Friday, November 6, 2009

Branch updates

A lot has happened since our last blog post! After 8 weeks (including 2 rainouts), we opened for the last time at the corner of Myrtle and Clinton Avenues on October 25. Filmmaker Astra Taylor and friends hosted a meeting of the Club of Odd Volumes--people gathered to give dramatic readings from strange and obscure texts.

One of our newest members, Z, who runs a catering business, stopped by with hors d'oeuvres. So we had a party.

In our last few weeks at the parking lot, we reached a critical mass with the number of books and the arrangement of the shelves. Earlier, we'd spent a lot of time calling out to passersby (along the lines of "Hey, we're a library!"); but by mid-October we hardly had to do anything at all. People stopped, browsed, and came over to ask "What is this?" We'd see it at least a dozen times a week: someone would stumble across this unexpected use of public space and participate-- sign up for a card, grab a book, and go.

Last week, we got word that an indoor space we'd had our eye on was available. From now until January, we'll be at the storefronts at 395 Flatbush Avenue Extension on the corner of Flatbush and Dekalb. (It's above the Dekalb Avenue subway and next to the Applebee's.)

To celebrate the move to our new home, we held a small parade. (Boombox + mic and amp + vintage guitar + Branch volunteers and members = parade!) We hit all the laundromats and supermarkets on the way to Flatbush and Dekalb, and passed by Ingersoll and Whitman Houses.

More photos of the parade and the new space to come next week. In the meantime, stop by any Sunday from 1-5pm!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Week 5

It's official--we're a lending library. Hundreds of books came in this past week, mostly from folks in the neighborhood. It felt like another opening day for us.

We've now got three solid sections: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Children's. To display our collection, we ended up buying about 25 discounted milk crates from a guy in Poughkeepsie--they're structurally pretty strong, stack well, and at the end of the day the books go into storage in their "shelves."

We stamped each book with the Branch logo. (That's an illustration of George Orwell--not stamped, the actual original illustration--on the inside of 1984, which was one of the first books borrowed.) Everyone who has a free library card can check out up to two books at a time; the books are due the following Sunday.

We also started a new activity called Memory Card. We asked each person who stopped by to fill out a blue index card with a memory of the neighborhood--it could be anything they remember, or a story of something that happened to them. We then placed a copy of the card in a due-date pouch in the back of the book, along with a simple description of the project. It's hard to read in the blurry photo, but it reads: "Most Branch books come from people who live nearby. Memory Card lets your neighbors to exchange their own local stories with you."

That's the main idea: our books are coming from people all over Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, who've sent them out into the neighborhood to be picked up by whoever borrows them. Memory Card allows people's own stories to circulate anonymously.

One other highlight. We contacted Regis Pean of the local architecture firm omni/form. He'd submitted a great entry for Architecture for Humanity's Call for Ideas for Branch. (We blogged about it a few weeks ago.) Regis and his partner wanted to test their ideas for using recycled cardboard to build a hybrid shelving/table/support system for a canopy. They found a bunch of discarded boxes off the street, and within the course of the afternoon produced this:

We plan to use it for the first time this Sunday.

Lots of new program events coming up: kids storytime, author readings, a Closing Party. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Branch in the news

Well, not exactly news. But we have gotten some nice coverage from local blogs. Here's a roundup:

Clinton Hill Blog

New York Times Local


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

designing the temporary library

A few weeks ago, Architecture for Humanity New York (AFHNY) posted a Call For Ideas for Branch: how should we design a temporary, low-cost installation that would provide shelter for the library, and house shelving, tables, chairs, and space for program such as readings or performances. We got a bunch of great proposals; the three shown here demonstrated ways to use common, everyday, or local materials to create a new kind of space. Thanks to everyone who submitted ideas!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Week 3

Earlier this week, we put out a call for book donations--at our fundraiser (photos to come) and to our 250 members. People responded: we got three big boxes of books at the fundraiser, and yesterday at Branch, dozens of people from the neighborhood stopped by with bags and bags of books. One woman came by twice to donate books. Another group of families put two books on hold, a new service we hadn't even thought of until that moment.

That's been one of the fun things about the project. Everyone is improvising and getting by without a lot of resources or a set plan, but making good decisions on the fly. Seems like a fitting way to operate during a recession.

We're busy cataloging our new books this week. Sunday we'll stamp each one with the Branch logo and hopefully we'll be able to start lending books out. In the meantime, if anyone knows where we can get a lot of milk crates donated, please e-mail us!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Week 2

Another busy Sunday: more than 250 people now have signed up as Branch members and received their library cards. One woman who stopped to talk asked us what the project is all about; when we said transforming unused public space, she said "We were doing that in the 1970s!" Branch is still a work-in-progress, but we're happy to be thought of as part of that long lineage of public space projects.

More updates tomorrow...

Friday, September 11, 2009

party for Branch!

Our fundraiser is next Wednesday, Sept. 16 from 7-10pm at Melville House, a book publisher in DUMBO. (Flier courtesy of our awesome graphic design partner Rumors.) Whatever we raise from the fundraiser is our budget for the rest of the project. Come on out--we've got great raffle prizes (Tickets to BAM! Tickets to 6 Flags!! $100 gift certificates for dinner!!!), lots of booze, and a very cool space, all for only $5 cover. Perfect place to donate books, too. (See our Branch 100 Books wishlist below.) Hope to see you there.

Branch 100 Books

We're building our book collection so that we can open the lending portion of the library by Sept 27. Our members specifically recommended the 100 books and authors below because they thought other people in the neighborhood would like them. (The first 4 titles/authors got multiple votes.) If you would like to donate any of these titles, please contact us at Thanks!

  1. Thomas the Train (2)
  2. Harry Potter books (2)
  3. The Alchemist, Paolo Coelho (2)
  4. Judy Blume books (2)
  5. International policy books
  6. Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein
  7. Snow, Orhan Pamuk
  8. The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
  9. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  10. Go Dog Go!
  11. Books about: robots, treehouses, Cob building, minerals
  12. Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
  13. Time and Again, Jack Finney
  14. Curious George books
  15. Los Tres Cerditos
  16. 1984, George Orwell
  17.  Girl with a Pearl Earring
  18. Dreams of My Father, Barack Obama
  19. Horton Hears a Who, Dr. Seuss
  20. kids books about science—planets, seeds, castles, cooking
  21. Jitterbug Perfume, ss
  22. Introduction to Human Services (textbook)
  23. Bloody Jack, L.A Meyers
  24. The Seer & the Sword, Victoria Hanley
  25. Eoin Colfer books
  26. Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler
  27. The Life of Pi, Yann Martel
  28. Graphic novels: Drawn & Quarterly; Watchmen; Spiderman
  29. Roald Dahl books
  30. Sophie’s Choice, William Styron
  31. The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren
  32. Phineas & Ferb
  33. Spongebob books
  34. Walter Mosley books
  35. Foxfire, Joyce Carol Oates
  36. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, Fannie Flagg
  37. The Chosen, Chaim Potok
  38. The Emigrants, W.G. Sebald
  39. Michael Moore books
  40. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, Jeff Chang
  41. Jacqueline Woodson books
  42. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
  43. Whistle for Willy, Ezra Jack Keats
  44. Jack London books
  45. Jack Kerouac books
  46. Grapefruit, Yoko Ono
  47. Exploring the World of Lucid Dreams, xx
  48. The Coldest Winter Ever, Sister Souljah
  49. Romance novels
  50. Victoria Holt books
  51. Baby Beluga
  52. Artemis Fowl series
  53. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  54. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
  55. Chuck Klosterman books
  56. James Baldwin books
  57. Wole Soyinka books
  58. Ann Rand books
  59. Ralph Ellison books
  60. Monica Ali books
  61. design magazines
  62. Kam Khao children’s book
  63. Douglas Adams books
  64. Tom Clancy books
  65. Haruki Murakami books
  66. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  67. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
  68. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey
  69. A Short History of Women
  70. Stones from the River, Ursula Hegi
  71. Forged by Fire, Sharon Draper
  72. Tears by a Tiger
  73. Judy Blume books
  74. David Sedaris books
  75. The Gunslinger, Stephen King
  76. Sandra Boynton books
  77. magazines (New Yorker, Brain, Child)
  78. I’m Down
  79. Simple Justice
  80. The Prophet, Paulo Coelho
  81. Board Books
  82. Edwidge Danticat books
  83. The Known World, Edward P. Jones [DONATED--thank you!]
  84. Bridget Jones’s Diary
  85. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
  86. The Little Mermaid
  87. Little Red Riding Hood
  88. Native Son, Richard Wright
  89. The Magic Tree House
  90. The Diary of Anne Frank
  91. Redemption, Emma Farry
  92. Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond
  93. Nostalgia, Mircea Cartarescu
  94. Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem
  95. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff
  96. International Publics
  97. Arjun Appadurai books
  98. Howard Zinn books
  99.  Goosebumps
  100. Damien, Herman Hesse

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Branch opening day

Last January, the Brooklyn Public Library was forced to cut its Sunday hours throughout the borough. In response, a group of volunteers organized Branch, a temporary Sunday library free and open to all. We saw that people were being asked to accept budget cuts that affected all kinds of public space (libraries, parks, subways); Branch is about pooling resources to reclaim those spaces, in partnership with the people using them.

Back in August, we got an e-mail from the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership, a nonprofit community organization in Clinton Hill/Fort Greene. They were organizing a month-long arts festival called Move About Myrtle that would close 7 blocks of Myrtle Avenue to car traffic, and they wanted to know if we could open Branch for their festival. We'd been looking for a vacant storefront all summer with no luck, and it didn't seem like there was anything available on Myrtle Ave. But there was an unused Citibank parking lot on the corner of Myrtle and Clinton.

That's where we were this past Sunday, setting up our first temporary installation for Branch. At the end of the day, more than 150 people signed up as members and received Branch library cards. We'd brought a suitcase full of discarded hardcover book covers, donated by a Boston-area printer; we asked people to write down the name of a favorite book or author on the book covers, and we installed over 100 of these on the fence around the site. (Councilmember Letitia James visited and recommended Simple Justice: A History of Brown v. Board of Education and I'm Down.) We set up a Quiet Zone, covering a 10' by 10' area of asphalt with a canvas sheet, and adding lawn chairs, plants, free Sunday newspapers, and earplugs.  We had to share the space with a few parked cars, but we're told that next week we'll have the lot to ourselves.

We'll be open again this Sunday (and every Sunday until the end of November)  to offer a workshop on planning and designing a larger installation. We'll also be showing drawings and images from local architects who've reimagined the space. Contact us at if you want to volunteer or donate books.