Library Finance

A place for open discussion on how to collectively facilitate the ethical and practical flow of money

Current Budget:

As of October 22, we have requested $1000 per week from the GA in addition to the $100 a week petty cash we have access to as a working group.

Other Assets: 

Things bought with donation money: the generator, and everything else Eric, George, Steve, and others have been buying from Staples, etc.  They have the receipts and their expenditures logged in the purple Library Ground Journal.  Figures to come.

Any donated supplies.

The donated books.  The most important “property” to keep in mind.

Optimism and moral authority.


Purchases of $100 or less are up to the discretion of the staff working the library. Larger purchases require consensus either through a blog or email discussion or prior approval for that project at a working group meeting.

13 responses to “Library Finance

  1. Michael

    Also, as we move forward on finance issues, here is a point of information:
    On 10/19 at the GA, a $4,000 per week standing budget was approved for Outreach to do photocopying.

  2. Michael

    Based on the consensus reached in the working group meeting of October 22, I purchased all iterations of our name as domain names. The cost for 1 year was $109.52. This leaves us with 890.48 of the budget for one week starting October 22nd (not including daily petty cash). I’ll submit for reimbursement and post when that has happened. The domain property purchased is:

  3. Briar

    I’m spending the week researching independent finance options. Why? Because last time we had two options: GA Finance or nothing. That’s a bad place to approach a decision from.

    I’m talking to a new friend of the Library, a grant writer who dropped by a couple times but whose name I’ll keep on the DL until he asks for it to be publicly listed. He’ll be available to answer questions we might have – Ask me, or ask me for his contact and I’ll see if he feels comfortable giving it.

    In the meantime, this is a good resource on the process of getting 501(c)(3) status:

    We’d need a mission statement, which we pretty much have – either something from the About page or just something about making information free and accessible to the people. Thoughts on wording?

    We’d need a board of directors – This could be two to four people the library staff agrees on by consensus. We basically already trust the money to two to four people, and if we operate under the GA Finance umbrella, we’d have no direct contact with our board of directors, and those people would not be beholden to the library’s mission statement.

    FACTS: If we were our own not-for-profit, we wouldn’t have to fight the battle with Finance to get them to earmark our funds, because they would be ours already. We could start collecting online donations. We would not be dependent on one source of income (OWS donations), and could even sell memberships and merchandise that would allow us to outlive the OWS encampment. We’d be, as Michael said, like NPR.

    OPINION: We SHOULD outlive the OWS encampment for a few reasons: 1) We stand as a record of the idea exchange taking place here, 2) We created something radical and COOL that benefits other people – Why should that die just because people have stopped living on the park or because people are no longer interested in giving money to the OWS movement?, 3) I love you folks. Solidarity.

    FACT: I will block motions to merge with GA Finance.

    • Briar, please post whatever information you collect on alternative finance options in advance of the meeting so we can all share what you’ve learned. I’m really interested to hear what kind of alternatives you’ve discovered.

      I think the question of whether we want to exist as a nonprofit outside of the GA is a separate _though related_ question from finance.

      Regarding blocks, I want to reiterate that a block is of the utmost importance. It signifies a serious ethical or safety concern. No more, no less. If anyone feels strongly enough to block a proposal, it means they are willing to walk away from the group and no longer participate if it is passed. That’s my understanding.

  4. Michael

    There is really important information about how finance is operating (on the ground) within the GA minutes. See especially the minutes for 10/12:

    Here are some of the facts I’ve pulled out of those minutes, along with my reading of what these facts suggest

    FACT: Working groups will be provided with debit cards: “Debit cards for WG will be here for working groups will be here at end of week, No more cash.. need receipts. !!!!”
    OPINION: This shows, to me, that they are trying to get access to the funds into our hands and give us freedom to use it. I like this development a lot.

    FACT: in regards to the new generator they are purchasing, the following concern was brought up: “Darrell from finance has no objections to the item. However, for the process, these are capital expenditures. They should come to finance first, to see if there are other options, or to see how much they are going to cost over the long-term.” This makes it clear that certain expenses will be screened by finance and that they are involved in decision making on some level.
    OPINION: I do not believe this is a deal breaker, because all the power they have is power that we give them – and if we engage with the process, we can question that power at the GA.

    FACT: Finance is interested in getting the money into our hands ASAP. “Finance: we’ve raised about $150,000 so far!
    Much of that money is not available to us now, but will be available in the coming weeks.
    Please be patient.
    I’d like to get it all paid out in the next week.”
    OPINION: This suggests to me that we would benefit from making a decision as soon as possible and getting our requests for funding to the GA, if we want to take advantage of that initial large pool of donations.

    FACT: The GA is trying to create their own 501c3 now: “we are in the process
    to try to create our own 501t3
    may take many months
    in the meantime, we will be using Alliance for Global Justice as a conduit to get our funds.”

    FACT: Finance is bringing in an outside accounting firm, and getting space off-site: “In other news, we want to make sure we are doing everything right and bringing in an accounting firm.. need space, contacts are being arranged with real estate so we have a place to stay and work.

  5. Briar

    Also, how bad would these “personal liability” risks be, anyway? Could they be benefits? Eric asks, “Why bother being a revolutionary if everything I do is legal?” I’ve been thinking about how rare and special the way we go about doing things really is. The OWSPL serves the dual purpose of making a statement against the current information-sharing system and providing for the community in a way that respects the moral authority only of the freedom of information. The Library gets to have our cake and eat it too.

    In the event that someone, perhaps Eric or Michael, does get in trouble for not fitting perfectly into the legal mold, would we be willing to fight a tax/legal battle defending the People’s right to managing their own independent information sources? Could this maybe be a very good point and a very good move for the cause of information freedom and moral self-authority? Can we call some lawyers in on this? Liaise with GA Legal?

  6. doesn’t sound cool. is Saturday the best time to get a bunch of us together? I’d like us to talk abt this in person. asking for pocket money/allowance? f that. I’m already getting beat down by all the fking meetings I have to go to & forms to be filled out.

  7. Mandy here: I’m torn. I agree that the People’s Library needs a longer term life than OWS is likely to have. On the other hand, I can see the Finance group’s point– they probably want to build a fairly unified organization when it comes to finance, especially since having unaccountable money floating around can attract a bad element. Do you think if we wrote up some guidelines for spending money and for what we do with our donations and then decided that everything above x dollars went to the GA that would work? That way we could decide how much money we wanted available, but could avoid ending up with a slushy unaccountable bad person attracting fund?

  8. Briar

    Betsy voiced concern that there were liability issues with the handling of cash donations in Eric’s personal account and with the We-Pay account. She suggested that we find someone in the GA Finance working group (Victoria?) to potentially collaborate with.

    Michael and I decided not to engage in collaboration with GA Finance until hearing what they had to say and bringing it back to the group. We decided to ask them how they were handling the GA finances and keeping it legal, with the intent of perhaps using their methods as a model.

    I found the GA Finance people behind the middle Info desk next to Media in the barricaded office in the middle of the park. On the way in, I was stopped by a muscular person, someone I recognize as a frequent people’s mic user at the GA and on Liberty Plaza during violent marches, with a shirt that said “SECURITY,” who only let me pass into the office area with a smile once he saw that I was wearing a Library nametag. The idea was that they were only allowing entry to those formally associated with a GA working group. About four either professionally-dressed or all-black-wearing people sat behind the barriers next to Media. Pretty sure I saw at least one of them counting money in the open.

    I asked them why they had been collecting money from Info when Info didn’t even have these GA Finance people’s Info. To my understanding, each Info desk has its own cash donation bucket marked for the GA. The info people I spoke to were instructed top-down to give Victoria from finance everything in their donation buckets. The info desk at the NW corner had been giving money to Victoria without having contact info for her or anyone at GA Finance. GA Finance said that things were just getting started and that of course not everybody had it together.

    I asked about their financial model thinking we could perhaps copy it, and never got a straight answer. Instead, they told me how they would handle our money and give it back to us, but not what they were doing to put their own accounts in order. I said out loud, “This is sounding suspiciously hierarchical to me.” One of them leaned in and whispered, “Yes, I’m having those thoughts, too, but this is not the time – we’re standing next to media.”

    One of the GA Finance people named Bobby exchanged numbers with me and came to the library later for a meeting with me and Michael. Eric, George, and Steve soon joined us. Victoria from GA Finance joined us later.

    GA Finance ~strongly~ suggested that the Library:
    -Remove the word “Library” from our cash donation bin and mark it for GA donations.
    -Turn in our donations to them, and they would put it in a sub-account in our name under their legal authority.
    -Submit a weekly budget to the GA for approval. GA Finance would handle giving us our weekly money.
    -Have to ask the GA Finance group for petty cash at a limit of $100 per day.
    -Send a representative or two to their committee spokesperson meetings, which they intend to constitute as a decision-making body alongside the GA of group representatives. They made it sound like we would not get a say if we did not pool our money with them. Michael, George, and I don’t like the look of this body.

    GA Finance gave the following pressuring concerns to the Library:
    -That the GA was receiving so much more money in donations than the Library or any other independent working group, and that by going with them, we could take advantage of the larger pool and get more funds.
    -That there was a liability issue with storing money donated to the library in someone’s personal account.
    -That there was something ~legalese~ bad about using a We-Pay account.
    -That we should not be seen counting money near our station.
    -That if we handled our own finances, the other groups who were not as well organized would follow suit.
    -That it can take a month to get not-for-profit status, and they are ahead of us in getting it for the GA.
    -That Victoria was the one who started the Library. (Relevance?)
    -That it was illegal for us to put funds donated in a container marked for the Library into the GA buckets on our own. The argument is that if people donate to the Library, it needs to go to the Library. A looser interpretation says that people donate to the Library’s caretakers and trust us to do what we think is best for the Library and its community with the money.

    We stressed to the GA Finance group that the library was interested in maintaining as much autonomy as possible because we are seeking a permanent home for the books and future independent collective custodianship of the OWS People’s Library collection. We asked how easy it would be for the Library to break our connection to the GA’s finances and take the contents of our sub-account with us to become an independent not-for-profit later. They said it would not theoretically be difficult. They also said several times, quote, “You are not an island.”

    Eric says GA Finance is trying to expropriate Library money, take our freedom and power, and make us come begging to them for our own money. George says there is no need to complicate the situation the way they want to, and I agree – What GA Finance is describing is bureaucracy/Socialism. The three of us will all block the proposal to put the Library’s money with GA Finance on the terms they have given us.

    Michael agrees that they were more demanding than they were generous with their help and resources. Eric and I finger-wiggle. Michael reminds us that we do both share the goal of getting not-for-profit status; maybe they can help us with that?

    Michael pointed out that it is not illegal to sell books outside on a table or a blanket in New York – So what if the accounts are handled by an individual acting as a bookseller? I think we are expanding far beyond that scale and are definitely not booksellers.

    Michael asks if maybe donations can be made to us, the caretakers of the library, as individuals, constituting a Foundation to support the Library? I finger-wiggle to this, because it allows us to do things like throw some money at the GA or the Arts etc. if we want to. “Occupy Wall Street People’s Library Foundation”?

    Maybe we could keep the money off-books? Perhaps in a safe deposit box? Maybe we could use this as a temporary solution for a month or so until we have not-for-profit status?

    I think we should put out a call for our own independent library finance volunteers. Michael finger-wiggles to getting more legal and financial advisers on the library team. Could Janos and Mandy maybe do some email damage in that arena?

    Eric points out that it’s no good being a revolutionary if everything you do is legal.
    Occupy Occupy Wall Street?

    • Briar

      Sorry, there were some holes in my report:

      -At our meeting with GA Finance, we asked them just how much money the GA had coming in, since our ability to access their larger funds was a hot issue. Bobby couldn’t give us exact figures, so Eric and Michael started guessing – $10,000, $20,000? $50,000? All Bobby did was point upward repeatedly and say “At least, at least,” and then give some fishy bullshit reason why they didn’t know how much money they had even for the purpose of discussing in round estimates. (Eric and Betsy always have both round and dollar-amount figures to discuss our finances)

      -Michael asked Bobby and Victoria if money donated to the library could be earmarked for the library and kept separate from GA funds, so it would go straight into our account. Bobby and Victoria said no.

      -Michael and I discussed how to articulate the idea that the People’s Library is beholden only to the moral authority of freedom of information. If we have to submit a budget to the GA, then the GA essentially has the power to censor us. I remind everyone that the GA cares for the immediate and temporary physical needs of the occupiers, and while what we do benefits the occupiers, we care for the information flow, which is not beholden to all the people living on Liberty Plaza so much as it is to both everyone in the world ~and~ only those who come over to engage with the Library. It’s not just an issue of the Library perhaps lasting longer after the GA disbands; it’s also an issue of the type of task we perform. That’s WHY we may last longer than they do – we’re doing something very different.

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