The Bookmobile Rides Again

They're taking zines to the street, on the road, and to the people. Literally. Traveling in a 1959 Airstream Overlander and hauling an eclectic collection of artists books and zines, the Bookmobile Collective has pulled over and opened its exhibit on wheels to passerbys in places throughout Canada and the US.

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by Jeffrey Yamaguchi

August.18th.2002

Called "project mobilivre-Bookmobile project," the traveling exhibition of independent media aims to not only get zines and other types of DIY publishing projects into the hands of people who have never seen them before, but also break down the geographic barriers that are often inherent in independently distributed projects.

"Artist books, zines and independent publications tend to stay within the communities which make them," said Bookmobile Collective member Ginger Brooks Takahashi. "We're interested in getting these works out to other people. By taking this work on the road, we're also engaging geographically separate communities of people making things with each other. For example, someone who makes zines in Toronto will be able to see work that is made by people in other areas."

The expedition, which embarked on its journey in July 2001, has pulled over and pit-stopped at community centers, schools, festivals, artist run centers, libraries, bookstores, prisons, and remote regions where independent publications are hard to come by. In addition to the exhibit, collective members facilitate bookbinding and zine-making workshops, discussions, artists talks, video screenings, and related educational forums.

But being out on the road and traveling from place to place opens up the exhibition's participants and visitors to unique experiences with unplanned expressions of community. Takahashi says this was her most memorable time during the Bookmobile's first tour in 2001: "Being in Oberlin, Ohio -- a small rural community where a liberal arts college exists -- on September 11, and sitting around outside the Bookmobile, gathered around a portable radio propped up on a milk crate, listening to the news all day long."

Such a day had nothing to do with zines, and was more about the camaraderie fostered by the basic concept of an open exhibit. On a tragic day like September 11, people needed to be together, to talk, to listen to the news as a group. By fostering community, the Bookmobile was able to serve its purpose on a higher level on a day when that purpose truly needed to be served.

Of course on most days, it's the mobile gallery of zines -- creatively and artistically displayed in an interior designed by the Freecell Collective -- that people are talking about when the Bookmobile arrives. No doubt this Bookmobile makes people remember the bookmobiles of their youth, the ones that showed up once a month in front of the school and made the concept of the library seem so cool.

Back in my Bookmobile days I was into the Judy Blume books -- Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and then Superfudge -- so even though those books were in my tiny school library AND I owned my own copies when the Bookmobile came, I was looking for Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Superfudge. And maybe books on King Tutankhamun and the pyramids. Imagine if a Bookmobile had arrived packed with zines and DIY projects, hand-made publications that I had never heard of or seen before. I'm not sure that my fourth grade mind would have been triggered into thinking about the importance of independent media in a conglomeratized world, but it certainly would have accelerated my actions with DIY projects. I probably would have started making zines in high school, instead of publishing my first zines at the tail end of college.

According to Takahashi, the Bookmobile project is financed in several different ways: personal donations, artists fees paid by hosting venues, Bookmobile souvenirs sold on tour, two small grants, and through contributions from collective members. There are about nine people principally involved in the project -- three who grew up in Ottawa and went to university together in Montreal.

Listening to Destiny's Child, Fugazi, Pinback, Michael Jackson, Black Star, and The Beatnuts as they make their way from stop to stop, Takahashi isn't sure just how many miles they've put on the vintage Airstream, though she knows it's been quite a few: "Oh man ... I don't know the exact statistic." Too many to count. That's a good thing.

The Bookmobile is currently zigzagging its way through the US and Canada, and will be on the road until November 1. Visit www.mobilivre.org to view the full itinerary and see if the Bookmobile will be making a pit stop in your city.


Jeffrey Yamaguchi runs www.bookmouth.com, www.52projects.com, and workingfortheman.com. He just self-published his second book, Get The Word Out.



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