A historic Carnegie Library building located on St. Paul’s East Side, formerly the Arlington Hills Public Library, now is bustling with new life as a center for labor and immigrant history and social justice activism.
The East Side Freedom Library, located at 1105 Greenbrier St., is celebrating its second anniversary with a showcase of local students’ History Day Projects on Thursday, June 2, from 5 to 8 p.m. The program is free and open to all.
Since opening, the library has grown to become both a research library and a community hub.
Peter Rachleff, a retired Macalester College history professor, is one of the co-founders.
“I don’t think anybody is combining the attention we’re paying to both resources and programs,” Rachleff said. “We’re trying to do both.”
Rachleff’s extensive collection of materials in labor, immigration and African American history seeded the library’s collection, which already has grown to more than 15,000 titles. The library’s diverse holdings have grown from the donated collections of local writers, musicians, educators and activists as well as immigrant groups.
“Bringing in the Hmong Archives was a huge step for us,” Rachleff noted.
“We see it all connected,” Rachleff said. “It’s connected by the importance of people being able to tell their own stories and not being captive to the stories the dominant culture tells about them.”
Bobby Kasper, president of the Saint Paul Regional Labor Federation, has called the East Side Freedom Library “a labor hall for the community.”
The library has become a go-to venue for labor events.
”We’re getting significant support from some of the unions,” Rachleff said.
Last year, the library hosted a national concert tour celebrating the legacy of union organizer and songwriter Joe Hill.
The monthly “Labor Movie Night” series now alternates between the United Labor Centre in Minneapolis and the East Side Freedom Library.
The library also has been a venue for programs in the “Untold Stories” labor history series sponsored by the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library.
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota has used the library for organizing meetings for home care workers while SEIU Local 284 asked to use the building’s boiler for a technicians’ training class.
The East Side Freedom Library also has found a role as a resource for junior high and senior high students participating in the national History Day competition.
Students research and create films, performances, display boards, websites. “I think History Day is the coolest thing in the world,” Rachleff said. Kids are drawn to issues of social justice and the stories of labor struggles, he noted.