2011-11-23 "Destruction of Occupy Wall Street 'People's Library' draws ire; Mayor Bloomberg accused of waging 'crusade to destroy a conversation' as nearly 3,000 books lost in Zuccotti Park raid" from "[London] Guardian" newspaper
When police seized an estimated 5,000 books from Occupy Wall Street's "People's Library" during the eviction of the camp at Zuccotti Park on 15 November, it drew condemnation from a host of writers and organisations, including the American Library Association and author Salman Rushdie.
The staff of Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor who ordered the eviction, attempted to defuse the row by promising that property from Zuccotti Park "including the OWS library" was safely stored at a sanitation department garage and could be collected.
But when the librarians arrived to survey what remained of the books, some signed copies given by authors, including one donated the previous day by Philip Levine, the US poet laureate, they found "it was clear the books had been treated as trash", they said.
At an emotional press conference on Wednesday, the librarians laid the torn and damaged books they were able to recover from the garage on a table taking up much of a cramped room in an office block in Madison Avenue.
It was a sorry sight. Only 1,273 books - a third of the stock - were returned to them, they said, and around a third of those were damaged beyond repair. Only about 800 are still usable. About 2,900 books are still unaccounted for.
The librarians, authors and supporters spoke of the loss of what had become a potent symbol of the Occupy movement and called on Bloomberg to restore the library and a public space in which people can use it.
Norman Seigel, the former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and civil rights attorney who chaired the meeting, said he was not aware of any other instance where a city or state had destroyed a library.
"History informs us that when books are burned there is almost immediately or subsequently universal condemnation of that act. Here, the Bloomberg adminstration lost, damaged and possibly destroyed books. That is wrong."
Seigel described the library as an impressive catalogue of books, including titles such as Shakespeare's Macbeth and Othello, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, the autobiography of Andrew Carnegie and even Bloomberg's own work, "Bloomberg on Bloomberg".
Seigel called on the mayor to replace "every single book" and to provide a space for a library. He said: "Bloomberg's administration needs to acknowledge that wrong has been committed and that should never happen again in this great city. We also want space for the People's Library."
One by one, the activists involved in building the library spoke of what it meant for the movement.
Mandy Hink, a professional librarian said: "I poured my heart and soul into this library. The heart of this movement is ideas and literature and sharing. The destruction of the library is an attempt to silence and destroy our movement. What type of people are we if we can't create a public space where we can share books and ideas with each other?"
Daniel Norton, a student in library science from the University of Maine at Augusta, said the library was "the creation of a community through a conversation and sharing ideas."
He accused Bloomberg of a "crusade to destroy a conversation" where people came to engage with each other.
William Scott, a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, a univeristy where Bloomberg studied and has a hall named after him, said: "This man threw away so many precious books. They embodied all the values that we struggle to defend in our country."
Scott, who is spending his sabbatical with Occupy, has told of how during the raid, he watched as Stephen Boyer, a poet and OWS librarian, read poems aloud from the Occupy Wall street poetry anthology to the riot police [http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/nov/23/peopleslibrary.wordpress.com].
Writing in the Nation [http://www.thenation.com/article/164766/peoples-library-occupy-wall-street-lives], Scott said: "As they pushed us away from the park with shields, fists, billy clubs and tear gas, I stood next to Stephen and watched while he yelled poetry at the top of his lungs into the oncoming army of riot police. Then, something incredible happened. Several of the police leaned in closer to hear the poetry. They lifted their helmet shields slightly to catch the words Stephen was shouting out to them, even while their fellow cops continued to stampede us."
He recounted how the next day, an officer who had been guarding the entrance to Zuccotti Park said he was touched by the poetry and moved at how they cared enough about books to risk arrest to defend them.
Books were not the only items destroyed in the raid. One activist said she had never seen a computer come out of the sanitaion department that was not destroyed.
Gideon Oliver, a lawyer form the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, described the destruction of the library as "illegal and unconscionable" and said they were looking into ways it might be addressed.
Watch video of the NYPD and Dept. of Sanitation destroying the OWS People's Library tent and throwing away all the books. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTkUjQwHf4I
NYCMayorsOffice 2011-11-15 Twitter
Property from #Zuccotti, incl #OWS library, safely stored @ 57th St Sanit Garage; can be picked up Weds yfrog.com/nzdr7ndj