Talkin' BookCrossing

People’s Library unshelved

People’s Library unshelved

26 Oct 2011

My previous story, on the free library at the Occupy Wall Street protest, barely scratched the surface of what’s going on around the world.

Let me first turn to a classic book – The Grapes of Wrath. This story is a challenge to big business and a paean to “the little people”, united. When they get together with goodwill and the aim of welfare for all, there is nothing to stop them. Nothing but the scheming forces of commerce and faceless business, that is, with the cops always anxious for an excuse to bust a few Okie heads. I listened to it on audiobook, earlier this year, heading west to California on Route 66, and I loved it. Here’s the Joad family just arrived at Weedpatch migrant workers camp, run by the people, for the people, and the first morning along comes the Ladies’ Committee, self-conscious of their elected duties, to explain how the system works:

…Jessie spoke, and her manner was full of dignity and kindness, and her speech was rehearsed.
“You shouldn’ think we’re a-buttin’ into your business, Mis’ Joad. This here camp got a lot of stuff ever’body uses. An’ we got rules we made ourself. Now we’re a-goin’ to the unit. That there, ever’body uses, an’ ever’body got to take care of it.” They strolled to the unroofed section where the wash trays were, twenty of them. Eight were in use, the women bending over, scrubbing the clothes, and the piles of wrung-out clothes were heaped on the clean concrete floor. “Now you can use these here any time you want,” Jessie said. “The on’y thing is, you got to leave ’em clean.”

The Occupy Wall Street movement is reminiscent of the spirit of the camp described in the novel, run for the good of all. Woody Guthrie would be applauding, too. I love his song about 66 Highway Blues:

I’m gonna start me a hungry man’s union,
Ainta gonna charge no dues,
Gonna march down that road to the Wall Street Walls
A singin’ those 66 Highway blues.

There was a library in that camp – you can still visit the national heritage site – and I’ll bet it was run along the same lines as the People’s Library.

Image credit - People's Library

The People’s Library has a blog, and it’s fascinating reading, albeit just a little polemic in flavour. What I especially like is the way that the thing is being organised. Here’s a paragraph from the blog, just enough for a taster:

We have an extremely limited amount of space, and we are outside at the mercy of the elements, deeply envious of Occupy Boston’s tents. We have a very limited supply of power from generators and batteries, and a little bit of internet access. The library is open from whenever people get up in the morning until it slows down in the evening and the live-in contingent of librarians set out their bedding for the night. We have staff meetings to reach consensus on questions such as what to do if the cops forcibly evict the Occupation (answer: evacuate the archives, supplies, and electronics ahead of time, the books stay till the bitter end).

Read the whole article here, including the cataloguing decisions made over foreign language books and junior erotica. LibraryThing, also mentioned earlier, gave a thumbs-up to the People’s Library in its own blog:

It’s been fascinating to watch the rise of libraries at the various Occupy sites around the world, particularly the impressively-large collection at Occupy Wall Street known as the People’s Library. We reached out and suggested a LibraryThing account for the collection, and the volunteer librarians in Zucotti Park responded enthusiastically.

Image credit - LibraryThing

They also went to Portland, Maine – heads up to solittletime:

On Friday, local librarian JustinTheLibrarian, Tim and I went downtown on our lunch break and cataloged the Occupy Maine library, a small collection housed at Portland’s Spartan Grill restaurant (which also serves a very tasty gyro).

In fact, the more I look, the more I find, all positive reports on a library set up by the people, for the people. I’m going to find a book and send it along. Be a small part from a distance. Maybe I’ll find a copy of Steinbeck’s classic story of people doing the best they can.


[Late mail: BookCrossing books are flowing in to Occupy libraries around the world. Here’s a list of books released at the Occupy Frankfurt site. When I think of Frankfurt, I also think of the plaque in the Romer marking the place where the Nazis held a book fire. Here’s hoping these books fan the flames of freedom and equality!]

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