdam.