In Slab City, the public library has no due dates and no library cards. The books are organized by section, but not alphabetized. In this anarchist squatter town in California’s Sonoran Desert, established on the empty foundations of a military camp created in the 1940s, the library runs on donations and good will, and if you want to borrow a book, go ahead.
“I decided to honor the anarchist library rules,” says Cornelius Vango, an “anarchist librarian and career tramp.” “I didn’t want people to feel any reason not to take a book. A lot of people are passing through and will never be coming back.”
The current incarnation of the library came to life about four years ago, when Vango moved in. “I had been coming to Slab City for years, and I had never heard of the library,” they say. It had been founded by a woman who went by Rosalie, a librarian by trade, who died in 2003. Her grave is just outside the library. The year before Vango took on the project, a few people had tried to revive it, but the next season the library was in worse shape than before. People had taken the good books, but no one wanted to add new ones because the place wasn’t being cared for. Encouraged by others in town, Vango started rebuilding through salvage and donations. Today the library has thousands of books, divided into fiction and nonfiction sections.