Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What makes a library?

What is meaningful in a library? The books and media? The access to information, or to story, or to history? The gathering and cultivating and cataloging of those elements so necessary to civilization? The refuge from ignorance? The refuge from isolation? The people who make it all happen and help us understand the resources available to us? The open door?

A library to me is a public place, defined by who is allowed in rather than by public ownership. And on that measure, as well as every measure which I mentioned above, the library tent at Occupy Wall Street was a public library. They had over 5000 published books, original writing and poetry and art, people who volunteered there, and people who used the library. They had all that until New York City made the conscious decision to destroy the library.

That act of destruction was, to me, not qualitatively different from the book burning in Opernplatz in 1933. Both were political acts of destruction intended as statements of power, demeaning and diminishing those disfavored by the state, targeting the tangible instantiations of knowledge and discourse.

I want this week’s act of destruction to feel qualitatively different, because it makes me heartsick to have my birthplace behave in any way similarly to the birthplace of my grandparents, a birthplace they were forced to flee. I want to believe that the authorities’ behavior in New York City was callous rather than calculated. But I cannot find the significant distinctions. Is it because in New York only 5000 books were destroyed rather than the 20,000 in Berlin? Because the books in New York were seized and mangled rather than seized and burned? Because the authorities in New York used police and sanitation workers rather than students to do it? Because the destruction in New York was less fully coordinated with other cities, or because it targeted personal possessions as well as books, or because it was accompanied by police beating and teargassing their own citizens? None of those feel sufficiently distinguishing to allow me an easy rest.

Writing is my only means to scream my outrage and link arms with those who stand against this cyclic violence. I weep that my country would do this.

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