Virtual Veritas

By Herring, Mark Y. | Policy Review, November-December 1997 | Go to article overview

Virtual Veritas


Herring, Mark Y., Policy Review


The nationAEs libraries do a poor job of preserving conservative truths. We need to start our own.

Of all the great American institutions that deserve the support and affection of conservatives, lending libraries are among the most essential. At their best, libraries are repositories of our national intellectual heritage. In the free market of ideas, libraries are like banks, where any American can borrow the accumulated capital of knowledge and where some will eventually deposit the dividends of discovery. The cause of conservatism has everything to gain from this egalitarian preservation of political philosophy, classical literature, moral fiction, historical fact--of "the best that has been thought and said," as Matthew Arnold had it.

How appalling, then, that the nationAEs conservative intellectual patrimony is so poorly preserved by our libraries. In most of our public, academic, and special facilities, conservative materials exist only in scant quantities. As a librarian of nearly two decades, I know whereof I speak. Consider one benchmark of this intellectual famine: statistics on the holdings of 25,000 U.S. libraries that belong to the national bibliographic database known as the Online Computer Library Center. Friedrich HayekAEs Road to Serfdom, for example, is available in only 2,646 of these libraries, Russell KirkAEs Conservative Mind in 2,180, Richard WeaverAEs Ideas Have Consequences in 1,126, and Witness, by Whittaker Chambers, in 2,285.

For leading conservative periodicals, the situation is even bleaker. Of the 25,000 libraries in the OCLC database, Human Events, Policy Review, and Commentary are found in about 3 percent, 3 percent, and 1.6 percent, respectively. Even throwing in the 2,300 or so locations that subscribe to National Review, you have an 8 in 10 chance of patronizing an American library entirely bereft of these conservative periodicals. The shortage is more pronounced when one considers only the public libraries, to which most citizens have the easiest access.

If every conservative isnAEt enraged by these facts, she should be. Although conscientious conservative scholars, who have access and funds to use almost any research library, may not be undone by this problem, what about the rest of us? College students doing term papers, eager young minds thirsting for knowledge, the casual reader, the avid collector, the politically uninformed, your local school board member--everyone is in some way influenced by the state of our nationAEs libraries.

So whatAEs a conservative to do? We are fortunate to have smaller, subject-specific facilities like the Leonard Read Study Center at WisconsinAEs Carroll College; the Russell Kirk Study Center, in Michigan; the Institute for Humane Studies, at George Mason University in Virginia; the (Ludwig von Mises Institute) , in Alabama; and the Shavano Institute (http://www.hillsdale.edu/extprog/extprog.html), at MichiganAEs Hillsdale College. In such institutions one finds collections of certain conservative authorsAE works, pamphlets relating to a specific conservative era or movement, journals relating to various conservative ideas. But the facility that strives to bring together every worthwhile conservative book, journal, video, or digital byte of information under one roof is nowhere to be found. That is, until now.

Conservative Nirvana

Imagine sitting down and listening to William F. Buckley Jr.AEs oral history of the founding of National Review, or viewing President ReaganAEs Berlin Wall speech. Then immerse yourself in the thoughts of conservative giants such as M.E. Bradford, Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Michael Novak, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, and Richard Weaver. Encounter every conservative popularizer of the last few years and every conservative scholar of 300 years ago, along with biographies of conservative thinkers, detailed bibliographies, interactive videos, and more conservative history. Then browse through back issues of American Spectator, Human Events, and other conservative journals by the hundreds. …

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