Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

The People’s Library…Again

Those Occupy Wall Street librarians or “librarians” or whatever you want to call them just won’t quit. Last week they set up another library in Union Square Park.

The library in Zuccotti Park at least lasted a few weeks. This time the library didn’t even last a day. The police cleared almost the whole library out by the end of the day.

According to the protesting tweets, “Once again the #NYPD has destroyed The People’s Library.” “Once again.” What a surprise. One of their “librarians” was even arrested, and can now feel very morally superior indeed.

At this point, it’s more amusing than anything else that these ragtag “librarians” think they are accomplishing anything by putting some books up on a table in a park and calling it “The People’s Library.”

These poor rebels are rebelling by providing a service absolutely no one in the city needs. “Look, we have a pile of free books on a table!” they say.

“Look, we have millions of free books throughout the city,” the NYPL could reply. “And we’re the REAL people’s library!”

It’s not even astonishing anymore to watch the police dismantle such a library, and that’s a shame. By replaying the same tired scene of piling books on a table for no real purpose, the further dismantling just desensitizes us to something that we shouldn’t be desensitized to, all without accomplishing anything.

But at least they got to tweet a new chant: “People got sold out, Books got thrown out!” Very inspiring!

The “people’s librarians” were throwing out books as soon as they set them up in the park. If they didn’t know that’s what they were doing, then they’re hopelessly naive, which wouldn’t surprise me.

If they’re real librarians, they probably read the Annoyed Librarian, and I have some advice for them. Two pieces of advice, really.

First, please stop taking advantage of the good names of “library” and “librarian” during these shenanigans. Everybody loves a library, except maybe ebook publishers, but what you have there isn’t a library. It’s a pile of books in a park.

And you’re not librarians. Librarians preserve their collections, not put them in parks where they know they’ll get knocked over and kicked around by police. That’s especially true if you believe the police are jackbooted thugs. Jackbooted thugs don’t respect books. You should know this by now.

Second, if you want to protest and show what caring people you are and feel good about yourselves, that’s one thing. But if you want to make a difference, piling up books in a park is the wrong way to do it. Books go up. Police knock books down. Bad police oppressing the 99%. We get it. It changes nothing.

For better or worse, the first round of Occupy Wall Street protests galvanized the world community, spawned similar protests around the country and the world, and sparked a conversation about the distribution of wealth in America.

That it’s now reduced to yet again piling books in a park that you know are going to be removed and then complaining when they’re removed makes the OWS movement look weak and ineffectual.

Libraries are one of the few public services that most communities manage to provide for everyone, including the poor. Why try to duplicate something that’s already successful when there is so much more that could be done?

This people’s “library” is accomplishing nothing. Surprise us. Try something new.



  1. It’s almost as though they keep putting up their “library” because they know that the cops are going to come shut them down and provide a good pithy tweetable moment.

    Either that or they’re trying to regain some of that oppression high they got when the first library was dismantled and the whole world seemed to care for a moment. It’s as sad as watching a junkie trying to chase that first high and looking pretty pathetic in the process.

  2. AL, maybe the Occupy librarians should be focusing on providing ebooks…much harder to confiscate.

  3. Excellent, AL. Excellent. This so much reminds me of all the false claims of book banning and censorship the ALA’s OIF/FTRF keeps making, while banning certain things themselves and censoring people like Robert Spencer, Scott Savage, etc.

    I tweeted the link to this post of yours, by the way.

    Again, excellent.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’d love to hear how NYPL librarians feel about this. It’s so silly, distracting, and embarrassing to the profession. How much attention would this issue get if it were homeless people piling up “donated” (i.e.unwanted) books in a public space?

  5. The prospect of setting up a “People’s Library” doesn’t make any sense. Every non-academic, non-private/corporate, library is already the “People’s Library”. All the books are free in public libraries already! What service are you really providing?

  6. But it can be so freeing not to worry about a collection development policy!

  7. Dear Dirty Hippies,

    New York City already has THREE huge public library systems. We don’t need your stack of Howard Zinn books. Thanks!

  8. If you had bothered to look at the selection of books in the Occupy People’s Library You’d have noticed the Bible and even books by Sean Hannity were included. Many people who would not normally have gone to a library were introduced to literature and it has improve their lives and therefore society as a whole. There are also books that aren’t normally available. How many of you have even heard of this book? The Plot to Seize the White House: The Shocking True Story of the Conspiracy to Overthrow FDR by Jules Archer This is not a “conspiracy theory’. It was poven in Congressional Committee. One last thing, I but you haven’t read a Howard Zinn book have you?

  9. PS The dirty hippie stereotype is such shallow thinking I can’t believe it is still promoted. New York Observer “Former Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis Joins With Occupy Wall Street Protesters [Video]”
    Open your eyes.

  10. *Golf Clap*

    Well said. Using the name ‘librarian’ for this shallow practice demeans the profession.

  11. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    If they really want to be taken seriously as librarians, they had better start donning their sensible shoes, a cardigan over the shoulders, attaching their eyeglasses to a chain, and pulling their hair into a tight bun…and don’t forget to start shushing the crowd in Union Square Park.

  12. dragons redemption says:

    that just seems so pointless, however setting up a book stand for a few hours one day in an area that is highly trafficed by people could be a good way to premote reading and local libraries, could be a fun event.

  13. Some of the people involved with the People’s Library hold an MLS and have the right to call themselves Librarians. In any case, the People’s Libraries are more symbolic than “real”. It is the idea of the library as the ultimate protector of personal freedom. The first time I visited the Occupy encampment in Rochester, New York, I saw several people who I recognized or recognized me from the library. And I don’t even work at the Central Library, but at one in the suburbs. The people’s Library may be the only library some people can get to if they don’t have transportation or any money for public transport. Or they may not be welcome in the city libraries due to being homeless and smelly. Really, the People’s Libraries were/are an homage to the power of free thought and free speech represented by the Public Library.

  14. Hi,
    I just noticed your blog post about the People’s Library and I wanted to introduce myself: I’m Mandy, an MLS holding, real job having, OWS librarian. I wanted to touch base since I enjoy and respect your columns, but I think you have misunderstood both the purpose of the library (especially during the occupation) and who we People’s Librarians are. Your pile of free books on a table is my open and welcoming commons–one that I used to connect readers to needed information, including, most importantly, readers who would never have walked into a public library. I also was able to offer materials specific to the movement that were of interest to casual visitors. It was, and is, indeed a library. We have professional librarians, we have a curated collection, and, most of all, we had dedicated patrons. Second, and this gets to your misunderstanding of the point of allowing ourselves to be raided–yes, some police are thugs, but we put books in parks because that is where are our patrons are. We do not a have a building, we only have what is open to the public. For us, going to where our patrons are and serving them there, serving them in the time and the place that they needed us, is how we serve the movement. We also act, in part, as the intellectual common of the movement. Where we set up, people gather to talk politics, to share stories, to debate with each other. That is as fundamental a part of who we are as the community room in your local public library. Setting up books and creating space for discussion does indeed change quite a bit– it offers space within the movement, it offers a comfortable point of entry for those curious, and, most of all, it reaffirms the deeply held values of the movement as a whole.

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