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The Eclectic Reading List at Occupy Wall Street

By posted at 6:01 am on October 10, 2011 12

Daniel Norton (foreground), a library science student at the University of Maine, organizes books in the People’s Library at the Occupy Wall Street encampment in downtown Manhattan.

Everyone knows that you are what you read. So to learn more about the protesters who have been occupying Wall Street for the past three weeks, it makes sense to find out what they’re reading. A little bit of everything, it turns out, which speaks volumes about this slippery, funky, and mushrooming movement.

Consider Daniel Norton. A library science student at the University of Maine, he was drawn to the protest site on lower Broadway on Thursday after reading an article in Library Journal calling for librarians to volunteer at the impromptu People’s Library at the northeast corner of Zuccotti Park, which most of the protesters now refer to as Liberty Park.

“What inspired me to come here was that article – and the fact that I’m one of the 99 percent,” Norton said on Friday as he sorted books in the dozen plastic bins that comprise the library’s collection. “I didn’t just want to camp out. I wanted to contribute something. What I’m trying to do now is create order because the premise of library science is the freedom of information and making it available to people. What I’m doing is in the spirit of what’s going on here.”

Donated by protesters and people sympathetic with their cause, the books are divided by category, including History & Resistance, Women’s Studies, Poetry, Government Change, and Fiction. The fiction collection ranges from Tom Clancy to James Joyce, with some J.G. Ballard, George Orwell, and Joseph Heller sprinkled in. Particularly popular are books about politics, history, and how to effect change in government. The books are loaned free, on an honor system. “The collection’s inspired by what’s taking place here,” Norton said. “We have a lot of people who are full of dissatisfaction with a government that doesn’t have their interests at heart.”

coverSteve Syrek, an English Ph.D. student at Rutgers University, responded when he heard that librarians were needed and protesters were hungry for copies of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Syrek bought nine copies and donated them to the People’s Library, along with two copies of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. The books were quickly snapped up. Klein spoke to the encampment on Thursday night, telling the crowd something they were sure to agree with: that what’s plaguing America right now “is not a scarcity problem, it’s a distribution problem.” Michael Moore, who has a new memoir out, was also seen cozying up to television cameras and offering his support.

“Now that the protest has been going on for three weeks and it’s got some momentum, it started to interest me,” said Syrek, who lives in the Washington Heights neighborhood in northern Manhattan. He bristled at the criticism that the movement, which has now spread to dozens of American cities, doesn’t have a coherent message. “People want to know, ‘What’s your agenda?'” he said. “Well, the status quo doesn’t have an agenda. Everyone here, in the aggregate, are people who feel disenfranchised and powerless. It’s perfectly legitimate to be frustrated. I don’t have a solution. I’m not an anarchist. I’m here because I love books.”

Bosses, he seemed to be saying, are the people in suits who work in the cliff-like towers that surround the small park. The leaderless encampment has a free-flowing DIY feel, with some people giving impromptu speeches, some playing music, some reading books, some waving signs and shouting slogans at curious passersby and the small army of New York police officers who are running up a stiff overtime bill keeping an eye on – and sometimes arresting – Wall Street’s occupiers.


Another, carried by one of the volunteer librarians, was even more eloquent: YOU KNOW THINGS ARE MESSED UP WHEN LIBRARIANS START MARCHING.


Images courtesy the author

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12 Responses to “The Eclectic Reading List at Occupy Wall Street”

  1. Alex
    at 11:07 am on October 10, 2011
  2. The People’s Library of Occupy Wall Street | Culture War Reporters
    at 12:32 pm on October 10, 2011

    […] volunteer was asked to describe the library’s purpose: “People want to know, ‘What’s your agenda?’” he said. “Well, the status quo doesn’t […]

  3. La construcción de lo social en Occupy Wall Street |
    at 10:21 pm on October 10, 2011

    […] Ocuppy Wall Street ya también opera una librería pública llamada La librería de la gente. La colección se formó por medio de donaciones y los préstamos se hacen bajo un sistema de […]

  4. 【翻译】占领华尔街运动中的“人民图书馆”:一座“革命”的图书馆 | Nalsi的西文编目笔记III
    at 10:56 pm on October 10, 2011

    […] (图片来自: […]

  5. La construcción de lo social en Occupy Wall Street - La Isla Buscada
    at 3:02 am on October 11, 2011

    […] Ocuppy Wall Street ya también opera una librería pública llamada La librería de la gente. La colección se formó por medio de donaciones y los préstamos se hacen bajo un sistema de […]

  6. Voyage of the mind: #TheLibraryProject | everyoneandeverything
    at 4:12 am on October 11, 2011

    […] People’s library set up by Library Science student, Daniel Norton, at the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ camp in downtown Manhattan […]

  7. Speaking of Follow Up Posts… | udartsande
    at 6:39 pm on October 11, 2011

    […] time, here’s a fascinating article about the ad-hoc public library at Occupy Wall Street: Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in […]

  8. Bookmarks of the Week | Portable Homeland
    at 11:53 am on October 16, 2011

    […] The Eclectic Reading List at Occupy Wall Street by Bill Morris, from The Millions […]

  9. Michael Gray-Jordan
    at 8:52 pm on October 23, 2011

    Please be sure to have copies of “Hostile Takeover: How Big Money & Corruption Conquered Our Government – and How We Take It Back” by David Sirota in the People’s Library!

  10. The books that occupy the Occupy movement | BOOK RIOT
    at 10:02 am on October 28, 2011

    […] however. Occupy LA has printed its own reading list. Occupy Wall Street has a well established lending library to spread the ideas that might enrage, enlighten and, ultimately, empower. It’s as beautiful […]

  11. Leddy News » Blog Archive » An Occupy Reading List
    at 12:46 pm on November 16, 2011

    […] from: The Eclectic Reading List at Occupy Wall Street […]

  12. Dave
    at 12:29 pm on March 24, 2015

    There’s another great occupy reading list here:

    99 Books for the 99%

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