A few steps inside the stone-floored plaza at Zuccotti Park, crates filled with books lined the benches along a recessed wall. A volunteer swept leaves away from the benches in between organizing an ever-growing stack of volumes on the ground. This makeshift assembly of boxes is Occupy Wall Street’s official library.
The book collection is called The People’s Library, even though it defies most definitions of a library. Books come entirely by way of donations, and the librarians do not discriminate when placing them out for borrowing.
“We get a lot of philosophical and political stuff,” says Michael Oman-Reagan, a part-time graduate student at Hunter College. “A lot of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. But if someone came with a truckload of Rush Limbaugh’s books, we’d put them out. We’re not opposed to having a dissenting voice.”
(PHOTOS: Occupy Wall Street)
Oman-Reagan said the library started almost as early as the protest itself, when an NYU library studies student set out a pile of books for protestors to read in between marches and meetings.
Now, the library gets 50-100 donations a day and usually has 15 people working in rotating shifts. Tasks include greeting tourists or scanning barcodes to keep track of the books.
In that way, the library is far more sophisticated than it initially lets on. What looks like a mishmash of thin pamphlets and hardback books has gained a surprising level of support.
“We’ve made so much [money] in donations that we’re talking to the finance committee to see what to do with it,” Oman-Reagan says. “At this point, we have enough that we’re going to buy a generator and eventually set up a reference table with four laptops for people to do research online.”
With committees with aims ranging from organizing marches to arranging for showers, Occupy Wall Street has formed a commune of sorts, providing for itself by its own means. Sophie Mascia, a protester who says she volunteers at whatever station needs help, calls the movement itself a government.
“People here are incredibly educated—Masters, PhDs, you name it—but they didn’t have a channel for their education,” says Mascia. “They’ve come here, gotten together, formed an autonomous government, and found a purpose and a place to make a difference.”
Oman-Reagan and several other library volunteers sit at this anchor of the square, wearing name tags and dressed a bit more professionally than most deeper inside the perimeter. He says that because it’s located at the park’s entrance, the library serves as an introduction of sorts to the movement. But he maintains that everyone at the protest is equal.
“There’s no hierarchy or inequality at this library,” he says. “No leaders, just like there’s no hierarchy in the square.”