Why occupy the library?
The work of transforming a collection of books into a thriving space for cultivating knowledge rests on the shoulders of the communities that work behind the scenes, at the carrels, and in the classrooms, often without due recognition. To move into the technological future, the Harvard Libraries deserve a radical re-imagining of the future of education, libraries, and thought – not just digitally enhanced card catalogues and a down-sized “more efficient” staff.
We think of the proposed Harvard library transition as a simulacrum of the University’s accession to neoliberal imperatives. Occupy, whether at Harvard or Wall Street, challenges and refuses the devastating willingness of our broken society to view humans as expendable resources and systems as ultimately beholden to profit. A future cannot be imagined in the absence of its past, present, or future constituents. A library needs the workers who are its lifeblood, its circulatory system, just as a functioning democratic society needs the voices of the 99%. Systems built with profit imperatives can only serve to further perpetuate the patterns of destruction and unequal power structures that we denounce. The proposed library transition not only fails to address these systemic problems, it replicates them.
Harvard University has great possibilities and great responsibilities. From its investing policies to its tenure processes, from its contract negotiations to its innovations in infrastructure, it is time for the University to live into the reality that life-giving alternatives are not only possible, they are immanently realizable.
What would you like to see?
A vision for the Harvard Libraries that cherishes the human communities and collaborative processes that make intellectual and civic engagement—on campuses and in public parks—not only possible but fruitful.
We must direct our resources more effectively to our academic and ethical priorities; we must re-imagine the nature and scope of services the Harvard libraries can provide digitally and embrace the possibilities inherent in new technologies; we must unite across the University to strengthen our collaborations and academic innovations; we must open our doors to other universities and to the greater public so that access to the thinking of centuries is not the privilege of a few, but integral to the bonds of our common humanity.
What has Occupy Harvard accomplished thus far, and what do you hope to accomplish in the future?
In solidarity with the global Occupy movement, Occupy Harvard reclaimed public domain to establish a horizontal forum of participatory democracy. This is an alter-globalization model in contrast to the failed electoral system that turns a blind eye to the public for the benefit of the few. Here, money does not matter, you do.
Our occupation of Harvard Yard has revived discussion of inequality throughout the university. From daily conversations at our info tent, to a teach-in with eight faculty members that attracted hundreds of participants, we foster discourse regarding economic, historical, social and legal injustice. So far, we have the support of nearly one thousand Harvard affiliates, including more than 150 faculty members.
We also helped Harvard’s custodians secure a better contract ensuring improved health coverage and better shift arrangements; helped extend eligibility for tuition assistance and childcare to hourly workers sub-contracted to Harvard; and we have sparked a debate about how the university might provide more robust support and encouragement for students entering public service, in line with the College’s stated mission. We recently prompted Harvard to launch an investigation of its investment in HEI Hotels and Resorts, and will continue to push for a dialogue about how to achieve transparent and socially responsible investment of the university’s multi-billion-dollar endowment.
As Occupy Harvard, we will continue to strive for social and economic justice at Harvard and in the wider world.
Why do you hate Harvard? Aren’t you biting the hand that feeds you? And as Harvard affiliates, aren’t you part of the 1 percent?
We don’t hate Harvard. Yet we believe that it is vitally important for Harvard to be a socially and economically just employer, investor, and part of the greater community. Harvard possesses an immense amount of social and financial capital, and therefore has the very real power, and responsibility, to change the world for good.
Members of Occupy Harvard come from a diversity of backgrounds and economic situations. We have undergraduates who could never have come here without financial aid, and we have members who are employees who have fought for years for fair wages and benefits. While all of us benefit from the opportunities that the university provides us, we all share a commitment to advancing social and economic equality.