Category Archives: Reference

Neil Smith, NYC Occupy History and the Political Geography of Revolt

I’ve wanted to mark the recent sudden and tragic death of radical geographer Neil Smith, but wasn’t sure quite how. Just now, as I was re-reading his book “The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City” I realized that I could do this in two ways. First by sharing some passages from the first chapter, which contains an account of the eviction of the Tompkins Square Park occupation in 1988 (and again in 1991) echoing the eviction from Liberty Plaza of the Occupy Wall Street encampment, and second by sharing a link to the entire book in PDF form, which is available free online from the National Technical University (NTUA) in Athens.

Neil Smith’s account of the occupation and eviction, as well as his analysis of urban class struggle are vital texts for occupiers to understand the history of resistance in the city. For those who haven’t read them, or aren’t familiar with the occupation of Tompkins Square, they will be eye-opening:

On the evening of August 6, 1988, a riot erupted along the edges of  Tompkins Square Park, a small green in New York City’s Lower East Side. It raged through the night with police on one side and a diverse mix of anti-gentrification protesters, punks, housing activists, park inhabitants, artists, Saturday night revelers and Lower East Side residents on the other. The battle followed the city’s attempt to enforce a 1:00 A.M. curfew in the Park on the pretext of clearing out the growing numbers of homeless people living or sleeping there, kids playing boom boxes late into the night, buyers and sellers of drugs using it for business. But many local residents and park users saw the action differently. The City was seeking to tame and domesticate the park to facilitate the already rampant gentrification on the Lower East Side . . .”Whose fucking park? It’s our fucking park,” became the recurrent slogan . . .

. . . In fact it was a police riot that ignited the park on August 6, 1988. Clad in space-alien riot gear and concealing their badge numbers, the police forcibly evicted everyone from the park before midnight, then mounted repeated baton charges and “Cossacklike” rampages against demonstrators and locals along the park’s edge:

‘The cops seemed bizarrely out of control, levitating with some hatred I didn’t understand. They’d taken a relatively small protest and fanned it out over the neighborhood, inflaming hundreds of people who’d never gone near the park to begin with. They’d called in a chopper. And they would eventually call 450 officers… The policemen were radiating hysteria . . .’ (Carr 1988:10)

. . .In the days following the riot, the protesters quickly adopted a much more ambitious political geography of revolt. Their slogan became “Tompkins Square everywhere” as they taunted the police and celebrated their liberation of the park. Mayor Edward Koch, meanwhile, took to describing Tompkins Square Park as a “cesspool” and blamed the riot on “anarchists.” Defending his police clients, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association enthusiastically elaborated: “social parasites, druggies, skinheads and communists” –an “insipid conglomeration of human misfits” –were the cause of the riot, he said. . .

Smith, N. 1996. The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City. Routledge.

First photo from Ángel Franco of The New York Times. Additional images are from Q. Sakamaki‘s book Tompkins Square Park.

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Filed under 11/15 Eviction, Announcements, Michael, Privatization, Public/Private Parks, Reference, Scholarship

This is Relevant to Our Interests

I love it when bits of information come together serendipitously.  This morning the ALA sent me an email and a friend made a Facebook post, and now you all have a (potentially) useful blog post about…

PRIVACY ON THE INTERNET!

Anyhow, the ALA alerted me to Choose Privacy Week, being held May 1-7.  They say,

We live in an age when knowledge is power. New technologies give us unprecedented access to information. They also facilitate surveillance, with the power to collect and mine personal information.

People enjoy the convenience of having information at their fingertips. But most people don’t realize the trade off. For example, citizens turn a blind eye to the fact that online searches create traceable records that make them vulnerable to questioning by the FBI, or that government agencies can track their phone calls, airline travel, online purchases, and more.

As political activists, we are probably a little more aware of these problems than the average citizenry, even if we don’t really know what to do about it.  Since some of our comrades have started getting visits from the authorities, maybe we should lend the issue a little more thought.

Anyway, there’s this: DuckDuckGo.  A librarian friend brought it to my attention this morning.  It’s a search engine that claims to offer pretty good privacy (friend says, “No saved and reported searches, no IP addresses, no sent and stored cookies, and no ads. Plus it’s adorable.”).  It also seems to return search results that are nearly as good as, if not as good as, Google’s.

Now, I don’t know how true these claims are, but my computer-y folks seem to think it’s pretty good — one programmer friend uses it as his default search tool, but notes that since large swaths of the rest of the internet uses Google Analytics or Ads, you still have to deal with being tracked from that end. A public librarian friend says she recommends it to patrons who are doing “sensative” or “potentially illegal” searching.

Anyway, I wanted to throw that out there and crowd-source a bit.  If you’ve never heard of it, give it a whirl.  Those who’ve used it, what do you think?  And, does anyone know of other, similarly useful tools?

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Filed under Cops, Cyberspace, Education, Free Speech, Jaime, Reference, Technology

Occupy the OccuPAST: Echoes of Dissidence in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection (pt. 4 of 4)

Today we have the final installment of Laurie Charnigo’s essay Occupy the OccuPAST: Echoes of Dissidence in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection. Previous sections are posted here, here and here.

Unlike the literature of Occupy Wall Street, the publishers of these newspapers did not have the benefits of digitization and the Internet to preserve and disseminate their information. Many of these papers would have been lost to history if not for the leaders of the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) who had the foresight to preserve as many of them as possible. In 1970, Tom Forcade, Head of UPS at the time, formed a deal with the Bell & Howell Company to film the underground papers. This was an ongoing project that continued until 1985. The UPS partnered with the Bell & Howell Company to microfilm hundreds of underground newspapers and newsletters. The result is the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection which, according to a catalog record in WorldCat, is currently housed in 110 (primarily academic) libraries. There have been some efforts to digitize select underground newspapers. For example, Georgia State University has recently digitized all issues of the Great Speckled Bird and made them freely accessible on the Georgia State University Library Digital Collections Web site. Likewise, Liberation News Service is in the process of making LNS packets available from the Liberation News Service Archive. The It’s About Time: Black Panther Party Legacy & Alumni Web site also provides an archive of the Black Panther Party Intercommunal News Service. All issues of The Realist, a satirical newspaper, founded by Paul Krassner, are available from The Realist Archive Project. Although, some consider the Los Angles Free Press to be the first counterculture paper, many include The Realist which predates them all, having been founded in 1958. The Ann Arbor District Library has digitized all issues of the Ann Arbor Sun, from 1967-1976, on their Free John Sinclair Web site. The Sun was founded by John Sinclair. Also available on this Web site are some really cool photos and audio recordings.

On February 28th at 6:30 p.m. at 20 Cooper Square, N.Y.U.’s Program in Museum Studies and Fales Library and Special Collections at Bobst Library will be sponsoring an exhibit on the East Village Other titled “It’s Happening: “Blowing Minds” a Celebration of the East Village Other. Although not freely available, libraries should consider purchasing the CD-ROM digital re-creation of The San Francisco Oracle which provides access to all twelve issues published. Although the Oracle is included in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection on microfilm, the CD-ROM version provides access to the paper in color. Viewing the Oracle in black and white is like looking at a rainbow without color. Many terrific books have been written about the underground press. Click here for a “Free Handout” which provides a bibliography on such books, including authors cited in this essay, as well as two excellent recently-published titles; Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America by John McMillian and Sean Stewart’s On the Ground: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S.

An interesting thought to end this entry on the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection is that, while scholars today are able to access many articles and newspapers online through databases and on the Web, the hundreds of papers which are not there still exist and only exist because of Thomas King Forcade’s efforts to have them microfilmed. Vendors, aggregated databases, and giant publishing conglomerates dictate what scholars and students are able to instantly access today. Because there is not enough demand for the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection (don’t confuse this with Alt-Press Watch) the vendor which holds the rights to the resource does not currently have any plans to digitize this Collection. Strangely, the very principles the underground press fought adamantly against, commercialization and allowing themselves to be co-opted, are the very reasons it has not entered the digital world. The powers that be just don’t consider the collection to have monetary potential. Perhaps it is up to us, the people, to protect and promote this collection. From their moldy, yellowed, microfilm tombs, it’s time to bring the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection back to life. Promote it. Use it. Demand it. Digitize it?

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Filed under Betsy, Digital Archive, Education, Ephemera, Literature, OccupyLibraries, Reference, Scholarship

Protest History: Underground Press Syndicate pt. 3 (of 4)

Continuing Laurie Charnigo’s essay on Protest History, here is part 3 of 4 from Occupy the OccuPAST: Echoes of Dissidence in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection.

Although newspapers, as shown in the previous examples, varied on issues so widely that any attempt to include them all would be impossible for this piece, they all bonded loosely as a movement through their unified opposition to the war in Vietnam. Many of the issues most widely shared focused on American imperialism, ecological awareness, dismantling the military industrial complex, and the erosion of constitutional rights such as free speech, expression and the right to peacefully protest. Corporate greed, growing commercialism, inequality, distrust of mass media and “The Establishment” were issues all papers had in common. The writings in this collection are echoes of concerns people are now raising in OWS.

Despite their differences, nearly all underground newspapers became the target of censorship and police harassment. We have the Patriot Act. They had J. Edgar Hoover and the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). In “Dirty Tricks on the Underground Press,” Geoffrey Rips cites a report from the UPS which indicated that at least 60% of their members experienced “interference” from the authorities. (47) According to Rips, this “interference” included “prosecutions in the courts, official interruption of distribution, bomb threats and bombs by groups with links to the authorities, harassment of customers and printers, wiretaps, and infiltration by police agents.” Trying to publish an underground paper in a place like Jackson, Mississippi left David Doggett, editor of the Kudzu, financially and psychologically crushed. Rips also reports on how the Black Panther Party (BPP), considered to be a terrorist organization by the FBI, was a constant target of harassment. According to Rips, in a particularly absurd memorandum to the FBI, authorities in Newark suggested spraying bundles of the BPP newspaper with a “chemical known as Skatole” which “disburses a most offensive odor on the object sprayed.” (Rips, 48). The object was to spray as many papers with this stinky substance in order to disrupt distribution of the paper. Authorities also harassed underground newspapers by arresting street vendors for such things as “vagrancy” or distributing obscenity. Streitmatter wrote that:

“On the very day that Richard Nixon was elected President, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sent a memo to his offices coast to coast. The subject of the communiqué was a plan Hoover had developed to halt what his lieutenants were characterizing, with considerable panic, as the ‘vast growth’ of counterculture papers.” (Steitmatter, 214).

It is unnerving to realize that surveillance and erosion of free speech continues under the Patriot Act.

Lest I be accused of over-romanticizing the Sixties Era underground press, I would be remiss not to point out some of its flaws…and there are many. The sixties counterculture papers are often dismissed by scholars as unprofessional, naïve, “hippie,” drivel. It’s certainly true that a forage through the underground papers does turn up its fair share of poorly written news filled with typos, bad artwork, and misinformation. And, heck yeah, there’s a lot of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. So what? One might even argue that liberating sex and legitimizing rock n’ roll were monumental feats in our cultural history.

Even though many of the issues expressed by the counterculture movement were extremely serious there is an ever-present element of humor which runs throughout the underground press. That zany mixture of silliness and seriousness is what is also fun and charming about the writers and artists of the underground press. As Harvey Wasserman (Liberation News Service) wrote in Sean Stewart’s recently-published book On the Ground: an Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U. S., “we were not only political activists but comedians…”(Stewart, 180).

All silliness aside, one should not forget that the underground newspaper collection also documents one of the greatest youth movements in U.S. history. The papers are filled with serious and thoughtful discourse concerning the Vietnam War, civil rights, ecology, to the evils of over-consumerism. With gusto and cleverness, articles of sheer brilliance and beauty were published in the underground press. It’s also important to remember that the underground press often broke news on issues before it was deemed appropriate or fitting for mainstream papers. As Rodger Streitmatter suggests in Voices of Revolution: The Dissident Press in America, the underground press was the first to bring forth the truth about what was really happening in Vietnam and why our involvement in it was doomed. Prior to the Tet Offfensive in 1968, Streitmatter reports that all major newspapers supported U.S. involvement in Vietnam, even claiming that the U.S. had almost won. Following the Tet Offensive, mainstream news sentiment quickly flip-flopped to opposition against continued military action. (Streitmatter, 197). Photographs and stories began to expose the extent of the horrors of Vietnam. In their news coverage of the conflict in Vietnam, the newspaper giants were years behind the underground newspapers. (Streitmatter, 199).

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Filed under Betsy, Digital Archive, Ephemera, Literature, Media, Reference, Scholarship, Time Travel

“Modern civilization is a dangerous, insane process– destructive of man’s natural potential, murderous to other species of life, symbol addicted, anti-life. Drop out of the social game.”

Protest History: Underground Press Syndicate pt. 2 (of 4)
Continuing from last week’s installment, here is part two of Laurie Charnigo’s essay, Occupy the OccuPAST: Echoes of Dissidence in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection.

While the underground newspapers of the sixties and early seventies were united in their opposition to the Vietnam War, their content and purpose was by no means uniform. Some of the papers focused on hippie “drop out” culture, such as the short-lived but beautifully- illustrated San Francisco Oracle published from 1966 to 1968. The Oracle captured the pinnacle of the “Summer of Love” in Haight-Ashbury, covering such subjects as expanding consciousness, experimentation with Eastern spirituality, and human be-ins. Contributors to the Oracle included writers, poets, thinkers, and artists such as Timothy Leary, Gary Snyder, Ken Kesey, Alan Watts, Allen Ginsberg, Michael Bowen, and Allen Cohen. Revolution, as espoused in the Oracle, is an expansion and change of consciousness which occurs within an individual. As Timothy Leary proclaimed in the first issue of the Oracle, “Drop out! Modern civilization is a dangerous, insane process– destructive of man’s natural potential, murderous to other species of life, symbol addicted, anti-life. Drop out of the social game.” Perhaps no other paper in the underground newspaper collection achieved the Oracle’s sophistication in artistic expression. The paper is just as interesting to look at, with its beautiful psychedelic imagery, as it is to read. Allen Cohen, the paper’s editor, wrote that the idea for the Oracle came to him in a “rainbow newspaper” dream. The Oracle, however, only represented one spectrum of the rainbow of underground papers. On the other end of the spectrum were papers which were opposed to flowers, peace, and mind expansion as a central means to obtain social and political justice.

Music may have been the most powerful and unifying expression of the counter-cultural movement. In Voices of Revolution: The Dissident Press in America, Rodger Streitmatter writes “Despite rock ‘n’ Roll’s evolution into a potent cultural force, the established media largely ignored it.” (211). Streitmatter goes on to assert that underground newspapers helped “legitimize” rock n’ roll by providing the first serious reviews and analysis of records. One of the most beautiful counterculture essays is “Liberation Music” written by John Sinclair, former White Panther Party member, while he was serving time in Marquette Prison in July 1970. In “Liberation Music” which was published in Creem Magazine, Sinclair warns about the commercialization of music and how it is was being co-opted by big corporate interests. In this piece, Sinclair writes about the origins of the counterculture movement “Our culture started to develop about five years ago [1965] as a real alternative to the death culture of the straight world. We started from where we were then, which was almost nowhere, and we built up our culture from the ground.” Sinclair found parallels between what was happening in the rock and roll world and society as a whole, writing:

“…if we study the way the pig has infiltrated and taken over and manipulated our culture, we can not only discover how to put an end to this exploitation but we can also see how monopoly capitalism and imperialism works in the larger society as well. What we have to realize, finally, is that everything that happens in the macrocosm of the American consumer culture can be seen in detail at work in the microcosm of the rock and roll world, and if we can combat the consumer mentality in our culture then we can combat it in the mother country culture too, and save ourselves and eventually all the people of the earth from destruction at the hands of the greed creeps and “owners” who are causing all of us all this grief.”

While underground papers served as the journalistic voice of the counterculture movement, rock n’ roll was the greatest and most lasting expression of the movement.

While sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll surface frequently in the underground newspapers, hundreds of others focused solely on serious social and political issues. New Left Notes, the official paper of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), for example, focused on New Left ideology. The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service (BPINS) was the voice of the Black Panther Party and addressed Black Power and African American issues. Papers in the south, such at The Great Speckled Bird in Atlanta, the Kudzu in Jackson, Mississippi, T-Town’s High Gauge (roll tide, crimson hippies!) and NOLA Express in New Orleans spent a great deal of time reporting on civil rights issues. Although hippies and college-educated New Left did not exactly fit in with the working class, Rising up Angry addressed workers rights in Chicago. Free Palestine (Washington, D.C.) took up the issue of Palestinian rights and ran from 1969-1971. In the January 1969 issue of Free Palestine, Justin Harris urged Americans to become more informed about the IsraeliPalestinian conflict writing:

“One can make a fine start towards the goal of wider understanding by reading the message of the Palestinian resistance as presented by Free Palestine, and then continue with additional study of the historical roots of the problem and the present-day ramifications. Careful consideration should be given to this movement’s revolutionary contribution to the Arab world; its political impact on American society and its spiritual significance to all the oppressed people of the world.”

Dine’ Baa Hani gives readers a glimpse into the social issues surrounding the Navajo during 1970 to 1973. Modern Utopia provided information about communal living and compiled lists and addresses of social organizations. Gay Sunshine was one of the first papers to focus on gay and Lesbian rights following the Stonewall Riots in 1969. G.I. Press Service was an example of the many underground newspapers created by soldiers who opposed the War in Vietnam. Perhaps G.I. papers, more than any other paper, would have been considered “underground.”

Women’s rights were the central focus of Rat (New York), It’ Aint Me Babe (Berkeley), and Ain’t I a Woman (Iowa). In 1970, the women who worked at Rat staged a coup and took over the entire paper, opening up “LiberRATion” from their alleged sexist- male coworkers whom they believed had relegated them to secretarial or non-important positions in the paper. In her exposé, “Goodbye to All That,” printed in Rat’s “take over” edition, Robin Morgan wrote:

“Goodbye, goodbye forever, counterfeit Left, counterleft, male-dominated cracked-glass mirror reflection of the Amerikan Nightmare. Women are the real Left. We are rising, powerful in our unclean bodies; bright glowing mad in our inferior brains; wild hair flying, wild eyes staring, wild voices keening…We are rising with a fury older and potentially greater than any force in history, and this time we will be free or no one will survive. Power to the people or to none. All the way down this time.”

Morgan’s “Goodbye to All That” was widely reprinted and considered one of the best underground newspaper essays on the role of women in the counterculture movement.

Numerous papers were centered around or started as college newspapers. These papers tended to create a counterculture environment on or around campuses, with many forming SDS chapters. In September 1969, NOLO Express (New Orleans) put out a special “Student Handbook” in which they exposed the big corporate affiliations of the LSU at New Orleans Board of Supervisors in “Freshman Orientation 101: Introduction to LSU Board of Supervisors”. The editors proceeded to lambaste the monopoly of the campus bookstore and the outrageous prices of textbooks in “Book Store Code Exposed.” Other pieces in the “Student Handbook” included “Busting the Ban on SDS “ (the University felt the organization was too radical for LSUNO), disgruntlement at the high prices of coffee and the “cardboard hamburgers” in the University Cafeteria, a “Freshman Orientation Quiz” with a section on maps titled “Know your Empire,” and a piece bemoaning the increase in student fees. On the cover of the handbook is a cartoon by R. Cobb of Satan tempting a hippie- looking Adam and Eve couple with the caption “Besides…Just how far do you think you can get in today’s world without a good education?”

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Filed under Art, Betsy, Digital Archive, Ephemera, Literature, Reference, Scholarship

Protest History: Underground Press Syndicate

We are lucky enough to have a series of guest blog posts from Laurie Charnigo, a Reference Librarian at the Houston Cole Library at Jacksonville State University. One of the gems of their collection is the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) Underground Newspaper Collection– more than 500 underground newspapers and newsletters from the 1960′s now preserved on microfilm. Enjoy the first of four posts from Laurie about the collection.

Occupy the OccuPAST: Echoes of Dissidence in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection

…we had been so wiped out by our visions of love and universal truth that we were blinded to the real nature of the death culture and we just couldn’t believe it when Babylon refused to melt away in the face of the colossal wave of good feeling we had let loose on Amerika. …This wasn’t quite what we expected, and it knocked most of us right off our feet, and we still haven’t recovered from the shock of finding out that the world wasn’t going to change just because that was the best thing for it. ~ John Sinclair, “Liberation Music,” June-July 1970.

In the introduction to Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology, Danny Schechter writes, “All movements need their poets to set the tone, to raise the questions and express the sensibility.” 1 Just as a distinctive literature may emerge from Occupy Wall Street (OWS), the protest movement of the Vietnam era had its own literature in the form of hundreds of underground newspapers published during the sixties and early seventies. Luckily, most of these papers were preserved in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection. Unfortunately, this collection sits in over 100 libraries throughout the United States gathering cobwebs in moldy, yellowing boxes of microfilm, largely overlooked and forgotten by scholars and unknown by students today. Now, more than ever, it’s time for this collection to be rediscovered and brought back to life. The voices of dissidence, captured in the sixties counterculture papers, in many ways, parallels and echoes the concerns of OWS.

The counterculture newspapers in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection, published mostly on shoestring budgets and with small circulations, facilitated the anti-war movement while also documenting its history. In 1966, a loose coalition of editors from five papers, including the East Village Other (New York), Los Angeles Free Press, Berkeley Barb, Fifth Estate (Detroit) and The Paper (Michigan State University) founded the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS). Membership into the UPS increased rapidly over the next six years. For a membership fee of ten dollars, newspapers were required to send all issues of their papers to UPS, in addition to all other members of the Syndicate. In exchange for the small fee and swapping papers, all members were allowed to reprint each other’s work with nothing more than a credit line.

The underground press dropped all pretense to objectivity, which many claimed was a myth anyhow. The goal of these papers was to rouse their readers to action, to serve as both spokespieces and active participants in the movement. As John Wilcock, former editor of the East Village Other and Other Scenes, recalls “we underground publishers thought we were making history!” Because the newspapers included information on cultural, social, and political events (e.g., protest gatherings, rock concerts, human be-ins, notices about crimes against the people by the “Establishment”) which were not reported by mainstream news sources, the UPS was essential for the rapid spread of counterculture information in a pre-Internet age. An extremely important member of UPS was Liberation News Service (LNS) founded by Raymond Mungo and Marshall Bloom in 1967. LNS served as a sort of Associated Press or a United Press International service on foreign and political affairs worldwide. LNS had correspondents in places such as Southeast Asia, South America, and throughout the United States. For a fee, LNS sent news bulletin packets to interested underground newspapers. This service allowed newspapers to add international and political news, often not reported by “Establishment” newspapers. LNS enabled small local underground papers, such as the Kudzu in Jackson Mississippi, to enrich their own local news with an international flair. In addition, through membership to the UPS, the Kudzu would have rights to reprint articles written by key members of the counterculture who may have written for some of the larger underground papers, such as the East Village Other or Los Angeles Free Press. The services of both UPS and LNS were essential factors in the rapid growth and expansion of underground newspapers in cities all across the United States.

Soon after the UPS was established, counterculture newspapers began to “spread like weed,” as Thomas King Forcade, legendary leader of UPS and founder of High Times Magazine, once described their rapid growth in a 1973 issue of the UPS Directory. In the ’73 Directory, Forcade traced the first “true” underground newspaper back to the Los Angeles Free Press which was founded by Art Kunkin in 1964 with an estimated readership of 20,000. By 1972, Forcade reported that the number of underground newspapers had risen to 300 with an estimated readership of twenty million! The counterculture papers of the sixties were such an integral voice of the youth movement in cities across the United States that at a UPS Media Conference in Boulder, Colorado in 1973, paper editors unanimously decided to change the name of the Underground Press Syndicate to the Alternative Press Syndicate. As Forcade wrote in the July/ August issue of the Underground Press Revue, “Though we are the only press uniquely equipped to go underground at a moment’s notice, what we are really about is viable, social alternatives.” The life of Tom Forcade and his passion for the underground press is an interesting story, in itself. Through a series of video interviews, Steven Hager reveals an interesting and rare glimpse into the life of Forcade and his role in the UPS in “The Tom Forcade Story.”

1 Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology, https://peopleslibrary.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/ows-poetry-anthology2.pdf

The essay continues: part two, part three, part four.

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Filed under Betsy, Ephemera, OccupyLibraries, Reference, Scholarship

Librarianing Theory

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

Let me give you some library theory, then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Jaime, Process, Reference, Scholarship

“Which three books would you have taken?”

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

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

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

The Power of Information

One of the questions we’re asked everyday by media and visitors is “Why a library at #OccupyWallStreet?”

Well, information matters and it’s powerful. But what does that mean? In her October 4th post about working at the library, Sophia wrote “There is a library because we are here and knowledge is necessary for survival.” More recently, Steve S. explained “we are almost as important as the kitchen, the kitchen feeds them, we feed them books . . . libraries are there to provide you the means in order to articulate your rationale. we think through books, we think through the ideas of others, we don’t exist in isolation, we need to communicate, correspond and experience intersubjective exchange of information and ideas in order to know where we stand . . .”

As a library, we’re here to provide information. To collect and make available information as freely as possible. And sometimes information is literally mind-blowing, some information changes the way you think about the economy and the world around you and about fairness. This is a list of sourced economic facts that did that for me. Want to learn more? We have a boxes of books about economics, corporate citizenship, globalization and more. Come down and get some power.

The 10 Worst Corporate Income Tax Avoiders (as of March 2011)

1)  Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009.  Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.  (Source: Exxon Mobil’s 2009 shareholder report filed with the SEC here.)

2)  Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion. (Source: Forbes.com here, ProPublica here and Treasuryhere.)

3)  Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS. (Source: Citizens for Tax Justice here and The New York Times here.  Note: despite rumors to the contrary, the Times has stood by its story.)

4)  Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.  (Source: See 2009 Chevron annual report here.  Note 15 on page FS-46 of this report shows a U.S. federal income tax liability of $128 million, but that it was able to defer $147 million for a U.S. federal income tax liability of $-19 million)

5)  Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.  (Source: Paul Buchheit, professor, DePaul University, here and Citizens for Tax Justice here.)

6)  Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction. (Source: the company’s 2009 annual report, pg. 112, here.)

7)  Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.  (Source: Bloomberg News here, ProPublica here, Treasury Department here.)

8)  Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury. (Source: Paul Buchheit, professor, DePaul University, here, ProPublica here, Treasury Department here.)

9)  ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2006 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.  (Sources: Profits can be found here.  The deduction can be found on the company’s 2010 SEC 10-K report to shareholders on 2009 finances, pg. 127, here)

10)  Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.  (Source: The New York Times here)

List compiled by Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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Filed under Michael, Reference

Working the Reference Desk

Let’s get one thing out of the way. I’m not a Librarian. Being a Librarian requires years of study and training and experience and education. We’re so lucky to have our founder Betsy who is a Librarian, and for the amazing work of Mandy, also a Librarian, who drove all the way from Indiana today with her husband to help out and is continuing to work with us.

But, when I spend a day sitting at the library with my name-tag on, helping our patrons and brothers and sisters in the movement and get so many questions from people I start to know what it must feel like to be a Librarian. Questions about everything. So, even those of us who aren’t librarians, but are working at the library have to learn to think like we’re sitting at the reference desk. And this is not the usual reference desk. Sometimes we’re working in the rain, sitting in a puddle, while being interviewed by a German reporter who got off the plane an hour ago, and talked at by a gentleman who insists one can stop the rain if you just point your finger at the sky and say firmly “dissipate!” all while a pigeon is poking around next to you and someone walks up and says:

“Where is the poetry meeting?” – “Do you have any of the Wall Street Journal Occupation paper?” – “Can I buy this book?” – “What’s the march route?” – “Where is the bathroom?” – “When is Radiohead getting here?” – “I read there isn’t really a point here, what is this protest about anyway…?”

It’s that last one that can be the hardest to answer. Well, yes – of course there is a point to the protest, to the movement, to the activism. That’s why we’re here, that’s why we’re doing this. And so in my temporary capacity as an ad-hoc reference librarian, I’m pleased to post a link here to the official “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City“.

So, have a look at that, and then hear what I have to say about it and tell me what you think, tell me why you’re here. And ask someone else, ask someone at the kitchen as they hand you warm food (so grateful for the excellent burrito tonight!). Ask someone in the sanitation group who is changing out a trash can or sweeping up. Ask someone who is sleeping in the park. Ask someone who just walked out of the 77th precinct in Brooklyn after being arrested on the bridge today. Sure, the Occupy Wall Street movement is non-hierarchical, and what I say about it might totally conflict with what someone else says about it. But that’s ok. In fact, it’s not only ok – it’s by design. That’s what makes it participatory, that’s how it’s built from the ground up, that’s how we are building a community, a cause, a consciousness, that’s how we’re building a movement – we’re doing it together.

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Filed under Michael, Reference