The short, happy life of Occupy Boston's A-Z Library

Reading the revolution
By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  December 14, 2011

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ANARCHY AND ORDER Sitting inside the A-Z Library on a rainy night felt not unlike luxuriating in a magical, papery womb.

On the final night in the brief and wondrous life of the Audre Lorde to Howard Zinn Library, it poured. As darkness fell, word began to spread that Occupy Boston had lost its court case. All around the encampment, activists in slickers reeled from the realization that their time in Dewey Square was coming to a close. They stood in wet clusters, chattering giddily about when the police might stage a raid.

But the old army tent with the hand-lettered "A-Z Library" sign retained a cozy magic. Raindrops made a pleasant din against the nylon roof. The soft yellow glow of reading lamps and Christmas lights warmed the worn Oriental rug, the Post-it-covered bulletin boards, the tapestry, the full-size American flag, and the aluminum insulation over the ceiling.

And then there were the books, hundreds and hundreds of them, stacked in plastic milk crates that lined the walls — a beacon of order in uncertainty, a book lover's snug fantasy. Sitting inside the A-Z Library on a rainy night felt not unlike luxuriating in a magical, papery womb.

A man with glasses and a black coat peeked into the tent, looking for John Ford — media darling of Occupy Boston, the first librarian there, and the person who sleeps on the library floor. The visitor carried a bundle of printouts of the court decision handed down just an hour before. "Normally I'd give my name, but I printed these out at work. You understand," he said. He left a stack on top of an ad-hoc shelf covered in safety leaflets and social-justice reading lists.

Anna Rothman crouched on the floor, scanning books. The online cataloguing service LibraryThing had given the A-Z Library a free account to showcase its titles online. So Rothman, a bright-eyed corporate librarian with a brown bob and wire-rimmed glasses, bought a handheld scanner and got to work.

>> READOccupy Bookstores: Trotsky at the Train Station <<

Ford returned, beleaguered, wearing a busker hat. By the end of the occupation, a look of resignation seemed to have settled permanently across his bearded jaw. He sat on an overturned bucket, frantically thumbing his phone. Two people appeared at the entrance of the tent.

"Can you leave your umbrellas outside?" Ford asked. Since he put up the tent, Ford has banished wet and muddy things to protect both the books and his sleeping area. The visitors complied and began to talk about who they would call if they got arrested.

All the while, Rothman carried on, calmly plucking books from the shelves, scanning them, and putting them back one by one. She worked for hours into the night — through the panic and the rain and the general assembly. By 9 pm, she had scanned each of the library's 871 titles and gotten them online.

By four o'clock the following day, everything was gone.


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DOCUMENTATION A trained archivist, A-Z volunteer Kristin Parker saved every stray scrap of paper she could find.

LIBRARIANS WITHOUT BORDERS

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  Topics: Books , Books, library, OccupyBoston
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