Sarah Carlberg is trying to buy the magic bus.
Her dream is to make a traveling free bookstore happen–a bookmobile–so that she and her co-conspirator Nnekay Fitzclarke can show up anywhere, anytime, and give out books when people least expect it. They want to make something fun, something that delights and disrupts people and gives them an opportunity to remember that they like to read.
And while they haven’t yet made it to “Step 9: Buy the magic bus” quite yet, they did just successfully complete “Step 6: open a free bookstore in the loft above a vintage shop, and throw a party in the street to celebrate.” That was two Sundays ago on July 13, with beer, couches, and books.
Sarah’s biblio-maniacal dream-child goes by the name of “Libros Libres Oakland,” and their success with step 5 means that there is now a living, breathing, little free bookstore on 15th Street between Harrison and Webster. You can go; the books are free. The selection is impressive and there’s a comfy chair to sit and read in.
The shop where Sarah and Nnekay have set up their bookstore is actually called “Tilde.” It’s a mixed use retail/community space, with vintage video games and clothes, and it is run by Lisa Aurora Calderon, who is also the owner of the Naming Gallery, another multi-purpose shop, part art gallery and part event space, in the same building.
This once-unlucky stretch of 15th Street has gone from boarded-up bummer to good old-fashioned freak-out in only the last six months or so, with all the energy of the new art-retail spaces creating something out of nothing.
Lisa’s project at the Naming Gallery was the first of the current businesses to open up in the building and her programming there has been instrumental in turning the block into a spot.
“I knew that once all the other galleries had moved in, I would have the momentum to take risks as I continued to do programming,” said Lisa. Hence: Libros Libres Oakland operating out of donated space at Tilde.
Prior to Step 6, Sarah and Nnekay were running their popup free bookstore events out of their trunks, and had organized a “take a book/leave a book” shelf at the Oaklandish store in the Dimond district.
The motivation has always been to create unexpected book experiences for total strangers, with a master plan to go mobile as soon as they could. Their new space at the 15th Street art-mothership has them adding a whole slew of new ideas to their project.
Right now, Sarah and her family are constructing rustic, mini-fridge-sized libraries for the streets of Oakland. There’s one in front of Tilde and another in the works that is headed to the gallery and screen-printing shop Rise Above. They’ve also placed a Kerouac-y typewriter at Tilde, outfitted with one endlessly long roll of paper that will serve as the store’s whimsical chronology of visiting people and events.
They are also hosting events at their new space, including a children’s story time and book exchange on July 27, and a new series called “Amplify,” meant to promote and expand literary and intellectual niche communities. The first Amplify event on August 17 will feature multimedia artist Hawa Arsala and the Oakland-based zine Totally Radical Muslims.
They are also hosting a party to kick off SF Zine Fest in late August, which will feature animated art by Teppei Endo and a scavenger hunt designed by Adam Davis, the dastard behind the 100 dinosaurs scavenger hunt and a familiar of the Jejune Institute.
What with the frenzy of art, parties, music, vintage and cray that was already blossoming on 15th, Libros Libres Oakland is now part of something, and they want you to be part of it too.
According to Lisa, the free bookstore has already been a success, helping expand the community of people who know about and want to be part of the goings-down on and around 15th Street.
Likewise, Libros Libres has gained some serious traction on its magic bus schemes thanks to the opportunity to host events at a regular location and get people excited about their ideas, which I guess puts them past step Step 7 and on to Step 8.