The Gifted Institution
By Bruce McKinney
Material is given to libraries for many reasons. Often the owner has or had a preference for an institution and in time this preference leads to a gift. Such gifts, if substantial, may be legally executed. Most are less formal. When the gift is legally structured, it includes obligations that in time expire. For all other gifts, often subject only to a holding period for tax purposes, the institution is free to catalog or dispose or catalog and later dispose.
Within libraries there are two views as to how such material should be treated once an institution's legal obligations are met. The issue is whether libraries assume a moral obligation, when receiving material, that obligates them to a higher standard than those imposed by donors. Simply stated: does a library, should it in time want to deaccess [sell or transfer], have an obligation to confirm prior to disposition that deacession does no harm. Conservatives want a sufficient number of original copies preserved, an indeterminate standard that poses risk to libraries who accept gifts because it may force them to hold material they neither need nor want but cannot easily prove no one else needs.
The other side, while respecting the need for original copies, does not want their institutions to be judged by the prove no harm standard.
The answer is to provide a mechanism for libraries wanting to deaccess an efficient best effort to disperse to other institutions. They could do so at a sacrifice to fair market value in exchange for the receiving library's agreement to hold the material on the same terms and to dispose of it in the same or similar way in future should the material some day no longer be appropriate to their collections.
If material offered for deaccession to other libraries goes unclaimed after a year, the offering library, then has the unrestricted right to dispose. This is an important issue because libraries will dispose of enormous quantities of material over the next ten years. They need a mechanism.
The process I outline below is envisioned for material received as gifts but can as easily be applied to material the library purchased itself. It applies to all material a library feels obligated, or wishes, to offer to other libraries before potentially releasing the unclaimed portion to the public.
To accomplish this I suggest the creation of a Library Book Exchange [LBE] in which any library, institutional or public, any museum or other qualifying entity be able to post offered material for one year to what will undoubtedly be one of the most interesting listing sites on the web. Anyone could view the listings but only institutions acquire. Acquiring libraries, lacking funds, could also flag items as gifts they would like to receive and anyone, viewing the database and/or the acquiring library's list, make the appropriate gift, effect the transfer and be honored for it.