The People’s Library

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The People Library at Liberty Square in Oct. 2011. Libraries, like newspapers, are pillars of a democratic community. Photo: Jennifer Sacks

LIBERTY SQUARE — Howard Zinn is here. Dominick Dunne and Tom Wolfe, too. Ernest Hemingway and Barbara Ehrenreich and Dr. Who and Beowulf: All here, and all free. Barnes & Noble may be endangered and the Borders across the street closed months ago, but The People’s Library at Liberty Square is open for business and thriving.

That a lending library would spring up fully operational on day one of an occupation makes sense when you consider that the exchange of ideas is paramount here, at a new crossroads of the world. Just as occupiers young and old mingle with Africans, Jews, Algonquins and Latinas, de Tocqueville rubs elbows with Nicholas Evans and Noam Chomsky.

Mandy Henk, 32, saw Adbusters’ call to occupy Wall Street and drove in from Greencastle, Indiana, on her fall break to work in the library. A librarian at DePaul University, she’d been waiting for “an actual movement” for years when she saw a photo of the library and a poster beside it that read: “Things the library needs: Librarians.”

A father and son browsed through titles at the People's Library in Oct. 2011. Within weeks, The People's Library at Liberty Square ballooned to well over a thousand books available to lend. Photo: Flickrmor

“And here I am,” she said cheerfully as she shelved books into clear plastic bins, dozens of which line the northeastern edge of Liberty Square. Henk isn’t surprised that a library was erected so quickly. “Anytime you have a movement like this, people are going to bring books to it. People are going to have information needs. And historically, the printed word has played an extraordinarily important role.”

Young readers can find a wealth of age-appropriate material too, like A.A. Milne’s “When We Were Very Young,” “Oliver Twist” and “The Hobbit,” as well as more offbeat titles like “Tales For Little Rebels.”

Another volunteer librarian, Steve Syrek, 33, is earning his master’s degree in English at Rutgers University. He has commuted to Liberty Square from his Washington Heights apartment every day since October 7. A sign he made for the library was snapped up by the Smithsonian Institution: “Literacy, Legitimacy and Moral Authority: The People’s Library,” it read.

“More people arrived, more books appeared, and it’s just been growing ever since,” Syrek said. “And then everyone in New York City just has to clean out their basement,” he quipped, which would explain how inventory has ballooned to nearly 1,800. Authors like Naomi Klein, Eve Ensler and Katrina vanden Heuvel have donated signed editions, and vanden Heuvel has pledged hundreds of copies of The Nation, past and present.

As a result of the influx, the library has become something of a clearing house for books. “People are shipping us stuff from all over the country and we just give them out,” Syrek said. “We don’t need them to be returned.”

Volunteers log each book on LibraryThing, an online cataloging site, by scanning the ISBN number using an iPhone app. This just in: “Wicked,” “Eat Pray Love” and “Get Rich Cheating: The Crooked Path to Easy Street.” A blog and a Facebook page chronicle visits from literary luminaries and the formation of libraries at Occupy sites across the country.

On a recent Tuesday, a few people sat on the granite benches that face the bookshelves, so absorbed in their reading that they didn’t look up, despite the din around them. Henk, for one, appreciates the role of escapism, especially when you consider the weighty issues that drew everyone to Liberty Square.

“Stories are incredibly important for helping people to understand the world,” she said. “And so this is a place to come to understand the world.”

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  • Thomas Monopoly

    I would really like, of all things, to make this a permanent fixture in New York. A free library, or free bookstore/book-exchange, is a completely realistic thing in a city this large.

  • Bryan

    Which iPhone app do you use to scan the barcodes? How do you the get the barcodes into LT?

  • Guest

    How about registrating those books via

  • Towner

    Librarians occupying! And I appreciate the photographic depiction of a democracy of ideas in open public space. Great work!

  • Mark Crispin Miller

    How do we donate books to the library?

  • Peter Mackay

    Not just Wall Street, but London and Boston as well!

  • Sebastian Michail

    Do we just send books to the regular PO Box? Because I definitely have books to donate, but I don’t know when I can come to OWS again… not for a few weeks at least. But I have books to donate!

  • Jo

    So you are using an application created by one of the biggest corporations in your country to catalogue your books. That is some irony. I presume that you want to crush corporate greed, except apple?

    • Michael

      Hi Jo – Actually no we aren’t using an Apple app. I started the barcode scanning initiative at the People’s Library and we’re primarily using Barcode Scanner which is a free and open source application for Android. You can find it on:

  • individual

    don’t forget william k. black’s book: the best way to rob a bank is to own one. he’s got a good description and examples of “control fraud.” and look up video from bill moyers… he had excellent guests on his program.

  • Michael

    For those interested, you can check out our library blog here: It includes information about how to donate books and get involved. But we encourage you to get involved in your local Occupy Library!

  • YellowRoseTx51

    The ‘UNITED STATES’ Corporation was under ‘Country codes’ at the S.E.C. and it owned ‘Canada’. By Exec. Order the Corp. was shut down and reopened as a ‘State’, and most of the Canadian provinces are listed as ‘States’ now. Here is the ‘Code of STATE/COUNTRY’ for you to see this :

    The Vatican now owns the ‘majority’ of Nations under the code ’8888′ Foreign Governments. Here is that link is ‘Italy’ //8888 Foreign governments ..first ‘italy republic of’

    then the ’8888′ highlited :

    the ’8880′ codes have the ‘money’ I’m pretty sure that is where the securities went

    what they have stolen is a S.E.C. Security called the ‘Security of the Person’. And this is a security in each individuals name, via the incorporation of ‘we the people’. Every town, city, country has been incorporated. These funds were to be paid directly to the individual, and in fact it is against the law and constitution to transport these across state lines without your consent and authorized signature. Evey quarter the Treasury who is the fiduciary agent of the ‘National Trust’ (our security trust fund) sends the payments to the governors in secret. These funds were to pay for things like living expenses traffic tickets taxes etc. The S.e.c. act of 1934 stole them and classified them under ‘national security’. When the Treasurer told you during the AIG scandal that you would have to give up some of your ‘constitutional rights’ he was talking about the seizure of the trust fund to give to AIG.
    After they stole them from the people in 1934, they started levying taxes, and the property tax was the one of the first ones. This allowed them to place the people in debt, and then into default and this allowed the seizure of what ever land they coveted. The Law stated that you had the ‘Right to the Fruits of your Labor’ and this is your wages, the security of the person, and your credit. And a ‘theft of Labor’ is the definition of ‘Slavery’.

  • Writing from Alaska

    Thank you for giving us more information about ‘our’ library. I am claiming it, too, though I am far, far away from New York.

  • Guest

    Put this books ready for reading up on the web, load them on because their are alot of children who will never see these books or can’t read yet but who might have them read to them. This is how we can share resources world wide. Niche’ , confuscoius would be good too. Truth and wisdom combined.

  • Jeff

    of all the press i’ve ever gotten, this is, BY FAR, the best.
    i’ll be back down next week, hope to talk with more good people. OWS visits never disappoint…
    - jeff kreisler, author of ‘get rich cheating’

    • Jen Sacks

      Awesome! Glad you liked the name-check!

  • Xaligo

    (at least) one book that is sorely missing from the people’s library is “The Coming Insurrection.” If I had a thousand dollars to spare I’d order a hundred copies of it for the library, but even the only copy i have is in storage at this moment. I hope Occupiers are reading it; there aren’t too many books as relevant as this pamphlet!

  • fromFlorida

    I think this is the best side benefit of the Occupy movement. It’s great to see people encouraging literacy to all, regardless of their background or stance. Keep up the good work!

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