Overdue Books - A Zine Review

Exploring the role of librarianship in activism.

Overdue Books: Returning Palestine's Abandoned Property is an insightful and well researched look at Palestinian books held at Hebrew University in Israel. The books, which were seized the 1940s by Israeli soldiers and a team of librarians, were taken from evacuated homes and often still have the names of original owners on them. Hannah Mermelstein writes about how these books contain important Palestinian cultural history, and addresses the ethical concerns of keeping Palestinian "abandoned property" in an Israeli collection.

Hannah's areas of research focus specifically on libraries and archives as a way of preserving not only information, but also culture and history. Her research made me think how small items like singular books can be easily overlooked when thinking about historical events, yet miscellaneous objects found in archives are what really create history. Journals of historical figures, old posters, birth certificates: all these small sources of information come together to create one larger historical narrative. To me, Hannah's work and writing is a reminder that libraries are vitally important, even as we move into a more digital age.

For more information on Hannah or her activism, you can check out her twitter and other zines she's been affiliated with: Librarians and Archivists to Palestine, Palestine through Art, Film, and Literature, and We Won't be Silent: Palestinian Young Women and Girls Speak.

Another book specific to librarian activism is Informed Agitation : Library and Information Skills in Social Justice Movements and Beyond.

You can find more Library/Archivist based activism through NYC Research & Destroy. We have one of their zines: Danger Unheard: Deafness and the Police. There are also larger-networked activist groups like Activist Archivists and Radical Archives.

"When Zionist militias swept through these neighborhoods, they physically pushed thousands of people from their homes and caused tens of thousands more to flee in fear...In many cases, members of the educated class left behind some of their most prized possessions: books." (From "Overdue Books," quoted with permission)