The People’s Library, formerly located at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement in Zuccotti Park, was lauded at the fastest growing library in America by Melvin Jules Bukiet (writing for OccupyWriters.com). “About a thousand books a day are lent out and about a thousand more arrive, so many that they’ve had to find storage space elsewhere. “ Bukiet wrote, “to put these numbers in perspective, a suburban library I know lends out about 400 items a day, the majority of which are ‘media,’ a.k.a. videos.”
The morning of November 15, when the NYPD raided Zuccotti Park, they also confiscated the 5,000 books in The People’s Library. Readers, writers, and librarians were outraged when they saw bins of books being emptied into a dumpster on the livestream of the raid.
Hours after the raid was over, when a barricade with a single entrance was erected, people returned to the park. The NYPD and other security officials were not letting people into the park with large backpacks, many of whom had books belonging to The People’s Library. Matthew Taylor, a Queens resident, was there that afternoon and said that people were practically leaping over the barricade and telling the NYPD, “I have to return this book before I get fined for being overdue!”
A few days after the raid Mayor Bloomberg’s office tweeted a picture of some of the books they had confiscated, ensuring the public and the librarians that the books were safe and could be retrieved. Of the 5000 books that belonged to the library only 1300 books were returned, about one third of the collection. Of those 1300 books that were returned only 800 are fit to be read. At press conference last week, Norman Siegel a civil rights lawyer pleaded that, “The Bloomberg Administration needs to replace every book missing or damaged…. We have the titles and authors. The Bloomberg Administration needs to acknowledge that a wrong was committed and that this can never happen again.”
I saw The People’s Library last October and was astounded by the collection. The library had a large children’s book collection, philosophy books, text books, Twilight, and, after making a joke about reading Ayn Rand on Wall Street, The Fountanhead. During the press conference, Siegel pointed out that the library even had Bloomberg on Bloomberg.
The donation based library has since gained support from the American Library Association and now exists in a transient state, with small “branches” popping up at Occupy Wall Street marches (and drum circles) throughout the city. There was even a #OWSbookmobile that traveled around New York City picking up books in hopes of replenishing the lacking collection.
The People’s Library and its patrons are a community of engaged readers, in a country where educators are constantly figuring out how to get young people interested in books. It is deplorable that our own government is destroying our books. But, the library is just one small part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as one of the librarians said at the press conference, “You can take our books. You can take our park. But you can’t take our spirit. And we’re not going anywhere”