la biblioteca in 2012. photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Steve Rhodes

Biblioteca Popular Victor Martinez [ Victor Martinez People's Library ] is a community-run library located in the Oak Tree neighborhood at 1449 Miller Ave (corner of Miller Ave. and E. 15th St.).

The library is on the site of the Miller Avenue Library Branch building that was closed in the 1970s due to budget cuts. In the Mid 1970's the Building Became the Emiliano Zapata Street Academy High school ant alternative High school for Black and Latino Youth in Oakland Street Academy moved to a new Location in 1989 Living the Building Vacant.

On Aug. 13, 2012, the library was re-opened (officially?) and started again as the Biblioteca Popular Victor Martinez. After an eviction from the building itself, the organizers have re-opened in the yard of the library building and are in the process of petitioning the city for the opportunity to be able to operate from within the library building. They also have a community garden.

In 2015 the Biblioteca received the Best Use of an Abandoned Building award from the East Bay Express.

History and Rationale

From the statement by the Library's founders:

"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. 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."1

Facilities and Resources

  • Library
    • Children's, young adult, and adult books
    • Books in Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese
  • Garden
  • Biblioteca Mobil - mobile book cart
  • Netbook computer lab

Contact Information

1449 Miller Ave., Oakland, CA

Open community meetings every Saturday at 4PM at 1449 Miller Ave.a

Biblioteca Popular Victor Martinez Online Newsletter

Biblioteca Popular Victor Martinez


Photos & Videos

la biblioteca in 2012. photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Steve RhodesCC SA-BY Our OaklandCC SA-BY Our Oakland
CC SA-BY Our Oakland

Here's a documentary about the biblioteca (released in 2013):

News Coverage