Not long ago, Annie Johnson was sitting in her Oronoco backyard, reading and thinking about her family’s actions since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May.

They’d attended protests and marches. Had some tough conversations. Celebrated Juneteenth, something that Johnson, a white woman, wanted to be more conscious of in the future.

“In May or early June, everyone was on fire,” she said. “But that can fade away as we transfer back into our own, individual, protected worlds.”

“I slowly started seeing some of the focus of our thoughts fading away,” she added.. She didn’t want to let it go completely. “I know we can’t protest every day, we can’t protest every weekend, but I wanted to be active in a more sustainable way.”

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Educating yourself and others, she knew, is “powerful work.” Because Johnson’s husband is Black and her family is biracial, white families she knew had solicited their advice and instruction for the past few months. Most of the time, she told them to read up on anti-racism work. Several of her go-to recommendations were sold out at bookstores and had long hold times at local libraries.

Being able to provide the books she recommended would be a step better, wouldn’t it?

Dana Berger and Annie Johnson pooled their home libraries and created a Facebook group for the Antiracist Lending Library. Contributed photo
Dana Berger and Annie Johnson pooled their home libraries and created a Facebook group for the Antiracist Lending Library. Contributed photo

A community library

Johnson had all of the pieces of a lending library in place — a drop box on her lawn, a small stash of anti-racist novels, and a sister, Dana Berger, with a similar literary leaning. Within a day, Berger had cataloged their shared stash of books — about 80 titles in all. They reached out to Facebook friends for more copies they could borrow or buy.

The Antiracist Lending Library stocks more academic and adult texts, but the majority of it is geared toward teens and young adults — which adults can also read and enjoy, Berger said.

Much of the interest has been in children’s books, she said, because it’s helpful to show young people different perspectives and heroes in stories that don’t center around racism.

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Johnson hopes adults will use the library to consciously engage with anti-racism novels, though, and consider the ways it affects society that they may not understand.

Maybe it’s a starting point toward sociopolitical action for those people, she said, or maybe they’ve been doing the work for a while and want to take it further.

“We want to grow a group of people who are committed to anti-racism,” she said.

The Johnson family reads books available from the antiracist lending library in Oronoco. Contributed photo
The Johnson family reads books available from the antiracist lending library in Oronoco. Contributed photo

How to join

The Antiracist Lending Library is currently a private group on Facebook, where the sisters post their new books and encourage conversations about diversity in literature.

The setup is a spin on a Little Free Library, with Johnson and Berger working from their stock of vetted, diverse books.

Facebook users can request to join the group, and once approved, use a Signup Genius form to indicate that they want a particular book. Johnson and Berger email or text back when the book is in their lending library box, and the reader then has 72 hours to pick it up, and 30 days to return it.

The sisters also created a wish list on Bookshop.org, which they hope interested parties will consider donating to the cause. As the library’s readership grows, they may implement a waiting list or holds.

The key, Johnson said, has been in finding a form of activism they could sustain and stick with.

“Maybe it will snowball,” she said.

How to help