Monthly Archives: October 2011

Occupy Libraries: Guerrilla Librarianship for the People

What is Guerrilla Librarianship?

Guerrilla librarianship involves building and maintaining libraries directly where people and the need for information intersect. It can mean building them on a beach, in a bar, or at an occupation.

Guerrilla libraries exist for many reasons:

  • To meet the information needs of a hard to reach group
  • To surprise and entertain
  • To enhance people’s enjoyment of an event
  • To educate and inform as conveniently as possible
  • To offer a common space for education and intellectual engagement outside of traditional spaces like universities and public libraries

Guerrilla librarianship is well grounded in Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science:

1. Books are for use.
Books found at guerrilla libraries are particularly easy to use because the books are brought to the readers, rather than readers being expected to make the trek to the library.

2. Every reader the right book.
The key word in this law is every. Guerrilla libraries help to broaden access to the books and information by providing access to populations who might never visit a library. There are many people who, for a variety of reasons including legal status, fear of being kicked out because of how they dress or look, and uncertainly about what the library offers, won’t visit a physical library building. Guerrilla libraries offer them a welcoming alternative to meet their information needs.

3. Every book the right reader.
Authors all have something say and this law is based on the idea that each book has a reader; that someone, somewhere wants to discover what each author has to say. By providing access to a wider variety of readers, guerrilla libraries help to make the match between book and reader.

4. Save the time of the reader.
By bringing books to gatherings and other settings where people already are, guerrilla libraries facilitate a faster and more convenient experience for the reader. They offer materials directly to users at the point of need—and often at times when traditional libraries are closed for the evening. Most guerrilla libraries are also organized to facilitate easy browsing on topics of interest to the community.

5. The library is a growing organism.
Libraries do grow, but more than just growth, this law is about change. Guerrilla libraries are constantly shifting, growing, being remade, and transforming. Each day that a guerrilla library is opened it takes on a new form as new materials arrive, new labels are created for new subjects, and different librarians cycle in and out.

Most of all guerrilla librarianship is an act of resistance . . .
• Guerrilla libraries are usually a common, a place where materials are held by the community at large for the joint benefit of all members. By their very existence they reject the idea that relationships should be constructed and mediated by a market. They also provide a stark alternative to the vision presented by market theorists of a human nature based in self-interest and competition.

• Guerrilla libraries are generally underground, that is, they are created without the approval or support of the state or other authority. Instead, they provide a space for people to arrange their own relationships and provide for their own needs.

• Guerrilla libraries often provide space in their collections for ideas that are not typically well-represented in other kinds of library collections. Erotica, ‘zines, and radical political ideas all find a place on the shelves of guerrilla libraries.

• Guerrilla libraries often reject hierarchy as an organizing principle for the librarians. Rather than arrange themselves into a power structure with some sitting at the apex of a pyramid, guerrilla libraries usually have a horizontal organizational structure. They also tend to rely on consensus to make decisions.

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Filed under Mandy, OccupyLibraries

URGENT: People’s Library Under Siege

UPDATE 5:12pm: Latest update is that the police came to remove our tent, folks resisted, but the police insisted. The books are fine, the library’s fine. Thank you all for your support and solidarity!

URGENT CALL FOR ACTION.

We’re getting reports that The People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street is under siege. We have so far been told that police are moving in to sieze the books. Update: We’re being told that the tents protecting our books are down, but they have not yet seized books.

We’ll update as we get more information. In the meantime, please call:

311, if you’re in New York City

If you’re outside NYC, please call the NYPD Switchboard at: 646-610-5000

And the Mayor’s office at: 212-NEW-YORK (212-639-9675)

Ask that the Mayor and NYPD respect the free and open community library in Zucotti park and that they do not attempt to take the books from the people or interfere in the operation of the library in any way, including removal of our tents and tarps. Please remind them that any action they take against the library puts the cultural and historical artifacts contained in the library at risk.

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Occupied Wall Street Journal: Online

The Occupied Wall Street Journal, the un-official newspaper of Occupy Wall Street, has launched their online version of the journal at occupiedmedia.com. All issues are available for download and all current articles can be read on the site. We are also archiving the issues here, you can always find them by looking at posts under the OWS Journal category.

Head on over and read their latest article about us, “The People’s Library: Occupy Your Mind.”

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Filed under Announcements, Media, Michael, OWS Journal

OWS Journal (Issue #3)

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Filed under Media, Michael, OWS Journal

I would prefer not to.

Last weekend I scored a tote bag from Melville House Books emblazoned with the words, “I would prefer not to,” the famous refrain from Melville’s 1853 story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener: a Story of Wall-Street.” I am loath to festoon myself with slogans, but I considered carrying that bag around the Zuccotti Park in lieu of a placard. I wouldn’t be the first: a week earlier, librarian Zach wore a t-shirt with that same phrase while guarding what remained—a table, a bulletin board, and one book—of the Occupy Wall Street Library. (Occupation librarians moved the books temporarily because of fears that Brookfield Properties’ planned cleaning of the park would lead to an eviction. They brought them back later that morning after Brookfield announced that they had postponed the cleaning indefinitely.)

(Zach the librarian, with a few boxes of books coming back into the park)

Of course, both the tote bag and the t-shirt function on one level as indicators of cultural with-it-ness to be recognized by others in the know. And for those who haven’t read Melville’s story—I imagine—the phrase might seem to signal a hip, ironic resistance; at the same time, the privileged idea that one’s refusal could be a “preference.”

A week later, another occupation librarian—Bill, a literature professor who is spending his sabbatical living in the park—read a selection from “Bartleby” as part of the new “Silent Readings” series at the OWS Library. Speaking into a microphone that broadcasted to a nearby crowd of headphone-wearing listeners, Bill recited the tale of the inscrutable Bartleby, who answers his employer’s almost every request with that same reply: “I would prefer not to.” When Bill finished reading, he remarked to me, “I forgot to say that the story is set on Wall Street.” Yes, I answered, and isn’t it such a fitting tale for this encampment!?

I knew the story, but to be honest I had paid intermittent attention to his reading. I was engaged in the task of entering ISBNs into the OWS Library’s online catalog—an endless task, considering the number of donations that come in each day—and so the lines of Melville’s story came and went in my consciousness, and I picked up only the most quotable lines. I “sparkled” (the silent approval gesture of consensus process) when Bill read the narrator’s (Bartleby’s employer’s) frustrated line, “Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance.” And that refrain—“I would prefer not to”—evoked, to my mind, something similar to the combination of exactitude and vagueness that has made the phrase “Occupy Wall Street” a catalyst for affiliation and critique.

Ultimately, however, “I would prefer not to” makes a poor slogan, as do most lines plucked from their context. (One might say that nothing so aggravates a literary scholar like myself as a quote taken out of context.) So, a few days later, I sat down and re-read the story in full. I came away from my reading more convinced that “Bartleby” is a powerful narrative for the moment, but not one that speaks in the language of pithy placards or in the constraints of the miniature life stories on “We Are the 99 Percent”—as truly powerful as those placards and stories may be. (And part of me would love to see the satirical “I am the 99 percent” tumblr post that features Bartleby. Maybe one already exists?) Neither does “Bartleby” offer precise historical knowledge about the inequities that Wall Street represented in the 1850s, though there are some choice passages made even more resonant by the story’s Wall Street setting, like the one in which the narrator describes himself as “one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquility of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men’s bonds and mortgages and title-deeds.” Lines like that make me want to give Melville a high-five. But what is most powerful about “Bartleby” is the way it challenges the assumptions that make possible the exercise of power.

The story is narrated by Bartleby’s employer, that “unambitious lawyer,” who has recently given up his private practice in exchange for the office of Master of Chancery (“It was not a very arduous office, but very pleasantly remunerative.”) Facing mounting paperwork, the narrator (whose name we never learn) hires Bartleby as an additional scrivener, or law-copyist. From the start, Bartleby works steadily and silently, unlike the other two scriveners, nicknamed Turkey and Nippers, whose drinking and indigestion affect their performance throughout the day. However, when the narrator asks Bartleby to check a document for errors—a routine, expected task—the latter makes his first refusal. In fact, any time his employer asks him to do something, he offers the same response: “I would prefer not to.” It is not that Bartleby doesn’t work; in fact, in the first part of the story he works at a steady pace, not even going out for lunch. He simply does not take direction.

Bartleby’s refusals overturn the hierarchy of the office, revealing it to be based upon assumptions of command and consent. The employer assumes that his commands will be executed, but Bartleby interrupts his “natural expectancy of instant compliance” not through open rebellion but through “passive resistance.” (“I burned to be rebelled against,” admits the employer.) Yet is not just the employer who holds assumptions about compliance. The other two scriveners also take for granted that they must do what they are told. Nippers, for example, constantly adjusts his desk, which never suits him properly, grumbles about Bartleby, and probably wants “to be rid of a scrivener’s table altogether.” Yet Nippers complies, carrying out each of his employer’s commands, thus upholding the office hierarchy. He and Turkey even reassure the employer when the latter starts to doubt his own sense of justice and reason regarding Bartleby:

 “Turkey,” said I, “what do you think of this? Am I not right?” 

“With submission, sir,” said Turkey, with his blandest tone, “I think that you are.” 

“Nippers,” said I, “what do you think of it?” 

“I think I should kick him out of the office.”

With their responses, Turkey and Nippers maintain the hierarchy by telling him what he wants to hear, but they fail to reassure the employer, who admits to being “unmanned” by Bartleby. Bartleby has shattered the hierarchy, or at least the idea that the hierarchy is truth and not a social fact constructed by belief and practice.

The employer’s first response to this upheaval is to appeal to Bartleby’s reason, but these overtures fail in the face of his “unprecedented and violently unreasonable” behavior. (One of the story’s most famous bits of dialogue is when Bartleby responds to the employer’s request to “be a little reasonable” and help to examine papers with the line, “At present I would prefer not to be a little reasonable.”) Later, upon discovering that Bartleby had been sleeping in the office—making unexpectedly domestic use of the nondomestic space of Wall Street— the employer is moved to pity:

Upon more closely examining the place, I surmised that for an indefinite period Bartleby must have ate, dressed, and slept in my office, and that too without plate, mirror, or bed. […] Yet, thought I, it is evident enough that Bartleby has been making his home here, keeping bachelor’s hall all by himself. Immediately then the thought came sweeping across me, What miserable friendlessness and loneliness are here revealed! His poverty is great; but his solitude, how horrible! Think of it. Of a Sunday, Wall-street is deserted as Petra; and every night of every day it is an emptiness. This building too, which of week-days hums with industry and life, at nightfall echoes with sheer vacancy, and all through Sunday is forlorn. And here Bartleby makes his home; sole spectator of a solitude which he has seen all populous—a sort of innocent and transformed Marius brooding among the ruins of Carthage!

Suddenly Bartleby becomes an object of pity, not just because of his seeming poverty but also because of his lonely purview of the deserted Wall Street of Sunday afternoon (which, interestingly, the employer compares to ruins). If he can’t relate to Bartleby as an employee, he will relate to him in terms of his humanity. “The bond of a common humanity now drew me irresistibly to gloom. A fraternal melancholy!”

Yet pity fails also, in part because the employer can’t quite imagine Bartleby as human (early in his acquaintance with Bartleby, the employer doubts that there is “any thing ordinarily human about him”), and also because his pity can’t seem to account for Bartleby’s “forlornness”:

My first emotions had been those of pure melancholy and sincerest pity; but just in proportion as the forlornness of Bartleby grew and grew to my imagination, did that same melancholy merge into fear, that pity into repulsion. So true it is, and so terrible too, that up to a certain point the thought or sight of misery enlists our best affections; but, in certain special cases, beyond that point it does not.

Bartleby is either too miserable or too inscrutable to be cared about or helped. When Bartleby stops working entirely (ostensibly because of eye trouble, but the cause is not quite clear), the employer endeavors to rid himself of this now-unproductive worker, to return him to his “native land” (a line which, among other moments in the story, opens up an anti-colonial reading) or at least get him out of the Chancery office. However, despite giving Bartleby instructions to vacate—and congratulating himself on his superb management skills—he finds him still at the office the next morning; in fact, Bartleby bars the employer’s own entry:

I was fumbling under the door mat for the key, which Bartleby was to have left there for me, when accidentally my knee knocked against a panel, producing a summoning sound, and in response a voice came to me from within—“Not yet; I am occupied.” 

It was Bartleby.

That’s right, Bartleby was inside, occupying the office.

“Bartleby” is an imperfect analogy for Occupy Wall Street, but it nevertheless resonates because it is about how a refusal can open up new ways of seeing. Bartleby’s refusal—and his occupation of the Chancery office—punctures the “doctrine of assumptions” that naturalized the power relations governing the employer’s world. Suddenly, the employee is commanding the employer, and the space of the office has become a home. Likewise, today’s encampment has transformed Zuccotti Park into both a forum for employees rather than employers (though I am reticent to draw such hard-and-fast distinctions), as well as a domestic space that is home for scores of occupiers. But it is not only the occupiers of that park who have punctured our “doctrine of assumptions”; it also the supporters of this and other encampments. A Times magazine poll reporting widespread public approval of OWS; police in Albany defying the governor and mayor by refusing to arrest protestors; or the over 300,000 petition signatures in a single afternoon to protest the Brookfield “cleaning” of the park. There are still many assumptions—especially relating to racism, nationalism, and colonialism—that Occupy Wall Street has not quite punctured (or hasn’t even begun to puncture) with the force that it has punctured the market consensus. In fact, the slogan itself carries the danger of perpetuating a discourse of colonialism and military occupation, as many people have pointed out. Yet it is crucial not to lose sight of the new space of imagination that has been opened up by the discordant chorus of refusal.

I haven’t discussed the last part of “Bartleby,” and I leave you to read it, or re-read it—perhaps at the Occupy Wall Street Library—yourself. And I hope you give the story space to breathe—as I have said, it is evocative but not a perfect analogy for the present moment. As Hannah Gersen writes in her own essay on OWS and Bartleby, “If Occupy Wall Street has any goal, it should be to have the same effect that great literature has — to unsettle.” Such a rich story could never be a neat analogy—or supply brief slogans—and the strength of “Bartleby” lies in the way it escapes singular interpretations.

(Two copies of Melville House’s 2004 reprint of “Bartleby, the Scrivener” are currently [or, rather, probably] available at the Occupy Wall Street Library, along with a few other editions of Melville’s work. You can also read “Bartleby” online or download it for free here from the nonprofit Project Gutenberg Literary Archive, which has been digitizing copyright-free books since 1971.)

(Also, I discovered while writing this post that others have made lengthier connections between OWS and “Bartleby,” from Hannah Gersen’s impressionistic piece on themillions.com, to this dense but awesome Žižek-heavy piece from #occupytoronto, to Nina Martyris’ somewhat irksome TNR column in which she draws a close analogy between Bartleby and OWS.)

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Filed under Catalog, Literature, Michele, OccupyLibraries, Scholarship

Solidarity with Oakland!

The Oscar Grant Plaza Gazette

Tuesday, October 25, 2011   Day 16

THIS IS WHAT A POLICE STATE LOOKS LIKE

Starting at about 4:45am this morning, Tuesday, October 25, approximately 500 police in riot gear attacked and destroyed the Occupy Oakland encampment at Oscar Grant Plaza.  Eyewitness reports as well as coverage from the San Jose Mercury News confirm the presence of officers from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, Oakland, Berkeley, UC Berkeley, Pleasanton, Hayward, Fremont, Walnut Creek, Union City Newark, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and San Jose, as well as the California Highway Patrol.

In other words, it takes the better part of the police force of central California in order to violently repress the legitimate political will of the people.

Police attacked the peaceful protest with flash grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets after moving in with armored vehicles.  Police established barricades as far apart as 11th and 17th. Over 70 people were arrested and the camp gear was destroyed and/or stolen by the riot police.

The LA Times confirms eyewitness reports to the Gazette that the police assaulted the peaceful protest with tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash-bang grenades after moving in with military-style armored vehicles.  (A military veteran mentioned concerning this type of grenade : “They use them in Iraq.  And also in parks in downtown Oakland.”)  Barricades were established as far apart as 11th and 17th Streets.  Between 70 and 90 arrests are reported. Continue reading

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missed connections

Somebody loves us & wrote us a note on Craigslist in the missed connections section. We’re all such hotties I can’t guess who it’s meant for,
but thanks for posting!

We (probably) love you too & we’re (almost) all shameless flirts–
come on back down to the library, join us!

Librarian at Occupy Wall Street

You seem pretty great.
It seemed like a bad idea
to even attempt to flirt
when you’re trying to do
something substantive like that,
so I thought I’d just post here.
Just in case you might see it.

It was written up in an article in the New York Times.

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Filed under Betsy, Solidarity

Librarianing Theory

We all like theory around here, right?  That’s what draws many of us to the library — the dusty ideas in dustier books; considering Simone de Beauvoir  to be light reading (it wasn’t in the original French, ok?); spouting off lines of Ginsberg and then dressing down the privilege found in white, male Beat lives; quoting Hegel or Marx; fan-boying over Naomi Klein or Johanna Lawrenson or any of our other illustrious visitors.

Let me give you some library theory, then.

Maybe half of us in the working group are MLS-bearing librarians (that’s master’s degree in library science for the lay-folks) or are in library school.  Other folks can speak for themselves, but I’m probably not the only one who went into librarianing partially due to my intense need to organize stuff.  (I’m probably also not the only one who also did it as political praxis, either.)  I could catalogue all the live-long day, and some days I do, happily parked in front of our LibraryThing for hours on end.

That said, you may have noticed that the OWS Library is possibly the least organized library ever.  It lives in a bunch of plastic tubs, sorted by genre.  We do not use Dewey, Library of Congress, Cutter (you’ve heard of Cutter, right?), or any other call number classification system.  We don’t check books in or out in any formal way.  When asked if we have a specific title, the answer usually is, “I saw a copy a couple days ago,” and if asked where exactly a book might be, it’s, “Possibly over there in history, or maybe you could check the reference crates.”

Needless to say, since we’re in it for the organization, sometimes this drives certain librarians, present company included, around the bend a little.

Much of the disorganization arises from the specific issues facing the kind of library we run.  To quote a fellow librarian’s recent Facebook status, “To file under ‘problems I never imagined I’d have’: Trouble completing a make-shift tarp-shelter over an illegal outdoor library because Alec Baldwin kept getting in my way…”  We have an extremely limited amount of space, and we are outside at the mercy of the elements, deeply envious of Occupy Boston’s tents.  We have a very limited supply of power from generators and batteries, and a little bit of internet access.  The library is open from whenever people get up in the morning until it slows down in the evening and the live-in contingent of librarians set out their bedding for the night.  We have staff meetings to reach consensus on questions such as what to do if the cops forcibly evict the Occupation (answer: evacuate the archives, supplies, and electronics ahead of time, the books stay till the bitter end).

So then, to wend my way around to what I’m actually writing about today, what are any the guiding principles of the librarianing we do at the OWS Library?

Out in the normal library world, there are two basic elements of library work: cataloguing and reference.  Cataloguing, or arrangement and description for you archivist types, includes in-taking new materials, creating card or database catalogue entries, categorizing materials, assigning location identifiers, shelving, etc.  Reference work is connecting people and their needs to materials and information, answering questions, locating materials that are out there in the collection.  At the OWS Library, our work is a little different, but still falls into these two basic divisions — we intake books, catalogue them in LibraryThing, stamp or sticker or write on them to mark them as part of the collection, sort them out into genre and subject bins, resort things that have been returned, help people find the books they are looking for, make reading recommendations, answer endless questions about how the library works or when and where something is happening or, to mention two reference questions I’ve answered recently, find an out-of-towner the address of a benefit concert somewhere uptown and subway directions to it, and explain the meaning of “ecology” to a non-native English speaker.

The cataloging and sorting is not particularly intellectually taxing work, which means that we can explain the basics to new members of the working group in a couple minutes.  Since this is the People’s Library, we also allow more leeway in categorization than a traditional library would — librarians make autonomous decisions about where an item is shelved (or reshelved — in tidying up yesterday I found a Jean M. Auel novel in Kids & Young Adult and immediately moved it to general fiction; for those unfamiliar with her books, and if a survey of my friends is correct, they are pretty much every teenage girl’s first foray into erotica).

But, back to my question: how do we decide where things go, how do we arrange the books, how do we hold off the chaos?

My answer is always use.  Use, use, use, use.  How do our readers use the library?  If they were looking for a specific work, where might they think to look for it first?  Where might we put it that would make it easy to say, “ah, that’d be in the x section.”  If a reader is looking in a specific section, what books will they be delighted to find there?

This is why I’m mostly okay with the controlled chaos that characterizes the library most of the time.  Even though it grows every day, we have only about 3000 volumes in the park (the catalogue lists 3,344 at the moment, but some are out being read).  That sounds like a lot, and is vastly more than most people have in their own personal collections — I’m an unrepentant bibliophile, but my collection is only a third of that — but it’s not endless, and it doesn’t approach the holdings of most public libraries.  What I’m saying is that, sorted out into topics and genres as we have it now, and without specific call numbers and shelf locations, a person can still find what they want.  One can eyeball the whole of non-fiction in a few minutes.  There aren’t so many bins that if Religion is five feet away from where it was yesterday a reader or librarian won’t be able to find it.

A week or so ago, a young man asked me why all the non-English works were in the same bin.  My answer was that they all fit in the same bin.  Despite specifically asking for more material in a variety of languages, we still don’t have much.  Fiction and non-fiction, Spanish, French, Chinese — it’s all in the same bin.  The principle of use says that this currently works.  If a reader comes looking for book in a language other than English, we’ll always know where to direct them.  And then once they are at the bin, there are only twenty or thirty books in it, so that person will not need to spend much time at all looking through it for works in their language.  Especially because we have limited space, it doesn’t make sense to have mostly empty bins with only a few books in them, as would happen if we separated these books.  I assured my questioner that, when we’d gotten enough books to separate them into bins for fiction/non-fiction, or into different languages, we surely would separate them.  Because, again: use.  At that point ease of use would dictate that all the Spanish books go together, or all the fiction, so that we’d still be sending our readers to a single place for a single kind of book.

So, when an anxious, newly anointed People’s Librarian asks me where they might shelve a particular book, I shrug and tell them to put it where they think it might go, where they might expect to find it if they were looking for it.  Their opinion on the matter is as valid as mine; after all, you don’t need a master’s degree to be one of the People’s Librarians, and they are readers and users of the library just as much as I am.  We’ve democratized the work, direct-democratized it even, since to become a People’s Librarian you just show up and start sorting and cataloguing.

And, if one of the guiding principles that we can draw from the normal library world and repurpose for our own needs at the People’s Library is use, perhaps I should re-resort that Auel novel back into YA, since, as I said, it has an strong tradition of use among YA readers.

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Filed under Jaime, Process, Reference, Scholarship

Allen Ginsberg collection at the People’s Library

We now have an Allen Ginsberg collection in the People’s Library.
Thanks so much, Simon & Peter for the generous donations!

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Filed under Betsy, Donations, Poetry

All Languages are Needed for the Poetry Anthology


The Occupy Wall St. Poetry Anthology is blossoming!

Yesterday Patti Smith came to the People’s Library. She dropped off about ten copies of Just Kids and signed them and I showed her the poetry anthology and she liked it and we talked about Allen Ginsberg and the occupations in Spain and she told me she has been recovering from bronchitis but wants to get better and do more and I couldn’t stop glowing!! And then Patti left to walk around the park and some woman came up to me and was like, “HEY, CAN I TAKE A PICTURE OF YOU, YOU HAVE THE BIGGEST SMILE!” And I was like, “SURE, PATTI SMITH WAS JUST HERE! SHE’S ONE OF MY GREATEST LOVES!!” And then Patti came back! I was stocking books and noticed Patti had taken off her boots and gave her wool socks to an elderly woman sleeping in the park. It was so incredibly real and so incredibly altruistic/humble and I ran back up to her and we talked some more about her recent trip to Madrid, the marches she’s been going and the incredible spirit sweeping the globe. I told her I gave her poems after her performance/reading celebrating her anniversary of her first reading at St. Marks and she said she still has them. Then we exchanged info so we can try to set up a time for her to read/talk at the peoples library, so hopefully she’ll come down to the library! And hopefully she’ll send poems for the anthology!

Today the Wall St. Journal published an article on the anthology! And the anthology seems to continually get better! And it’s imperative we get someone that is a master of many languages to join the anthology so that the anthology isn’t English-centric. We need someone that can wrangle in poets from many languages so the poetic spirit of the anthology transcends language barriers. I feel the poems shouldn’t be translated as that would create a hierarchy of language. Instead, poets from all languages should contribute their poems and it’s up to the readership to evolve so they can appreciate the vastness of language! So please, please help me spread the word so the many poetic voices of all the languages of the world can contribute to this massive text of dissidence, a testament to the infinite beauty of the human spirit.

And if your language is an oral language then by all means come to the library, grab a copy of the anthology and repeat your poems continuously!!

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Occupied Wall Street Journal #3

With a front page article about the People’s Library.

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n+1 Gazette: Occupy!

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State of affairs

A quiet moment in The People’s Library, just past midnight October 23, 2011

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Tools of the trade

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Filed under Michael, Photographs, Steve S.

Occupy Wall St. Poetry Update

My name is Stephen Boyer! I’m a librarian at the People’s Library, I moved in full-time a couple weeks ago. I’ve been insanely busy getting the Occupy Wall St. Poetry Anthology off the ground and the WiFi here has been down, but now the WiFi is up and the anthology has reached a stable place so hopefully I’ll be able to start updating the blog regularly to fill in the readership as to the going-ons of what I’m doing at The People’s Library.

The OWS Poetry Anthology is currently only available at The People’s Library. Eventually it’ll be mass produced and probably online but for now I feel it’s imperative that it lives solely in the library. This way it maintains a power and an aura that will be lost once it is more widely available. And the feedback has been immense! If you haven’t had the chance to come down and read it, just imagine reading pages and pages and pages of voices of dissent as thousands occupy the space surrounding you. The anthology was born out of the poetry assembly. Every Friday night around 9:30pm poets of all walks of life and ages come in and read/perform their poetry. Folks that have been around the NYC poetry scene for a long time have been saying the poetry assembly is one of the greatest open mic reading series NYC has ever fostered and NYC has a great legacy of poetry. With that validation, I highly suggest you join us. Poetry illuminates the soul of Occupy Wall St. A lot of people are asking, “What are the demands” and the poets voices show just how nuanced the human spirit and impossible a set of demands truly is. This occupation is about transforming consciousness and the poetry community is a major part of that process. So please join us!

The anthology is open to all people and all poems. Obviously there are a lot of political poems landing in the anthology but its imperative we include all aspects of the human experience. Famous poets have included their work (Anne Waldman, Adrienne Rich, Michael McClure, and more), the Allen Ginsberg Society has sent us a poem on behalf of Allen, children have included their work, people of all walks of life have included your work. Again, all work is accepted and you can send your own poems to STEPHENJBOYER@GMAIL dot COM. Please include “Occupy Poetry” in the subject as my inbox has been flooded! But I love it! I want the anthology to get so large that it fills the entirety of Wall St.

Besides living in the library I’ve also helped start the Queer Caucus and I also blog at minorprogression where you can learn a lot more about me.

Here’s video of the Poetry Assembly:

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Filed under Announcements, OccupyLibraries, Poetry, Stephen, Video

10/22/11 Meeting Minutes

Following are the meeting minutes for the October 22nd Library Working Group Meeting. The agenda items are listed first, and the minutes are after the fold (click “continue reading” to see the minutes in full).

  1. Finances, expenditures, and internal procedures regarding money, Up/Down vote on joining with GA finances (per consensus to do this at last meeting) (with GUEST from Finance)
  2. On site electricity (partly a matter of item 1, so it will depend how the procedures issue is settled—Eric is invited to comment on how he wants this phrased)
  3. Town Planning and the Library (with GUEST from Town Planning)
  4. Guest speakers in the library (this is my thing, which I’d love to discuss, but I can table it if more important matters come to the fore)
  5. Weather preparedness/library structures (possibly related to item 3)
  6. Spokes Council and how it affects the library (please read the proposal in advance at http://www.nycga.net/spokes-council/) (with GUEST from Structure)
  7. Occupy Wall Street Library at ALA Midwinter in Dallas January 21, 2012: who’s going, where’s the money coming from, our goals while there
  8. Internet issues, the nycga site and Library, the Internet Working Group possibly hosting our site
  9. Thaddeus and our policy on leaflets, zines, fliers, handouts, photocopied articles, and other forms of loose paper
  10. Silent reading technology

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Filed under Meeting Minutes, Michael, Process, Working Group Meeting

“Information is Liberation”: A People’s Librarian’s Thoughts on the Library at #OWS

In the midst of the singing, the chanting, the debating of Liberty Plaza, a library has bloomed.

Stocked with donations and staffed by volunteers, it sits ready and waiting to offer the printed word to all who can read.

Occupy Wall Street is a true grassroots uprising.  Liberty Plaza and the occupations in other cities are places to begin healing our profoundly sick and downright broken society.  They are places to speak truth to power and to each other.  Most importantly, the occupations are places to will and to work our alternative vision into being.

To reimagine who we are, to understand who have become, is a group activity.  It requires public truth-telling and personal reflection.  For this to be a fair process, a just process, an inclusive process, we need to ensure that each and every citizen has access to that discussion and the facts that inform it.   That’s why there is a library at OWS.

Libraries serve as an equalizer, reducing information-asymmetry so that all citizens can debate on a level playing field.  They offer access to all ideas not because all ideas are equally good or true, but because all ideas deserve their chance to be heard and because nothing becomes more enticing than an idea censored or hidden.

“Information is liberation” is a truth that can be hard to grasp from a position of privilege.   If you work for a university or live in a large city with a strong library system, information is like oxygen: always there, always (apparently) free.  For the many millions who don’t work for a university and who don’t live in a large city with a well funded public library, information is scarce and often expensive.

It should go without saying, but we cannot be free as a people if we do not all have access to high quality information, including information that comes through stories and poetry.  Without information and stories we can’t examine narratives put forth by the powerful and judge them from a position of information-equality.  A prominent librarian said in a recent op-ed decrying cuts to public library budgets, “The next Abraham Lincoln could be sitting in their library, teaching himself all he needs to know to save the country. “  Of course, he could be, but it reveals just how far our national discourse has degraded that she felt the need to invoke Abraham Lincoln.  Even if there is no Lincoln in her library, or in any other, even if her only readers are the humblest citizens among us, a free and just society still requires a library.

Like in the middle-ages when priests controlled society by interpreting the Bible, so today the corporate power structure controls us by controlling what we know.  They highlight the facts they wish us to understand, they downplay and ignore the stories they wish to obscure.   Objective data and peer reviewed analysis is barricaded behind expensive pay walls and the public’s access to this knowledge is endangered through severe cuts in funding for public and even academic libraries.

Healing ourselves, redeeming our politics and our culture, requires a new understanding of who we have become as a people.  It requires a reimagining of what it means to be an American, how we treat one another, and how we behave in the world.  Democracy is only possible if we have political equality and political equality is only possible when each and every citizen has both a strong education and ongoing access to the stream of scholarly and cultural conversation.

Libraries are more important than ever in these times.  They guard the right of the public to know and to seek answers, they provide all citizens with access to facts, to the cultural narratives that aren’t approved by the dominant power structure, and most of all they contribute to the creation of political equality between citizens by reducing the impacts of economic inequality.

The People’s Library at OWS, and all of the other occupation libraries,  are an expression of these roles.  They stand in the midst of the protest as a living embodiment of the vision of a just and democratic society we all hold so dearly.  The creation of the libraries is an act of protest that says, “We are all one and together we will build the society we have all imagined.”

Cross posted to Daily Kos.

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Filed under Mandy, OccupyLibraries, Radical Reference

“. . . and Beyond”

I’m thrilled that the New York Times covered the opening of #OccupyBoston’s library. It’s an important story, worth being written about – in fact we wrote about it back when it happened. What I can’t figure out is how the New York Times has managed to do such an amazing job of dismissing the occupation of Liberty Plaza right here in their own back yard?

From the start, their first coverage of #OccupyWallStreet was dismissive, historically ignorant, shallow, pompous and to borrow a phrase from the Portland Mercury describing the same writers’ work on another story: “awesomely out-of-touch.”

And now, they have actually printed a claim that our library is disorganized. We stand in complete solidarity with #OccupyBoston and their library, we love them – they’re family. But that claim is just silly, and the Times has a responsibility to look into claims like that and offer their own reporting before they print misinformation. Here are some facts to help them out.

Here at The People’s Library, we have over 2,000 books. The majority of which are out in the stacks. And all of them are organized by categories such as: Labor, Finance, International Relations, Anthropology, Political Science, Philosophy, Economics, Human Rights, Activism, Religion, Queer Theory, Graphic Novels, Children’s, CDs/DVDs, Anarchist Zines, and more.

Some books are still in our storage unit awaiting the intake process, as we’re receiving donations from individuals and massive shipments from publishers all over the country. Yes intake process. This is because we have an online catalog, and we scan the barcodes of every book we receive, or add the ISBN to a list, or photograph the cover and enter them into a database to produce a historical record of what we’ve been given. That incoming list runs as a feed on our blog, on the sidebar.

We also photograph and document all books donated by authors and their families, and photograph the inscriptions along with images of the daily life of the library, which we upload here. We have reached out to the libraries forming around the country at other occupation sites and have even sent boxes of books to several to help them build their collections.

Since the early days we’ve been setting aside one copy of every zine, pamphlet or artist’s-style edition we receive for archiving – and we’re continuing to host collection boxes for the broader #OccupyWallStreet archives project. We host the Occupy Wall Street Poetry group, and our staff are publishing anthologies of their poetry. Now, we have had to struggle with two impedements to structural development, the NYPD says we aren’t allowed to have “tents” or “structures” so we’ve improvised, and it’s pretty clear our hardworking volunteers have done a damn fine job.

Our work at the library has been covered by American Libraries (the Magazine of the ALA), School Library Journal, the London Review of Books,The Chronicle of Higher Education, and many mainstream media outlets, blogs and sites including local papers like the New York Daily News.

We have a reference desk, and laptops and wireless internet for patrons and we’re expanding every day. We host author readings regularly, and if you come browse our stacks there’s a good chance you’ll run into one of them. But somehow, the New York Times didn’t notice – and our hometown paper went all the way to Boston instead for a story about OccupyLibraries. Maybe they still feel guilty about dismissing the movement and failing to cover it for weeks, and were too ashamed to come by. That’s understandable. So now I just want to say: New York Times, it’s OK, we can forgive you.

Here are driving directions, but I suggest you take the A,C,E from Port Authority or the 1,2,3 from Times Square. Come on down to the “beyond” sometime and say hi. I think you’ll like us.

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Filed under #OccupyBoston, Announcements, Media, Michael, Solidarity

“Which three books would you have taken?”

Since I began working at the #OccupyWallStreet library three weeks ago, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about “The Time Machine”  by H.G. Wells and a specific scene in the 1960 film inspired by the book. *Spoiler here* In the film, George returns to the future with three books from his shelf to rebuild civilization. When those he’s left behind notice the books missing, they’re fascinated and ask: Which three books would you have taken?

So, which three books would you bring with you, if you were going to travel into the distant future in a time machine and try to rebuild society on earth. Post in the comments.

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Filed under Michael, OccupyLibraries, Reference, Technology, Time Travel

#OccupyTheory

Dear Occupiers and supporters:

I am currently organizing a project to bring together articles from political philosophers, ethicists, and other related theorists into a book which will be printed and delivered directly to #Occupations nationwide. The working title is “#OccupyTheory,” and the book is motivated by the idea that we, in our professional expertise as philosophers, scholars, and theorists, have the ability to contribute in valuable ways to the conversations going on with #OWS and, through our contribution, help the movement. We want to get this book written, printed, and out in the streets as soon as possible, and ASAP is actually pretty soon, if we do this the right way.

Printing and distribution will be paid for through Kickstarter, unless we end up working with a large publisher who’ll ship a large number to #Occupations nationwide pro bono. No matter what, though, the book (1) will be available online for free in pdf and ereader formats, (2) a significant number will be provided for free in hard copy to some of the larger #Occupations, (3) the book will be available to be carried by bookstores, and (4) will be available on a Print-on-Demand basis through Amazon.

My question for you at this stage in the project:
As someone involved with or interested in #OWS, what do you think we, as political philosophers and related scholars, can best contribute to the movement? If you could have us write about any topic or on any question, what would it be?

We have our own agenda individually, just like everyone else involved in #OWS, and each of us will write what we think is important and what we think is the most valuable and helpful thing that we can contribute. So your answer to the above won’t determine what we write on, but I will use your responses to help write the Call for Papers that goes out, so if there’s something you want to hear from us, ask it, and there’s a good chance that a scholar somewhere will decide to write on it.

We’ll also be doing an online open peer review process, and would like to invite not only academics, but also anyone involved in #OWS to contribute to the review process. We’ll post information about how to participate in peer review here, when the time is right.

Please reply as a comment to this post. Thanks!

D.E. Wittkower
Department of Philosophy
Old Dominion University

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Filed under Announcements, Michael, Scholarship