Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2015 Issue

The Boston Public Library's Summer of Discontent: One More Problem - Mold

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Moldspores are far more attractive under a microscope than on a book.

This has been a tough summer for the rare books and prints departments of the Boston Public Library. It seems that pretty much everything that can go wrong did go wrong. The issues they have experienced provide a microcosm of the problems libraries face today, though few experience so many of them all at once.

 

Last April, the library's President, Amy Ryan, was informed that two prints, one valued at $600,000, had been missing for almost a year. After a couple weeks of frantic searching, she concluded they must have been stolen and the police and FBI were called in. Boston's Mayor was not pleased, and after a meeting between the library's Board of Directors, President, and the Mayor's representative, Ms. Ryan handed in her resignation (click here). Astonishingly, the next day, the missing prints were found, misplaced among the 1.3 million items in the prints section of the library. Still, there was too much water over the dam. Ms. Ryan did not withdraw her resignation, but left a month later anyway.

 

Then, a few weeks later, a study commissioned by the library to evaluate its situation was released. It revealed that the library was plagued with problems (click here). It found the prints area was terribly disorganized, with records incomplete and hard to follow. Locating material depended on the memories of veteran staff. Quarters were cramped, almost no space was available for storing items or doing any work, helping to explain why things could readily get lost. The report's criticism was hardly limited to current staff. It found that previous administrations had proven better at obtaining collections than caring for them, and that the city provided insufficient funds and personnel to manage such a collection.

 

Now, one more major problem has befallen the library, in its Rare Books Department. It is the fear and scourge of librarians everywhere – mold. On September 14, a staff member retrieving a copy of the British Museum Catalogue of Printed Books discovered mold on it. This led to immediate surveying of the collection and the discovery of additional volumes showing signs of mold. Library officials quickly called in an outside firm specializing in mold containment to evaluate the situation. They also brought in several dehumidifiers to assist the central air conditioning which is the main source of climate control. A second group of dehumidifiers was placed on order.

 

There are 1,000,000 manuscripts and 500,000 books in the library's Rare Books Department. Fortunately, most of the manuscripts are housed in archival boxes which protect them from mold. Cleaning efforts will be focused on the books which are kept on open shelves. A vacuuming process is used to clean spores off of the books. An extensive effort will be employed as the library announced that it will be closing the Rare Books Department from public use for an estimated 5 to 10 weeks. The library has not said how much the clean-up will cost, but an undertaking of this magnitude will not be inexpensive.

 

Historic collections are not easy to maintain. Libraries have taken on much of the task of preserving our history. It is not their main purpose in being, but it is essential that someone do it if we are to maintain a connection to our past, if we are to know who we are and learn the lessons our ancestors taught us. However, preserving these collections is extremely expensive. The Boston Public Library's misadventures this summer have demonstrated this stark reality to the bright light of day. For decades, funding for libraries has been getting tighter, even as collections expanded. Now, access to information digitally has reduced usage of most rare book rooms, making public willingness to fund their operation even tighter. We have a dilemma here, one still seeking an answer.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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