William Scott i’m an English professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and I’ve chosen to spend my sabbatical at Occupy Wall Street to participate in the movement and to build and maintain the collection of books at the People’s Library. I love books—reading them, writing in them, arranging them, holding them, even smelling them. I also love having access to books for free. I love libraries and everything they represent. To see an entire collection of donated books, including many titles I would have liked to read, thoughtlessly ransacked and destroyed by the forces of law and order was one of the most disturbing experiences of my life. My students in Pittsburgh struggle to afford to buy the books they need for their courses. Our extensive collection of scholarly books and journals alone would have sufficed to provide reading materials for dozens of college classrooms. With public libraries around the country fighting to survive in the face of budget cuts, layoffs and closings, the People’s Library has served as a model of what a public library can be: operated for the people and by the people.
at 7:30 pm on November 16, the People’s Library was again raided and thrown in the trash—this time by a combination of police and Brookfield Properties’ sanitation team. The NYPD first barricaded the library by lining up in front of it, forming an impenetrable wall of cops. An officer then announced through a bullhorn that we should come and collect our books, or they would be confiscated and removed. Seconds later, they began dumping books into trash bins that they had wheeled into the park for that purpose. As they were throwing out the books, a fellow OWS librarian asked one of the NYPD patrolmen why they were doing this. His answer: “I don’t know.”
Five minutes after it started, the raid was over and the People’s Library’s collection was once again sitting in a pile of garbage. Yet just as the trash bins were being carted off, a man stepped out of the crowd with a book in his hand to donate to us: Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. We joyously accepted and cataloged it, placing it on display under a new sign for the library that we made right then on a blank sheet of paper. A true people’s library, after all, doesn’t depend on any particular number of books, since it’s ultimately about the way those books are collected and lent out to the public.