Friday, February 6, 2015

My Visit to Bitch Community Lending Library

As a longtime reader of Bitch Magazine, I knew the publication had a lending library at its headquarters in Portland, Oregon. This week, I checked it out.
Bitch Community Lending Library.
Photo by the author of this blog

The Portland chapter of Radical Reference helped establish Bitch Community Lending Library, which opened on July 30, 2009. At that time, the lending library had "800+ books on feminist theory, media studies, sociology, gender and queer studies, pop culture, and more," according to an online announcement made by Reading Frenzy, an "Independent Press Emporium" that is also based in Portland. Today, according to the lending library's web page, it "holds over 2,500 books, zines, magazines, and DVDs that explore feminism, media studies, pop culture, queer studies, race studies, sex and sexuality, body image, and much more."
Approaching Bitch Media HQ, where the lending library is located.
Photo by the author of this blog

The lending library is located at 4930 NE 29th Avenue, just off of NE Alberta Street, in a happening section of North Portland. (If you're using public transit to get to the lending library, the number 72 bus will drop you off at NE Alberta Street and NE 27th Avenue, just a couple short blocks away.) Turning the corner onto NE 29th Avenue, I saw the building that houses Bitch Media, which publishes Bitch Magazine and operates the lending library, looks pretty much like any other residence on the block. What distinguishes it, however, is the "Bitch Media" sign posted above the entrance. The front entrance was not locked, and there was no other measure of security, so I was able to easily walk in off the street.
Heading upstairs toward Bitch Community Lending Library on the 2nd Floor.
Photo by the author of this blog

Entering 4930 NE 29th Avenue, I was faced with a somewhat steep, carpeted stairwell that went straight to the second floor of the building. At the top of the stairs, I found myself in the open doorway of the Bitch Community Lending Library. The main, front room of the lending library made me think of a waiting room of a private practice - calm and quiet, with everything tidied and in its proper place, and with soft, slightly used furniture to sit on - but much cozier, brighter, and airier. Dim sunlight filled the room, around which were vintage touches, like antique lamps and retro-patterned pillows, and green, leafy, flourishing plants. All in all, the lending library was very welcoming, despite no one immediately coming out to greet me or otherwise see who was poking around.
A selection of books at Bitch Community Lending Library.
Photo by the author of this blog

I was pleased to see an impressive range of books, meticulously labeled and arranged on the shelves, allowing them to be located easily. The shelves themselves were clearly labeled, making obvious the genre of books that you're browsing. The genres of books available for lending include Feminist Activism, Feminist Theory, Cultural Criticism, Reproductive Rights, and Parenting. At the end of one of the bookshelves is a large plastic bin labeled "FREE." Opening it, I saw back issues of magazines such as Utne Reader, Mother Jones, Curve, and The Advocate; there were also zines, comics, books, DVDs, and CDs, all in good condition. Rooting through this box, I made out like a bandit.
Personal zines ("perzines") among the zines on display at the lending library.
Photo by the author of this blog

Looking at the zines available for lending, I saw a wide variety as well. Displayed on a revolving rack by the entrance of the library, the zines are quite diverse, covering a range of interests. There are zines focusing on health issues, as well as personal zines ("perzines"), which are zines that relate personal stories. Queer zines were on display, as were zines on parenting. Bitch Community Lending Library accepts donations of "zines made by and for feminist thinkers, activists, and fans, though they don't have to be 'grrrl zines' per se. Whether your zines were Xeroxed back in 1992 or just last month, we'd love to have them."
Bitch Community Lending Library is a donation site for Books to Patients PDX.
Photo by the author of this blog

In addition to items that you can take home with you, Bitch Community Lending Library has bins in which you can drop stuff off. Specifically, there is a plastic crate into which you can place books and other reading materials that will be donated to Books to Patients PDX. Books to Patients PDX is "a volunteer-run organization in Portland, Oregon, that provides donations of reading materials to people living with mental health issues in institutionalized settings because a book, at the right moment, can change a life - and everyone deserves access to books," states the organization in a flier posted above the donation crate. For more on Books to Patients PDX, whether you want additional information or would like to host or coordinate a donation side, contact the organization at

Bitch Community Lending Library is open Monday through Friday, from 9am to 5pm. Visits to the lending library are by appointment only; appointments can be made online, but it is still wise to call ahead (503-282-5699) in order to confirm your appointment before you arrive. If you wish to check out items from the lending library, all you need is a photo ID, which gets you ongoing membership. Members of Bitch Community Lending Library can take out five items at time over the course of a month. If you're curious about what the lending library holds, you can browse the collection's online catalog that is hosted by