BB is a love letter to the buurt bieb (roughly: neighbourhood library): the spontaneously-organized, multilingual, communal neighbourhood bookshelves of Amsterdam (and elsewhere). BB exists as three components: photographs, RISO prints, and a zine. 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 The contents of a buurt bieb have an incredible range from outdated tech manuals to kid’s books to romance novels.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 buurt bieb is a temporary street architecture which can move and change. The simplest one 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. This is not just an Amsterdam thing, street libraries have been spotted in numerous other cities around the globe. What is striking about the trend here is its popularity. On a walk of a few kilometres in a residential neighbourhood, it would not be strange to come across several biebs. This phenomenon also fits well with other informal sharing mechanisms, such as the kringloopwinkel and weggeefwinkel.
I made this piece during my fellowship at the Low Carbon Design Institute in Summer 2021. In a talk given to Fellows 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 buzz phrase 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 informally recorded dozens on my smartphone, later took some better photographs with my DSLR, and will continue to revisit and reshoot these sites. I then rasterized some of the photos, and experimented with RISO printing different representations of the buurt bieb locations, overlaid with text. I chose RISO printing as it is a hybrid digital-analogue process, and 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 several months I distributed texts on environmental responsibility and notions of prosperity in a RISO printed cover through local buurt biebs. With several copies in circulation to unknown parties, the readers of the BB zine become a decentralized reading group.