We had a Pressi presentation from Katie Flanagan (who was ill and couldn’t attend but still sent a copy of her speech) setting the scene about the need to build awareness of inappropriate disposal of special collections and the need for libraries to become watchdogs of this active through increasing social media campaigns. Also highlighting the idea about having a more pragmatic approach to ensure that there are less secretive sales of books and keep collections together in the public domain, if they do indeed need to change hands.
After such an introduction I just knew I was in for a good debate. A lot of problems that libraries face is the need for more storage and space and the lack of money to invest in core library collections. I was therefore completed enthralled by the following speech from David McKitterick, keynote speaker on this topic. After speaking at length about the University of London blunder to sell several Shakespeare’s folios to where public opinion through newspapers and social media mobilised to act on the provocation of such a valuable collection, David laid out some truths that some libraries try heavily to avoid or are in denial about.
Whether it is the story of Wigan Public Libraries or Birmingham Law Society, quite simply all libraries have to discards books! However, he pointed out that libraries change with each generation and it is important for collection policies to be updated to reflect this. Lastly, he pressed the matter that we as librarians should remember that libraries are not museums. Where museums have “one-off” special items that can never be duplicated or found anywhere else in the world; books have a contextual value in a holdings collection. Therefore, it is important to avoid bulk selling decisions without consultation as it is most likely result in wasteful mishandling by the library and antiquarian booksellers that acquire them or lead to auctioning in fear of scarcity of space which may only raise funds and create space for the short-term.