Category Archives: Mandy

Join Us in Supporting the Students and Teachers of Tucson Unified School District

Have you wanted to get involved with Occupy, but not really a marcher? Too far away from an Occupation? Intimidated by crowds?

Do you support the right to read and abhor censorship?

We’ve got the action for you.

The Tucson Unified School District has dismantled its Mexican-American Studies program and removed the books used in that program from the classrooms of the district. Teachers and students have vehemently protested this move, including a student-led walkout and an Ethnic Studies School, arranged on the symbolically important 100th day of school. The day when the state counts heads to determine funding.

The books removed include:
Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Rodolfo Acuna’s Occupied America: A History of Chicanos
Bill Bigelow’s Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years
Richard Delgado’s Critical Race Theory
Rodolfo Gonzales’s Message to AZTLAN
Elizabeth Martinez’s (ed) 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures
Arturo Rosales’s Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement

This is where you come in. Acting in solidarity with OccupyTucson and the students, parents, and teachers of the Tucson Unified School District we are going send copies of the banned texts to Tucson for distribution. Lots of copies. As many copies as we can find and buy. We respect the rights of authors and publishers, so all copies will be completely legally purchased though an independent bookseller or directly from the publisher. Donations of the these texts are, of course, welcomed.

We’ll be collecting funds via the WePay link on this page. Any amount will be gladly welcomed and all donations will go toward the purchase of books or shipping books.

The repression of the history of resistance, of what Howard Zinn called People’s History, is an old tactic in the class war. Hide what previous generations accomplished, hide the fact of genuine social change in the past, and you hinder the possibility of social progress today. The young people and their teachers in Tucson have spoken loud and clear. They want to know that history and they want those books. Let’s send them some.

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Filed under Announcements, Direct Action, Donations, Emergency Actions, Free Speech, Mandy, OccupyLibraries, OccupyTucson, Solidarity

People’s Library presentation at ALA Midwinter

Following is the text presented at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference Saturday January 21, 8:30 am at the Dallas Convention Center Theater by Occupy Wall Street Librarians Daniel Norton, Mandy Henk, Betsy Fagin, Jaime Taylor and Zachary Loeb.

[Danny]

Good Morning ALA Midwinter 2012 Dallas! My name is Daniel Norton, I am a student of Library Science, and I am both proud and honored to introduce to you a group of professionals who have not only impacted me in very meaningful ways as a future professional, but who have an inspiring and interesting story to share with you today…

[Mandy]

On September 17th of last year a group of committed activists, activists diverse in age, race, and social class, taking their inspiration from the Arab Spring, “occupied” a public space in New York City’s financial district. They rejected the legitimacy of the existing authorities and engaged in direct action to build a new and better world. A world based on old principles. Principles embedded deep in the American psyche, but lately forgotten. Solidarity. Mutual aid. Equality. Autonomy. Democracy—real democracy based on consensual, non-hierarchical self-governance. The activists of Occupy Wall Street built a People’s Kitchen so that no one need know hunger. They built a Comfort station so that no one need suffer the cold. Medical care, Arts and Culture, a Spirituality Space, even a phone charging station . . . .all of the necessities of life—including a library. Occupy Wall Street is about creating a new and better world ourselves. As a free people united for justice.

Occupiers have faced repeated police brutality—peaceful Occupiers have been arrested, maced, gassed, attacked with police scooters and sound canons. On November 15th, our occupation and our library were destroyed in a brutal early morning raid. Our colleagues and comrades were arrested, our collection tossed into a dumpster, our tent cut apart with a chainsaw. But we are here, we are strong, and we are committed to the fight for justice. We are the Librarians of Occupy Wall Street and we are committed to using the tools of our profession–books, literacy, bibliographic control, reference and readers advisory in that fight. As librarians we understand the vital role libraries play in society and in a healthy democracy and our library stands as our living commitment to that fulfilling that role.

We’re each going to give a brief reflection and then we’ll have a presentation on our library and time for questions.

[Betsy]

One of the unique characteristics of Occupy is how it is a very local expression of a group of people in any particular place, but the impulse to build a library, to share knowledge and resources is universal.

In November there was a brief article in the Guardian with a slide show of other Occupy Libraries in Washington DC, Vancouver, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Toronto and London that gave us one of our first glimpses of how Occupy libraries were multiplying.

The Biblioteca Acampada Sol in Madrid that grew out of the M15 movement has been a particular inspiration to us & I want to read some of a letter they sent to us in early October as it mirrors our own experience at Occupy Wall Street and expresses some of how we are bound together whether we know it or not:

Hi Peoples Library!

Cheers from the public library of the Spanish revolution occupation at Madrid!

We are the Acampada Sol Library, The library that was formed during the occupation of the Puerta del Sol Square here in Madrid- Spain last May. We have been following OWS from the very first day and let’s say we are glad to see that you found the way out to organise you up almost in the same way we did while we were camping at the city hall square in Madrid at Puerta del Sol.

What we saw [in] the pics of OWS was quite impressive, but you couldn’t imagine how surprised we were when we realized that OWS has also a library. It may sound stupid but when we knew that, we celebrated it as the born of a new one in the family.

Why? well, it´s difficult to explain but during the nearly seven weeks we lived there hearing the rain fall over the piece of plastic that barely covered our books (not us) we had a lot of time to think about what we were going trough. The media described us as bums, the government as the most dangerous kind of terrorists (the pacifist’s kind) and we slept always waiting for the final police riot that would throw everything down. We had time for joy and also for despair. We never knew what we were doing, we only knew that it was right. People said it was useless to demand a U-turn in local politics in a country with a globalized economy. We replied if so, that we expected to make our demands go global then, they said it was a childish dream and they laughed…

We only want to thank all of you to be there, because maybe you don’t realize it, but you’re making our dream come true… Obviously to do the right thing, far from being a utopia or related to culture is a matter of common sense.

We should say that none of us decided to open up a library during our occupation, it appeared by itself. People who came to support us wanted us to have some of their books, they wanted us to read and to take care of them. We started out only with forty titles. People came up to rest from the everyday routines, trying to find a shelter in the written words under our blue tent, poets showed up to read them their works and free thinkers their essays…The manager of one major corporate library in town gave us book-carts and everything we needed. “Just don’t tell anyone” he asked. One donation come after another and in a few weeks we reached nearly four thousands titles at our outdoor library. A funny heritage to save considering that we were waiting to be bludgeoned and evicted from one minute to other…

We love to hear from you to know how all of you guys are going and we hope you’ll find inspiration in our little story to realise that you are not alone in this.

Thank You!

Pd[sic]: Sorry for our lousy English.

Bibliosol – Biblioteca de Acampada Sol

During the time we held the park, we were so busy organizing and running the library, arranging events, talking to people & trying to evade arrest that we didn’t have much opportunity to reach out beyond Zuccotti Park. Since the raid, connecting Occupy libraries together has become one of our primary aims.

We are still in the early stages of forming a consortium of Occupy libraries (& if anyone would like to get involved, please get in touch with me), but have already been in touch with libraries that are still active despite many of the camps being shut down. As of today, we’ve had enthusiastic response from about a dozen libraries and we are beginning to share our experiences and resources to strategize future steps and clarify the roles of libraries within the Occupy Movement. One particularly exciting development has been the role our library can play assisting educators. Many college professors have begun teaching courses on Occupy and who better to help them find accurate, timely information than the libraries and librarians who have been there.

[Jaime]

I want to make it very clear that the People’s Library is not like most other libraries. Most libraries, at least those in places like the United States, have walls and roofs and doors and shelves. They have regular electricity, bathrooms, call numbers, hours of operation. They don’t have, for the most part, rain and snow inside them, or giant papier mâché bulls on Sunday afternoons, or constant police presence and the threat of arrest or violence that comes with it. Your library has probably never had anything to do with a tent, nor is anyone living in it, and while some of you have had the occasional visit from the authorities, your disaster plans don’t stipulate what to do when hundreds of cops come calling, tear down the whole thing, and arrest anyone inside. Let me also be clear that none of this is hyperbole.

One aspect I particularly want to touch on is the decision-making process we use. The Library Working Group works on consensus. When I was in library school, we talked about horizontal structures and consensus as a cutting edge way of organizing library work and staff. Please throw that all out the window. Please. The meaning of ‘consensus’ used in my library school classroom and the meaning of it at the Occupation and in radical politics generally are not the same. For us, consensus requires that nearly everyone support a decision. If there are people with serious concerns about a proposal, what we call a ‘block,’ we need at least 90% those present to be in support of it. Degreed librarians have no more weight in making decisions than an 18-year-old college student, an underemployed actress, or a crusty traveling kid. At the same time, individual librarians are empowered to act autonomously to a large extent; if a librarian had a good idea, and an action wouldn’t greatly affect the library as a whole, that person was welcome to make it happen, barring serious concerns from others, without seeking permission as such. The flip side of that autonomy is that an individual librarian need not involve themself with a library project they don’t like or agree with, that in Occupation terms they ‘stand aside’ from. This is in severe contrast to even the flatter organizational structures in normal libraries, which are remain hierarchies and for which we might say about consensus, ‘you keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.’

When formulating policies and procedures for the Library, we considered not only library best practices, but also the ideological nature of our existence, and the unique practical realities of our operations.

There are some aspects of the Occupy Wall Street Library that are easily recognizable: we have an OPAC of sorts on LibraryThing; we have master’s degree holding librarians doing library work, as well as what could be termed paraprofessionals, techies, and friends of the library; we have books and -had- computers.

Our OPAC, as I’ve said, is on LibraryThing. We already had several hundred books when the catalog began, and so we retroactively cataloged everything in the collection at that point, and then cataloged new arrivals as they came in. Some books were added through barcode scanning, but most were done by searching the ISBN. Chapbooks, older books, and other items without ISBNs were cataloged by hand. We’d then mark the books as having been received and cataloged. At times when we didn’t have available internet–which is often– we’d write down ISBNs and enter them into LibraryThing when internet was again available.

For most of the library’s existence, we didn’t have actual shelves. The first volumes were placed on a stone bench at the northeast corner of the park. Then they were put is cardboard boxes. Which melted in the rain. Then they were covered by tarps and put in plastic bins. Sometimes the bins could be on the bench and the ledge above it, sometimes the cops told us they couldn’t be. Very often– especially when it was raining– we were told we couldn’t cover them with tarps. You know, because we might be hiding bombs under there. Or something. So we got clear plastic sheeting instead. Which was acceptable slightly more often than the opaque tarps. But, back to shelving…

Our books don’t have call numbers, and therefore don’t have exact locations. They were broadly sorted in to categories and topics — fiction and non-fiction, non-print, history, economics, poetry, education, women, queer, people of color, non-English, etc. We performed what I liked to call “directly democratic shelving.” That is, whoever was sorting books was empowered to put items where they thought they best belonged. And then if someone found a book in a certain place, but they thought it might be better elsewhere, they were welcome to move it. Personally, and as I would suggest to anyone who asked for advice on shelving, I tried to keep the principle of use in mind. If I was of more than one mind about where a book might belong, I’d consider where our readers might think to look for it, if they wanted that particular book. Or, I’d think about what section they’d be delighted to find it under. Use says that it goes where it will be most and most happily read.

The LibraryThing catalog is a record of the books that have ever been a part of the collection. It does not reflect what might be actually available in the library at any given moment. Circulation is one of the places where ideology and practically met harmoniously. Given that our library in Zuccotti Park had no building, no call numbers, and no library cards, we did not track circulation. Like maintaining a strict shelving order, it would have been nearly impossible to do, and certainly beyond the person-power at our disposal. There was never a formal method of borrowing and returning books. The only method was to find a book you wanted to read, pick it up, and walk off with it. We asked only that the reference collection, which included traditional reference materials such as dictionaries as well as copies of our most popular books– Howard Zinn’s People’s History, for example, not leave the library. Returns are most welcome, but not required. Readers are welcome to pass books along to friends, take them to other Occupations, or hold on to them. We suggest that somehow, though, the book continue to be used.

This method, aside from being practical, given our resources, was ideologically sound. First in mind is that we are the People’s Library. The librarians are caretakers and facilitators. Also, the library was created in a climate of surveillance and a growing police state. Many libraries are very careful about how they keep records and who has access to those records; we circumvented the point by never keeping any. The only way anyone might ever know who read what book would be to see them doing it.

Lastly, there is no collecting policy. Or, rather, there is, and it only has two points: everything we have was donated to us, and we accept everything. We buy supplies, but we never buy books. Every single volume is in the library because some person thought it should be. And we though many of us have disdain for some authors or viewpoints, or the quality of some literature– and being readers as well as librarians, it’s our movement, too, after all, are welcome to say so– we never recycled a book on account of its content. This means that not only was the Library for the people, but, as they are responsible for its creation, that it is of the people.

[Zachary]

The People’s Library represents a collection of thousands upon thousands of books, it ranges across all genres, publication dates, and target audiences. To date over 9,000 books have been cataloged in our group’s LibraryThing – and this is a number which is probably several thousand books lower than the true number of books that have come through the library. While the number of books is impressive in terms of quantity and variety, what makes it truly remarkable is that it is a collection built almost entirely by the library’s patrons (we received some generous donations from publishers).

Books would get placed in the donation box and we would process them: mark them OWSL (or stamp them, back when we had the stamp), write down the ISBN number, sticker them so we knew the volume was “processed,” and shelve them. When we were asked “how does this work?” (Which we were asked constantly), we replied: “it’s a library. Take a book, read it, bring it back, or lend it to a friend, so that the library keeps spreading.”

In the library we were commonly asked “what books do you need?” To which we typically responded: “what do you think we need?” or “what book changed your life?” or “Whatever you want to give.” Although, at a certain point we added to the third response, “but we don’t really need more fiction.” True, the library was built by a steady flow of fiction (popular and classics), but the library sections most heavily perused and borrowed from were: politics, history, biographies, philosophy, ecology, and spirituality. It is a, shall we say, diverse collection. Our collection was as varied as the library’s patrons, who – after all – built the collection. We have Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes. We have Ayn Rand and George Orwell. We have Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and Ann Coulter. We have Howard Zinn, Frances Fox Piven, Naomi Klein, and Noam Chomsky. We also have Stephen King, William Shakespeare, Dr. Seuss, and a book by the library’s star patron Michael Bloomberg. We built a reference collection of books that were highly demanded (based largely on request) and F.A. Hayek was in there right next to Karl Marx…though we probably should have known better than to ask people not to remove the reference copy of “Steal this book.”

Due to the ever changing nature of the collection, it could be quite the challenge to help patrons find books, but in the process it provided a real look into what brought people to the occupation. Working in the library involved: searching for books to fit a lot of bizarre requests, listening to a lot of life stories, getting to know the regulars and their book tastes, being yelled at for random things, tidying, processing a ton of books, doing data entry, it was a lot like…working in a library.

[Danny]

Disregarding personal opinion on the matter, Occupy Wall Street, as well as other occupations worldwide, are happening, and they’re inspiring discourse, debate, interest in political spheres and a renewed sense of the power that knowledge holds. The unifying theme of the occupy movement is dissatisfaction, and the result of people gathering to take part in the democratic process of their nation is a rekindling of interest in the early ideas and protections afforded us by our forefathers. This is America, and we The People are our own government. With the ubiquity of information access via the Internet, and the perception that people have the power to access knowledge that suits their needs, what is it that a library affords a populace? A place of community, sharing, conversation and insight. Libraries unite through educational outreach and conservation of those aspects of ourselves and society that represent our culture. What the People’s Library has afforded her patrons is a place to engage with what’s happening in our country, a means to contribute their own sentiments through the donation of materials, and the literacy to see other view points, perhaps form one of their own, and to express criticisms in an effective way. I’ve heard vicious and unapologetically ignorant statements made about the work being done here, even from members of this professional community, and it needs to be recognized that not everyone has the luxury of camping out in Liberty Plaza in order to take a stand, not everyone agrees with the tactics of the Occupy movement, but far more people than is represented are dissatisfied, feeling victimized or are otherwise feeling unfulfilled by the present state of our world, and they’ve chosen the library as a place of solace, and as a means of joining the conversation. The People moved to create a central place of collaboration and equal representation, and (of all things) they built a library as a symbol of such legitimacy.

What does this mean for librarianship? I believe that there is much to be learned from an organizational structure that eschews traditional approaches to educating and informing. I believe that there is insight to partnership in information-seeking in a scenario where there is no circulation desk creating a physical barrier between “librarians” and information seekers. There is an obvious wisdom to be gleaned from the concept of bringing the information to the field as opposed to idly standing by and waiting for the opportunity to field queries from a position far removed from the place in which information is most needed. Our archival team is archiving history in real-time, instead of trying to piece it back together in preservation of retrospect. The precedence here is that librarianship is now this dynamic and engaging vocation that is changing even faster than current professionals believe. The people we serve are redefining us and demanding that we assume our roles as beacons of intellectual freedom and the physical embodiment of American democracy that our education tells us we are. Pertinent to the people in this room, something proven to be most confronting, and a prime example of the ways in which The People’s Library is challenging present structures, is that their resident pre-professional, who is the designated student outreach appointee speaking as a guest at library schools nation wide, is not enrolled in a Master’s program at all, he’s an undergraduate obtaining his bachelor of science in information and library services through a degree offering at the University of Maine at Augusta; a statement whose reception I’ve had run the gamut from an unanticipated hug, to even further unanticipated outright hostility.

What I’m trying to say is that this is such an exciting time to be involved in librarianship. We are existing in a generational instance laden with economic turmoil, burdened with recession and depression, yet people have risen to say that they love their books, they love their right to know, they love their librarians and (most importantly), they love their libraries and that’s on us.. The moral of the story is that we shouldn’t –we can’t– let them down.

[Mandy]

It was Jesse Shera, one of the foremost American library theoreticians of his or any generation, writing almost 50 years ago, who said, “The aim of librarianship, at whatever intellectual level it may operate, is to maximize the social utility of the graphic records, whether the patron served is an unlettered child absorbed in his first picture book or the most advanced scholar engaged in some esoteric inquiry.” He goes on to say, “The storage and retrieval of information, of facts, however expertly done, are valueless if those facts are not used for the betterment of mankind.”

At Occupy Wall Street, the People’s Library evolved, as did the Biblioteca Acampada Sol in Madrid  and the other Occupy libraries, because libraries are necessary to the betterment of humankind. As a profession, librarianship has had a long history as a liberating force in society. Going at least as far back as the working class Chartist movement in England, people seeking their own freedom have built libraries. Libraries offer universal access to recorded knowledge, they offer access to truth, they offer the intellectual means to liberation. That a library should sit at the center of a movement for American liberation, for a revolution in American politics and values is perfectly natural. Libraries, after all, are one of the few sites in American society where that uneasy, yet revolutionary, alliance between the working class and the intellectual class finds common ground.

Still though, why today, why now? Why has a collection of some 7,000 books managed to create such a stir. How have we come to a place where the sharing of books, the gathering and disseminating of knowledge, has come to be such a revolutionary act? One that brought the full force of the militarized  New York police department down upon it.  I think the reason is that today we see an all out assault on exactly what libraries stand for and what they do. Libraries are struggling today, not because our services and collections are no longer relevant, are no longer needed, (there is more than ample evidence proving the opposite) but because the very thing we stand for, the very thing we represent, is itself under assault. The idea of a common, of shared resources, of equal access–access not mediated by a market, but granted as a fundamental right, a right that all human beings share by the virtue of being a member of the human family– is under assault.

Libraries are valuable to society and promote the betterment of humankind because they serve as an intellectual and physical common, a shared collection and shared space that allows people to gather and educate themselves–to debate, discuss, and through the joint exercises of reading and conversation devise for themselves the kind of world they want to build and the way they want to build it.

In times like these, times when economics has been converted to a religion and leaders promote the doctrine of the free market as a panacea, librarianship is a radical profession. Unavoidably, our, profession is political, is radical. It’s political because we stand at the juncture of people and knowledge, and knowledge is power. It is radical because people with access to knowledge and the means to understand it are a powerful people, they are a people who have the means to liberate themselves and to fight for their own freedom.

photo: Frances Mercanti-Anthony

I see librarianship at a crossroads, we face a choice: do we continue down the road of unfettered markets constructing our relationships and communities or do we step back from that false vision and its unfulfilled promises of a golden future and fight for a different future, one based on our fundamental principles, on the idea that all people have value–that all people have inherent worth and dignity? Our country is facing multiple existential challenges–income inequality, climate change, economic catastrophe. We are living in a time when the future looks bleaker everyday.

But we have a choice. We can decide to shun cynicism and hopelessness. We can choose instead to look to our roots, to our radical role as supporters of equality and democracy, and work together within our institutions and cities and profession to carry our libraries into the future, not the techno-utopia often held out as the future, but a real future where we tackle our social problems through the provision of knowledge to all and by fiercely defending the common that we and those who came before us have worked so hard to build.

I joined the People’s Library, I slept out at Zuccotti, in a fort built of boxes of books–of ideas, of stories, of hope, watched over by police wielding clubs and guns, to defend that common and for the opportunity to build a collection and a library based on the principles that I hold dear. I joined because building a library in times like these is an act of resistance and protest and hope and love.


[Jaime]

On Monday, November 14, I went to Zuccotti after work to spend a few hours in the library, as I’d been doing almost every day since October 2– it was, basically, a second full-time job. That day I was there until 9 or 10 at night, and then went home to Brooklyn. At 11:30 I went to bed, looking forward to be getting almost enough sleep that night. Sleep is in chronic short supply at the Occupation.

At 12:53 am on the 15th, an hour and a half later, I got a text message from one of the half dozen live-in librarians, just saying, “Police are here.” Unable to get back in touch with him or any other librarians on site, I called a friend from the jail support team who works overnights and I therefore knew would be awake. By ten after 1 he’d confirmed that it was for real this time. I rolled out of bed, put on my boots, and started calling and texting the other librarians while grabbing the day’s necessities. I got on a train, and got to the financial district at 2 am.

Even making it in that quickly, I couldn’t get within two or three blocks of the park. There were barricades and cops– whom Mayor Bloomberg has since called his “own army”– on every street. As we quickly learned, there was a general media blackout. Reporters were not allowed within sight or hearing of the park, supposedly for their ‘safety,’ which is belied by the fact that news helicopters were also grounded.

It hardly mattered what our emergency plan had been. Of the five librarians who were inside the park that night, two elected to stay, and the three others were only able to remove what they could carry in one trip; once they left the park they could not return to retrieve either personal possessions or library materials. Given that restriction, they carried out our emergency plan, which we’d devised after the city’s previous attempt to remove us, admirably.

The two librarians who stayed ended up being beaten, pepper sprayed, and arrested with more than 150 other Occupiers. Those who were by computers at the time could see them retreat to the Kitchen, which was at the center of the park, as the livestreams and other social media stayed up as long as they could. Within a couple hours, the library, along with the rest of the camp, and been torn down, loaded into city Sanitation dump trucks, and carted away. In video from that night you can see tents being taken down with chainsaws.

As the sun came up, those of us still free gathered in Foley Square. Breakfast appeared from somewhere, the medics continued to clean people up, and working groups and friends tried to figure out who was missing. Around 8 am we heard that the park was cleared and we could go in. A couple of us walked back down, where we met up with a handful of other librarians. We put the books we had on our person back on the bench where the library been just a few hours earlier and declared the People’s Library open once again. We were there only a half hour or so before the cops completely barricaded the place off and kicked us all out. For the rest of the day, the park was closed off like that, the mayor and the police department directly ignoring a court order to allow the people access to the park.

When we finally were allowed back, under heavy security, we set up the library over and over. Those actions have resulted in additional confiscation of books and threats of further arrests. The rules under which police and security have allowed us to operate shift constantly. Aside from the library as place, we’ve taken it mobile, for our own actions as well as in support of other groups’ actions.

During the days after the Occupation’s eviction, Library recovered what we could from the city. That amounted to very little, as Zachary will tell you. We demanded restitution and apologies from the city, which were not forthcoming. We are now pursuing legal action, which will take time, and we will certainly keep the library community up to date with as things happen. Our librarians who were arrested that night have just had their first court appearances, but this, too, will take time. In the meantime, we are doing our best to continue providing library services in support of the movement.

[Zachary]

Shortly after the raid the Mayor’s office sent out a picture via twitter of some books on a table, saying that the People’s library was safe, and that we would be able to go recover it. It was a small picture, hardly panoramic, but it was obvious that the books in the picture were far less than what was taken. Still, we were hopeful that there were just more books off camera. When they finally let out information about recovering materials members of the work group rushed to get back the books. Librarians went to the specified sanitation garage with a print out of the catalog, ready to recover everything that was lost. What was lost? Our tent, our shelves, tables, chairs, bins, archival materials, laptops, miscellaneous office supplies, oh, and around 4,000 books.

What was waiting at sanitation was…a few broken bins filled with books, a severely broken chair, and a folding table. The materials were taken back to a safe storage location, and then I began to sort them. I’m a librarian, but my focus in library school was actually archiving. I’ve done preservation assessments before, and before I went to storage I looked over my notes on conducting such assessments. I went in ready to triage 4,000 books. There weren’t 4,000 books.

There were 1,275 books. I divided these into three categories. Fine, the books that were not damaged, or just lightly so – these were books that could easily be circulated. Damaged but reusable, for books that had taken a beating but which could still be re-read, this was the qualifier for books that had ripped covers, heavy spine damage, light water damage, or some other malady that nevertheless did not keep them from being readable. And then there were the destroyed, books ripped in half, books that had been warped beyond readability, and books that were more mud than book. The break down of this was 579 were fine, 389 were damaged but reusable, and 308 were destroyed. But that’s not where this story ends. Earlier, when I discussed the collection I mentioned that we would mark all of the books so that we knew they were ours…and I was coming across a lot of books that weren’t marked. I also found a lot of journals…and a broken kindle. Sanitation, it seems, didn’t just give us the library books. They gave us every book they found. And thus I re-sorted and re-ran the numbers. It turned out that 272 of the books we got back were not actually library books. Meaning we got back 1,003 library books – about a fourth of what was taken the break down of those books was that 504 were fine, 298 were damaged but reusable, and 201 are destroyed.

Personally, I hope that Mayor Bloomberg just wanted to do a lot of reading– as all but two books from the reference collection vanished– he certainly got an interesting selection. But, I kind of doubt that’s the case.

[Betsy]

One of the primary characteristics of our library is its fluidity. Every day we re-invent ourselves. What we’re doing right now at the People’s Library is streamlining our mobile library project and finding interim physical space for the collection. We are building alliances across the Occupy movement, with educational institutions, and strengthening our ties with allies in public and academic libraries. Books are being published about the Occupy movement, professors are teaching courses on it, and students are studying what we have already done. We mean to be an integral part of these conversations.

What I see in the future is another physical occupation, re-establishing the commons. Over the winter we’re strengthening our roots. We are empowering the decentralized network of people and institutions who are committed to realizing social and economic justice, addressing climate reality and confronting the host of other issues we’ve gathered to address. Together we are willing and able to take our power and insist on necessary, revolutionary change. Join us.

[Zachary]

Despite “the protester” being named the person of the year by Time Magazine (and the article containing a reference to the people’s library), the People’s Library found itself ranked quite differently by another publication. The Village Voice put together a list of the 100 most powerless New Yorkers – yes, powerless. “The Librarians of the Occupy Wall Street “People’s Library”” came in 34th. Here’s what the voice had to say about us “One of the most fun aspects of Zuccotti Park this fall was the “People’s Library” a wide selection of books that sparked free-wheeling discussions. Volunteer librarians (like Bill Scott [who was on the cover]) guarded it with professional care. Although they protected it from Mayor Bloomberg’s first threatened raid on the park (by taking the books away via Zipcar to an “undisclosed location”), the librarians were rendered utterly powerless after the city launched its surprise raid and returned the collection looking like shit.”

It’s always an odd feeling to see yourself called one of the 100 most powerless people, just as it’s odd to see a magazine like Time declare the protestor to be the person of the year. But what’s really odd, isn’t that the People’s Library came in 34th (though it’s worth noting that “The Occupy Wall Street Crust Punks” came in 40th [and if you’ve ever listened to crust punk music you know that calling a crust punk powerless is like calling a chainsaw a feather duster, but I digress]), it’s who came in 13th. Any guesses? The 13th most powerless person/institution in NYC: “The NYPL’s Librarians,” of whom the Voice said:

Perhaps the only people less powerful in the library system than the homeless patrons are the librarians themselves. Gone are the days when a master’s degree in library science and a job in the nations largest public-library system meant that you would spend your days helping writers to research and mesmerizing people with your encyclopedic knowledge of the Dewey decimal system. Today’s NYPL librarian needs to be a social worker, a specialist at dealing with the homeless and the severely mentally ill, a computer tech wiz at solving people’s Wi-Fi problems and a job (and suicide-prevention) counselor helping people look for jobs that simply don’t exist.Even those librarians at the flagship Fifth Avenue main branch (who have been inoculated to some degree form the shit storm of the branch libraries) are preparing for it. As a recent article in the Nation reported, the 3 millions books beneath the Rose Reading Room will soon be shipped off to a storage facility in New Jersey and replaced by seven floors of computer terminals. As a former NYPL librarian said of the branch across the street and the main branch’s future: “That place is utter chaos. And it will all come here – the noise, the teenage problems, the circulating DVDs.

Zounds.

It seems like the Village Voice wants to give the impression that being a librarian in NYC is to consign yourself to being powerless.

Luckily this is only relevant to NYC. Right? Surely, nobody could say this of librarians in Chicago? Or, California? What about in Michigan? How about Missouri? It’s getting tough out there for librarians. Powerless? It certainly seems that way. But even as librarians have fought, and rallied, they have still seen library hours reduced, budgets cut, and so forth. And it doesn’t look like those attacks are stopping, no matter how many hours our read-ins last, or no matter how many people we get to hug the library. Heck, the “library” section on The Huffington Post is actually called “Libraries in Crisis.
After the raid on the park, we heard from many people who were horrified by what had happened. And, honestly, it was pretty horrifying. But let’s be honest, libraries were under attack by Mayors before the People’s Library, and they will be after. Bloomberg was cutting the New York library budget’s before, and he’ll probably do it again in his coming budget. Rahm Emanuel in Chicago…the same. The discussion around libraries these days seems to be about cuts, and about whether or not libraries are relevant in today’s world. Librarians – who frequently find themselves in the ranks of those evil “public service workers” – are regularly under assault, and thus it is understandable if a feeling of powerlessness can begin to sink in.

I don’t agree with the Village Voice’s placement of the people’s library at 34. Were we technically powerless to stop Bloomberg’s “private army” from tossing the books in the dumpster; yes. But the library is much more than that, the movement is much more than that, and in the end they’re the ones powerless to stop it.

Powerlessness is what happens when you sit behind your desk and do nothing. Powerlessness is signing an online petition, or commenting on an article, or forwarding an e-mail. Powerlessness is doing nothing. And I can honestly say that the moment’s in my professional life when I feel the least powerless, occur when I’m doing OWS library work.

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Filed under 11/15 Eviction, Betsy, Danny, Jaime, Mandy, NYPL, OccupyLibraries, Scholarship, Zach

People’s Library at American Library Association conference

A few of us will be doing a panel presentation about our library, radical librarianship, the commons, what democracy looks like, what a police state looks like etc. in the ALA Masters Series at the Midwinter Conference in Dallas this weekend. We’ve got a lot to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re very excited to be able to connect with so many librarians about our shared passions & about meeting up with our comrades at Occupy Dallas.
If you’re in the Dallas area this weekend, please join us.

Saturday January, 21 at 8:30 am in the Dallas Convention Center Theater.

ALA Press release here.

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A People’s Digital Library and Prefigurative Politics

This is part 2 of a 2 part series.  Part 1 is here.

The Occupy movement, and the People’s Library, are, in part, prefigurative movements. That is, they are attempts to create and embody the kind of society we want to see.  For many of us, doing business with companies that are so closely tied to the status quo, companies whose structure and management reflect the exact opposite of the world we want to see, is anathema.  We can’t change the world, rebuild it into a place of justice and equity, if we can’t reflect the values we support in our internal dynamics and operations.  That doesn’t mean that any of us want to see the employees of these corporations suffer or that we want to see the products themselves lost.  Rather, we would like to see a new kind of structure supporting the tremendous amount of work involved in creating and maintaining these products.  A new structure that, rather than acting as funnel to send wealth to the few, provided material support to those involved in building them, including authors, while still creating the kinds of high quality indexing and access that the information revolution has allowed.  While some of us are certainly Luddites, we’re Luddites in the true meaning of the word.  The Luddites hated the looms not because they were opposed to making cloth with a machine, but because they hated the economic and social consequences of that transition.

It’s worth exploring, briefly, the mechanisms that have allowed these companies to act as wealth concentrators and that have transformed them from genuine partners in the information system into a virtual information cartel run for the benefit of the few.  The first way this has happened is through the copyright law.  The idea that intellectual fruits deserve special protection under the law is an old one, and a good one.  However, like so many of our society’s laws, it has been come corrupted through money.  First, authors, especially scholarly authors who often make no money from their publications, are required to sign over their copyrights to the publisher of their work.  These contracts almost always serve the needs of the corporation to the detriment of the author.  Because scholarly authors require publication to get tenure and continue in their academic positions, they have very little ability to walk away from these contracts and even less to alter them.  It’s also worth recognizing that few authors have legal departments working on their behalf to write contracts to ensure their rights are protected.  Most are on their own when it comes to wading through these contracts.  There has been a strong and growing movement toward open access publishing, but it is being both co-opted and opposed by the corporations themselves.

On the other side of the transaction is the library.  Libraries have no choice but to do their best to provide access to the materials that their readers need, and often their readers are the very same authors who have provided the material to the publishers in the first place.  The publishers know that libraries are in a weak position and have acted repeatedly to raise prices far beyond what can be sustained by library budgets.  They have also made the decision to make information available largely through the so-called “big deal.”  The big deal offers libraries many different titles bundled together.  These “deals” cut into library budgets and make traditional collection development impossible.  Instead, it transfers that role to publishers who can add and remove titles at will.  The big deal also means that as the price increases, libraries are left with little choice but to cut other places, often the book budget.  This model, known as the “access model “, also damages libraries because rather than actually owning a title, libraries are merely renting them. So that when libraries do need to cancel a title or a database, often the entire run is lost.  In the old days, when libraries purchased actual physical volumes, a title could be cancelled, but the journals themselves still sat on the shelves, available for use.

The access model also creates problems for libraries when applied to ebooks.  Ebooks are a great idea and they certainly have a role to play in the information environment, but because of the tremendous power imbalance libraries are at the mercy of publishers when providing these to our patrons.  The legal doctrine that protects the primary activity of libraries, lending books and other materials, is called First Sale.   Under the First Sale doctrine when an entity purchases an item they are free to use it as they wish.  They can lend it, destroy it, or sell it.  The item is theirs in a very real sense.  Digital information, because of its very nature, has no such protection; instead digital items are controlled by private contracts, contracts that determine what can and cannot be done with the item.  That is why ebooks can be deleted after purchase and why publishers can place limits on how many readers a library can allow to borrow an ebook.  Since these corporations have both more money and more power than libraries, the contracts strongly favor publishers.

The digital environment also poses another serious problem: environmental damage.  The materials and energy needed to run the infrastructure pose a significant threat to the natural world.  Rare earth mining, disposal of technological waste, and carbon emissions are massive externalities.  Companies motivated by profit have no incentive to mitigate these threats and even less so move quickly and decisively to eliminate them.  Industrial capitalism, and for a while state socialism, have had two hundred years to reduce environmental damage and have consistently failed to do so.  The planet is now dying.  The climate is in chaos, the ocean is turning to acid, and we are losing species at an alarming rate.  It is time to give another system a chance to do better.  Can a high tech industrial civilization exist on this planet without destroying the very systems that make the planet a habitable place for humans?  The question is a good one and it one that is not settled.  Can industrial capitalism create that civilization?  No.  It has had a long time to prove otherwise and has failed spectacularly.

A better world is possible.  Occupy is about creating that better world.  A world that is just and fair.  A world where everyone has equal access to information and to literature.  A world of literacy that is guided by strong and universal moral principles—care for the aged, young and sick, care for the natural environment, care for those who have been marginalized.  A world that values democracy and nonhierarchical organization.  A world that understands that destroying the planet for our own wealth is insane and immoral.  We are building new systems in the shell of the old.  That new world needs Literature Criticism Online, it needs Business Source Premier, it needs Lexis-Nexis and WestLaw.  It also needs a healthy publishing sector.  Publishers and libraries are partners and each need the other thrive.  But we need a new structure to support these tools and this industry.  One that protects the employees, the authors, the library, the reader, and the natural world.  One that doesn’t exist to funnel wealth to the few at the cost of the well-being of the many.

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A People’s Digital Library and Prefigurative Politics

This is part one of a two part series.

As a People’s Library librarian one question I get asked over and over again is why we don’t offer a digital library for our readers.  It’s a good question and one I think is worth exploring in some detail.

To start, we have to address the question of what a digital library is— is it an institutional repository or archive?  Is it a search engine for curated links?  Or is it a virtual library?  It’s an open question and one that I think different people can reasonably answer in radically different, but still valid, ways.  A digital library can be and is all of those things.

And if by digital library you mean archive, there is one, and probably there are plenty more I don’t know about.   OWS also has its own Archives group working to preserve the ephemera and other documents of the movement.  So, in that sense, there is a digital library for Occupy Wall Street.  But that doesn’t answer the question about bringing content to our readers.

The next question then is what the People’s Library takes as its mission.  As a leaderless library, the question of mission is tough to answer; the mission is fluid depending on who is asking and who is answering.  The simplest answer is that the People’s Library and the other occupation libraries exist to support both the full-time activists who live at the various occupations and the Occupy movement as a whole.  We also exist to serve the local communities surrounding the occupations, whether in lower Manhattan, LA, or Washington, DC.  Given that, a digital library seems a perfectly legitimate undertaking, especially after the raid and seizure of the books.

So, why don’t we have one?

The first barrier is time.  We could offer a list of useful links to our Occupiers and our online community.  With an all volunteer staff through, finding time to gather relevant links and then present them with annotations and so on is tough.  This kind of digital library also requires quite a bit of maintenance, links need to be added and removed regularly and annotations need updating as content evolves.   Searchable or categorized lists of links are also the most basic kind of digital library.  They certainly have their place, but what they don’t do is offer content that would otherwise not be available.  Instead, they make free content easier to find.  A worthy task, but one that takes many many hours of work.

Most libraries these days, both public and academic, offer access to databases that contain articles and books not legally available on the open web.  This is the virtual library that has evolved as more and more content is born digital and made available not through the codex or traditional journal, but rather through  databases like JSTOR, Gale’s InfoTrac, Ebsco’s Academic Search Premier and so on.

(Hey, wait a minute, those links don’t work for me!  It says I need a password!  Yep.  I know . . . read on.  If they did work, it’s because of your local librarians.  You should thank them.)

Those databases and others like them serve two main functions.  First, they provide an important infrastructure so that each library doesn’t need to gather and maintain servers, indexers, and so on.  This is valuable work, work that few libraries have either the expertise or funds to carry out themselves.  It is also work that has a pretty clear counterpart in the print world—remember that dusty old Readers Guide to Periodical Literature or the New York Times Index  In many ways, databases are the same thing, just with bits and bytes instead of pages and volumes.  The second function is that of gatekeeper.  This is a new function for the digital world.  Almost everything behind those pay walls you just ran into is copyrighted.  That means that the rights to the content are owned by someone and the database companies ensure that those rights are protected.

This second function, protecting the rights of the copyright holders, makes providing a virtual library for Occupy pretty much impossible.  What database company would (or even could given their contracts with rightsholders) want to offer access to the 99%?  These databases aren’t cheap.  Like the banks, the publishing industry–the companies who control the databases, has seen consolidation into the hands of a relatively few players.  More important than that even, the publishing industry has transformed into one dominated by multinational conglomerates.  Projects like JSTOR and Project MUSE are bright exceptions to this rule, ones that deserve our support, but they are exceptions.  So, let’s look for a moment at who owns our scholarly heritage and who the People’s Library would need to do business with to provide a virtual library for the 99%.

The market for large databases includes relatively few players offering a small number of comparable, but not identical, products.  The products fall into two main categories, single publisher databases and aggregated databases.  A good public library is able to offer access to both types.   ScienceDirect is an example of a single publisher database—you want access to an article published by Elsevier?  ScienceDirect is your go-to database.  Wiley more your speed?  Wiley Online Library is your one stop shopping spot.  Interested in a wider range of materials from multiple publishers?  Proquest Central, Ebsco’s Academic Search Premier, and Gale’s InfoTrac have got your back.   Or would, if you had the cash.  Which, unless you’re a 1%er, you don’t.   That’s one of the beautiful things about your library card, your local library may allow you access to some of these databases.  Or it might not.

And who are these companies anyway?  If the People’s Library had the funds, is sending them to these folks a good idea?  No.  Let’s start with the low hanging fruit—Gale.

Gale has an honorable history as library vendor.  But, like many fine companies, it has changed hands repeatedly throughout the years.  Started in 1956 with a single title, the venerable Encyclopedia of Associations, Gale was bought by Thompson in 1985.  You can learn more about the younger Thompson, the 2nd Baron Thompson of Fleet here.  His Lordship was the richest person in Canada in 2006.  It was in 2006 that Thompson spun off its Learning Division, and with it Gale, for  7.75 billion dollars.  The new owners, private equity groups Apax and OMERS (the Onterio Municipal Employees Retirement System) are a mixed bag.  OMERS is an institutional  investor working on behalf of the upstanding municipal workers of Canada.  It controls about $53 billion, but is struggling right now and cutting benefits to workers.  Apax is a private equity group.  This means that they invest in companies with the goal of bringing them to short or medium term profitability and then selling them off.  As the newly named Cengage, aka Thompson Learning, says in its annual report,” Investment funds associated with or designated by Apax control us.  Apax is able to appoint a majority of our board of directors and determine our corporate strategy, management and policies.  In addition, Apax has control over our decisions to enter into any corporate transaction and has the ability to prevent any transaction that requires the approval of shareholders regardless of whether we believe that any such transactions are in our best interests.”

Apax owns a lot of different companies.  They also claim a commitment to sustainability and good labor relations.  They’ve had a few issues in Israel, are working hard to bring the glories of for profit medical care to India, and they even owned my favorite anthropomorphic train.  Pity they haven’t lived up to their commitments—but then who could?  With 57 different “investments” across five sectors, Apax isn’t a business or even a corporation, it’s an empire.  And like any empire, it has an emperor, one whose salary at 502 times the median wage in Britain certainly befits his position.  And like any 1%er these days, Apax owns its share of politicians.

Other database companies suffer from the same problem: an extreme concentration of wealth and power into the hands of the few.  ProQuest is a bit old fashioned in that its parent company is family owned—a very rich family indeed the Synders are (you can tell by the board memberships, those don’t come cheap).  Ebsco, which recently merged with the beloved H. W. Wilson company, is a conglomerate of truly stupendous proportions.  Committed to Growth through Acquisitions, Ebsco seems to be run by good people.  But they are people who are caught up in a system that has run its course, a  system that has generated tremendous wealth for the few through the wonton destruction of the natural environment and human society.

Stay tuned for part 2 . . .

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From The Nation: The People’s Library of Occupy Wall Street Lives On

People’s Librarian William Scott has an essay in The Nation on the raid and his experiences working in the library.

Bill writes, “For the past six weeks I have been living and working as a librarian in the People’s Library, camping out on the ground next to it. I’m an English professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and I’ve chosen to spend my sabbatical at Occupy Wall Street to participate in the movement and to build and maintain the collection of books at the People’s Library. I love books—reading them, writing in them, arranging them, holding them, even smelling them. I also love having access to books for free. I love libraries and everything they represent. To see an entire collection of donated books, including many titles I would have liked to read, thoughtlessly ransacked and destroyed by the forces of law and order was one of the most disturbing experiences of my life.”

Head on over to The Nation for the full essay.

 

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Common Cause Calls on Bloomberg to “Open Your Wallet” to Replace Books

The “nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization” Common Cause has released a statement calling on Mayor Bloomberg to “Open your wallet Mayor Bloomberg, it’s time to buy some books.”

The president of Common Cause Bob Edgar:

“To the extent that the books lost can be accounted for, the city should replace each title, buying two new copies for each one destroyed,” [he continued]  “And for whatever number is unaccounted for, the city should provide Occupy’s librarians with funds sufficient to buy twice as many.”

The press release continues:

“Indeed, an attack on books is an attack on rights protected by the First Amendment. People who would ransack and trash a library or a book collection put themselves on the moral level of book-burners. Their actions are intolerable.”

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N17 Day of Direct Action

(This post will be updated as resources and news become available)

7:50 The People’s Library is OPEN on the Brooklyn Bridge.  Chanting, “Banks got bailed out, books got thrown out.”

6:51 “Hey this is James (super tall corduroy man!) From the library and I wanted some to post on the blog that at WBAI 99.5 NYC from 9 to 10 I will be on air with Jim (the barrel guy) and I will be taking calls with him and discussing ows and the library and that people should tune in!”

4:58 The advocacy group Common Cause has released a statement calling on the Mayor and City to replace our books.  Our post here.

3:34 A People’s Librarian reports on police violence at Liberty Plaza.

3:00 Reports from onsite are that the police have dekettled and reopened the park.  For now.

2:01: Liberty Plaza is under siege by NYPD. Occupiers are kettled in the park.

1:43 A People’s Librarian in action.  Handing out Bartleby at the action.

1:38: The ALA has released a statement decrying the seizure of the People’s Library and expressing support for the Working Group.  Our response here.

2:21: Police deny People’s Mobile Library entry into Liberty, even though Brookfield staff ok’d it.

12:00 pm

11:29: Barricades are down on at least one side of Liberty!

11:05: NYPD announce 60 arrests so far this morning (via WNYC).

10:47: Video of Douglass Rushkoff’s Speech from November 9th is up.

10:40: Transcript of Jonathan Lethem’s Speech from November 7th is up.

10: 30am: The People’s Library is mobile today, find us on the streets!

(photo: Stephen Boyer)

9:30am: The hashtag #OccupyMap is tracking locations of NYPD. #N17 is the tag of the day. Join and share the N17 event on FacebookCUNY Students, Staff and Faculty are walking out today at campuses across the city, see Occupy CUNY on Facebook, the Occupy Hunter web site. The following livestreams are covering direct actions in New York: OccupyNYC & Occupy Wall Street Independent Media Team & The Other 99

Schedule for Today

7am: Shut Down Wall Street

All Day: Strike & Walk-Out

Students from universities across the city  walk out of class. Walkouts will be occurring all day on different campuses, but will converge on Union Square at 3PM and then will march down to Foley Square to meet the rest of the protesters.

3pm: Occupy the Subway

We will gather at 3:00pm at 16 central subway hubs and take our own
stories to the trains, using the “People’s Mic”

5pm: Mass rally at Foley Square

Take the Square, Festival of Lights on Brooklyn Bridge

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ALA President calls dissolution of People’s Library “Unacceptable”

The ALA has released a statement expressing “alarm” at the seizure of the People’s Library.

The statement reads, in part:

“The American Library Association deplores the destruction of libraries, library collections and property, and the disruption of the educational purpose by that act, whether it be done by individuals or groups of individuals and whether it be in the name of honest dissent, the desire to control or limit thought or ideas, or for any other purpose.”

ALA’s president, Molly Raphael, adds:

“The very existence of the People’s Library demonstrates that libraries are an organic part of all communities. Libraries serve the needs of community members and preserve the record of community history.  In the case of the People’s Library, this included irreplaceable records and material related to the occupation movement and the temporary community that it represented.”

She states further that:

“We support the librarians and volunteers of the Library Working Group as they re-establish the People’s Library.”

The Library Working Group deeply appreciates the support of the ALA and all other bibliophiles who have stood by us.

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This Is What A Police State Looks Like

Tonight at the People’s Library Mayor Bloomberg’s chief occupation outreach group paid us a visit.  Again.

Our librarians were, again, brave and peaceful.

Shame on you!  Shame on you! The Occupiers chanted as Bloomberg’s minions threw away what we had retrieved today.

Our hearts are heavy.

But we are determined.

#N17

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Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology Now Online

We are proud to offer you the complete Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology!

In the past, the poets responsible for editing the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology wanted readers to experience the magic of the occupation while reading the poems the movement has generated.

With the police raid though, now seemed a good time to get a positive story about Occupy Wall Street into the discourse.  Occupy Wall Street isn’t about fighting the police or senselessly tearing systems down, we’re out to create a new beautiful world.  And one of the ways we are doing that is through is through poetry.  So please, share our anthology, read about our movement and our lives, and know this: Occupy Wall Street will build that better world though unity, determination, and beautiful words.

If you’ve submitted a poem and don’t see it, no worries: Our resident poet assembling the anthology hasn’t slept since the raid and needs sleep.  He will get to it soon.  And if you want to share a poem, please send it to Stephen.j.boyer@gmail.com with the subject line Occupy Poetry Anthology.

 

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Help Needed Retrieving Books!

Friends of the People’s Library–we need help!

The City is freeing our seized books, magazines and other materials at 650 57th Street (entrance at 56th nr or 12th St.), but we need people with cars and people who can help load those cars.

Here is what we need to move:

• Between 2,000 and 4,000 books (we’ll know if it looks right when we see it), this includes five boxes of “Reference” materials many of which were autographed by the authors;
• Our custom made “OWS library stamps;”
• 5 (4?) laptop computers;
• Our wifi device;
• miscellaneous paper supplies;
• A round portable table;
• a rectangular portable table;
• 6 metal shelves (five of which had been set up in two pieces);
• three sets of wooden drawers;
• a periodicals spinning rack;
• Approximately 60 plastic tubs/bins of varying sizes (most small, but several big);
• archival materials;
• posters (including many original posters created by OWS participants);
• two lamps;
• four solar lights;
• 7 (or so) chairs;
• a wooden dinner table;
• periodicals/newspapers/zines (not counted in our book total);
• our awesome tent; [donated by Patti Smith]
• signage;
• personal belongings of librarian

We are also still missing two Librarians! Two young men, Scales and Charlie, are still in the system and we’d like them back please Mr. Bloomberg. These brave librarians have been tireless volunteers and went down with the Library on Monday night. Release them so that they can get back to work serving the information and literary needs of the 99%.

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And where is the rest of it?

The Mayor’s Office claims our books are safe and offers this pic as proof

We’re glad to see some books are OK. Now, where are the rest of the books and our shelter and our boxes? Nice try guys, but we won’t be convinced until we actually have all our undamaged property returned to us.

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ReOccupy Writers Stand in Solidarity with OWS Tonight at 6:00

Tonight at 6:00 writers and readers from across New York City will gather in Liberty Plaza to reoccupy the space and rebuild the People’s Library. Authors will bring their books, readers will bring their favorite books to donate and together we will rebuild to create the revolution this country needs.

I invite those not in NYC to gather at their occupations, campuses, squares, and parks to read poetry and prose in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and the 99%. Literature is a revolutionary force. Let’s unleash it against the forces who would divide and conquer us. Let’s make the sound of democracy heard across this whole country. Share your poems, your dreams, and your stories with each other. Stand in solidarity together.

Join us in NYC and across the world for a night of readings, poetry, and revolutionary ideas. Together we will change this country and reclaim our democracy for the 99%.

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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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Occupied Wall Street Journal #3

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

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“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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Protesting Librarians

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Why I #occupiedwallstreet

On Sept. 17th a brave group of souls called for a revolution.  They called for radicals and dreamers to gather in lower Manhattan, near Wall Street, and stay put.  Taking their inspiration from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the idea was to deploy a new tactic in the fight for a better world: the people swarm.  Rather than plead with our leaders and experience recurrent disappointment at the ballot box the idea was to stay put, hold firm, and use their bodies to demand change.

I read about the call and was sympathetic, but skeptical.  I had recently been arrested in front of the White House as part of the Tar Sands Action and was impressed, to say the least, with the power of the government to control its territory.  I figured they’d have a few days camping and be cleared out.  Another noble attempt, another victory by the powers that be.

But then it didn’t happen.  The movement grew.  More people joined, they started having marches and making news.  A young girl got maced by a dirty cop.  And I realized that if they weren’t successful, it would be because people like me, people who understand the failures of our system and have the means to contribute to a movement, didn’t.  But I was still hesitant.  I have two kids and husband, a full time job, a dog.  Occupying Wall Street was a complicated proposition.

But then I saw the picture.  It was a picture of a posterboard sign with a list of things the library needed.  Apparently, they needed librarians.   And all of the absurdity of the plan fell away.  If these brave young people (and not so young people) were asking for members of my profession to come and help build and maintain a library, how could I refuse?  If my professional skills could do some good for people sleeping outside in the cold and rain to affect the kind of change I want to see, why wouldn’t I go?  What excuse did I have?

We packed the kids and dog into our car on a Friday night and made the 12 hour drive to Grandma’s house to drop off the kids and dog.  From there, on no sleep, we drove to Staten Island, parked our car, and took the ferry to lower Manhattan.  While we’ve lived in cities before, we’ve spent the past five years in Greencastle, IN, population 10,000.  I was once at a meeting where the fact that my phone number had a different exchange was a hot topic of conversation.  Manhattan was a bit overwhelming.  As we approached Library Square, we could feel the energy.

We walked around for a while and were impressed with the organization.  They have medical care, food, a media center.   It was like a small city within the City.  It had been raining and I almost missed the library because it was covered with tarps.  But I found it and removed the tarps to discover wet books.  They did need librarians.  I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon sorting out how to protect the collection and organizing it.  I was given money for supplies and people just kept showing up to volunteer, including the first #occupywallstreet librarian, Betsy Fagin.  We went through each box and removed the wet books to dry, sorted by topic, and then filled the new plastic bins.

As the collection started to recover and come together as a library, readers started appearing.  People were asking reference questions, browsing for books, offering to help.  The atmosphere was exciting and intellectually lively.  I’ve never worked in a library with so many enthusiastic readers.  At one point, I was trying to find books on education for one patron while another was trying to explain to me his need for books on the courts.  A busy reference desk is a happy reference desk and as the sprinkles started again, I was disappointed to bring the tarps back down.

Information is liberation.  Offering people the opportunity to explore the world themselves through the written word is why I became a librarian.  Connecting readers to writers is what I do.  Doing that in the heart of what is rapidly growing into the strongest mass social movement since the 1960’s is an experience I will always treasure.

I had to go home late Saturday night to make my 9:00 am Monday BI session.  I’ll be back for fall break though and I’ll be joining the folks at #occupyindianapolis in the meantime.  A better world isn’t something to wait for, it’s something to build ourselves.   #occupywallstreet is the way to build it.

–Mandy

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Call for Librarians

Dear Colleagues,

Greetings from the librarians of #occupywallstreet!

We write today to invite you to help build the People’s Library. We are working together to build a library for both the people of the city and for those who have joined the occupation. We are a mixed bunch of librarians and library-loving individuals who strongly support the #occupy movement and who also know that information is liberation. We liberate through knowledge. If you want to know more about #occupywallstreet and the #occupy movement please read the Principles of Solidarity and the Declaration of Occupation.

Right now need many different kinds of donations. We need books of resistance and people’s history. We need economics and finance books. We need contemporary philosophy and ecology. We need DIY books.  We especially need non-English books and materials for low literacy readers. Print outs of free stuff from the web are valuable to us– I personally handed out at least two copies of Citizens United on Saturday before the march. Also, we’re a free lending library operating on the honors system, so our materials come and go rather rapidly; multiple copies are always welcome. On that note, we need as many copies of “A People’s History of the United States” by Zinn as possible. We simply can’t keep a copy in stock as there are so many people who want to read it.

On a practical note, we are an outside library so we have some operational challenges. We are using plastic boxes and tarps to protect our materials. However, our collection is growing by leaps and bounds each day and we need more boxes and more tarps to protect our materials. Any you can send us would be welcome and put to good use.

We also need you. Our collection is growing rapidly and we need help organizing it and keeping it orderly. We want to save the time of our readers, but to do that we need help marking, sorting, and shelving materials. We need help building our catalog and writing our history. Our readers are enthusiastic and some of them need help finding the right book. The right book for the right reader is fundamental to successful librarianship, so we need public services folks to come out and conduct reference interviews with people and help them find “their” book. The Library is constantly evolving and changing and we invite you to be a part of it.

You can send donations to:

Occupy Wall Street/Library Committee
118A Fulton St. #205
New York, NY 10038

In Solidarity,
Mandy
Simmons ’03

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