"With rebellion, awareness is born." ~ Albert Camus
I first heard of the Occupy Wall Street library on NPR a few weeks ago when they interviewed a school teacher from Wisconsin who was driving to NY on her weekends to help set it up. It struck me at first as whimsical. A library in a park? Out in the open? In a tent? What if it rains? Who keeps track of the books? Who catalogues them? Come on....how could this possibly work?
I've since found out that there is a long history of libraries springing up around progressive movements. The intuition of the Occupy Movement to build libraries resonates with the history of progressive change. It's a democratic impulse that has taken off like wildfire, and libraries have sprung up at Occupy sites around the country, driven by volunteers donating books and cataloging them.
These libraries all have one thing in common: their generous lending policy. You can return a book or you can pass it on to somebody else to read, whatever you see fit, and they are available to anyone.
I would love to donate a bunch of books to the Occupy library. What good are they doing on my shelf collecting dust?
I would love to get one back some day with an OWS stamp on the inside cover. What could be more exciting than to be part of this historic movement that is not going away anytime soon?
As of a month ago, the Occupy Wall Street Library had 5000 books catalogued on Library Thing. But at 2:30 am on November 15th the library was destroyed by the NYPD under the direction of the mayor of New York. Police in riot gear raided the park, seized everything in it and threw it all into garbage trucks. According to the Village Voice, librarians, like the other occupiers, were given only 15 minutes notice before the eviction, and so didn't have time to remove the library.
A college professor who was working at the site as a volunteer when the raid went down reported in The Nation that there were many, many college textbooks destroyed.
"For many," the Village Voice goes on to say, "the People's Library was one of the most remarkable institutions to arise from the occupation of Zuccotti Park. Its generous lending policy and catholic scope -- George Orwell shared space with Ayn Rand and J.K. Rowling -- made it one of the most tangible symbols of the sort of collaborative, open-source movement the occupiers were trying to build."
Of the 5000 donated books that made up the people's library, only about 1,000 were recovered and most of those were unsalvagable.
The good news is that they opened back up the next day with a donation of one. They have since regrouped and are now housed in three mobile units staffed by librarians, which they can take anywhere they want.
What would you think if you ever came across a used book that had a OWS stamp on the inside cover?