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I must go to our local libraries one or two times a week. It would be more often if I could find the time and manage to wrangle the kids. I’ve done a complete back of the envelope calculation since I’ve moved here two years ago. About 75% of the economics/social science material that is sponsored by the libraries are obviously anti-capitalistic screeds. That actually works in my favor, as I like to read the stuff, and I don’t want to spend too much of my own money on it. But if someone is just browsing aisles, as is probably the most fun thing about modern libraries, what impression do you think they are given about economics?

And given that 90% of students are indoctrinated in public schools, and 75% of the material the public can access in their library is of the anti-capitalistic variety, I am completely astonished that there are as many people out there as I think there are, who respect private property, peaceful voluntary association and the rule of law. Was it always like this? Given that markets and property rights, whatever their flaws, have spectacularly delivered the goods, don’t you think some sounder work should appear in my libraries? I suppose I can check this out — is the physics section dominated only by works on string theory?

Would my library be amenable to the purchase of some classics? It does not have any Julian Simon. Milton Friedman is nowhere to be seen. Hayek is in hiding. Forget about any “pure” classical liberals too – nowhere to be seen. Then again, much of the stuff in the stacks is of the modern, “pop” variety – our university library displays no such problems.

I’m just wondering, what do your local libraries look like? If you wanted to embark upon a study of economics and a classical liberal political philosophy, would it even be possible by using only your library? Note that I am not really that worked up about it, certainly I came to my views from accessing the statist stuff in the library and then researching original materials on my own from other sources.

12 Responses to “Check Out Your Library”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    Wow, you and I are on the same page. VERY tough to find any Simon, Friedman, Bastiat, Russ Roberts, etc.

  2. Carol says:

    I am am a mature adult attending college, and am amazed at the “one world” junk that is being taught. The first class I noticed this was ECON 101, and I used to rant over the promotion of social manipulation through economic control. This same notion was even presented in accounting. But back to your question of library content. My county library system carries ZERO copies of the classic “1984,” in print or DVD. Yet, there are library “fundraisers” several times a year, during which they sell off titles like this, claiming that they do not circulate. Hogwash! They are purposly targeting any work that does not promote the socialist ideal. Furthermore, since the tax code changed in the early 90s so that bok publishers were taxed on unsold inventory (which led to the creation of Amazon, btw) tens of thousands of books, like those you pointed out, were destroyed. AFter all, no one was reading them. NOw that they are out of print with no reserves left, no one will.

  3. Michael says:

    The only time I’ve been to the library lately is with my daughter (age 2). I didn’t really look at the books as much as I did for other classics, such as “Are You My Mother?” Usually when I get books for myself, I use the online library because I expect them to not have the book I want. As Wintercow said, modern libraries seem to be biased towards pop-economics (“Nudge”; Carol, you’ll really rant about this book), so none would probably have “The History of the Gas Light Company of Baltimore” (1936).

    Wintercow; what happened to the “Books I am Reading” Section?

  4. Harry says:

    Our local library is run by the county, although the local branch gets to keep my late fines and contributions. Since it has been the source of my recreational reading for many, too many, years, it is one of my first thoughts for charitable contribution, even though they have always featured the latest liberal tract on the Just In shelves.

    They have always been helpful when asking for a book, and I think they would direct someone to buy it for the system. Back in ’85 they got me a copy of Jude Wanniski’s The Way the World Works, a great read on supply-side economics.

    So here is the plan. All of Wintercow’s faithful should go to their local library and request Friedman’s works, all of which should be in print; The Road to Serfdom; Economic Sophisms; let’s get those county librarians busy. My next visit will be for beach reading, and along with my crime/spy novel, I am going to order Human Action.

    Let’s go viral with this. Think of how many printing jobs we will create through demand!

  5. blink says:

    If libraries were run like businesses, we could simply assume free market thinkers are unpopular among the customers. Of course the incentive structure is different, but I still think that the average public library patron is decidedly left-of-center. And your own borrowing habits might lead one to make that mistake about you!

  6. Harry says:

    Blink, I am not so sure about who is a government-run library patron.

    Liberals read their last book thirty or forty years ago, assuming they read a book, as opposed to hearing of a book in the sit-in. They may have checked out or bought Earth in the Balance, but I am sure that nearly all of them read Silent Spring as carefully as did our Holstein advisor.

    This is not to malign libraries, where I can get a book that I will read once for a thrill.

    By the way, our town has not only a government-run library, but also a Carnegie library, at Perkiomen School, my Alma Mater. In some respects, it had nearly as good collections in some segments as Lehigh and Trinity, although I am not sure about economics. The Road to Serfdom was there, and so were the Beards’ history and Will Durant.

    But, let’s get moving, and get our government-run libraries to buy good books!

  7. Harry says:

    Sorry, WC. I am doubtful if they ever read a book so carefully.

  8. Alan says:

    I live in Toronto and just did an on-line search of the system’s holdings. There are extensive holdings of Hayek, Simon, Friedman (both Milton and David, though also Thomas 🙂 ), no apparent Russ Roberts, lots of Thomas Sowell (though they did not have a volume I wanted a few weeks ago), lots of Bastiat, lots of Tyler Cowen (not the same tradition but no mindless lefty). There is a well-defined process for asking the library to stock books at a user’s request. A few years ago I would have added a joke about how this is lefty Canada, but the roles appear to have reversed a couple of years ago (and with our last election).

  9. The local library is a community resource, but it extends far beyond your immediate geography. Above Michael recommended The Gas Light Company: A Natural Monopoly. I went to the state system, MelCat, found it at Michigan State University and the U of M. U of M does not lend this copy out, so MSU will be sending it to my neighborhood branch of the Ann Arbor District Library. And then there is WorldCat. Your local librarian can help you find whatever you want and they do not need to actually acquire it themselves.

    Back in the winter 2010-2011, Glenn Beck recommended The Road to Serfdom. (I don’t watch Beck; someone told me about it.) So, I thought, OK, and swung by to pick it up. I was Number 9 in line for any of 4 copies, two downtown and two at branches. I just checked right now: same deal. There’s a lot conservatives here in the Peoples Republic of Ann Arbor. The Ann Arbor District Library also shelves several books by David Friedman.

    Back in 1990-1991, I served on the White House Conference on Libraries and Information Services. I learned a lot about how libraries really work. First and foremost, the local librarian has a lot independence and autonomy. So, in every case, as they say, “your mileage may vary.”

    Here the Library Board is elected. Feel free to run for office.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Thomas Sowell should be required for all libraries

  11. Anonymous says:

    I live close to a university library here in Asia (one of the four Tigers). Using the online catalog, I can find about 100-120 books or collection of essays written by Friedman, Hayek and Sowell (in total), and about the same amount of books written about them.

    These numbers are roughly equal to those for Foucault, Habermas and Sartre, three predominant anti-capitalists.

  12. Greg says:

    I blame selection bias. Libertarians don’t write pop philosophy books. Leftists write them; it’s more historically in their nature. It’s not that libraries don’t stock pop libertarianist books, it’s that as far as I can tell they don’t get terribly popular. And I’d guess the Penfield public library cares more about popularity than Rush Rhees.

    Why do leftists get published more? People like to be scared, so I think it’s also easier to play off current fears — “I feel personally repressed by our capitalist system because my boss makes more money than me” — than it is to create new ones — “I can’t safely say I feel repressed by government regulation that I either don’t understand, is only a minor annoyance, or that I never hear about.” The closest historical analogue I can think of is the political climate surrounding the Whiskey Rebellion, and more recently the Red Scare, but neither has quite the same immediacy as blaming free markets for a crisis that occurred in a nominally free market. Validity is irrelevant; the fear is there and talking about it gets people’s attention.

    So people write books about it, publishers market the hell out of those books, and then we have an externality: profit-maximizing publishers impose an intellectual cost on the populace. Now if we can intellectually tax leftists, by, say, barring them from learning to read and write until leftists and libertarians wrote the same number of books, we could solve the problem entirely.

    At least, that’s what I remember from micro. Maybe I need to go back over my notes…

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