The Gifted Institution
Accolades, tirades or indifference?
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.
The Gifted Institution
Everyone can look, but only libraries buy, for one year
I envision initial inter-library transfers at 40% of fair market value as determined by an examination of auction records. An elected board of overseers from the library community will adjust the transfer percentage as needed.
Any library can post and any library buy.
Material unsold after public posting for a year may then, at the library's option, be retained or released to the public to repopulate the collecting field. Such material could be sent to auction, posted online or consigned to dealers.
Once the mandatory listing period on the LBE expires some libraries may simply open their listings to the public perhaps at a discount to retail but possibly well above the inter-library transfer price. In theory an increasing discount could be offered to sell most material during the second year.
Library to Library sales at 40% of fair market value
13th month 80% of fair market price to public
14th month 70% of fair market price to public
15th month 60% of fair market price to public
Material unsold, in the 20th month, would be 10% of fair market value. Why would material with a theoretical higher value sell for low prices? Past prices indicate but do not confirm present value. Only the market confirms price. As well, library copies may have library markings and unattractive bindings.
In this way institutions can raise money and free shelf space. They can of course acquire material on the Library Exchange at the discounted percentage.
At the same time it is important to remember the signal contributions of donors and in organizing the Library Book Exchange [LBE] seize the opportunity to create a significant advance in recognition of them. In doing this potential donor opposition will be overcome.
When material is received by a library its provenance should be recorded. If the book is important it may warrant a gift plate, identifying the donor and date. If a library later deaccessions a book, if a bookplate had not yet been inserted then one should be. The contributing library would then enter details of this copy into a national database not unlike what AE currently provides for all book, manuscript and ephemera lots offered at auction. Later, should the book be transferred the name of the receiving institution and the date would be added. In time, should the book again be deaccessioned, to another institution or the public, the details would again be recorded. Whether the records for books then entering the public domain continue to be recorded will probably depend on one simple thing: the quality of the glue on the bookplate. If the glue does not give way the material will eventually come to light. The nature of the glue will be the subject of debate. No doubt, donors will prefer a tasteful form of welded paper.
The Gifted Institution
In this way someone who donates to a local institution may in time see a portion of their material remain nearby, see other items acquired by the great public collections, other items move to smaller focused libraries, a portion pass through the auction rooms and others later appear on listing sites. For families who give [and have given] to institutions this will be the ultimate reward: permanent public recognition: an internet search for Grand Dad's books: where are they today?
As an outsider I have no voice or say in what libraries do. But as a collector, and as organizer of the Americana Exchange, I can speak with authority for what matters to collectors and to donors. The goal of book collectors is a certain immortality. To simply have lived in the presence and pursuit of books and to someday be remembered as having been part of this exceptional enterprise is the reward that long after all blessings and grievances have dissipated, will carry a collector's name to the future generations who share the same passion. Libraries can and should do this as part of the creation of an international Library Collectible Book Exchange that formalizes the orderly reorganizing of library collections.