How Quirky is Berkeley? Rogue little free libraries

1411 Ada Street. Photo: John Storey
1411 Ada Street. Photo: John Storey

Little Free Library is an international organization that started in 2009.  The deal is – you buy a little structure, pre-made or to be assembled, to serve as a free book exchange.  By the summer of 2016, there were 40,000 official Little Free Libraries around the world.  The organization’s map of Berkeley shows 34, but there are almost certainly more than that. Colleen Neff has led a Berkeley Path Wanderers walking tour of Little Free Libraries, and she gets weekly reports of new installations.

The idea of free exchange resonates in Berkeley. Free boxes were commong in the late 1960s and 1970s, and several remain. We like the idea of the Little Free Library project, but we are Berkeley and we are not always quick to embrace the official. In this vein, in addition to the official, catalogued and chartered Little Free Libraries around town, we have a growing number of unofficial — I like to call them rogue — free book exchanges:

1609 Curtis Street. Photo: John Storey
1609 Curtis Street. Photo: John Storey
1062 Spruce Street. Photo: John Storey
1062 Spruce Street. Photo: John Storey
1114 Oxford Street. Photo: John Storey
1114 Oxford Street. Photo: John Storey
Marin Circle on Los Angeles Avenue. Photo: John Storey
Marin Circle on Los Angeles Avenue. Photo: John Storey
1401 Berkeley Way. Photo: John Storey
1401 Berkeley Way. Photo: John Storey
976 Oxford Street. Photo: John Storey
976 Oxford Street. Photo: John Storey
1314 Harmon Street. Photo: John Storey
1314 Harmon Street. Photo: John Storey

A final example is from Marion Fredman’s found-object art installation along Oakridge Path behind her home:

22 Tunnel Road. Photo: john Storey
22 Tunnel Road. Photo: john Storey

There are many communities where there are no Little Free Libraries, no free book exchanges.  In Berkeley, we are gifted not only with a gaggle of official Little Free Libraries, registered and indexed and Official in All Ways, but with these rogues, did-it-themselves, we-don’t-need-no-piece-of-paper or charter or listing, unofficial exchanges.  Because we’re Berkeley!


Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,000 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means.

For a fuller and more idiosyncratic version of this post, see Quirky Berkeley.