Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2019 Issue

To Accept a Gift of Books or Not. A Dilemma for Libraries

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Northeast Harbor Library (from their website).

This story from the rocky shores of Down East Maine throws a light on a dilemma that increasingly is ensnaring both libraries and book collectors these days. In the digital age, with decreasing use of libraries, particularly their physical collections, what do we do with all of these books?

 

The Mount Desert Islander recently reported on a gift opportunity offered to the Northeast Harbor Library. For those not familiar with the geography, Northeast Harbor is a community on a large island (Desert Island) off the eastern coast of Maine. It's near the better known Bar Harbor. The population is small in the wintertime, Maine requiring hardy souls to live there year round. In the summer, the population swells, easterners coming to escape the heat. Some are among the very wealthy, including members of the Rockefeller family. While one rarely associates the word "desert" with Maine, early explorer Samuel de Champlain so named the island as its rocky peaks look barren and desert like.

 

According to the Islander, the Northeast Harbor Library has been offered a collection of 5,000-6,000 books on sailing by an anonymous Mount Desert resident. The prospective donor has offered both the books and to pay for the necessary construction or renovation needed to house the collection. The donor is requiring the collection be held in a separate space, secure and climate controlled. The donor has also asked for two plans, a budget version and a more expensive one.

 

The less expensive option being considered would involve renovating the basement. It is currently used as storage space. Books would not be permitted to leave the room. A table and chairs would be set up and visitors would have to be escorted to the room by a librarian.

 

The more expensive choice would be to build a new room on top of an older, existing section of the library. The Islander describes this as a "much more expensive" choice. It would require eliminating the older room's vaulted ceiling and altering the outside appearance of the structure, in particular, its historic section.

 

However, there is a third option, to which the Islander alluded in the last sentence of the article - " [Library Director Elly] Andrews said the library is still 'just exploring' the possibility of housing the collection of sailing books and that 'it might not happen.'"

 

That last sentence is the key. You might think it a no-brainer to take the collection, especially since the donor is willing to pay for creating the space to house it. Unfortunately, that doubly generous gift does not let the library off the hook in terms of costs. It will still have to maintain the room and the collection, an estimated 216 linear feet of shelf space, from here to eternity. That won't be inexpensive. After all, it is required to be secure and climate controlled. The regular flow of library theft stories, and occasional fires, attest to the ongoing expenses for security. And, when it comes to climate control, good luck doing that cheaply in Maine. "Desert" Island notwithstanding, the Maine coast is damp. The humidity runs high. Preservation of books in this environment will need a combination of air conditioning, heating, and dehumidifying running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Humidity doesn't take off even Christmas in coastal Maine.

 

Then, there is the balancing act. How many people will use the collection? Will it be enough to justify the cost of maintenance? This will be a limited access collection. There won't be children thumbing through the pages to see the illustrations. This is more for scholars, or perhaps a not yet entirely scholarly student writing a report. What we know from the limited amount of traffic seen these days in the rare book rooms even of highly prestigious institutions is that visitors will likely be small. Maintenance costs per visitor in such institutions is often a number no one really wants to look at too carefully. So, how many visitors will visit the sailing books room of a library in a small town in rural eastern Maine? Perhaps, if there are unique items, digitization would bring virtual visitors to the library via the internet, but live ones could be hard to find. The library may be hard-pressed to get even the yacht sailing Rockefellers to drop by.


Posted On: 2019-08-01 16:08
User Name: mozartman

Fairly common for institutional libraries to decline offers of significant collections (with accompanying offer of financial gift) for the same reasons described. Scant demand for use vs. cost and energy to store and maintain it. #MineToo.

So unless you are in the business of books and have a means of selling your inventory, our "collections" are uniquely personal and return, in the end, to their natural "scattered" state - as they were before.



Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.
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    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> MITCHELL, John (1711-1768). A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America. Copperplate engraving with original hand color. London, 1755. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Brown Pelican (Standing), Plate 251. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $175,000 to $225,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Fish Hawk or Osprey, Plate 81. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London: 1827-1838. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> GONZALES DE MENDOZA, Juan (1545 - 1618). <i>The Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China…</i> London, 1588. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> VERBIEST, Ferdinand (1623-1688). [World Map] Kun-Yu Ch'uan-Tu. Engraved twelve sheet map with vertical sections joined to form six sheets. Korea, Seoul, c. 1860. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> SANGGI, Chong (1678-1752). Korean Atlas. Manuscript map on mulberry bark paper. C. 1750-1790. $100,000 to $150,000.
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    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Plate 66. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AKERMAN, Anders (1721-1778). & AKREL, Frederik (1779-1868). Pair of Celestial and Terrestrial Globes. Stockholm, c. 1800. 23 inch diameter, each. $60,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> BENNETT, Lieut. William Pyt (d. in action, 1916). AN IMPORTANT AND APPARENTLY UNPUBLISHED SERIES OF GELATIN SILVER PHOTOGRAPHS OF LHASA AND TIBET TAKEN DURING THE CELEBRATED YOUNGHUSBAND MISSION OF 1904. $60,000 to $80,000

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