The People’s Library of Occupy Wall Street

It’s day 24 of Occupy Wall Street 1 and the thousands of protesters there have been organizing themselves into pseudo governments and various working groups. 2 The place is turning into a petri-dish kind of accelerated model of semi-anarchic social planning. The coolest aspect of the new microsociety, however long it’s going to last, is the The People’s Library of #OccupyWallStreet.

The OWSL was started by an NYU library studies student setting out a pile of books – other protesters started adding books, found protection for the books from the weather, and (now) have made a catalogue of the books and are collecting donations. On the library’s blog, OWSL announced that a criminal justice attorney for a New York nonprofit offered her legal services to the library as it deals with the semi-sketch logistics of being an uncovered library located in a public park. The library has about 15 volunteers (described as “a mix of librarians and library enthusiasts”) and a barcode scanner.

According to their catalogue, the library has about 400 books, with about 50 donations per day coming for the last few days. OWSL’s catalogue includes kind of what is to be expected in the library of a strange semianarchy made up of people with too much time, from Reading Lolita in Tehran to The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Volunteers say that they’re having constant requests for copies of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. There are a few less expected titles in the catalogue, though, too, like Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement3 and Cloudy with a chance of meatballs.

OWSL volunteers say that they do not discriminate when it comes to which books they put out – by nature of those donating, they have mostly liberal political and philosophical theory. But, one of the volunteers said, “if someone came with a truckload of Rush Limbaugh’s books, we’d put them out. We’re not opposed to having a dissenting voice.”4

One volunteer was asked to describe the library’s purpose: “People want to know, ‘What’s your agenda?’” he said. “Well, the status quo doesn’t have an agenda. Everyone here, in the aggregate, are people who feel disenfranchised and powerless. It’s perfectly legitimate to be frustrated. I don’t have a solution. I’m not an anarchist. I’m here because I love books.”

I'm not an anarchist. I'm here because I love books.

This attitude is what gives a sense of legitimacy to OWSL: its dedication to the availability of information in general, not just the forward movement of the protesters’ varying agendas. It’s admittedly heartening to see that one of the first things that develops in a group of people staying still for a while is a library. The agendas and decisions of the protest aside, let’s hope that the spirit of the indiscriminate availability of information and discourse remains in at least this aspect of the movement.

1 If you’re not terribly aware of what’s going on in NYC, and are interested in politics or social media or culture or anthropology or basically anything, read up on the Wiki page – for more laughs, read the .
2 For example: Sanitation, Food and Kitchen, Arts & Culture, Public Relations, Direct Action, Media Spokesperson Relations, Internet, Information, and “Peacemakers” [Security]. source:
3 For substantial feelings of anger, horror, and loss of hope, Google the Quiverfull movement.
4 source:


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