The People's Library

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The People's Library
The People's Library in November 2011
LocationNew York City, United States
Size5,554 (2011)
References: [1]

The People's Library, also known as Fort Patti[2][3] or the Occupy Wall Street Library (OWS Library), was a library founded in September 2011 by Occupy Wall Street protesters in lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park located in the Financial District of New York City.[4] It was temporarily evicted when Zuccotti Park was cleared on November 15, 2011, during which time 5,554 books were thrown away by the New York City Police Department.[5][6] In April 2013, the Government of New York City was ordered to pay $366,700 for the raid, which was found to have violated the protesters' First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.[7]


Library beginnings
The People's Library, September 25, 2011 (day 9)

Founded shortly after Occupy Wall Street activists began protesting, the People's Library began with a cardboard box full of books which was left at Zuccotti Park by a library science student from New York University.[3][8][9] A weather event then resulted in the loss of the collection, which prompted Betsy Fagin to bring the idea of an official library before the movement's General Assembly a few weeks later.[3] The assembly appointed Fagin as librarian and a second collection was started.[3] As time passed, volunteers received additional books and resources from readers, private citizens, authors and corporations.[2] In one such instance, musician Patti Smith contributed a tent to the library, which was named Fort Patti in her honor and used as the library's primary structure until it was destroyed in November.[2][3] On October 13, 2011, Brookfield Properties, which owns Zuccotti Park, the location of the OWS encampment, ordered a clearing of the park under the pretext of "cleaning". Working groups within OWS were divided over how to respond, however, a decision was made for people to stay, but for infrastructure and possessions to be moved to safety. Between one and two thousand books were moved overnight to a large artist warehouse in Jersey City.[10] Brookfield Properties eventually conceded to public pressures and did not move forward with the proposed cleaning. The books where then returned to the park. The library has on occasion received volunteer assistance from the local homeless population, according to a librarian from the New York Public Library.[3]


The library had 9,500 books cataloged in LibraryThing as of November 2012, and its collection was described as including some rare or unique articles of historical interest that originated as a result of the Occupy protests.[1] According to American Libraries, the library's collection had "thousands of circulating volumes," which included "holy books of every faith, books reflecting the entire political spectrum, and works for all ages on a huge range of topics."[2] A librarian was quoted as saying that "donated books are never rejected, even if they seem at odds with the ideology behind the protest."[11] The collection development policy of the Library, or lack thereof, is this: "It only has two points: everything we have was donated to us, and we accept everything," thus, "not only was the Library for the people, but, as they are responsible for its creation, that it is of the people."[12] The Library Working Group of the OWS People's Library worked in a consensus leadership structure, meaning they need at least a 90% agreement among members to make a decision happen. However, the degreed librarians could make many autonomous actions if they did not detrimentally affect the library or its mission.[12] Unique articles include the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology, which was compiled by the library based on its live poetry sessions and featured poets such as Adrienne Rich and Anne Waldman "alongside high school kids."[13][14]

Zuccotti Park eviction[edit]

Writers Jennifer Egan, Lynn Nottage and Jonathan Lethem giving a reading at the library on November 7, 2011

During the early morning of November 15, 2011, city workers from the Police Department and Sanitation Department forcibly evicted everyone in the park at that time and loaded their property and the 5,500+ book collection into garbage trucks, after a decision by city officials and park owners Brookfield Office Properties using "public health and environmental issues" as justification.[1] The People's Library facility was among the assets seized.[15] Following the police action, observers reportedly saw the library's books being thrown into dumpsters.[1]

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg stated that the library's collection was safely stored at the sanitation garage on 57th Street, and that it could be retrieved on the following Wednesday.[16] After library representatives returned from the sanitation garage on Wednesday, they posted on the library's website that most of its collection and equipment had been destroyed, damaged or lost. Among the missing or damaged property was the tent that housed the library (including its necessary infrastructure), laptops and rubber stamps bearing marks used to identify library resources.[15][16] In all, library representatives reported recovering 26 boxes of books from the city.[17] A final total of books recovered that were still usable and actually originated with the library was 802, a small fraction of the number seized.[18]


The American Library Association (ALA) issued a statement that the dissolution of the library was "unacceptable" because libraries "serve as the cornerstone of our democracy and must be safeguarded." The ALA added that the "very existence of the People's Library demonstrates that libraries are an organic part of all communities" and that libraries "serve the needs of community members and preserve the record of community history." Of concern was the loss of some rare historical documents and records, which it said are endemic to the Occupy movement.[1] Some of the library's reference materials and some of its regular books lost were autographed by their authors, either while visiting the library or through courier to express moral support.[citation needed] One such example included What Work Is, which was signed and donated in person by United States Poet Laureate Philip Levine hours before its destruction when the park was cleared.[19]

The executive director of Common Cause said in a statement that the City should "replace each title, buying two new copies for each one destroyed" and "for whatever number is unaccounted for, the city should provide Occupy's librarians with funds sufficient to buy twice as many."[6][20] UC Irvine history professor Mark LeVine expressed his sentiment that "tents can be replaced, even most personal effects. But destroying books is like destroying the soul of the movement" and filmmaker Udi Aloni added that "When they disrespect books, they disrespect humankind, and when they destroy books, they destroy the spirit of humanity. The library was great because people gave more than they took. OWS was not just a place for activism, but also a place for education and rethinking; not for just blathering on when you don't know, but being humble and willing to learn. By taking out the library, they've tried to stop that crucial process."[21]

Editors at 2600: The Hacker Quarterly mourned the loss of the library's donated electronics and computer equipment, which they believed to have been destroyed by a blunt object.[22]


A library formed by Occupy Toronto activists was located in a traditional Mongolian Yurt at St. James Park in Canada

Efforts to restore the library were initiated shortly after its seizure.[2] The library started a third collection with 100 replacement books, which were subsequently surrounded by police and confiscated by sanitation workers on the night of November 16, 2011.[2][21][23] A fourth collection was formed on November 17, 2011, and was distributed from mobile carts.[6]


The library used an honor system to manage returns and originally operated 24/7.[3][14] It offered weekly poetry readings on Friday nights, provided a reference service that was frequently staffed by professional librarians, and could attempt to procure materials not held by the People's Library.[1][3][8][24] The library's cataloging system is accessible online at LibraryThing, which donated a free lifetime membership.[3] Prior to the Zuccotti park raid, a lighted reading room, public laptop computers and a Wi-Fi network were also offered.[2][3]

Court case[edit]

On May 24, 2012, the librarians, represented by Norman Siegel, sued the city, mayor Michael Bloomberg, police commissioner Raymond Kelly, and sanitation commissioner John Doherty in federal court.[25][26] On April 9, 2013, a New York city court ordered the city to pay $366,700 for the raid in which police destroyed some 5,000 books that were part of the library.[7]

Sister libraries[edit]

Since the formation of the library, activists at related protests throughout North America and in Europe have formed several sister libraries.[3][27][28]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "ALA alarmed at seizure of Occupy Wall Street library, loss of irreplaceable material" (Press release). American Library Association. November 17, 2011. Archived from the original on November 20, 2011. Retrieved November 19, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Zabriskie, Christian (November 16, 2011). "The Occupy Wall Street Library Regrows in Manhattan". American Libraries. Archived from the original on November 19, 2011. Retrieved November 19, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Zabriskie, Christian (October 18, 2011). "A Library Occupies the Heart of the Occupy Movement". American Libraries Magazine. Archived from the original on November 20, 2011. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  4. ^ Diaz, Shelley (October 20, 2011). "Occupy Wall Street's Library Keeps Growing". School Library Journal. Archived from the original on November 24, 2011. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
  5. ^ "Occupy Wall Street Library Reportedly Thrown Away By NYPD [UPDATE]". Huffington Post. November 15, 2011. Retrieved May 6, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c "ALA Condemns Seizure of Occupy Wall Street People's Library". School Library Journal. November 18, 2011. Archived from the original on November 20, 2011. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  7. ^ a b "Court orders NYPD to pay $360,000 for raid that destroyed Occupy Wall Street library". Raw Story. Retrieved May 6, 2014.
  8. ^ a b Nader, Alexia (September 29, 2011). "The Occupy Wall Street Library". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on November 22, 2011. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
  9. ^ Pous, Terri (October 10, 2011). "Occupy Wall Street: Their Own Mini-Government, Complete With Library". Time. Archived from the original on November 19, 2011. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
  10. ^ "Zuccotti Park and Occupy Wall Street". 2014. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  11. ^ King, Ritchie (October 24, 2011). "For Quiet Moments Between Protests, a Growing Library". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 30, 2011. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  12. ^ a b Norton, Daniel; Henk, Mandy; Fagin, Betsy; Taylor, Jaime; Loeb, Zachary (2012). "Occupy Wall Street librarians speak out". Progressive Librarian. 38/39: 3–16.
  13. ^ Greenberg, Emily (November 8, 2011). "A Truly Public Library". The Cornell Daily Sun. Archived from the original on March 12, 2012. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  14. ^ a b Tharoor, Ishaan (October 25, 2011). "From Chomsky to the Onion: What's on the Shelves at Occupy Wall Street's Library". Time. Archived from the original on November 27, 2011. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
  15. ^ a b Witt, Emily (November 18, 2011). "American Library Association Condemns Destruction of OWS People's Library". The New York Observer. Archived from the original on September 30, 2020. Retrieved November 19, 2011.
  16. ^ a b Howard, Greg (November 16, 2011). "OWS Library: Thousands of Books Missing, Destroyed". Slate. Archived from the original on November 20, 2011. Retrieved November 19, 2011.
  17. ^ Attenberg, Jami (November 18, 2011). "How I helped rescue the OWS library". Salon.
  18. ^ Norton, Daniel; Henk, Mandy; Fagin, Betsy; Taylor, Jaime; Loeb, Zachary (Spring 2012). "Occupy Wall Street librarians speak out" (PDF). Progressive Librarian. 38 (39): 3–16. ProQuest 1220415792.
  19. ^ Palmer, Gianna (November 23, 2011). "NYPD raid destroyed thousands of books, Occupy says". McClatchy Newspapers. The Kansas City Star. Archived from the original on November 27, 2011. Retrieved November 24, 2011.
  20. ^ "Mayor Bloomberg should replace books lost in Zucotti Park police raid" (Press release). Common Cause. November 17, 2011. Archived from the original on March 12, 2014. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  21. ^ a b LeVine, Mark (November 17, 2011). "The People's Library and the future of OWS". Al Jazeera. Archived from the original on November 20, 2011. Retrieved November 19, 2011.
  22. ^ "Donated Laptops for "Occupy Wall Street" Destroyed in NYPD Action". 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. November 18, 2011. Archived from the original on November 22, 2011. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  23. ^ Greenberg, Michael (November 18, 2011). "Occupy Wall Street Turns a Corner". The New York Review of Books. Archived from the original on November 19, 2011. Retrieved November 19, 2011.
  24. ^ "Voices from Zuccotti: Steve Syrek, 33". The New York Daily News. YouTube. Retrieved November 20, 2011. I've even got one guy who wants to help us procure any materials we want from the interlibrary loan system, which means we are a legitimate, fully functioning research library. Someone could come here and request an article of any kind and we could theoretically get it for free and give it to them.
  25. ^ "Librarian is My Occupation: A History of the People's Library of Occupy Wall Street". April 16, 2014.
  26. ^ Coscarelli, Joe (May 24, 2012). "Occupy Wall Street Sues NYC in the Name of the People's Library". New York. Archived from the original on November 19, 2018. Retrieved September 5, 2022.
  27. ^ Fister, Barbara (October 27, 2011). "Why the Occupy Wall Street Movement Has Libraries". Library Journal. Archived from the original on November 30, 2011. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  28. ^ Saltzman, Rebecca (November 2, 2011). "From Spectator to Participant: How the Last Week Changed My Relationship With Occupy Oakland". BeyondChron. Archived from the original on January 30, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2011.

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