Open the doors, reclaim the commons. This was an abandoned library, now its a reclaimed one.
The building unveiled today as the Victor Martinez Community Library was part of a Carnegie Foundation endowment of four libraries given to the city of Oakland between 1916 and 1918. Oakland’s librarian at the time, Charles S. Greene, believed that the city’s people would benefit most from libraries placed within their communities.
Despite this vision, the building was one of seven branch casualties of budget cuts in the late seventies, severing vital library life-lines in poor and working communities. From the early 70s untill the late 80s, this building was a school created during the Chicano Movement called the Emiliano Zapata Street academy. Since then, the “Latin American Branch” library building located at the corner of Miller and 15th st. has mostly sat empty, despite the fact that the next nearest library is miles away, and increasingly difficult to access in a city like Oakland with an increasingly expensive transit system. With its eroding chain link fence and decaying, armored exterior, the building is much more than an eyesore; the unused, but inaccessible, space creates a life-draining dark vacuum of stability that serves at best as a convenient place for the unscrupulous to dump their old mattresses, couches and assorted garbage.
This morning, a group of activists opened this building again for use as a library. Inside is the modest seed for a library and community center—hundreds of books donated by people who envision the rebirth of local, community-owned libraries and social and political centers throughout Oakland. We’ve named the building after recently deceased author, Victor Martinez, who overcame a young life of hard agricultural work to become a successful writer in the Bay Area. His semi-autobiographical novel, Parrot in the Oven, has become a seminal work of the Latino experience. Martinez died last year at 56 of an illness caused by his work in the fields.
If you live in this community, we only ask that you think about how you can use this building. Name it anything you like. Purpose it to any goal that benefits the community—library, social or political neighborhood center. All we ask is that you consider keeping it out of the hands of a city which will only seal the fence and doors again, turning the space back into an aggregator of the city’s trash and a dark hole in the middle of an embattled community. The doors here are open. And there are many others simply waiting to be.
Update: Occupy Oakland announces a community potluck at 6pm local time and poetry/spoken word reading at 7pm at the Library tonight! Community members are requesting gardening supplies, trash pick-up, and other help. Check their Twitter account for more
Update, 8/14: Late last night, dozens of Oakland police arrived on scene, confiscated donated books, looked the gates with zip-ties, and boarded up the building to make sure it remains a blighted, decaying building. Thanks for keeping the neighborhood safe, OPD! Community members are meeting to discuss future plans.
*Update, 8/15: The Library lives on, now on the sidewalk! Though the inside remains closed, the space continues to be a much-needed community center outdoors. They have requested donations of books, especially children's books which are very popular with the neighbors. There is also a community garden and supplies would be helpful. Hooray community building! Follow them on Twitter for the latest events and ways to get involved at the Library.
The new library