ALA Midwinter 2012: Occupy Wall St. Librarians Wonder, When Did Sharing Become …

OWS librarians ALA Midwinter 2012: Occupy Wall St. Librarians Wonder, When Did Sharing Become a Revolutionary Act?Librarians from the People’s Library, part of Occupy Wall Street (OWS), spoke movingly this morning of the library, its goals, and the continuation of the project despite the effective dismantling of the volunteer-run library. The OWS protest site at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan—including the library—was cleared in a November 15 police raid.

The panelists—featured at an ALA Masters Series panel during the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, TX—included the first OWS librarian Betsy Fagin, an ALA Spectrum Scholar at the University of Maryland, where she received an MLS in 2004; Mandy Henk, an access services librarian at DePauw University, Greencastle, IN; and Zachary Loeb, who earned an MSIS from the University of Texas in 2011, among others.

The crowd, though dwarfed by the huge venue, was enthusiastic, applauding the inspirational speeches.

Protesters began occupying the park on September 17, where the library was created soon after. A “call for librarians” on the library website went out on October 5, as LJ reported, and a “library ground practices” sheet was created for volunteers. A catalog of all the books donated to the library, including those that were lost or destroyed, is available on the LibraryThing website.

The library was unconventional not just in its location and staff but also in the way it was run. Patrons could borrow or keep books, although returns were encouraged. All books were donated, effectively living up to the “People’s Library” name.

Loeb said that when the books were retrieved after the NYPD raid, just a quarter of the 4000-plus books were saved, with only 800 of them still usable.

Despite the destruction of the library, he characterized the librarians as continuing the fight for their beliefs. Indeed, Loeb took issue with a recent Village Voice article titled “The 100 Most Powerless New Yorkers,” in which the Occupy Wall Street librarians ranked number 34. (New York Public Library librarians were number 13.) “Powerlessness is what happens when you just sit behind your desk and do nothing,” he said.

Henk spoke movingly on the topic of libraries’ importance. “Librarianship has a long history as a liberating force in society,” she said.

“How have we come to a place where the sharing of books, and the gathering and disseminating of knowledge has come to be such a revolutionary act—one that brought the full force of the militarized New York police department down upon it?” she asked. “I think the reason is that today we see an all-out assault on what libraries stand for and what they do.”

“I joined [the People’s Library] because building a library, any library, in times like these is an act of resistance, and protest, and hope, and love,” she added.

The full text of the five panelists’ speeches, they said, will be made available soon on the Occupy Wall Street Library blog.

Visit LJ’s ALA Midwinter Meeting News channel for complete coverage of the conference, and be sure to follow us on Twitter.