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The Alternative Library sees success catering to Bellingham's subdued strangeness

Membership is $5 per month until you've contributed $100, then you're a member for life. // Photo by Zoe Deal

By Alexia Suarez

David Zhang, mortgage holder for the historical Karate Church, chief technology officer and  Alternative Library volunteer recalls a time in the library when a couple stopped by in search for a book on demonic possession.

Zhang described the couple as intense as they approached in search of more information on demon possession and exorcisms. He directed the couple to the book, Entity Possessions: Freeing the Body of Negative Influences. He believes this interaction is something that perfectly describes what the Alternative Library is all about.

“If Bellingham is the city of subdued excitement, we are subdued strangeness,” Zhang said.

The Alternative Library houses various genres ranging from spirituality and anarchy to banned books. // Photo by Zoe Deal

The volunteer-run, member owned non-profit is providing alternative forms of education through a library of their own. The Alternative Library provides eclectic genres of books, classes run by anyone willing to teach and various creative opportunities for artists in the Bellingham area.

Walking through the heavy front door one is greeted by thousands of books, whose genres vary from spirituality and anarchy to books typically banned by public institutions. The books line the walls from floor to ceiling and volunteer-made rolling book shelves litter the small space. Open walls are covered in art and mirrors.  The space’s relaxing lighting is home-y,  while also provoking creativity and imagination.

The Alternative Library was started by Future T. Man roughly 10 years ago as a small collection of graphic novels lent and sold to the community out of his house on Billy Frank Jr. Street. As time passed, his collection grew, forcing the library to move throughout the city of Bellingham to accommodate their expanding library.

From the Sushi House to Make.Shift to a location on Railroad Avenue, the Alternative Library has had many homes. In January of 2017, the library finally settled in the place it now calls home; a 127-year-old historical building known locally as the Karate Church, located on the corner of E Maple and High Streets.

The passion within its volunteers on alternative education tangibility for a community makes the library a pillar of resources for alternative Bellingham.

Volunteer Meg Duke said the Alternative Library values its community and its people, “We are a co-operative. Our members make us.”

Duke volunteers her time at the library and the Bellingham Food Bank because she feels her work is bettering her community and connecting it as well.

“I don’t believe in the fact that we promote greed over need. I don’t believe in the fact that we value profit over people. And I don’t like the fact neighbors who live literally next to each other are strangers towards one another,” Duke said.

Her love for her community and her desire for a more cohesive and collaborative community has brought her to spend her volunteering hours at the Alternative Library.

“A space that promotes non-mainstream value systems is an incredible resource for a community that lacks that.” she said.

Her belief that time is the most valuable thing a person can have pushes Duke to spend her time volunteering for the library.

Tatum Kenn from Mount Vernon spends her time commuting to be a member of this unique library.

“This fosters a community of those who want to learn what the government doesn’t want to teach us,” Kenn said.

Her love for alternative learning has taught her so much about herself, the world around her and different perspectives she never would have learned without the desire to educate herself.

The Alternative Library is always accepting open minded and driven community members to be a part of the upkeep and expansion of this ever-growing library through volunteer work. Membership to be a part of the Alternative Library family is $5 a month until one reaches $100 - then you’re a member for life. As of now the library is around 2,000 members and growing.

“We want to be a side you’ve never even heard of in a society with only two sides,” Zhang said.

He said this library is for everyone. Especially those who are seeking a new perspective or a new take on information presented. The Alternative Library is a place where creativity and knowledge expansion is encouraged, fostered, cultivated  and challenged.

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