The BiblioUnderground is a grassroots library and social justice movement whose mission is to turn victims of dating and domestic violence (DV) into survivors by creating “Book-it 2 Freedom Kits” (Bi2FKs): prepaid burner phones, uploaded with DV and Safety Planning resources, hidden within discarded library books and distributed to local organizations that are “checking people out of bad situations.”
A Book-It to Freedom Kit (Bi2FK) includes the following: A burner phone, preloaded with minutes and programmed with Safety Planning contacts and resources. The phone, along with any relevant documentation tied to mobile account (login to add minutes in the future), plus a charger, stored inside a handcrafted, authentic discarded library book safe.

Several concepts melded together at once: a friend was trapped in an abusive relationship; I am an Adult Services Librarian, with a focus on collection development, meaning that I am one of the adult materials purchasers for the library, and we also maintain the collection by routinely discarding (aka withdrawing, deselecting, weeding) books that are MUSTIE. Usually, discarded library books are diverted to either the Friends of the Library (FOL) store and sales, local recycling programs, book non-profits, etc. While some local libraries have passed their weeded books to me, I’ve also purchased discarded library books from the FOL stores we are also able to support local library programming and funding. From my perspective, this is a win-win.

I’ve worked in libraries for over a decade, and because of my interests in collection development and readers’ advisory (matching a reader to a book), I understand (kind of?) how publishing, bookstore purchasing, and book recycling all can work together. Beyond the books, I also specialize in reference and information services, meaning I’ve had the unfortunate honor of helping patrons connect to social services, including DV/IPV resources at the Reference Desk.

The “Underground” part of BiblioUnderground was inspired by the secretive nature of the entire concept (burner phones, stash boxes). The Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman’s and the fantastical and haunting novel by the brilliant Colson Whitehead (see also The Nickel Boys) encourage me to move forward whenever I feel the sorrow, or the heaviness is too much to bear. The stories of injustice and hate in our (U.S.) history are ugly to look at, but to see it and speak truth to power is a goal we should all set for ourselves.

I also looked at my personal cultural heritage. Along with Reference work comes genealogy, which is a passionate hobby of mine. My family research is related to Lithuania, where I learned about the Knygnešiai, or the Lithuanian Book Carriers during the 1860s Russification of Tsarist Lithuania. From Michael Water’s article for Atlas Obscura:

In 1864, the Governor General of Lithuania, Mikhail Muravyov, forbade the use of Latin Lithuanian language primers—a proclamation that, two years later, led to a total ban on the Lithuanian press.

Language had long been a point of contention in Tsarist Lithuania. In the middle of the 19th century, in order to assimilate the peasant class, the Russian scholar Alexander Hilferding proposed that the Lithuanian language, which uses a Latin alphabet, be converted to a Russian Cyrillic alphabet.The Lithuanian press ban was therefore an attempt to eradicate the Lithuanian language and promote loyalty to the Russian cause. Lithuanian children were also required to attend Russian state schools, where they would learn the Cyrillic alphabet through books printed by the Russian government.

Between 1864 and 1904 book smuggling societies across Lithuania brought in and hid millions of books printed in Lithuanian. Children hid in small groups when attending their village’s Lithuanian School, conducted in secret. An estimated 30,000-40,000 books/printed materials were smuggled annually during the past years of the ban, with about a third of those ultimately confiscated by the Russians. When caught, the book smugglers were punished by fines, banishment, and exile, including deportation to Siberia.

The resistance to the Russian Empire’s press ban was a major thread in the Lithuanian National Revival, which later culminated in the February 1918 Act of Independence of Lithuania (though it did not last, a bit of back and forth there, it’s very interesting)! Clap back at book banners and stand up for justice…

Be a knygnešys: a book-smuggling freedom fighter!

Good question! The book is just an example of a creative way to hide a burner phone, and one that ties in organically my profession (libraries). The real message is a stash spot, a secret mobile phone, and a safety plan are the keys to survival victims of abuse. Part of our mission at the BiblioUnderground is to promote Safety Planning resources, and find creative solutions to expand access to services across the country.
A GoFundMe launched in February 2024 with the goal of funding Bi2FKs. I have already used money donated to the GFM to purchase Tracfones. The long game is to form a 501(c)3 in order to apply for grants and appeal directly to “pay-as-you-go” phone companies. Additionally, there are also organizations across the country who gather used cell phones for organizations similar in nature to the BiblioUnderground, but again, a charitable organization status from the IRS is required…

I am unable to accept phones as donations as this time (though I hope that changes in the future). Until then, if you’d like to donate your old cell phones, please see the NCADV’s Donate a Phone Program.
We are currently limiting our scope to library discards…so no, not that this time.

If you are in Massachusetts please consider donating your books to More Than Words.

You can donate securely online via our GoFundMe. If you prefer to contribute via check, please make the check out to: Mary Riportella*

Our mailing address is:

The BiblioUnderground c/o Mary Riportella
P.O. Box 697
Foxboro, Mass. 02035

Thank you for your support!

*Molly is a nickname for Mary – true story!

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