Inside Mexico's Favorite Communist Library
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
This library offers a side of philosophy with your read for the week.
By Dora Ballew
Aeromoto has no sign. Instead, it beckons passersby with a forest of potted plants that spills onto a would-be parking place, sheltering a comfy sitting area. There, on that tiny one-lane street in the heart of Mexico City, is the 750-square-foot ground floor of a townhouse — and it’s filled with books.
Since January 2015, this privately owned public library has been creating community around artist books, independent presses and a dedication to the practice of sharing ideas. It all started when four friends — three locals and one Argentine — “wanted to dust our books off,” says Jerónimo Rüedi, one of those founding members, who also works as a painter. In the end, he, Mauricio Marcín, Macarena Hernández and Maru Calva gathered 1,000 dust-free books. The collection has since quadrupled through donations and, along with noteworthy events, has earned the little library a big reputation in the country.
Aeromoto began as “an anti-capitalist experiment” without any goal other than “to see what people would do — and to stay open for longer than two months,” says Rüedi. But that lighthearted attitude didn’t last long. “Every day,” he explains, “it becomes more important to have a space in an urban area that’s not just there to make money.” The only similar project he knows of is also in Mexico: the Institute of Graphic Arts in Oaxaca, which focuses more on art books from big publishing companies.
Books aren’t the only offering at Aeromoto. A monthly international reading series, led by American poet and translator Kit Schluter and Mexican poet and translator Tatiana Lipkes, is so popular that attendees often need to stand behind the glass storefront — or squeeze into the kid-size chairs. Those are from the children’s section, which is especially active on Wednesday afternoons when kids and their parents gather to make artistic or literary projects.
And outside individuals or organizations — from LADRÓNgalería, a local artist-run project space, to Berlin gallerist Barbara Wien — share their favorite books with the Aeromoto community through various programs: curating titles from the library shelves for a feature table, sharing their reading lists as online syllabuses and lending their own books through a “books in residence” program.
How does this yours-is-mine venture pay the rent, though? The founding members, who have other artistic or editorial jobs, fund the project out of their own pockets — with the occasional help of grants from arts organizations like Fundación Jumex and customer donations. Members also pay a nominal fee (starting at 600 pesos, or $32 a year) to borrow books, but Rüedi tells me that does almost nothing to cover their costs (joking that the late fee I’d just paid might be the largest income they’ve ever made from the lending program).
At Aeromoto, there always seems to be a couple of people talking about books in a corner, ready to welcome anyone into their conversation. After all, at the core of the library is a deep belief in the value of sharing knowledge and community. When asked about plans for the future, Rüedi pauses before recounting a recent conversation with Marcín, who said there’s no reason to conform to the capitalist logic that everything needs to grow. In other words, more is not always better — and perhaps Aeromoto is already just about the right size.
- Dora Ballew, OZY AuthorContact Dora Ballew