Blog Post

On the Occupy Wall Street Library

On the Occupy Wall Street Library

Over the past month or so, over on bookmobility, I've had a series of posts trying to work out the meaning of various moments in the brief history of the Occupy Wall Street library. I figured, now that I have this small but hopefully interesting corpus, I'd aggregate it here for the HASTAC community.

My first post on the Occupy libraries tried to describe what was developign in the various encampments, and to connect them to other objects and institutions I had written about previously. I also included a long excerpt from one of the librarians, trying to both let them speak for themselves a bit and to draw out the larger ramifications--for thinking about information, institutions, and collaboration--of the movement. Summing up, one wrote that in the OWS libraries, "the central desires of the people have coalesced and been made known. The uniting thread of dissatisfaction has given birth to a fresh emphasis on the right to knowledge, and the first institution of the people has been given form; The People’s Library.

Second, I posted a bit from an essay by Barbara Fisher in which she makes a point I frequently push in order to explain why a decentralized, seemingly rule-averse movement would want a library (that paragon of rules and order). "[S]haring books is an important act," she writes in part, "something that creates community."

My next post came on November 15, hours after OWS and the library were evicted by the New York Police Department. I expressed my sadness at the development but I was also less than surprised, writing that, after all, "[e]rasing places where unpredictable intimacies might take place—in the interests of preserving orderly spaces for the free flow of capital and the exercise of power—is what the state does." I was also eager to point out the ways that even if the books were safe (as the mayor's office claimed they were, though this turned out to be largely false), libraries are much more than the sum of their paper inhabitants.

Next, documenting the library's remobilization (literally!) as part of the November 17 protest, I discussed what it meant when the librarians took to the street, wheeling the library around in shopping carts.

Celebrating (eulogizing?) the library's actual collections, even as the institution fought to reassert itself, I also posted about my favorite entry in their catalog. Bartleby the Scrivener, I explained, perfectly--of sometimes strangely--encapsulated one way of thinking about the movement's posture and the role of the library in articulating it.

What followed was an excerpt from a statement by the president of the American Library Association, declaring that "[t]he dissolution of a library is unacceptable."

Next, as part of an effort to rebuild the library's collections, Maria Popova and Liz Danzico took to the streets in what they dubbed the OWS bookmobile, gathering donations for the library. In the wake of this very interesting development, I reflected briefly on what it meant to reverse the dynamic of the bookmobile (gathering rather than distributing) as part of the OWS library effort.

Driven to my primary source archives (I am a graduate student, after all), I unearthed a strikingly similar (if importantly distinct) effort, undertaken in 1968 by a Queens library, to fill the streets of New York with books and people and to imagine a different kind of urban community.

Finally (so far!), I discussed another library born out of crates, public donations, collaboratory design, and collective will--this time, in a public works project in Germany which transformed an abandoned industrial neighborhood.

I have a few more posts planned where I'll try to tease out some other historical precedents and broader cultural ramifications, so stay tuned!

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