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By Aaron Bady
Anyone claiming to be an expert is selling something. I brandish my ignorance like a crucifix at vampires.
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Occupy The Library

I spent the early evening yesterday at the Berkeley anthropology library, which was officially to close at 5 p.m. It did not, because Occupy Cal occupied it — after a resolution taken three days ago — and because a healthy squad of Anthropology professors organized themselves to be present in shifts, all night, and negotiated with the Administration to obviate the “necessity” of sending police to kick the students out. At 4:45, a work-study student announced that the library would be closing in fifteen minutes — to general approval — and then, at 5, he declared the “The Library is Now Closed!” A hearty round of applause and finger-snapping greeted this bit of cognitive dissonance from the 80 or so students still in the (small) library, and he smiled broadly.

The library did not close, and the students are still there this morning. Occupy Cal held a general assembly on one side of the space to discuss what to do next — which eventually reached the decision to vote on whether to take a decision now or later, and produced a perfect tie — and that eventually evolved into an interesting discussion between students and Anthropology faculty on what the role of faculty should be. I assume they’re still there. At some point last night a working group produced this statement on their occupation, which I reproduce in its entirety:

We love our libraries and are here to protect them. Libraries are critically important for excellent education for all. We students, faculty, and community members collectively have decided to occupy the Anthropology Library at UC Berkeley to protest the dismantling of the library system on campus and public education as a whole.

We chose to occupy this space because the Anthropology library is a recent victim of extreme service cuts. The hours of operation are being cut from the previous, already slim, 9am-6pm to the current 12pm-5pm, because the university has not taken the necessary steps to sufficiently staff the library. The multiple attacks on campus libraries are a reflection of privatization and the devaluation of the public education system.

We are here to reverse this process. We call on the administration to take immediate action to hire another full-time librarian to ensure full access to this valuable resource.

The administration may claim that there are insufficient funds, but in reality these resources exist, but their allocation by UC administrators and the state does not adequately reflect the values of excellent public education. Why have the UC Regents continued to approve 21% increases in administration salaries, while students are being denied access to their libraries? Why are the taxes of the 1% so low while essential social services are being cut across the state and country?

We stand in solidarity with the Occupy movement as a whole and the protestors at UC Riverside who were met with violence in their attempt to protest the austerity policies of the UC Regents, Sacramento, and Washington D.C.

Defend our libraries and schools. Occupy together.

— The Anthropology Library Occupation
January 19, 2012

Was this a symbolic protest? Was this a “real” occupation? What was accomplished? Was it a success? Perhaps the real measure of this particular occupation’s potency is that none of these questions are answerable. There  was a tent, and by the looks of it, someone was going to sleep inside of it. It is unclear whether this will be an ongoing occupation, or whether this was the first shot in a drawn out library campaign; much discussion last night centered on whether to make the anthropology library a focused encampment, ongoing, or to regularize a kind of roving library occupation in a different library each week. The problem is university-wide; as administrative salaries continue to bloat, library staff have been cut to the bone, to such an extent that when a single staff person took another job in December — as was explained last night — the Anthropology library had to cut its hours from 9-6 to 12 -5. But the severity of the Anthropology library’s situation is mirrored across campus, by design, where the administration is using natural attrition to cut personel, waiting for staff to leave and then declining to replace them. It’s the same story as everywhere else on campus, but as worthy a place as any other to fight encroaching neoliberalization of the campus. And there’s precedent; two years ago, Cal student protesters liberated this very library, in protest against the same kinds of cutbacks, and eventually got the funding replaced. And in many respects (as the organizers of that action have pointed out to me), that’s where the language of “Occupy [place]” first came from, albeit building on a long tradition of occupations elsewhere. However modest a victory it may have been — and may be — big things come from small places, and this semester is till young.

At the general assembly three days ago, a student spoke out in favor of the library occupation (one of the students who brought the initial proposal, I believe), by comparing it with Occupy Oakland’s upcoming occupation of a large building space — scheduled for the 28th of January — and argued that Occupy Cal would be part of setting a new trend in turning towards occupying buildings. We’ll see about that; Occupy Oakland’s plan “to occupy a large, vacant building and convert it into a social center,” will almost certainly be met with massive police violence, since occupying buildings has been a clear red line for local municipalities so far, and OPD has already established how they will respond to such things. Lots of occupiers have talked about turning away from occupying public spaces towards reclaiming buildings and houses (foreclosed and otherwise), but it’s still unclear to me how that will work, if it does; we’ll see what happens on the 28th. Occupy Oakland has a schedule of events posted for the 29th, but that feels a bit like a “the boys will be home by Christmas!” kind of optimism to me; I hope they will, but I’m not holding my breath either.

Occupy Cal’s library action is much more modest, of course, and by general consensus is meant to keep the library open for those who would normally use it, effectively by substituting Anthropology faculty volunteers for library staff. During the new “normal” operating hours, the library will operate as usual; only during the “liberated hours” will you see scenes like this (from BAMN’s post on the event):

I’d say about a dozen students were really studying the whole time I was there, but that’s also a not-inconsiderable number; it was a symbolic protest in one way — since most of the occupiers were not using the library as a library is normally used — but an impressive number actually were; the library is divided into two natural sections, and while one was filled with political discussion, general assemblying, and s forth, the other was filled with quiet students quietly working.

The library action was peaceful, though, at least in part because of its modest size and faculty intervention. In UC Riverside yesterday, student protesters were presented with the usual UC police violence, and we’ll see that again at Berkeley, I predict; the administration doesn’t like pictures of its police beating students, but it likes student protesters even less. Last night, though, there was none of that. The administration sent the chair of the Anthropology department a statement to read to the students, trying to make clear that the only reason they weren’t being subject to the usual police violence was the “supervisory” presence of the Anthro faculty, who are, in all likelihood, not going to be there forever (nor, some students argued, should they, except as protesters themselves). And so it will be interesting to see what the faculty do next, if they quietly recede into a non-presence as they have before.

Maybe they won’t, but we’ll see. These faculty were roundly thanked for their presences — and their mobilization was both quick and impressive — but their presences as “supervisory adults” was also not exactly in perfect harmony with the spirit of the action, and won’t be sustainable in the long term anyway. No actual administrators would come to read the administration statement themselves, after all — though they did send several completely conspicuous spies to observe and report on what was happening (conspicuous by their cloud of contempt and refusal to communicate with people round hem) — so Anthro faculty had to speak for the administration, an arrangement the administration no doubt enjoys. Act Two of this will be telling. As of now, though, nothing is happening… nothing except students occupying a library, reading, and being students.

UPDATE (Saturday, 1/21): via, the Kroeber Study-In Resolution declares:

Whereas, The George and Mary Foster Anthropology Library hours were cut this semester by close to 50%; and

Whereas, a policy of attrition is eroding all of our libraries and other vital student services; and

Whereas, the loss of resources and services has a detrimental effect on educational opportunities for students at this campus; and

Whereas, the University’s stated mission “is to serve society as a center of higher learning, providing long-term societal benefits through transmitting advanced knowledge, discovering new knowledge, and functioning as an active working repository of organized knowledge;” and, finally

Whereas, the University cannot fulfill this mission, or maintain its status as a premier learning environment, without the full functioning of, and access to, its exceptional libraries as they are pivotal in providing space for the sharing of knowledge and the free exchange of ideas; and

Be it resolved, we demand the restoration of the Anthropology Library hours to their Fall 2011 schedule; and

Be it further resolved, that we demand the proper staffing, funding, and foresight in order to maintain full operational capacity of all campus libraries; and

Be it finally resolved, that while you remain unwilling to maintain the normal operations of our library, we will keep the Anthropology Library open until our demands are met.

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31 Responses to “Occupy The Library”

  1. andy edge says:

    “..further reinforcing the sanctity of debt as a fundamental moral category..”
    it seems that on one hand we’re against children being born into inherited debt. but on the other hand we’re looking down upon austerity regarding the national debt/deficit. you can’t have it both ways.
    if honoring debt loses its sanctity good luck having a functioning society. and, of course, debts can be denominated in many ways (currency, love, kindness etc)..

  2. Anonymous says:

    Actually no, the entire point of the book is that our habit of thinking of love, kindness, etc, as so many subspecies of debt, is precisely the problem.

    My compliments to Aaron Bady for a magnificent review. I am honored to receive it. Definitely the best the book has seen.

  3. Richard Crary says:

    Fantastic review, Aaron.

    Regarding the point in your footnote, it seemed to me that that point is amply supported by, especially, Wallerstein, and even Federici, both of whom are in the bibliography.

  4. _| ̄|○ says:

    there’s an important distinction to be made within people’s varied disappointments with OWS’ mealy mouth: desire for movement demands “continuous with the present order” (sought by OWS’ mainstream critics and addressed well in your fourth-to-last paragraph) and demands more generally “productive of any particular stable order” (sought by OWS’ left critics with stronger ties to the political establishment or a weaker interest in deconstruction)

    the rejection by critics with anarchist leanings of their purported *personal* responsibility to determine the shape of a post-revolutionary social order is all well and good

    but these people ought then be thinking and writing aggressively towards a detailed architectural (even arcological) plan for some decentralized social order respectful of autonomy that would satisfy their political and metapolitical demands alike (for justice and against leadership, respectively)

    this order would have to survive in a globalized world where the scale of civilization renders previous stable orders~~like the local sustainability of agrarian peoples (perhaps also a myth)~~unsuitable

    (because history’s material referent~~you know, all this shit we’ve put in all these specific places~~can’t be unwound as easily as its ideological one)

    the only alternative would be an aggressive attempt to collectively reduce *civilization’s idea of civilization* such that a previous pre-globalized lifestyle becomes again possible

    (which alternative, btw, would take hell of telling other people what to do~~and require an incredibly fantastic, mythologizing reconstruction of pasts with poor historical records: not tasks academics or anarchists seem particularly adept at or keen on)

    so basically: more satoshi nakamoto, less derrida bruh

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’m reading Graeber’s Debt book now. Fascinating stuff. I’m also reading Margaret Atwood’s Debt book which coincidentally came out around the same time. May try to write something about both these books. Wondering what Graeber thinks of her book (and she thinks of his).

  6. zunguzungu says:

    Yeah– wasn’t really meant as a serious criticism, just the observation that the book’s breadth of ambition really requires about 400 pages of footnotes (and obviously, I’m not *really* demanding that he provide them; I suspect Melville House would have something to say about that).

  7. zunguzungu says:

    I believe he actually mentions her book at one point; will have to check again, but I think he cites her example of the guy who paid off his debt to his parents and never spoke to them again.

  8. M. C. F. says:

    I would buy this book but good lord is it expensive. Even the kindle version.

    Has anyone else noticed a trend where pro-capitalist libertarians/anarchists (e.g. David D Friedman) post their books online for free, while anti-capitalist anarchists do not?

  9. Richard Crary says:

    How much do you think it costs to write and produce such a book?

    As for your trend, I’m guessing the reason for that might be that the pro-capitalists can afford it.

  10. Richard Crary says:

    Oh, I didn’t think you meant it as a criticism. But those books were fresh in my mind as I read Debt, so I wasn’t sure if that was why I didn’t need the footnote to be more fleshed out. (But I do wish that book were available in English!)

  11. Anonymous says:

    workof -> work of
    numerically -> numerical
    Ecoomics -> Economics

  12. andy edge says:

    well, yes, there are lots of debts in the world. some debts are capable of being denominated in the abstraction that is money–some are not. and, again, good luck to any society that does not hold in high esteem the repayment of both kinds of debt..

  13. Richard Crary says:

    read the book, have you?

  14. Anonymous says:

    I posted my book of essays Revolutions in Reverse online for free, a few months ago, and nobody even seemed to notice it.

    So maybe my publisher was right.

    It is ridiculously expensive, though, isn’t it? But you know, I’d have imagined someone with your evident intelligence and ingenuity would have figured out a way to find it online for free. Obviously I could not possibly condone such a thing…

  15. Anonymous says:

    Yes. Her book has lots of wonderful writing and analysis but the basic premise is the exact opposite of mine. In trying to understand human moral universals she skips directly from chimpanzees to bourgeois Canadian children with zero reference to anthropology at any point in the book. The result: the very bourgeois assumption that there are only two possibilities: ‘taking or trading,’ exchange or theft.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I know – it’s annoying, especially because it _has_ been translated from French to Italian and I think German. Just not English. The book is like 800 pages long.

  17. Anonymous says:

    nor does he seem inclined. Some people already know everything you know.

  18. nathan tankus says:

    God, if i read one more person try to knock out this stupid straw man I’m going to flip a sh*t. I know it’s too much to ask you to actually read the book, but could you at least not try to spar with your own fevered imagination and name it David Graeber?

  19. Thanks for such a great review. Can’t wait to pick up this book.

  20. mjfgates says:

    Since I am poor, I will have to check the book out at the library to read it (and I think that I will.) Who do I owe for that?…

  21. Motobecaner says:

    Hurry, There Wont be public libraries for long…

  22. andy edge says:

    I don’t understand your post. ??

  23. janky says:

    It is pretty easy to find free it in the wild. That said, I will be buying it once it comes out in paperback.

  24. Charles Reinhardt says:

    Hey Nathan. Funny to bump into you in this corner of the internet.

  25. Anonymous says:


  26. andy edge says:

    my sense is that the primary concern among the people discussing this topic is prices (i.e. prices are too high for lots of things for lots of people). this phenomenon, of course, often leads to high levels of debt. but nonetheless prices and debt are different things and confusing the two, well, leads to confusion.
    in confusing the effect (debt) for the cause (high prices) i’m concerned people are being led toward the morally indefensible idea that debts shouldn’t be honored..

  27. Gucci says:

    samhammer -> Grammar nazi

  28. Gucci says:

    OK, you obviously didnt read the book, but did you even read this review? It doesnt seem like you did

  29. MB says:

    Yo, the comments on the site don’t load. It is kind of hilarious/frightening that the only empirical example of free and self-maximizing barter that the libertarian can come up with is in a POW camp, though.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Spelling, actually.

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