March 18, 2018

ALA Midwinter 2012: Occupy Wall St. Librarians Wonder, When Did Sharing Become a Revolutionary Act?

(This post has been updated from an earlier version.)

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. Other panelists included librarian Jaime Taylor and Daniel Norton, who is currently working toward a B.S. in information and library services at the University of Maine at Augusta.

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.

David Rapp About David Rapp

David Rapp ( was formerly Associate Editor, LJ.

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  1. I enjoyed this Master Series panel more than any other talk at Midwinter this year. So looking forward to hearing more from the People’s Library! I do wonder why there are only 3 people mentioned in this article when there were 5 presenters? The young man (Daniel?) was one of the most refreshing and inspiring voices I’ve heard speaking on library topics in a very long time. Is LJ snubbing him on account of his lack of Master’s enrollment? Can’t have LJ be acknowledging the existence of undergraduate opportunities now can we? (the horror!). I wish all of these fine people luck and success! We need more of them in our ranks!

    • Loretta Franklin says:

      It doesn’t hurt that he’s also adorable!

      These speakers brought tears to my eyes. I wish them all the best and commend the work that they are doing. I hope to see them present again and to continue with their inspiration.

      Always, Loretta (LitCat)

  2. Wonderful people doing wonderful things. Thank you.