How not to suppress a book

Psst. Want a copy of Alms for Jihad? That’ll be $538, please.

By suing publisher Cambridge University Press into submission, Khalid bin Mafouz has turned an obscure scholarly book on the financial workings of terrorism into a prized, rare book. So US libraries are now moving to protect it.

As of mid-August, Alms for Jihad was not available through, Barnes & Noble, or Alibris. (About 1500 copies of the book were sold worldwide.) Libraries suddenly have an incredibly rare book in their stacks; a WorldCat search finds the book at nearly 300 libraries. Rather than discard the book, many libraries are safeguarding it, keeping it on hold, at the reserves desk. “I have recalled the copy of this title…in order to place it in our Rare Books collection, where it may be read by anyone but not borrowed,” said Dona Straley, Middle East Studies librarian at Ohio State University’s Ackerman Library. “Several of my colleagues at other institutions have reported their copies as missing.”

There are all kinds of innocent and not so innocent reasons why the books could be missing, with the most sinister possibility being a quiet campaign to either smuggle them out of libraries entirely or just move them a few shelves from their rightful spot so they won’t be found and read. The latter is easy to do and according to a librarian who’s been advising me on guerrilla tactics in the stacks, would be completely anonymous and untraceable. Well, unless some library deploys CSI, anyway.

Regardless, it may become moot soon.

[T]he authors hope to republish Alms for Jihad in the U.S. Co-author Robert O. Collins, a professor at University of California Santa Barbara, told LJ that he and co-author J. Millard Burr, a former state department employee, are currently negotiating with CUP for a rights reversion. The authors have had several offers from U.S. publishers.

“We stand by what we wrote and refused to be a party to the settlement,” Collins said. “As soon as CUP received notice, they decided to settle as rapidly as possible despite our vigorous defense. CUP did not want to embark on a long and expensive suit which they could not win under English libel law.” Indeed, libel laws in England are far more favorable to plaintiffs than those in the U.S.

The book will probably get published in the US, but until it does, if you have a copy it’s worth a small fortune on ebay. Thanks to the libel tourist’s attempt to suppress the book, Alms for Jihad will probably sell reasonably well once it is published. The only thing I have to say to that is “Heh.”

Update: Another *librarian emails, on the subject of guerrillas in the stacks.

Bryan-at my research library here at XXXXXX, (it’s a very very large library) Robert Spencer’s book has gone “missing” and had to be re-ordered. Pratt’s book on Islam Unveiled-also “missing” and several books on Ronald Reagan that I looked up.

It’s true that all you have to do is put the book somewhere else, and then it can never be found in the library. The Spencer book was signed out once, returned into the library and then disappeared. There is no way to track a book within the library.

Fixing this problem sounds to me like a job for RFID tags or something like that can similarly send out a short range homing signal. But then you’ll get Big Brotherish worries that librarians will secretly use the tags to follow you home or something.

*Turns out, not a librarian. Just a book lover who knows libraries very well.