Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Return to Voluntary Libraries

Issue 31 of "The Voluntaryist" contains an article by Carl Watner, “Libraries in the Voluntaryist Tradition" and as you can probably already imagine, there were many variations of voluntary libraries in the past.

Religious institutions formed private voluntary libraries. Ben Franklin started a subscription library, The Library Company of Philadelphia. There were specialized libraries formed by various tradesmen groups. Hospitals had libraries and private schools had libraries.

And let’s not forget the individual. After all, even if you own only one book, and loan it to a friend, you’ve just performed the same service that any other library does.

So how did we end up with the government-funded entities we see today?

As Carl explains the history, in part it just sounds like another example of that proverbial frog in boiling water because by the time the idea started, cities were already involved in providing many other services.

As a matter of fact, in Boston, which was the first major city to start a tax-funded library, proponents used the already-existing government schools to justify the idea. Here’s an excerpt from an 1852 report by a library Board of Trustees in Boston:

Although the school and even the college and the university are, as all thoughtful persons are well aware, but the first stages in education, the public makes no provision for carrying on the great work. It imparts with a notable equality of privilege, a knowledge of the elements of learning to all its children, but it affords them no aid in going beyond the elements. It awakens a taste for reading, but it furnishes to the public nothing to read. ...The trustees submit, that all the reasons which exist for furnishing the means of elementary education, at the public expense, apply in an equal degree to the reasonable provision to aid and encourage the acquisition of the knowledge required to complete a preparation for active life... . In this point of view we consider that a large public library is of the utmost importance as the means of completing our system of public education.

I find this ironic because I think the government schools do more to kill the enjoyment of reading than anything else out there.

When compared to government schools, libraries are a much better idea. People can come and go at will; no one is compelled to spend a certain amount of time inside a library. People can choose what they want to read. They can read at their own pace. Users can stop reading a book if they decide they don’t like it, or just read certain parts of it, or read it over and over if they wish, with no demands from any government library employee.

If it wasn’t for the government force used to fund them, libraries would be awesome.

Of course technology is changing everything. I’ve always loved libraries and have spent a lot of time in them but I almost never go anymore because so much is available on the internet. I can now access written works without the need to possess a ‘hard’ copy. The website is a perfect example.

It’s interesting that this issue of The Voluntaryist contained this article because libraries have really been on my mind the last couple of weeks. Even though I can access so much information online, I still want to read ‘real’ books, as do many others – but in order to get books I don’t think we need to fill huge buildings with them.

I ran into a really cool idea that to me seems like the wave of the future for those who want to sit down with a book in hand. It’s called the Little Free Library. People are building tiny libraries, mounting them on posts and filling them with books freely available for borrowing.

I love this idea - grass-roots, community-oriented and completely voluntary. I’m part a group of people who are working to grow the idea locally.

How about you? Maybe you want to build one of these babies and put one up in your local neighborhood. I’d love to see these Little Libraries popping up everywhere.

Just think, anyone, with a few pieces of wood and a couple of books, can own and operate his or her very own lending library, perhaps full of books like I Must Speak Out, the compilation of some of the best articles from “The Voluntaryist.” Or Carl’s newest book, Render NOT: The Case Against Taxation.

These little libraries are perfect examples of “libraries in the voluntaryist tradition.”

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