[slickr-flickr tag=”OWS library” items=”9″]
At 1AM on Tuesday November 15th police forces converged on and cleared Zucotti Park in the interest of “public safety”. The choice of time is telling, the Mayor’s office has said that it was to “minimize disruptions for the neighborhood” and in the interest of the safety of the protesters and law enforcement officers. This rhetoric disguises the true nature of these events. The dead of night has always been the ideal time for jack-booted thugs to make arrests. It instills fear and catches citizens unprepared and at their weakest. It is the perfect time to escape the glaring eyes of the media, indeed multiple reports indicate that members of the media were kept outside of the two block area that the police cordoned off in order to make their assault.
The People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street has captured the attention and sympathy of not only the library community but of the world. It is an example of what motivated library advocates can accomplish. It provided information and entertainment to occupiers and acted as a cultural storehouse for the movement. At its height it had thousands of volumes in a broad range of subjects, laptops, a wifi hub, shelving, and even a tent donated by Rock legend and author Patti Smith which was dubbed Fort Patti.
All of this was destroyed in the dark of the night as the park was being cleared. Everything was thrown into dumpsters by armed police and city sanitation workers. It was all taken to a dept of sanitation holding facility and when library staff tried to reclaim their property from the city they found the laptops smashed, much of the collection missing, and numerous books damaged beyond repair. Support material like stamps, supplies, tables, and Fort Patti are still missing.
The Library Working Group had the library up and running again minutes after Zucotti Park was reopened starting out with a couple of paperbacks. Within two hours the collection was back up to over a hundred volumes with lending going on, reference services, and cataloging. The new practical realities of the occupation site will make maintaining the library difficult but these incredible library visionaries are undaunted. The phrase “The Library is open” has become a battle cry.
The People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street is the creation of a community of concern, by regular people who feel that libraries are important for everyone. This is a lot like how libraries started in the United States. Before Carnegie showed up on the scene and prior to the creation of the ALA small communities set up their own public libraries to serve their citizens. Imagine for a moment that you read about a library’s books being tossed into the street in 1890, consider the shock and amazement you would feel if you heard about a library being torn down by soldiers in nineteenth century Ohio while they arrested the librarians and destroyed the furniture. Now imagine that it happened yesterday in New York city. You don’t have to imagine it, just look at the pictures, this travesty is a reality, not history.
The destruction of a library is an attack on the memory of a society and is an assault not only on the institution but on the state which instigates it. Mass arrests and police action in the dead of night targeting citizens guilty of misdemeanors at best is antithetical to our national culture. Paramilitary thugs throwing a public lending library into a dumpster under cover of darkness is a direct refutation of the role of libraries in America and an insult to our ideals as a people.
Cross posted on The Desk Set, thanks guys!