Daily Archives: October 5, 2011

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.



Filed under Mandy

General Assembly Guide

One kind of material that we make available in the library are pamphlets. Betsy and Mandy can speak to our archiving efforts for pamphlets, zines and other other ephemera, but I can say that we get a lot of them, they’re a challenge to manage and they go fast. The “General Assembly Guide” above is one example. Material like this is important to distribute when it’s first published, and to make available for research and preserve in an archive. The iterations of a pamphlet such as this guide represent a moment in the movement, a snapshot of the state of affairs for that period, both in terms of geography (such as the spatial organization in the plaza indicated on the map) as well as the current practices of the movement and which information was deemed important to communicate at this time.

This version of the guide is intended to be printed as a double sided tri-fold pamphet on 8 1/2 x 11 papter and includes sections titled “Background,” “How it Works,” “Important Hand Signs,” “About Groups,” “Map,” and “Important Contact Info.”

Download a PDF of the guide, retrieved October 5, 2011, from our digital archive here: Occupy.pdf

1 Comment

Filed under Digital Archive, Ephemera, Rob

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,
Simmons ’03


Filed under Mandy, Solidarity