Occupy London library: 'Very open'. Photograph: Richard Lea
The improvised book-lending facility at the St Paul’s protest has held a prominent position at the demonstration from the start. Richard Lea checks it out.
“Books open up a different kind of space for discussion, a different atmosphere.” The Occupy London librarian, Nathan Cravens, is in reflective mood. The rain has stopped drumming on the tents outside St Paul’s Cathedral for a while, and passers-by pause to browse the table of books, chat for a moment and move on. “It seems that the books themselves attract people to have discussions on the issues and the solutions,” he adds.
It’s only a table and a couple of bookshelves, set up for the moment opposite the Starbucks that protesters have attracted such criticism for using, but StarBooks sees a steady flow of books being borrowed, books being dropped off. There’s a constant trickle of donations as well. A man in a smart jacket asks if he can bring along a few books later on. A couple of gentlemen with neatly-trimmed beards, who say they have “access to a lot of books that would normally be given to charity”, but would rather not give their names, take a more direct approach, unloading a stack of donations large enough to temporarily extend the library’s collection to a second table.
Will Hutton’s The State We’re In is shelved alongside Subcomandante Marcos’s Zapatista Stories, Dean Koontz’s The Husband piled on top of Brian Friel’s Translations. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s novel Sashenka is cheek by jowl with John Baylis and Steve Smith’s The Globalization of World Politics, while David Craig’s Squandered sits under a shiny hardback of Cory Doctorow’s young adult thriller Little Brother. Dog-eared paperbacks are shelved alongside political pamphlets, economics textbooks piled on top of secondhand science fiction, slim volumes of poetry slipped between hardback history.
“The ones that are political or economic or historical go very quickly, it’s the novels that are left,” says Cravens, suggesting that maybe fiction doesn’t match up to the present situation. “We’d like to see real things, and read about real things and apply real things.”
The library – or at least a table of books – has been a feature of the camp right from the very beginning.