November 28, 2011

ALA calls NYPD destruction of OWS People’s Library “unacceptable”


Books damaged by the NYPD on display at a press conference held by People's Library supporters

When New York City cops shut down the Occupy Wall Street encampment at the city’s Zuccotti Park two weeks ago (in the middle of the night, natch), they confiscated some 5,000 books and other articles from the People’s Library that was serving protesters there. Footage of the raid (see below) shows police tearing down the Library’s tent and seemingly tossing books into dumpsters, but as a Guardian report notes, staffers from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s office nonetheless swore in a Twitter notification the books and other matter from the People’s Library had been taken care of, were being safely stored at a Sanitation Department garage, and would be returned.

But, as the Guardian report continues, when People’s Library librarians — many of whom were, before joining the OWS library, professional librarians at public or university libraries — arrived to collect the library, they discovered that more than two thirds of the collection was missing and was apparently destroyed, while many of the remaining books were too badly damaged to be readable. In all, only about 800 of the original 5,000 books survived undamaged. Several confiscated laptops were also destroyed.

At a press conference held by the librarians in New York last week, according to a Huffington Post report, “Emotions ran high” as …

… the recovered books were displayed before a crowd of media, protesters and legal experts. The group gathered in a hot, tiny room in a lawyer’s office in midtown Manhattan, around a long, polished wood table piled high with ruined books. A copy of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” was cracked, its cover torn. Several Bibles lay in the heap alongside books by Maya Angelou, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, all marked with the People’s Library stamp along the side ….

But that may not be the end of it. Joining the librarians at the press conference were Norman Siegel, “the long-time former director” of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Gideon Oliver of the National Lawyers Guild, who “had three demands for the city: replace the books that were lost or destroyed, acknowledge that what happened to the library was wrong, and provide a new space for the People’s Library to reside.”

Common Cause has issued a similar statement.

Now, the American Library Association has joined the fight, issuing a press release saying it “deplores the destruction of libraries,” and was “alarmed” at the “seizure” of the library and the “loss of irreplaceable material.”

Visits by ALA members to Zuccotti Park, says the release, found “the library reflected many of ALA’s core intellectual freedom values and best practices—a balanced, cataloged collection, representing diverse points of view, that included children’s books and reference service often provided by professional librarians.”

ALA President Molly Raphael added her own statement:

The dissolution of a library is unacceptable. Libraries serve as the cornerstone of our democracy and must be safeguarded. An informed public constitutes the very foundation of a democracy, and libraries ensure that everyone has free access to information.

The very existence of the People’s Library demonstrates that libraries are an organic part of all communities. Libraries serve the needs of community members and preserve the record of community history.  In the case of the People’s Library, this included irreplaceable records and material related to the occupation movement and the temporary community that it represented.

We support the librarians and volunteers of the Library Working Group as they re-establish the People’s Library.

Meanwhile though it’s unclear what happens next. Mayor Bloomberg has failed to respond to the demands put forth by Siegel and the People’s Library organizers, even as more and more reports are bringing up Fareinheit 451 (such as this report, which includes more photos of the destroyed books in the Sanitation Dept. garage) and other famous book burnings.

And of course, almost every report notes something else: One of the disappeared books was none other than Bloomberg’s own autobiography, Bloomberg by Bloomberg.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.