In the past year, Mellow Pages Library has become Bushwick’s favorite lending library. The neighborhood (and beyond!) has enjoyed reading independently published and rare digs, as well as attending literary readings strapped with beer on ice.
Last October, founders Matt Nelson and Jacob Perkins started an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign to help with the cost of existing, because as we know, rent ain’t cheap in this town and bills need to be paid. While they only made roughly 5k of their $20,000 goal, a corporation came through and offered to donate $50,000 to the library, tells us Mellow Pages Library.
The corporation was ExxonMobil.
Sound strange? That’s because it is. The whole thing is like a Dr. Seuss story, only the Bushwick edition. And it’s still unclear just why (tax deductions? making themselves look good? who knows!), ExxonMobil made the offer, but it was up to Mellow Pages to take it.
And they could have taken the money quietly, silently, discretely. There was no sponsor or advertising stipulation involved in the offer. According to Mellow Pages, ExxonMobil basically said they would just send a rent check to Mellow Pages’ landlord for the next three years. But instead of just going for it, Matt and Jacob sent this email to its members:
You, all of you, are members of our library. We’ve made this place what it is together and we want to keep it that way, always. That’s why, if we can do this sensibly, we want to explain what’s been going on over the last few weeks.
As you know, we put on a fundraiser that ended in mid November. We were shooting to secure a year of ‘stability’ at least in the sense of the rent, and we did well. Very well. But we only got about a quarter of what our goal was. A few weeks after our fundraiser came to a close, ExxonMobil approached us and offered to match each of your donations by 10, which would mean they were securing something close to 3+ years for the library. If you donated to our fundraiser, you could go ahead and multiply that number by 10. But it’s up to you.
We wouldn’t make these kinds of decisions without your support, so we’re asking, essentially: what should we do? We want to stay alive and we want a quality of life that is, well, livable for us. At this point we’re already asking ourselves what we’re going to do come February and after. There are all sorts of moral dilemmas, we know this, and some of you have expressed some concern and confusion. So we want to ask you first, before we make any kind of decisions. What should we do? We are all the people who made this place ‘be’. And we did that together. We think we can stay the same as ever, in fact make our library better. What do you guys think?
What should we do?
And the members responded. The whole thing, in fact, turned very public, with people weighing in on Fanzine and on their Facebook page. The discussion continued openly, honestly, and given the way things typically on the internet, very civilly for nine days. Until finally, today Mellow Pages announced it:
“You make us feel like we have options, which we do. Keep them coming. This is not the end. We are not being silent about this. And we sure as hell are not accepting this money.”
From the discussion Mellow Pages gathered that they don’t have to take this money. Many have confidence they’ll get the funding from elsewhere, saying just because this is the first offer, doesn’t mean it’ll be the only one. In a city where the cost of living is a constant battle, it’s hard to remember that! But as they put it, “the truth would be that we were afforded freedom at the cost of something else. Ideas. The amount of people within the community who want to figure out ways that this can be sidestepped or avoided is immense. We basically turn it inside out by saying No. Money is powerful, but mass and diverse thought is more powerful. We are doing a good job. You guys did a good job. Thank you.”