A librarian in Massachusetts is using library books to help domestic violence victims.
Molly Riportella, head of adult services librarian at Westwood (Mass.) Public Library, started BiblioUnderground in 2020 to get burner phones and other resources to people struggling to get out of violent relationships. She said the idea for the organization came when she helped a colleague escape an abusive marriage by giving them an extra cell phone she had pre-programmed with numbers to social services resources and a new email address.
For Riportella, the work is very personal.
“I’ve been there,” Riportella, who was in a violent relationship at one point, said in a press release. “That’s how I knew my co-worker needed a phone to get out.”
Riportella said she's distributed three phones so far based on word-of-mouth alone. To hide the phones from abusers while also making them accessible when needed, the phones are hidden in a discarded library book that has been hollowed-out for the phone to rest in.
“I take a discarded library book and use a stamp to cover the library stamp, so it can’t be traced back,” Riportella said. “I take off the book jacket and very gently scrape the library bar code off. Then I go through the book and take out about 12 to 15 pages using a quilting cutter. I do it bit by bit.”
BiblioUnderground plans to expand its services in the future by offering “Book-it 2 Freedom Kits” for anyone in need. The kits will consist of a pre-paid burner phone pre-programmed with numbers to support services and a new email address, a hollowed-out book to house the phone, a phone charging cable, a safety plan worksheet, an emergency whistle, a welcome letter, and a match (to allow recipients to burn the welcome letter after reading).
Riportella hopes volunteer librarians across the country can help distribute the kits to support and advocacy groups, health and human service departments, OBGYNs, medical facilities, and police departments.
“Librarians already have the knowledge and multiple infrastructures to craft and send out Bi2FKs,” Riportella said. “But without an independent organization to connect librarians, provide funding and streamline supplies, (like) phones, postage, et cetera, the network is offline.”
A GoFundMe is currently open to help fund the kits. Learn more it and BiblioUnderground here.