Within a week of the emergence of Occupy Wall Street, a library surfaced in the midst of the protest. Staffed by volunteers and comprised entirely of donated materials, the People’s Library offers books and media to the public, provides basic reference assistance and has built an online catalog of their holdings. In this paper, I analyze the People’s Library in terms of larger discussions of libraries, technology and activism. Drawing on personal experiences volunteering at the Library as well as text from the Library’s blog, I argue that the People’s Library offers two counter arguments to conventional claims about the public library: first, that libraries are being existentially threatened by the emergence of digital technologies and second, that a library’s institutional ethics are located solely or predominantly in the content of its collection. Using the People’s Library as a kind of conceptual case study, I explore the connections between public libraries, digital technologies and activist ideologies.
Published in Volume 17, Number 8