Amanda Marcotte


'Books Are Speech': Why the OWS Library's Destruction Is So Upsetting

For Occupy Wall Street supporters, crushing a library felt like crushing the collective imagination.

I heard the noise as soon as I stepped from the train onto the subway platform at the Chambers Street stop Thursday—first muffled, then deafening: “We are the 99 percent!” Behind a row of police, some in riot gear, an estimated 32,000 protesters spilled toward Foley Square and the Brooklyn Bridge. Taking in the immense crowd, I had a thought: So much for finding the People’s Library in this melee.

A week ago, a visit to the 5,000-volume library established by Occupy Wall Street required simply showing up at Zuccotti Park and finding the neat, well-organized tent (donated by Patti Smith) labeled “Library.” Mandy Henk, a 32-year-old librarian who works for DePauw University and volunteered for the Occupy Wall Street library, describes the People’s Library as “a friendly and welcoming community space” that “provided both intellectual stimulation and entertainment for the people in Liberty Plaza.” Occupiers built the library entirely by donations, created an online catalog for ease of use, started a blog, and updated users through a Twitter feed. Then, early Tuesday morning, the librarians watched their hard work disappear, as New York police razed the occupation, throwing thousands of books (along with a handful of computers kept by the library) into what looked like dump trucks.

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