Illustrations by Molly Oleson

The tree in front of Francis Baker’s Bryant Street apartment was once a dumping ground for junk. Anything from building materials to trash to old mattresses would appear, and then disappear with a new owner.

Baker, a photographer and sculptor, saw potential for a more positive exchange. “I thought, people are already sharing stuff in this little area,” he says, sitting in the sunny backyard of his home.

What started as a craft project with his seven-year-old son Leo has become the Bryant Street Free Library, a book share made of 100 percent recycled materials that was installed in front of the tree at the beginning of August.

“I’ve been into this idea of reusing, recycling and finding things and repurposing them,” Baker says. “And trying not to let things go to the landfill.”

The concept is simple: Take a book, give a book. Baker and his son restock the library when the collection dwindles, but others also contribute. “I’m certainly not the only one doing it,” Baker says, noting that the identities of those adding and removing books remain a mystery to him.

“It took off right away,” he says, snapping his fingers as if to say, just like that.

The artist believes that the project works particularly well because of its location next to the Bryant and 20th streets bus stop. Curious commuters are drawn to the library, if only to look and photograph it. Baker hopes that more people will begin to contribute to it.

“It’s really tough, no matter how old you are, to give something away,” Baker says. But the lesson that the library teaches his son is that sharing with others can be an instant reward in itself. After Leo learns to read a book, he donates it to the lending library.

“As you make community, the community embraces it and gets stronger,” Baker says. “I feel like an ounce of effort does a pound of good.”

It also appears to be an antidote to urban blight. Baker hasn’t noticed any junk around the tree, or any graffiti on the tree or the project. He feels that making something “aesthetically cool” in a spot that was once mistreated has turned a little sliver of Bryant Street into respected geography. “I hope it will last and be much bigger than me,” he says.

Baker also hopes that his project will create more of a neighborhood and not just “a conglomeration of people living here.”

“I hope that by building a little community and elevating the space that was once a trash heap,” he says, “That the space itself will be better, and that it will raise the community a little higher.”

Mission Local was curious about how the community interacts with the lending library. The sketches in the gallery above document observations and changes at the library over the course of a day.

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Molly is a multimedia journalist, editor, photographer and illustrator. She has contributed to dozens of publications, and most recently, served as Editor of the Pacific Sun. To view more of her work, visit

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