Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gives New Meaning to "Special Library"

Karl Lagerfeld's personal library

"Handled with Care", an essay by Andrew D. Scrimgeour, dean of libraries, Drew University.  (The New York Times, 12/28/2012)

A scholar and academic librarian describes his attentive and precise process for conducting an inventory of personal libraries.

In a letter to the editor, published 1/24/2013, Eleanor Rothman wishes she had an Andrew Scrimgeour in her life.

We harbored the hope that the library [3,000 volumes, mostly in the subject areas of  political science, sociology, history and philosophy - "utilitarian tools", as Mrs. Rothman describes them in her opening paragraph] could be kept intact. But we learned that at least in this part of New England, libraries don’t want books. Not the college where he taught for almost 40 years, not the local high school, not even used-book shops. [And you still didn't learn anything from this series of responses?]  It was very discouraging. I finally found a man who was happy to take the entire collection, select those volumes that he could sell on the Internet for $15 or more, and send the balance to worthy organizations for use in underprivileged areas.

Eleanor's husband, Stanley Rothman, was born on August 4, 1927, and died on January 5, 2011.  He was the Mary Huggins Gamble Professor Emeritus of Government at Smith College.  He also served as Director of the Center for Social and Political Change at Smith College.

Since it is most probable that this collection of "utilitarian tools" was developed over a long period of time, many of the titles are likely out-of-date, superseded by newer editions, a duplication of what is already in a library's collection -- examples of guidelines found in standard library collection development policies.  To me, the hope that a donation of 3,000 items of no special import be kept intact borders on chutzpah.  It reflects a lack of understanding of library collection development, even, I suspect, in academic libraries where special collections are given a high priority.  (Please correct if I'm wrong here, as my experience is wholly within the public library world.)

As for storage of a collection of 3,000 items -- leaving aside all of the preliminary steps -- I figure about 450 linear feet of shelving is required.  20 books per shelf.

This range of empty shelving will accommodate two-thirds of Stanley Rothman's collection, unless we provide the books with no breathing room whatsoever.

I've never seen the library at Northampton (Mass.) High School, but I imagine that accommodating a donation of 3,000 books is out of their range.

I'm reminded of an experience I had in the early 1990s as director of the Middleton Public Library.   I was approached by a local resident who wished to donate his personal library of more than 100 titles on model railroading.  During a conversation in my office, he stipulated that he wanted this collection to remain intact    Upon further questioning, he confessed that he no longer had room in his small home to store them, which led me to suspect he was simply looking for another location to store his collection.

Even though I knew the library could never accept such an offer, I asked him if I could see the collection, which gave me some time to review the use of Middleton's small collection of books on model railroading -- modest circulation, at best -- and to offer alternative suggestions -- State Historical Society library, local model railroading groups, Madison Public Library.  The books, as it turned out, were much too specialized for the generalized scope of collection development in a medium-sized public library.

I never learned if the man found a new home for his collection.

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