Institutions Are Still Buying
By Bruce McKinney
Recently I asked Terry Belanger, MacArthur fellow, full professor and Director of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, about institutional buying and he encouraged me to contact a cross-section of institutional buyers for perspective. Their outlook is encouraging if sanguine. I spoke to Daniel De Simone, David Whitesell, Lynda Claassen, Doug Erickson, Martin Antonetti and Katherine Reagan, all of whom convey a commitment to continuing acquisitions although their budgets, prospects, logic and approaches differ substantially. They are all headed in the same direction although taking different paths. Mr. De Simone is Curator of the Rosenwald Collection at the Library of Congress; Mr. Whitesell, Curator of Books at the American Antiquarian Society; Ms. Claassen, Director, Mandeville Special Collections Library at the University of San Diego; Mr. Erickson, Head of Special Collections/College Archivist for the Watzek Library at Lewis & Clark College; Martin Antonetti, Curator of Rare Books at Smith College and Catherine Reagan, Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University.
Lynda Claassen of UC San Diego, describes her department's funding as organized over a period of years and therefore less sensitive to upturns and downturns in the economy. For her the process is straightforward. A group of dealers she describes as "more than 25" [and always open to new participants], know the university collections and their acquisition emphases. These dealers offer vetted and appropriate material which is first considered within the rare book department and then, if deemed appropriate, submitted for review and acquisition. She is of course balancing faculty and department directives as well as considering the effort put forth by the dealers, all the while keeping a weather eye on her budget, which as it is consumed, is subject to replenishment at the end of the fiscal year. She views dealers as an extension of her department resources, periodically deaccessions duplicates and shares with them transaction proceeds for those items they can place. Hers is a collaborative approach and dealers an extension of her resources.
Daniel De Simone, Curator of the Rosenwald Collection at the Library of Congress tells a similar story. His acquisitions budget for early printed books has remained constant and he is constantly reading catalogues and considering specific proposals. He’s been doing this at the Library of Congress for more than 10 years and has developed a fine eye for the unusual. As is true for Ms. Classen he buys offered [as opposed to auction] material. As he explains it, I have to write a proposal and justification for material I want to acquire. Doing this for material at auction [at prices and outcomes unknown], just does not fit our methodology. Lest anyone feel he's leaving great material unconsidered, every day the library receives 10,000 communications. A portion lands in his in-box, the reading and consideration ongoing, never-ending. "I love my job." Does anyone doubt it?