Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library in Oakland

It is hard to see the sign for the Niebyl-Proctor Library from the street, and even if you did see it you probably wouldn’t find anything remarkable about this pleasant-looking wooden house on the 6500 block of Telegraph Avenue. But the plain two-story façade conceals an unusual interior, and the sign omits one important word in the building’s title: Marxist.

Bob Patenaude, 58, is the director — and for now the only employee — of the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library. He says the decision to exclude the notorious denomination from the sign came simply from a need to shorten the library’s title, not as a way to avoid controversy.

“It wasn’t an ideological or political choice,” said Patenaude on a recent afternoon, as he sat in the library’s office with a large painting of Marx to his left and a bottle of orange soviet soda decorated with a red flag to his right. In the 12 years he has upheld dialectical materialism in this corner of north Oakland, Patenaude says, he can’t recall a single unpleasant incident with his pro-capitalist neighbors. He attributes this to the East Bay’s accepting political climate. “We just fit in,” he said. “I mean, if we had opened up in Oklahoma City, I think there would be some problems.”

Continue reading: Waiting for the revolution in the company of a good book