NEW YORK — A group of lawyers, librarians and activists complained Wednesday that thousands of books that had been stored in a "people's library" at the Occupy Wall Street encampment were lost or destroyed when police officers raided and cleared the plaza last week.
The demonstrators say their library, which had grown from a few donated books to a collection of roughly 5,000 volumes curated by a team of full-time volunteers, suffered the same ignoble fate as the mounds of other stuff that had accumulated in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park during the two-month occupation.
As police swept out the protesters in the dead of night on Nov. 15, sanitation workers moved in, hastily tossing sleeping bags, tents, computers and bongo drums into trucks, leaving the privately-owned plaza pristine and power-washed by dawn.
City officials say 26 truckloads of items were removed from the park, including the books, and that all were taken to a city sanitation garage, where owners may retrieve their belongings over the next few weeks.
The demonstrators, however, said only around 1,300 books have turned up at the garage so far. Of those, only around 840 are still in useable condition. The rest, they said, are either missing or warped and mangled beyond repair.
"It was clear from what we saw at sanitation that our books had been treated as trash," said Occupy librarian Michele Hardesty, speaking to reporters near a table filled with most of the recovered books, including a ruined copy of "A People's History of the United States," by Howard Zinn, and less damaged volumes of "The Coming Anarchy" by Robert Kaplan, and "Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution," by Kolya Abramsky.
The pile of filthy, mangled books also contained at least two Bibles, and "The Essence of Buddhism," by John Walters.
Civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel demanded that the city replace the damaged and lost books. He said he also wants Mayor Michael Bloomberg to apologize and offer the demonstrators a new location for their lending library.
A spokeswoman for the mayor, Julie Wood, said police and sanitation workers acted appropriately in their handling of items removed from the park. She noted that police had given the demonstrators a 45-minute warning that they had to leave immediately with their belongings, or face arrest.
"The protesters were given ample opportunity to take their possessions with them," Wood said. "Many took their possessions with them, others chose to leave items. The city is making an extraordinary effort to make sure all property left behind is available to be retrieved by anyone who wants it and properly claims it."
Occupy librarian Stephen Boyer, 27, said the speed and force of the raid left no opportunity to rescue the collection before it was seized. He said he grabbed a copy of a poetry anthology written by Occupy supporters, as well as a few of his own belongings, and carried them to a friend's nearby apartment. But when he returned for more books, police wouldn't allow him back inside the park.
"I got what I could in one load, and that is all I could save," said Boyer, a native of Orange County, Calif. He said the books, which had been catalogued by volunteers and kept in boxes and plastic bins under tarps and a tent, were the intellectual lifeblood of the encampment.
"They have no reverence for the beauty of these objects," Boyer said of the officials who ordered the raid.
City officials said anyone who goes to the garage and is unable to find lost property, or sees that it has been ruined, can file a damage claim with the office of the city comptroller.