Thursday, October 20, 2011

Case Study No. 0010: Betsy Fagin

Occupy Wall St - Library
The people's library has grown significantly since we began. We have librarians!
Tags: Occupy Wall St Library books OWS
Added: 1 month ago
From: ontbeaputz
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The morning of day twelve of the Occupy Wall Street protest, a few people are waving signs and shouting slogans. Mostly, though, everyone is just hanging out. They take naps, play board games, and pick up books from the haphazardly organized library that occupies a bench on the side of Zuccotti Park. There is no rhyme or reason to the selection: a volume of Walter Benjamin's writing sits beside Curtis Sittenfeld's "Prep"; the only books that are sectioned off are the children's books. All together, about one hundred titles—along with back issues of Harper's—await protesters and passersby—in the spirit of the affair, you needn't be an "insider" to borrow.

On my visit to the library this morning, I was supplied with a full history of the institution by its appointed caretaker, Betsy Fagin. A few days ago, Betsy, a trained librarian who lives in Brooklyn, came to the protest for the first time and found a short stack of books lying on the ground where everyone was camped out. She decided to go to one of the organizational meetings for the protests and ask if anyone else thought it would be a good idea to start a proper library. People did. So Betsy posted a sign asking for book, newspaper, and poetry donations. She says that since then protesters, bystanders, and even Wall Streeters have been stopping by the park with stacks of books. Because she doesn't keep track of who checks out what—the library is on the honor system—she has no idea what the most popular book is. She has seen a couple of people reading Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," and has noticed that the manga is flying off the shelves.

But surely, I said, literature of a more overtly political nature must be in demand. Where are the manifestos? The pamphlets? Betsy said that she had seen people passing around "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life," by Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of The Center for Nonviolent Communication. And she'd placed Noam Chomsky's "Profit Over People" front and center on the table. It's flanked by the works of Howard Zinn, Karl Marx, Ray Anderson, and Cornel West, who visited the protest two days ago.

But maybe more important are the books that take the protesters' minds entirely off the matter at hand. Between rallies, Betsy told me, some of the protesters had begun holding poetry readings; and if I were to visit after sunset, I might see several of them huddled over novels, reading by candlelight.

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