September 22, 2017

Librarian and Designer Pop Up a May Day Library on the Street

stocking the pop up library

Librarian Margaret Day shelves books at the pop-up library

If you thought the Occupy Wall Street (LWS) Library’s story was over, think again. Though OWS today filed suit against New York City for allegedly destroying $47,000 worth of books, computers and other equipment, according to Reuters, what remained of the books got a surprise sequel, with a feel-good ending.

Designer Adam Wiesehan and librarian Margaret Day had wanted to collaborate on a project for a while. The two shared an interest in graffiti culture and street art, so when the Occupy Wall Street library was confiscated, in November 2011, their interest turned to developing a response in the form of a shelving unit which could be mounted on a fence and left to see what developed.

The pair encountered design difficulties, however, and became worried about not being able to monitor what was going on (and off) the shelves over time. So instead, Wiesehan suggested they do a one-day installation of a pop-up library on the street: “why don’t we take old furniture and make it pretty?” he asked.

Day and Wiesehan popped up their library on May Day, and chose for their location a working Brooklyn bus shelter without any seats or other amenities. The erstwhile Occupy Wall Street collection formed the core of their offerings, supplemented by books found on the street—and two spontaneous donations from members of the public who encountered the surprise library.

drinking coffee at the pop up library

Designer Adam Wiesehan helps a library visitor to coffee and a comfy chair

The shelving units held about 60 books at a time, Day said, but they had to be refilled several times from their stock of 200 throughout the day as visitors took books home with them. People took “everything,” said Day, but “kids’ books would have been the majority if we had had more of them.” The duo left one shelving unit and a single chair in the location for a week afterward.

Day and Wiesehan staffed the library themselves, explaining the concept that that the books really were free for the taking to people who seemed confused, but pleased, by the concept. Several people kept trying to give them money for the books and the free coffee which was also provided, but they refused.

The temporary librarians had been “hesitant and worried” about possible police objections to their presence, since the New York Police Department’s reaction to other May Day demonstrations was generally not enthusiastic. But even the police seemed to like the library—when a van full of police officers passed, “I froze,” said “Wiesehan, “but then I said, you’ve got to be friendly, so I waved—and they all waved back!”

Among the day’s surprises was how many people offered to donate books—more books than Day and Wiesehan could store. “It drew more attention than we expected,” said Wiesehan.

Though he’s keeping his day job with an architecture firm and Day, who graduated from Pratt one year ago, is about to start a position as grants coordinator for a non-profit in Bushwick, the duo hasn’t given up on  making their pop up library more than a one-day wonder. “We’re thinking about turning this into some sort of nonprofit venture in the future,” said Wiesehan, including a possible partnership with the city’s permanent libraries.

In the meantime, look for the library to pop up next on a beach or boardwalk… or perhaps in a parking spot near you on September 21, AKA Parking Day, “an annual worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks.”

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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  1. Occupy Begins Lawfare Against NYPD with Vexatious Litigation Involving Ersatz OWS Library; I Offer to Assist New York City
    http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2012/05/occupy-begins-lawfare-against-nypd-with.html