Occupy Wall Street has become known for its animated protests and run-ins with police, but walk inside Zuccotti Park – the movement's unofficial headquarters – and you get a different story. Organizers have created a medical center, food station, and donation drop-off point. But it's "The People's Library" that has become an example of the group's mission and outside support.
"The library is a demonstration of the fact we aren't just a bunch of crazies," said Stephen Boyer, 27, who volunteers there. "Were trying to build a community and we're succeeding."
Boyer majored in creative writing at the University of San Francisco. He was in London when the protests broke out on Sept. 17 and came to New York shortly after hoping to find an apartment. Instead, he wound up a resident – and librarian – of the park.
"At first I was coming down during the day," he said. "I never expected to be living here."
Boyer has seen the library evolve rapidly over the past few weeks. Just a few days ago, free Wi-Fi was set up. A "Poetry Assembly" is held every Friday night and has included such well-known local writers as Eliot Katz and Eileen Myles.
The library holds over 1,200 books from an array of genres, including politics, poetry, religion, gender studies, foreign language, and science fiction.
This week Boyer said someone from the Smithsonian came and asked if they could have one of the library's signs for the institute's collection.
"The library started 12 days ago with two cardboard boxes full of books," said Eric Seligson, a 65-year-old retired graphic designer who also works there. "Now, we're the only library around that's open 24 hours; no library card, no late fees."
Seligson has become a sort of father figure at the library, giving advice and taking control when needed. But he wouldn't tell you that. Everyone here agrees that there is no hierarchy, no "head librarian."
Seligson has been living in the park for 16 days. He said he went back home to Brooklyn one night to sleep, shower, and visit with his wife.
"When you build a community, it is infectious," he said. "Everyone wants to get a taste."
The librarians share responsibilities, like labeling and cataloging donated books, updating their inventory on LibraryThing.com, and communicating with other stations in the park. These stations – like the information booths and media center – keep the mini-society in Zuccotti Park running.
They'd like to expand their role as a resource center by creating a phone charging station, a central phone line, and an official archive of people and objects in the movement.
Briar Somerville, 19, has been volunteering off and on since Occupy Wall Street's start on Sept. 17. She said she's in the process of dropping out of New York University, where she's majoring in linguistic anthropology.
"I could be writing a paper on Japanese baseball for one [professor] to read," she said. "But instead I'm doing this; contributing to something."
Somerville spent her first night in the park on Tuesday night. She said she barely got two hours of sleep.
"I'm running on coffee and anger – and [on the energy of] my fellow librarians," she said.
City Limits is grateful to the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism and Professor Lisa Armstrong, who oversaw this project.