Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The trashing of a guerrilla library

I woke up this morning to the news that police in New York have trashed a library. Literally.

According a firestorm of tweets and reports that are starting to emerge, early this morning, NYPD swooped down on the Occupy Wall Street camp in Zuccotti Park, routed the protesters, and tossed everything in dumpsters--including 5,500 books that had been donated to a pop-up guerrilla library.

I know that many people dismiss the OWS protesters, or reject their tactics, or simply think they're silly. But the wanton  trashing of thousands of books by police is a scene I never thought I'd see in America.  In his book FAHRENHEIT 451, Ray Bradbury's vision of the future was right on the money.

The destruction of the little "People's Library" is bound to become a symbol of the squelching of dissent in our society, and a rallying cry for new Occupy protests.

I just wonder if a copy of FAHRENHEIT 451 is sitting in that trash dumpster in New York City.

We can't say ol' Ray didn't try to warn us.

Update (5:40 p.m. ET): A recent Tweet from the NY mayor's office indicates that the OWS library books are actually being detained in a Sanitation Dept. garage. They even posted a "proof of life" photo, so people would know that at least some of the books are alive and unharmed.

Good to know.


  1. There are approximately 5,000,000 books sold every day in America and you're concerned about 5,500 books that people left there, even after being told that the area would be cleared? The mayor even told them that they could come back after the park was cleared. If they wanted those books, they should have moved them.

  2. Yes, I am concerned. About the act, not the number.

  3. Then I suppose my question would be what you would have them do instead?

  4. Zucotti Park is actually privately owned. It is up to the owners of the park what they want and don't want on the property. There are appropriate places to set up something like this so-called library. Certainly George Soros or Michael Moore or someone of that persuasion owns a couple hundred square feet in NYC, where, with the permission of the owner, these people could set up and display whatever literature they want. Removing a display of anything from private property isn't a violation of rights; it's a preservation of the rights of the property owner over the actions of trespassers.

  5. I'd be all for moving the library someplace else, setting it aside, or resetting it up in the park with the permission of the owners. But I don't favor destroying the books in the name of park sanitation.

  6. It's not the duty of the fire department to save the books or move all the random stuff that the OWS protesters set up.

    The fire department weren't trying to make a statement with the trashing of the books; they were trying to get everything cleared out of the park. Books just happened to be some of them.

    Why should they have to hold into, clear, or otherwise take care of these random books that aren't theirs?

  7. I suppose they could have been donated to a library or sold, but since the reason the was cleared was concerns over health conditions, that doesn't seem very safe. But this is far from what Ray Bradbury presented in his book. This is not an issue of keeping people from seeing the strong opinions stated in books. It is rather a question of what can and should be done with abandoned property.

  8. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree about the books--thanks for commenting!

  9. Remember Abbie Hoffman's "Steal This Book" ? Well, this is karmic payback on the aging hippies who actually did steal that book.

  10. My favorite AH stunt was when he threw dollar bills down at the Wall Street trading pit. The traders scrambled for them like they were candy from a pinata.

  11. Kathryn,
    I'm with you. It's the act that bothers me.
    Regardless if the books were abandoned, and in the wrong place, destruction of books in NYC in this volatile time in publishing doesn't sit right with me.

  12. Bookstores, publishers, and libraries are destroy books by the thousands. There are, of course, people who find this upsetting, because surely those books could have been given away. Yet, it seems that the only people willing to take them off their hands is the trash people. People had the opportunity to remove those books from the site, just like people have the opportunity to purchase books. The thing that makes this situation different is that people want to make that library a symbol of the movement. If Barnes and Noble put 5,500 books out in their parking lot, told people to take them if they wanted the, and after they didn't go anywhere, sent them to the landfill, it wouldn't even make the news. But in this case, people are looking for a way to vilify pretty much anyone except for the people who are ultimately responsible for the destruction of that library, the people who abondoned it on that parking lot.

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  14. Katherine - thank you for the thoughtful post. I agree with you 100%. In my travels, I've seen many ad hoc donation libraries set up, and guess what, some were on PRIVATE property and one was even on GOVERNMENT land. The "owners" of the land didn't see shelves of books as a safety or hygiene hazard and don't feel the need to send in troopers to remove them.

    I leave you with this . . .


    "Now and then a man tried; crept on the land and cleared a piece, trying like a thief to steal a little richness from the earth.

    . . .

    Secret gardening in the evenings, and water carried in a rusty can.

    And then one day a deputy sheriff: Well what you think you doin?

    I ain't doin' no harm.

    I had my eye on you. This ain't your land. You're trespassing.

    This land ain't plowed, an' I ain't hurtin' it none.

    You goddamned squatters. Pretty soon you'd think you owned it. You'd be sore as hell. Think you owned it. Get off now.

    And the little green carrot tops were kicked off and the turnip greens trampled. . . . But the cop was right. A crop raised - why, that makes ownership. . . . Get him off quick! He'll think he owns it. He might even die fighting for the little plot among the Jimson weeds.

    Did ya see his face when we kicked them turnips out? Why, he'd kill a fella soon's he'd look at him. We go to keep these here people down or they'll take the country. They'll take the country."


    Steinbeck - "The Grapes of Wrath"

    When you can't attack someone's ideas, you attack his heart and spirit.

  15. Terri,

    In the area where I grew up, we had a few people who would go out and plant a few of those secret gardens. The sheriff's department would fly over in a helicopter looking for them. Once in a while, there would be a picture in the local paper with the sheriff and his deputies out there burning the crop.

  16. Paula, thanks, and Terri Lynn, thank you for sharing that passage. Somehow I think Steinbeck would understand why I got upset about the books.

  17. Katherine, the post that came right after mine illustrates my comments better than I ever could - so I don't need to say anything more. Again, I thank you. This blog is part of my morning reading for a reason.

  18. Hrm.....

    I'm a sentimental type. I keep stuff. But only stuff that has a reason and a purpose. I collect old books whenever I can, and have several from two centuries ago (not ancient, but old for my limited budget). But I also know a mess for what it is. A physical book is not a holy thing, it's paper and ink. The words in it may be holy, but the book itself is not. I am reasonably certain that there was not a single collectible or rare book there. Most likely they were old copies or cheap retreads of books that have millions of copies floating around.

    In other words, they were trash littering private property. No statement being made in their destruction anymore than when a publisher recycles unsold manuscripts.

  19. I believe that certain books can have value over and above the cost of their paper and ink. In NYC, a group of people collected more than 5500 books in an organized effort to promote an expansion of knowledge and a greater freedom of intellectual discourse. In my view, the book collection acquired a certain symbolic social value, and should have been respected.

  20. Kathryn, I hate seeing books destroyed and I do think symbolically it would have been nice if the guerilla library could have been moved or donated. I wonder if the protesters had ever considered having a contingency plan as they knew the day would come when they had to move?

  21. Clare, this has been an incredibly fast-moving story all day. The court has let the protesters back into the park (without tents), and a live stream observer just reported that the library has been set back up. I'm sure more will become known in the next couple of days.

  22. Thanks, Kathryn, I will keep an eye out to see what happens. I have been watching the occupy Oakland protests more closely that NYC, partly because it was my old backyard and partly because I actually know some of the people occupying (or were...) (!)

  23. Katherine, I owe my thanks to Jim for his post on decency and civility on Sunday. It reminded me of my duties.

    However, as I read the comments, I remembered that I am a tenacious researcher and before I wrote my response, I'd go do the research and call folks out only on specific issues, not on their beliefs.

    Okay, while privately owned by a corporation, Zucotti Park is NOT private property in the common and plain use of the phrase. It is a creature of the New York zoning regs called a "Privately-Owned-Public-Space" or "Publicly-Accessible-Open-Area."

    In 1968, US Steel agreed to build this park in exchange for a zoning variation that allowed them to build taller than the local codes. It was basically a fee for blocking out the sunlight in the neighborhood.

    It is a public space that is privately owned - not uncommon. There are over 500 in New York.

    The regulations are clear - the public must have access to the park 24/7/365 unless the deed holder (in this case a management company) goes through the onerous procedures in section 37-727 of the regulations to close the park between 10 PM and 7 AM. The owners didn't do that, so the public cannot be shut out of the park.

    The city already ruled that the management company that holds the deed (a corporation - not a person - despite what the Supremes say) can't invoke the curfew that applies to city parks because it is not a city park. The owner is required to keep it open pursuant to the public spaces regulations.

    So, the OWS crowd are not trespassers. They are the public, using a space set aside for public use. Also, since when do cops clean up anything, much less "private" property? All they can do is remove trespassers, of which these people aren't. If a group stacked books on my loading dock (which truly is private property), the local cops would laugh if I asked them to remove them.

    The only "trashing" I've seen of any Occupy area is after the cops get through with it. They had water lily sand filters set up to deal with their gray water. It was brilliant. The corporations on all sides should be hiring these people instead of deriding them.

    Also, cops and corporations don't get to define public health. There is a department for that.

    There is a real jurisdiction problem here and, apparently, the courts agree.

    Destroying the books, and I don't care if they were dimestore bodice rippers from a garage sale, was a morale attack. Especially when launched at 1 in the morning.

    If anyone wants to continue the debate, they are welcome to find me on Facebook or my blog. However, please bring issues, not name-calling.

  24. Thanks for clarifying the public-private aspects, Terri. The news people have seemed fuzzy on the whole thing in their presentations. Wish some of them had done the research you did!

  25. Actually...one can trespass on public as well as private land. Even in New York. Further, "trespassing" is not limited to entering another's land without permission; it also includes (among other things) placing or erecting objects upon the land in question. The decision today permitting the protesters to return to the park (for now) but without tents, etc. appears to be mindful of this, at least in part.

    Further, individuals using privately owned public space remain subject not only to the laws of New York but also to the rules of the private entity owning the land. The only limitation on the latter is that such rules be "reasonable." These have included, in some spaces, proscriptions against such mundane things as taking pictures, smoking, eating, or using cell phones. Zucotti's rules against camping, etc., were overturned, at least temporarily, but at some point this will land before a jurist who will follow the law rather than attempting to re-write it.

    That being said, I think the discussion has strayed from Kathryn's original blog, which was about the so-called library and its destruction. Given that those assembled were given warning that they were 1)to clear the park or 2) be arrested, any damage to the library falls on them: move it or lose it.They put it there, and they need to move it. That's a rule they should have learned in kindergarten.

  26. A nook of my mind is mulling a story about a dystopia where the only legitimate role of government is to suppress dissent. These events provide fodder for that fable.

  27. They should have been on one Kindle, which could have been saved by one person.

  28. I understand your point here, Kathryn. . . and your dismay. The sad fact is that anyone can justify every injustice they perform. It all boils down to the fact that everyone knows the difference between right and wrong. I'm soooo looking forward to the day where society meshes so beautifully that we won't even need a reason for an OWS movement.

    I can see it now . . .and I applaud your call for change.