OWS library is rebuilding after being trashed by NYPD, needs your donated books

The librarians of Occupy Wall Street saw their carefully catalogued collection of over 5,000 books and archive of original writing, art and other material from the historic protest destroyed by the NYPD. There were early reports (spun and promoted by the office of NYC Mayor Bloomberg) that the library had been carefully stowed in a nearby lockup from which protesters could claim it. But these claims were overstated -- the books were indeed largely destroyed or missing, along with laptops, shelves and other library equipment.

As Xeni mentioned, OWS's librarians are rebuilding, and they're soliciting donations of books for their collection. Tachyon, who publish my essay collections, alerted me to this when they wrote to ask if I minded them donating copies of my books to the effort (the answer was an enthusiastic yes!).

You can donate to the library by posting books to:

The UPS Store
Re: Occupy Wall Street
Attn: The People’s Library
118A Fulton St. #205
New York, NY 10038



  1. Of _course_ the original Library material was mostly destroyed or stolen. Did anyone expect the Police to actually take proper care of anything they took?

    I’m amazed that anyone gave any credence whatsoever to Mayor Bloomberg’s statement about the disposition of the Library materials. Not only is he a politician, he is also so wealthy that losing a couple of thousand dollars in mass-market books isn’t even significant. When you can walk into a B&N and afford to buy every book in the store in a single purchase, the loss of the Library materials shrink to the level of inconsequential.

    1. Oh, please, please do not donate anything by Ayn Rand.

      That shit is just Tea Bagger, ultra-fundamentalist, Libertarian bullshit.

      1. > Oh, please, please do not donate anything by Ayn Rand.

        Yes, definitely don’t. We wouldn’t want them reading anything that might make them start questioning the leftist progressive orthodoxy all their professors taught them.

      2. Yes, but it’s still worth reading, in the same way it is worthwhile for atheists to read the bible, the koran, and any other holy books relevant to their culture. Know why the other people believe what they do, and you’re in a much better place to advance your cause.

  2. I know it’s practically a taboo to haul Hitler into any political discussion, but one of the ways the American public were primed to get into it with the Nazis was…they burned books! This was something We Don’t Do in a civilized world. 

    I don’t need to point out any further ironies.

    1. I realize that the NYPD is indefensible here (in a civilized society, EVERY book deserves respect), but I think you’re WAY off-base. Book-burning is typically an act of censorship or rebellion. It’s an attack on the ideas that the books portray. What the NYPD did had nothing to do with the content of the books. It was simply a complete disregard for personal (or group) property. Symbolically very distinct from other instances of destroyed books.

      1. I don’t think that the destruction of the library was an act of censorship on the part of the NYPD, but I think it was a hell of a lot more than mere disregard for personal property.  The destruction of information generally sends a current of revulsion through most people who love knowledge and freedom of expression.  The fact that the NYPD simply threw an entire catalogued library in the trash and the mayor lied about it means that they are not governed by this internal law of civilized human existence.  They will never defend knowledge nor freedom of expression.

        1. I think you made a valid point, but we know that the NYPD destroyed most of the OWS stuff. It wasn’t just the library, it was everything. I think the police were just showing that they didn’t care about the occupiers’ property and the things that they had spent two months organizing and collecting. As for Bloomberg’s lie, I think that was simply proportionate to the outrage. Very few people got upset about the tents and sleeping bags. But the library was symbolic, and that sparked controversy. 

          Again, their actions are indefensible either way. It makes me cry to see books destroyed. But I think it’s unfair to misinterpret what happened. They’re disrespectful, but they’re not nazis. (Yes, I am calling Godwin’s Law on Aram Jahn)

      2. I agree with your larger point, but I cannot agree that EVERY book deserves respect. Some books live to their highest purpose when they keep doors open, or table legs even.

  3. While I agree that this was a complete dick move on the part of the NYPD, can anyone provide a rational reason why a protest movement needs an on-site library?  How does this make any sense at all?  Is there an OWS architecture firm as well?  How about a bar or an art museum?  Why present additional targets for the police that have nothing to do with advancing the goals of the Occupation?

    This doesn’t really do much for their perceived image as a scattered, unfocused mob.  It seems to be turning into a kind of NYC-based Burning Man.

    1. It actually diminishes the value of the protest.  One of the arguments against the protests is that the protesters don’t have a point and are just hippies without jobs looking for a place to crash.  Having a library seems to strengthen the point of those objectors that this is a place to live and not in the true spirit of civil disobedience.

      1. “Having a library seems to strengthen the point of those objectors that this is a place to live and not in the true spirit of civil disobedience.”

        I don’t see that those are mutually exclusive. They’re doing long term civil disobedience by turning parks into places to live.

      1.  Yes, it makes it seem like they’re just there to hang out rather than promote an agenda.  The point is not to build a little city in the park to indefinitely sustain a bunch of people who want to live there.  They need to stay on message and keep momentum going.  As soon as people start to view them as a bunch of hippie squatters who are throwing a big party and just hanging out, the message gets lost.

      2. I think the point being made is that it makes it look less like a petition of the government for a redress of grievances and more like, well, a tent city.

    2. They had the library so that they could read and reference issues on american rights and responsibilities, writings about history, and legal issues with civil rights, and economics.  It was not so much about the pulp fiction as actual need for references.

  4. O reckon not the need! Seriously, though, OWS has from the beginning been about building an alternative community in the heart of plutocratic Manhattan. Thus the broader messages–of economic reforms, social justice, etc.–are replicated in the small innovations of Liberty Square: the bicycles to supply electricity, the greywater treatment operation, the screenprinting, the library. Why is this so incredibly hard for people to understand?  Starting a free lending library, without fees, without punitive BS, without even (afaik) library cards and other forms of ID, and offering a broad range of materials with a strong leftist, critical theory, historical, etc. center: what could be a better way to “advance the goals of the Occupation”? I mean, duh. http://www.flickr.com/photos/33498942@N04/6348468793/in/set-72157628137778166

    1. @google-029232caa39a9d01356045f830e70ae6:disqus The problem is that the constitutional right to assembly is for petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. That is not what you are describing here. It’s laudible, and I support it generally speaking, but the first amendment doesn’t give you the right to annex a public park for it.

      1. usernamenumber: You should read it again.  It doesn’t say you have to be petitioning the government in order to assemble.  They’re in different phrases with an “and” in between.

        “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

        1. Maybe this is getting pedantic, and IANACL, but see how all the other phrases are seperated by semicolons, and the connection between assembly and redress is not? I assume that to be significant. Then again, sure, I could be wrong.

          In any case, the constitution also says that SCOTUS gets the final say on implementation of the constitution, and it’s been upheld that reasonable, content-neutral, time/place/manner restrictions can be placed on assembly, provided they meet several criteria (http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/timeplacemanner.htm). Does saying that you can’t just turn a public park into an open-ended, 24/7 tent city sound so unreasonable?

          1. As far as I know, you use semicolons to separate items in a list that contain commas themselves. This avoids ambiguity. In current usage I think we continue with the semicolons. They evidently did not.

            P.S. It may be pedantic (“overly concerned with minute details or formalisms, especially in teaching”), but so is Constitutional interpretation. That’s just how it goes.

          2. Didn’t talk about the park.  Just that we are allowed to peaceably assembly without being in the process of petitioning our government.  For instance, the government has no right to stop my family from having a reunion in a public space — even if we are not demanding redress for some wrong.

      2. Erm, the problem with that, though, is that right is nowhere further defined in the selfsame US Constitution:

        Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

        So it doesn’t explicitly forbid said right either, which to my non-lawyer mind suggests that we do indeed have that right.

        If you define assembly as something more, and of greater duration, than a public meeting lasting a few hours, it fits just fine. So we’ll keep Liberty Square and the People’s Library, thanks for your concern!

        1. The right of the people to assemble clearly is not tied to the purpose of the assembly. However, and this is where all of these arguments seem to go haywire, the Constitution has always been interpreted to allow for content-neutral, reasonable regulation. This is also true of an “assembly” that intends to build a permanent, sustainable  community. That is not so much an “assembly” as “development.”

        2. “So it doesn’t explicitly forbid said right either, which to my non-lawyer mind suggests that we do indeed have that right.”

          See other comments about the constitutionality of reasonable time/place/means restrictions.

          “If you define assembly as something more, and of greater duration, than a public meeting lasting a few hours, it fits just fine. So we’ll keep Liberty Square and the People’s Library, thanks for your concern!”

          Keeping requires taking, and therein lies the problem. Public space is shared. That means nobody gets to just take it over, however sympathetic the cause. 

  5. Not to be a butt, but Cory’s answer was actually an enthusiastic “No!” if the question was reported in the orignial post correctly. Sounds more awkward, but is more accurate.

    -former English major

  6. Sorry for off topic…

    But I kind of like how the movement isn’t traditional, or within the established guidelines. It’s obvious that the system has failed/is failing at the hands of the people in power, so what is the point of petitioning within their structure? No matter how OWS conducts themselves, the government is going to counteract with a demeaning tone, and mace.

    I also think it is interesting that the government can’t handle the situation without violence- it shows the true mentality of our leaders. The government is actually revealing their incompetence, fortifying the “something is wrong” attitude of the OWS.

  7. I think we should organize a book drop for Brookfield properties, the jackbooted rentseekers who “own” the park. Just send boxes upon boxes of remaindered and other books to their offices . . . every day, for months. That would really blow their minds!

    1. From what I heard from a OWS librarian on another blog, they’re looking for nonfiction books about politics, economics, history, and particularly books by and about women, gays, and people of color.

      I’d been kinda hoping to send some good fiction, but I understand why they’re looking for those kinds of books. The library isn’t just about entertainment, but about fostering education and community.  :)

  8. Honestly, wasn’t it  just a bunch of finger painted peace sign handy-crafts created by folks with a degree in medieval history (read unemployed), and some discarded books dumpster divin’ hipsters “repurposed”?


  9. Tachyon, who publish my essay collections, alerted me to this when they wrote to ask if I minded them donating copies of my books to the effort (the answer was an enthusiastic yes!).

    I’m sure they will find your book very ‘Absorbing’ when visiting the chemical toilets !

  10. > I think the police were just showing that they didn’t care about the occupiers’ property

    Well, what goes around comes around. The occupiers showed that they don’t give a damn about private property, by essentially appropriating  Zuccotti Park (which is private property) for their own use, so they shouldn’t be too outraged that the authorities apparently agree with them on that point.

  11. It was simply a complete disregard for personal (or group) property

    the police were just showing that they didn’t care about the occupiers’ property

    Think very, very hard about the irony in this train of thought. “Occupation” is the very definition of disregarding the property rights of others – why expect better treatment going the other direction?

  12. Someday, all those kids will sit at their breakfast tables in suburbia drinking coffee, reminiscing about sleeping in the mud and sticking it to the man. Just like Woodstock without the music.

  13. Wow… seems like quite a few folks here don’t really have a good grasp of what real life actual librarians and libraries do…

    Irony of ironies – you know who could fix that gap in your education as well as help you with your detailed research into the US Constitution and the collected study of it, and that bit of grammar that’s in question, and give you some help finding resources about historical protest movements of the past – from suffragettes to the summer of love?

    Answer – A Librarian… :-)

  14. Out of all the shenanigans that have gone down at OWS over the last two months, dismantling/destroying  the library  is the one that really bothers me. When you start down a path that involves preventing people from reading, it is never the start of anything positive.

    I was down in Zuccotti Park on Tuesday night, the evening after the park was “cleared”. I met one of the librarians, who was holding up a sign that said “The Library Is Open”. Here’s a link to my Creative Commons photo of the sign, along with a write up of what I saw involving the library that night.


    Later that night, the NYPD told the librarians that they couldn’t set up the library, because laying out books on the groud was a violation of the new park “rules”. An altercation broke out between the librarians and the police. I shot a video of what happened. Unfortuately it’s a bit dark, but you can clearly hear the protestors comments which are hilarious, amazing, on point and funny (also NSFW). The altercation ended with a everyone in the crowd chanting “Books! Books! Books!” which I thought was brilliant and wholly appropriate. Here’s a link to the vid:


  15. I wouldn’t donate books to OWS because they’ll just end up as garbage the next time the cops clean the park. Given this, I especially wouldn’t courier the books – what a waste of fuel! Also I’m not sure that the “people’s library” is really doing any good for anyone.

    If you want to donate your old books, give them to a prison, halfway house or shelter in your community. Brighten somebody’s day who is in a shitty living situation.

  16. Send donations of bone china to:

    Occupy Bull Pasture
    Feedlot 27
    Lawrence, KS 66044

    I love me some libraries, books, OWS, protests, and I’m disgusted with cops, but come on. Why would a smart librarian waste time working on such an obviously unsustainable “library”?

  17. “Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings.”  ~Heinrich Heine, Almansor, 1823

  18. The primary objective of OWS, which has been met within 2-4 months (cf. Maddow’s piece), is to open a public dialogue and bring into common discourse the many ways in which our democratic society has devolved into a money-making machine for a small percentage of the population who exerts undue influence on public policy at the behest of lobbyists.

    Collecting and sharing literature that educates citizens on their rights and the true state of the nation perfectly fulfills the mission of the Occupy Movement. The books are not available only to those who can show a proof of tent residence; they are there to offer all citizens the literature they may be interested in better understanding the challenges this nation faces and how to formulate actions and programs to rebuild a stronger democracy that has a chance of surviving into the 22nd century.

    I continue to be surprised at criticism leveled at Occupy such as, “They’re just not doing anything constructive! Where’s their cohesive message?” When I read these criticisms, I wonder whether those who make them recall the utterly silent, stultifying environment of the years that saw the Judiciary corrupt our electoral system and select the President of the USA.

    Were they part of the large, but entirely ignored, group of Americans who protested the legislature’s jingoistic, fear-driven embrace of the transparently false casus belli that involved the US in an extended “non-war” that solely benefited the members of the administration and their corporate associates? manipulation of truth that resulted in our extended involvement in two “non-wars”? OVer the last decade, did they commiserate with friends over the progressive eradication of fundamental constitutional rights? Did they note the progressive privatization of public spaces as government re-directed tax revenue from infrastructure to war and financial incentives to the wealthy?

    After ten years of dialogue entirely defined and driven by Rovian doctrine, OWS has changed the nature of public conversations. The Occupy Movement marks the beginning of an arduous process of addressing the overwhelming number of problems facing a democracy turned kleptocracy. 

    Libraries and schools have been prominent victims in the war on education and social programs that were instrumental in making this country the flawed but uniquely wonderful nation it was. Creating and maintaining libraries in occupied public space seems perfectly logical and germane to the Occupy Movement. 

    And why is everyone so damned upset over a library?! It’s a library. You know, with books and magazines that can be shared and discussed? I owe most of my education to the public library. Harold Bloom, Alfred Kazin, even that hypocritical twat Ayn Rand, have proudly claimed the same.

  19. Might I suggest the New York Public Library as an alternative?  The NYPL is among largest and finest public libraries the world has ever known.  They have over 50 million books and you can read them inside a nice building instead of under a tarp.

  20. Wow.  All of these uninformed masses. ( They) who have benefited from all, that others before them have laid down, are the first to ridicule change that will benefit them in the future.  Too bad they will still be hardened by their own doctrine and will not be able to enjoy the social changes.

  21. Dammit you trolls! I came too late to reply in direct fashion but…
    Apart from the fact that it’s just cool to have a book lending service at the protest, they also hold materials for not only better understanding the structure of the protest but also how to get involved in the various committees and processes that are the day-today reality of the occupation.

    Anybody questioning the validity of the need for some kind of central information resource, misunderstands the nature of long-term activity, nevermind protest.

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