Radically engaged institution East Side Freedom Library celebrates second year


Two years ago, founders of St. Paul’s East Side Freedom Library founders Beth Cleary and Peter Rachleff opened the doors to an institution that is changing what a library can be and can do for community.

“We’re not looking at a library that is something you would probably see in your basic St. Paul public library system,” said Cynthia Fraction, founding board member with ESFL. “But something that says, ‘Here you can speak this language, here you can eat this type of food.’ They’re engaging community relationships so that it’s serving people and not just being a building that sits there.”

Having opened in June 2014, ESFL is a center focused on labor, immigration, Asian and African American social movements and histories and more. Not only does the library collection offer hundreds of materials on these topics, but the 100-year-old library building itself is a gathering space for movements to come together and build. From hosting unions to weaving circles, ESFL is a reflection of the hard working and culturally diverse neighborhood it calls home.

“The library is needed. And so you can see that when people come into that library, they know, ‘Hey, my people are here.’ But it’s not just my people, it’s different people. And we’re all part of a globalized environment of education and celebration of life,” Fraction said.