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2016@Mormonism.com

(816) 846-0123
“Since 1972, Hajicek has been studying Mormon origins.
Since 1981, he has been writing about rare Mormon documents.
Since 1991, half of all new discoveries in Mormon history have been by him.”

Donating to Libraries

Reasons to avoid donating rare books to libraries

I buy from libraries to whom you might donate your book.  For example, even from the finest libraries of all, I bought a duplicate first edition Book of Mormon from the Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City; I bought a first edition Doctrine and Covenants through the Huntington Library in San Marino; and some of my finest Mormon hymn books were sold to me by the Clements Library at the University of Michigan. This is because most worthy libraries already have fine copies of every significant early Mormon book.

But, nevertheless, a few librarians will do anything to dissuade you from selling your books directly to a private collector like me. The librarians are competitors because they want average individuals to make expensive donations of additional copies of books that the libraries really already have, because they get recognition for acquiring financial assets. A librarian is responsible for making acquisitions by solicitation without remuneration to the owner. However, most libraries typically under-appreciate, will not buy, and do not adequately preserve rare Mormon books.

Any family, naturally, is entitled to present a book to their favorite library, regardless of their financial means; but ethically ought to be assisted in making an informed decision as to the value of their contribution—and should be told if the rare book duplicates one already in the library.

One librarian once genuinely defended his practice by explaining that private ownership, open markets, and free enterprise cause “the generation of artificial extrinsic value for historical materials [that] interferes with their inherent intrinsic value to the benefit of the larger scholarly community.” He elaborated: “From a historical perspective, the value of these items would be much diminished should they be divided and sold into private hands.” Books should not be owned by private individuals, according to that librarian, because “these materials must remain available to all genuine students and researchers of the movement alike, rather than to fall into the hands of private dealers or collectors.” I disagree—but I am a free-market economist, and I continue to pay for books while he obtains them free.

The librarian was incorrect that the free market creates artificial values. The market price is the real value—it is socialism that creates “artificial” values (with that librarian’s suggested price ceilings and restraints of supply). Further, that librarian failed to understand how the free market allocates scarce resources. Although he was rhetorically provocative, that librarian did not realize that the free market creates a flow of rare books from originating families and those who desire them less, to able private collectors and those who desire them more (in exchange for money being redistributed to the less wealthy), and that it is the able private collector who eventually donates the books to a sophisticated library capable of their appropriate preservation—usually at his or her alma mater—taking care to ensure that the library does not already have multiple copies of the same title. Also, a private collector uses his or her means and skill to have the books restored and conserved, as do I—whereas libraries often cannot afford this treatment.

The first success of this free economic system is that the collector advertises his market prices and attracts the seller to bring the books out of attics, basements, and barns—where they would disintegrate under socialism. Many collections of Mormon Americana have been lost by unfaithful or naive heirs who discarded them or burned them. Better is it to have them sold, preserved, and situated while the owner is young enough to make informed decisions, and has financial incentives.

Finally, while libraries do not buy books from regular individuals, they often establish relationships with serious collectors familiar with their collection. As one with such cultivated associations, whenever I did sell duplicate books that I discovered were unique, I offered them to select libraries first rather than to other collectors (though most librarians are difficult to contact, are unappreciative of Mormon books, have reduced budgets, and pay slowly); for one role of a responsible collector is the identification of exceptionally unusual books and the eventual placement of them in the most appropriate repository (such as one that does not already have multiple poorly preserved copies of the same title). This is the official guideline followed by better libraries: “Librarians and the book trade share a long tradition of mutually beneficial cooperation in building collections and a common concern for their preservation.”

In summary, that path (from the originating family, to the private collector, and to the fine library) is preferable to having a needy family donate the books to an inferior library incapable of assessing their value, without a collection strategy, and without the ability, inclination, or skill to care for the books properly. Thus, there are many benefits to allowing private collectors to participate in the free market. They facilitate the allocation of scarce resources through the attraction, preservation, and placement of rare books; they act as intermediaries in the exchange of rare books and the redistribution of wealth; and they allow competition to determine the real value of historical materials.

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All rights reserved. Revised August 19, 2016.

 
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