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News ::
Libraries are good (english)
22 May 2003
Modified: 08:13:43 PM
Every libertarian diehard who decries the government's involvement in anything beyond military defense is an avid user of public streets and highways--and thankful for their existence. The same can be said for national parks and libraries.
Editor's Note: Libraries are good
Geoff Schumacher, Las Vegas Mercury, May 22, 2003

Over the past 225 years or so (you know, in the period since men wore powdered wigs and buckled shoes in public) we have assembled a particular kind of nation, one that is the envy of all who appreciate the progress of Western Civilization--in other words, just about everybody except Osama bin Laden and Oliver Stone. First and foremost, it's a nation built on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial and other rights designed to prevent censorship, repression and other injustices endemic to undemocratic states.

But that's only part of the story. In addition to guaranteeing civil rights, the United States has over the years expanded the initial limited role of government to provide services for the orderly development of the nation and the benefit of the people. It has come to be understood, through trial and error, that certain national and community needs are better handled by the government than by businessmen. In some cases, the government has stepped in because private enterprise has no interest--there's no money to be made. In other cases, government has taken the lead because allowing business to handle it would lead to corruption, conflict and injustice. For example: streets and highways. Every libertarian diehard who decries the government's involvement in anything beyond military defense is an avid user of public streets and highways--and thankful for their existence. Another example: national parks. The nation has wisely determined that government is a better guardian of natural treasures than, say, Jim Rhodes.

The single most important government service in American history is the public school system. The primary reason for the nation's growth and development into the world's superpower--economically, politically and culturally--is the widespread education of the people. For all of public education's faults, it's an undeniable asset to the nation.

The American people generally are proud of their country and they like the way it has turned out--generally. For all the political squawking that goes on, very few people today question the basic ideas undergirding the country. Nobody is calling for a return to monarchy or communism. (Hell, Marxists aren't even that common on university campuses anymore.) Nobody is lamenting the absence of a caste or feudal system. As a result, most of the political fights these days break out over money--how much the government needs to deliver the services we expect it to provide.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the library bond question on the June 3 ballot. The Las Vegas-Clark County Library District is the state's largest library system. It has library branches across the Las Vegas Valley as well as in smaller towns and cities. All the branches are heavily used by citizens, who check out books and tapes, surf the Internet, write school papers, surf the Internet, attend lectures, surf the Internet, attend meetings and, when they're not surfing the Internet, enjoy concerts and plays.

As a nation and as a community we have decided that public libraries are valuable elements of our culture. They provide a setting and materials that uplift and enlighten people, especially kids. They improve the quality of life in the community. Las Vegans made a strong commitment to the library system in 1991 when they approved an $80 million bond to build new branches. That has proved to be money well spent, as the attractive, functional, convenient branches have become civic landmarks and popular destinations for knowledge-seeking citizens and children.

Since that bond issue, two things have happened: 1) Las Vegas has continued to grow faster than any other metropolitan area, and 2) the Internet. With the population growth has come an increased demand for library services. More people are filling the seats and aisles at the valley's branches, to the point that more facilities are justified to adequately serve the populace. New areas of the valley have developed without the benefit of a nearby branch. At the same time, libraries have become places where citizens can obtain free access to the Internet, an increasingly vital part of everyday life (and you know library patrons aren't wasting taxpayer dollars looking at porn because it's blocked). All the branches have computing centers, but none is large enough to meet the demand.

The new $51.6 million library bond proposal is a direct response to population growth and the rise of the Internet. It would construct four new branches (three in the valley and one in Mesquite) and upgrade existing branches. It's a logical and affordable step to maintain a library system that keeps pace with growth. (You're basically looking at $1 per month for a middle-class homeowner, a cost likely to be negated by President Bush's tax cuts.) Private enterprise is not going to fill the gap if the library bond doesn't pass; there's no money to be made lending books.

Las Vegans voted in 1991--amid the last economic downturn--to invest $80 million in libraries because they wanted the community to evolve beyond the casino culture and embrace the wider world. It was a bold move that has paid off richly in terms of making Southern Nevada a better place to live. The library district is a model for government providing an important community service that private enterprise won't provide.
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Sell the Public Libraries (english)
22 May 2003
from "Sell the Public Libraries"
by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., August 22, 2002

On the ballot in Steve County, Washington, is a referendum to cut off tax-funded (public) libraries in rural areas. We are supposed to find this a horrible and vicious thing to have on the ballot, a clear sign that antigovernment sentiment in the West (might it spread?) is getting so out of hand that it is even attacking literacy itself.

The public libraries being the earliest and perhaps ultimate symbol of the turn-of-century social uplift movement, the attempt to get rid of them—the first that has ever been documented—is being denounced as flagrantly reactionary and dangerous...

...On a non-profit basis, it would be a snap to raise money for every kind of library in rural areas or the inner city. What business would turn down a chance to be seen as public-spirited by donating money? What matron of a wealthy family wouldn’t love to browbeat her husband into giving tens of thousands to the cause of literacy among the poor?

...Private libraries are not subject to the crazy political controversies that constantly afflict public libraries. Should public-library computers be able to access porn and hate sites? Should they carry Mark Twain? Shouldn’t they have a section designed only for blacks? What about gays and lesbians, who pay taxes to support the libraries. Why shouldn’t their interests be observed as well? But that offends other people who similarly pay for libraries.

All this nonsense disappears with private libraries. As for the research services of public libraries, private services like Google provide far more information than any public library in the history of the world. The choice isn’t between libraries and no libraries; it is between libraries funded by money stolen from some to benefit others, and libraries that are efficiently run and meet the needs of the community far better than any government does or can.

We don't have to shut public libraries. Just sell them to the highest bidder.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and editor of
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