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What’s it Like to Volunteer at an Anarchistic Bookstore?

River H. Kero

Staff Writer

River Kero (he/him) is a queer Canadian artist who has just graduated with a BFA and lives in Vancouver, BC. His practice consists mostly of graphic novel work, scriptwriting, prose, and illustration. He lives with his younger brother, their dog Pogo, and his cat Matilda.

During the pandemic, I took up many, many hobbies. Besides going through the usual baking, gardening, and crafts, I also got back into reading in a big way. Not only that, but because I was post-grad and had free time, I decided to volunteer at my local anarchistic bookstore. I have been very lucky to have this opportunity, as I have very much enjoyed getting to know other members of the collective. I have learned a lot, radicalized my thinking, and gotten to know my community in a new way.

Of course, another bonus is getting lots of cheap and free books. Not to mention all the friends I made along the way!

Introducing Spartacus Books

Spartacus Books is a local collective in my city with a complex history. It is a nonprofit, volunteer-run bookstore that specializes in anarchism and building an activist space in our community. We carry LGBTQ+ studies and lit, Indigenous studies and lit, socialist theory, ecology, poetry, graphic novels, kids books, radical fiction, and more.

Additionally, we have a mini library, sitting areas, a free-to-use computer, and free wifi. We provide a space for local writers to sell their books and zines on consignment and provide our space for local organizing (during non-pandemic times, of course). We also carry naloxone kits, an important service in our neighbourhood.

The History of the Bookstore

Spartacus began in 1973 and is one of the oldest collective-run bookstores in North America. It was started by Roger Perkins, a member of a local university bookstore. The original name was the Spartacus Socialist Education Society. The main mandate of the collective was sharing reading materials that were otherwise hard to get. The store used to share a pool hall with the American Exiles Association.

Not long after, the store moved to its downtown location where it remained for 30 years. A fire in 2004 completely decimated the store, including all of its stock as well as the hand-written journals accounting the history of the store. Over the next two years, with the effort of collective members and generous donations, the store was able to reopen again. It has been going strong ever since.

In the last few years, the politics of the store have shifted from very male-dominated anarchism. It is now more diverse, strongly anti-capitalist, largely queer-run, and nonhierarchical.

I joined the collective when the store was at its previous location (a few blocks from my house). As of February 2022, we are now in a bigger space. The move itself was a little stressful. However, the best part of our new location is that people are pleased to see us in a more accessible spot. Additionally, the new foot traffic is nothing to sniff at.

What’s it Like Today?

As of right now, I volunteer once weekly and pick up other shifts when I am able to. On a typical shift, I typically work the cash register, receive and stock products, talk with customers, and tidy up. I work in the evenings when it’s quiet, so I typically put on relaxing music and read a book if there is nothing else to do. I can’t count the amount of graphic novels I’ve read while on shift.

The collective meets on a regular basis to discuss goings-on in the store, events, and store policy. Though we are nonhierarchical, some collective members will step up to run small projects. I have yet to run one of my own (though I hope to sometime!).

Naturally, politics and ideals are a huge crux of the collective’s priorities. We all care a great deal about ethics, and are always trying to strive to make both the store and the collective a welcoming space. It’s an ever-evolving and never-ending task. However, it is one we are glad to undertake.

The Future of Spartacus Bookstore

What is the future, anyway? That is a good question.

For now, the bookstore has only been at its new location for a month or so. We have big plans for our new space, as well as high hopes for upcoming events. We are working on signage for our new building as well as more resources for collective members. The store is in the process of expanding its collection and the shelves are full to bursting. Additionally, our waitlist for more volunteers feels like it will never end!

Spartacus Books is very proud of the work it does, and I’m delighted to be a member. I can honestly say it has been more rewarding than I expected. I am very happy to be able to give back to the community I love.