The Choice of Books

The choice of books in libraries has been a source of spirited contention for decades. In recent times there has been a real flareup in the debate and enormous renewed controversy over which titles should be in collections. Harry Potter has been banned from some Texas libraries as evangelicals protest its alleged glorification of the black arts and sorcery.

Policy decisions are always he wiser when grounded in the publishing history of their focus. Any study of attitudes toward policy benefits from access to titles which might not be needed for their truth and their supposed science,  and certainly not cited for accuracy, but equally certainly shoild be cited for understanding attitudes. Harvard has several large collections to this end, including 45,000 old textbooks:

An example of how this use of older titles works out are cookbooks, which are examined increasingly  for changing attitudes towards food and are an aspect of PSO studies that include the World Food Policy journal. What one generation eagerly devoured at the table becomes evidence to another generation as to why life span was less then than now. Entire farming economies are changed by this. Agriculture and the kitchen are close cousins.

Books  of another era that are useful for research, for classroom assignment and doctoral dissertations,  are understandably not best sellers in what has been an unfortunately diminishing number of bookshops. They are completely unavailable in the developing countries that PSO includes in its constituency and mission to informm policy making.

Also missing from the shelves are books that represent diversity, because often writers whose background was lacking in the then dominant ethnic background of Publishers’ Row were compelled to publish with obscure firms or self publish. Women at times had to adopt male-sounding names to secure acceptance and were similarly forced to use obscure presses.  

We hope that Westphalia with its books helps in encouraging a much more ecumenical and enlightened approach to the many issues which are now sadly producing more heat than light in these contentious times. We have responded eagerly to suggestions from the academic community as far as our resources permit and invite ideas for the future.