History and community: Building the East Side Freedom Library, by Heidi Anderson-Ferdinand and Scott Williams

Located on the east side of Saint Paul (on the corner of Greenbrier Street and Jessamine Avenue), the East Side Freedom Library is another excellent addition to the Twin Cities’ already stellar collection of libraries with a small, focused collection. Founded by Metropolitan State University community faculty and former Macalester College labor history professor Peter Rachleff, the ESFL is reaching the middle stages of housing a collection of materials with a focus on United States labor, immigration, and race history.

Our experience with the ESFL began our senior year at Metro when Sumiko Otsubo, interim chair of the History department (and our advisor), came to us with an internship opportunity helping to build a library (almost) from the ground up. It would involve researching the history of the building as well as helping to catalog the thousands of volumes coming into the library. This was a perfect gig for us. We had both graduated from MCTC with Associate Degrees in Library Information Technology and Sumiko knew that we had a deep interest in working with archives. She put us in touch with Peter, and after one meeting at the Dancing Goat we were fired up to be a part of Peter’s exciting vision for a place for people to not only read and research but to also share ideas and organize the community.

After the city of Saint Paul moved the Arlington Hills branch of the public library to a new community center several blocks away, Peter and his partner Beth Cleary, a theater professor at Macalester, took over the old Carnegie Library building and began a library/archive/community space where people could read books from the collections of many labor and immigration history scholars, as well as gather to learn from one another’s experiences as immigrants, activists, teachers, and as members of Saint Paul’s East Side community. The library has already become a place for discussions, a meeting ground for arts, and even a space for a small community to practice weaving.


Let’s not forget that we came into this internship through Metropolitan State’s History department. Both of us have a deep love of history and being exposed to many facets of labor history through the wide variety of books that we have cataloged has been educational and, in some respects, comforting. Many of these books and topics have resonated with the political outlook we share, and encouraged a deeper study of the history of leftist politics. We are gradually building up a blog inspired by the themes we see represented in the collection and, have invited everyone volunteering at the ESFL to author a post inspired by a book, idea, or experience at the library. That has been one benefit of interning at ESFL. Another of the benefits has been the opportunity to ask Peter questions about labor history and have discussions that are almost like a condensed class-we’re continually learning something new and gaining a deeper understanding of the history or the labor movement. Peter has become a mentor and friend to both of us, offering advice, encouragement, and even providing us with letters of recommendation. As we’re both heading into a library graduate program this fall (Go Panthers!), we’ve also been grateful for the opportunity to get our hands dirty doing original and copy cataloging under the tutelage of Bruce Willms, former Head of Technical Services at the Metropolitan State University Library. The experience has been invaluable to us and has helped hone the skills that we learned in the MCTC Library Information Technology program.

The sense of community that the ESFL hopes to encourage is already thriving among the group of volunteers and interns. We not only enjoy each other’s company but we learn from each other as well. John Sielaff has shared leads to research sources from his years of experience, and we all support each other with everything from tricky cataloging dilemmas to heavy lifting. The work that all of us (interns and volunteers) have done is being celebrated by Peter and ESFL in an upcoming event on June 17 called “Delving into the Shelves: A Mid-Week Peek at the Archives”. Please feel welcome to come to this free event and share in celebrating the work of so many volunteers that have helped to get this library ready for the public.

Currently, the library is not officially “open”, but it does open for the events hosted in the building. If you have any questions about volunteering at the East Side Freedom Library or would like any information about upcoming events, please visit the library’s website, eastsidefreedomlibrary.org, or e-mail the library. And don’t forget to ‘like’ the library on Facebook to be kept up to date on events and on the continuing mission of the library.

Arlington Hills Library

About the Authors

Ferdinand_HeidiHeidi Anderson-Ferdinand is an alumna of Metro State University. She graduated with a B.A. in History in 2015. She will begin work on a Master’s degree in Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the fall.

Williams_scottScott Williams is an alumnus of Metro State University. He graduated with a B.A. in History in 2015. He will begin work on a Master’s degree in Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the fall.

2 thoughts on “History and community: Building the East Side Freedom Library, by Heidi Anderson-Ferdinand and Scott Williams

  1. Pingback: History and community: Building the East Side Freedom Library, by Heidi Anderson-Ferdinand and Scott Williams | East Side Freedom Library

  2. The East Side Freedom Library has greatly benefited from Heidi and Scott’s work. Not only have they been leaders in the cataloging work and role models for younger volunteers and interns, but they have also chosen to conduct research into the building’s history and the intellectual biographies of people who have donated collections to the ESFL. They have been helping to shape this new institution’s approach to collecting and presenting materials in a responsible fashion. They are having quite an impact.


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