No Due Date: Books of The People’s Library

Do you remember the OWS Library books? What they looked like. How we labelled them. How they were organized? Perhaps you picked one up and saw that we had written “OWSL” across each side with a permanent marker. Perhaps you saw one with our stamp on it, or even a bookplate. Or maybe you were writing with that marker, or cataloguing them, or sorting them.

The People's Library, Day 17.

The People’s Library, Day 17.

So, where are these books now? On November 15, 2011 under orders from then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the City of New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY) dismantled and destroyed the People’s Library of Occupy Wall Street under the pretence of “cleaning” the park. Along with the kitchen, medical tent, residences of occupiers and more in Zucotti Park, all of the library’s books, zines, newspapers, media, computers, and other materials were thrown into trucks by sanitation workers and brought to a DSNY garage on 57th Street. Of the approximately 3,600 books seized that night, only 1,003 were recovered. Of that number, 201 were so damaged while in the possession of the City of New York that they were made unreadable. Thus, at least approximately 2,798 books were never returned or were damaged beyond repair.

But. Some books remain. Some were checked out and taken home, and passed around. Do you have one? I do. I have the first book ever entered into our catalogue. It was the book I chose to keep as a memory of our library. Here it is in our LibraryThing catalog, at the bottom of page 190. Hakim Bey’s “T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone (Autonomedia New Autonomy Series)”:

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 01.27.15

The first book I entered into our online catalogue.

 When TAZ was donated, I held onto it, keeping it close. For me it was a perfect book for our occupation, for our library – at least, for what I imagined both to be. We all had that one book, or books. Those certain books we loved, that we were surprised to see when they were donated – that we smiled at between the piles of romance novels, Bloomberg biographies, and other less-wanteds – those books that you just knew someone gave because it made so much sense for it to be in this library.


Hakim Bey’s TAZ, with OWSL scrawled on the top.

I’m writing about our books now, about what one of our librarians called the “dregs of the library” – what was left after the attack, what was salvageable, and unsalvageable. Do you have an OWS library book? Don’t worry, there is still no due date, we don’t want them back. We want them to keep living out there. But I would love to hear the story of your book, whether you were an occupier, a visitor, a volunteer, a working group member, a patron, anyone – tell me your People’s Library book stories. And share a photo if you can of your book(s).

Post in the comments, and email me your story, your photos, anything you’d like to share. I’ll post your stories here if you want that, so others can hear about where the books ended up, or not, it’s up to you.


Filed under Announcements, Catalog, Ephemera, Rob

7 responses to “No Due Date: Books of The People’s Library

  1. Reblogged this on Trust me, I'm a librarian and commented:
    Just a reminder that libraries never really vanish.

  2. ps, this quote showed up completely uncannily on my FB feed earlier:

    “From this perspective I think perhaps the least useful part of the book is its section on the Internet. I envisioned the Net as an adjunct to the TAZ, a technology in service to the TAZ, a means of potentiating its emergence. I proposed the term ‘Web’ for this function of the Net. What a joke. … The Web has become a perfect mirror of Global Capital: borderless, triumphalist, evanescent, aesthetically bankrupt, monocultural, violent—-a force for atomization and isolation, for the disappearance of knowledge, of sexuality, and of all the subtle senses.

    The TAZ must exist in geographical odorous tactile tasty physical space (ranging in size from, say, a double bed to a large city)—-otherwise it’s no more than a blueprint or a dream. Utopian dreams have value as critical tools and heuristic devices, but there’s no substitute for lived life, real presence, adventure, risk, love. If you make media the center of life then you will lead a mediated life—-but the TAZ wants to be immediate or else nothing.”

    (Hakim Bey, ‘Preface to the Second Edition of TAZ: THE TEMPORARY AUTONOMOUS ZONE’, 2003)

  3. I wasn’t at OWS, nor do I have any OWS books. But I wanted you to know that this is a groovy follow-up project. I hope you collect more stories. As merely a third-party observer, I find them fascinating.

  4. I still have a box of OWSL books. It is a very full box.

    It spends most of its time sitting underneath a chair in the corner of my apartment, and on top of that chair is an overflowing crate containing archival material from OWS that I have slowly (slowly) been processing. These books are bound for The Well – a community space that will be opening in Astoria, Queens (hopefully in the not too distant future). The Well will have a library, and within this library will be books marked “OWSL.” I will not lie; I’m looking forward to getting that box of books out of my apartment. Not because it takes up a huge amount of space (the archival material on the other hand…but, I digress), but because these books should be used, and right now they are just sitting in a box. Nevertheless, in the spirit of honesty, I should also admit that once this box is gone – my shelves will still contain a few items marked OWSL.

    Like most individuals who were involved in Occupy, I will admit that my feelings about it are – shall we say – complicated. Being a member of the library’s working group was also varied – it had some fantastic high points and some truly wretched low points – but when I remember the library it never ceases to make me smile. Even if it is a smile tainted by sadness.

    So, here is a confession: throughout the days when Occupy Wall Street was in the park, I had a complex system for determining which books to personally borrow.

    No, really.

    I was always concerned that my place as a member of the library’s working group gave me an unfair advantage when it came to the contents of the library. After all, as one of the people sorting, marking, and cataloging the books I often knew what materials were entering the library before they actually made their way onto the shelves. But I felt that I had to use this power responsibly, and thus I refrained from taking things right away. Instead I operated under a rule whereby a book would have to be sitting publicly on the shelves/bins for five days before I could borrow it. I figured that if nobody wanted a given book after this amount of time than I could not be accused of skimming the best. I should also admit that as a result of this system many books that I was eager to borrow passed only briefly through my hands before they wound up being borrowed by others. Granted, it’s also easy to argue that this was simply a plan devised to prevent me from bringing home a mountain of books each day – though given the final fate of many of the library’s books, I often wish that I had been less restrained in borrowing books.

    That being said – and still in the spirit of honesty – I should confess to two main exceptions.

    The first being a copy of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s autobiography The Rebel Girl which I began reading in the park on a slow/rainy day (I do not remember exactly which it was) and which I wound up taking home with me so that I could finish reading it. It was not the first copy of Flynn’s autobiography (nor the last) to come through the library, but it is a copy that continues to sit on my bookshelf today. In the midst of the positive rush of energy in the park it just seemed exciting to read about radical history whilst in the tumult of – what at least seemed like – a new explosion of radical activity. The Rebel Girl was the book that made me feel the continuity of the struggle for justice – a struggle which I knew would continue (and which continues) long after Occupy. But if The Rebel Girl was the book I read at the height of my optimism (which is not actually terribly high) than the second book was testament to a much lower place.

    For, the second book was a perfectly pocket sized copy of Towards a New Manifesto which, a transcription of a conversation between Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. I came across Towards a New Manifesto whilst triaging the books we had recovered from sanitation, and there was something about the woebegone aphorisms punctuating the exchanges in the book which made me smile even as I stood sorting through the debris of the library. It was while thumbing through that book that I came across what has become my favorite quote, and it is a line that those who know me have certainly heard me repeat (with varying degrees of accuracy) time and time again:

    “I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Horkheimer (45)

    For me that line came as a kind of epitaph for Occupy Wall Street, and for the People’s Library as well. After sorting through hundreds of destroyed books and coming to terms with how much was missing, my confidence that things might “turn out well” was decidedly tarnished; however, that there were still books labeled OWSL and that I knew that these books were sitting on hundreds of shelves reminded me of the “decisive importance” that things still “might” work out. Or, to point to another line that made me laugh at the time and which still makes me smile now:

    “The only thing that goes against my pessimism is the fact that we still carry on thinking today.” – Horkheimer (39)

    We still carry on thinking, and we still carry the books that provoke us to think in new ways.

    Beyond these two books I often think about a third book – one which I routinely wish that I had taken – but which I did not. This is a fact that haunts me all the worse because it was a book that I know for certain was in the library on November 16, 2011, but which was nowhere to be found amongst the recovered books. Frankly, I do not actually remember the title of the book. What I remember, though, is what it was: a handbook for performing magic tricks written in French. I do not speak French, nor for that matter am I even an amateur magician. But I loved that book, and I loved the absurdity of it being in the People’s Library. Of all of the books for the library to have in French, why on Earth would it be a manual on performing magic tricks? I would routinely pick the book up and flip through it while wondering “who the heck donated this thing?” I suppose I never borrowed that book as it seemed that it would be odd to do so – perhaps a French speaking illusionist would wander into the library and who was I to deprive that individual of such a serendipitous find? At least, I suppose that was what my logic must have been, but in truth I simply wish I had taken that book.

    [this is an abridged response – the full one (with cat pics) is here:

  5. Pingback: Where Are They Now? The People’s Library Today | LibrarianShipwreck

  6. Hey! Just thought I’d mention I made a copy of the catalog for some data visualization stuff back in 2011: this went along with the “virtual memorial” (that unfortunately got shut down when Google bought ITA Software—the Tumblr page is still alive though).

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