Monday, 29 October 2012

Special Collections news, 29 October 2012

The latest special collections links are live.  An archivist writes on Ruskin College Oxford, paintings coming two BBC radio programmes worth catching online, lots of marginalia, crowdsourcing, spies, owls and more...

Here's the Special Collections Librarianship page on Scoop.it

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the links and have them delivered fresh as soon as I note them.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Special Collections News, 22 October 2012

The latest special collections links are live.  Yet more on Ruskin College Oxford, paintings coming home to the Folger Shakespeare Library, a lecture of libraries in the ancient world, a new campaign for voluntary sector archives, a couple of jobs and more...

Here's the Special Collections Librarianship page on Scoop.it

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the links and have them delivered fresh as soon as I note them.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Special Collections News, 15 October 2012

The latest special collections links are ready.  Vietnamese wood blocks, more on Ruskin College Oxford, medieval grotesques, augmented reality, lots of lectures and more.

Here's the Special Collections Librarianship page on Scoop.it

Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed for the links and have them delivered fresh as soon as I note them.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Special Collections Links 8 October 2012

Hot off the press: bad news in Wigan and Oxford, events in London and Oxford and Cambridge, hideous medieval grotesques, and much more.

Special Collections Librarianship on Scoop.it.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Yet another sale of historic books (Wigan edition)

An article from the local press has drawn attention to the sale of five early printed books belonging to Wigan Public Libraries. According the article these include incunabula and other rare books, including the eight-leaf Conradus' Brevis annotatio in errores scribentium S. Augustinum fuisse eremitam ([Rome: Johannes Schoemberger, not before 15 Nov. 1483]), which sold for £5,000 and was the known copy in the British Isles (I don't who has bought it, so it may yet still be available here, but then, it may not be).*

The saddest thing about this story is the quotation from Pete Gascoigne, executive director of culture on Wigan council, which demonstrates a disappointing (but sadly not necessarily unexpected in a council official) lack of understanding of the issues at hand.  I'm cross enough about it that I'm going to look at a couple of his points in detail.

Gascoigne states:
[A] decision was taken to sell some antiquarian books that are have received little or no public interest since they were acquired and are not intrinsically linked to the borough’s heritage, in that, they contain no information relating to Wigan or its people.

This sale will mean Wigan and Leigh retain a relevant modern library service for the people of this borough - not one where books sit on shelves gathering dust because they are of no relevance or interest to the majority of its people.
It's very narrow-minded to believe that a collection of books is "not intrinsically linked to the borough's heritage" simply because their content is not related to the area.  The ISTC records 82 incunables (pre-1501 printed books) in Wigan public libraries, and the ESTC a further 83 early printed books from the UK (or other English-speaking countries) or in English.  This isn't a bad haul, especially of incunables: one wonders what the story is behind their arrival in the Wigan public library service.  There's quite likely a story behind their ending up with this library, and that story might well demonstrate that they are, in fact, "intrinsically linked".  What if, for example, an important local businessman collected them and donated them to the town? That would surely demonstrate a link.

I say "what if" as it's not straightforward to find out much about these books.  A quick look at the library catalogue doesn't reveal any records for early printed books, the ESTC records don't include any provenance information, and I haven't tracked down a printed catalogue either. One fears that there's no good record of what's held at all. 

This lack of documentation might just explain why the books are (or were) "have received little or no public interest since they were acquired".  It doesn't take a genius to realise that if no-one knows that something is in a library, no-one will access it.  The onus is on the library service to promote its collections.  Yes, records on ESTC may attract the attention of a few serious scholars, but that's only one rather small segment of a much larger potential audience, and even they might not make the effort if you've no information at all on your library webpages.

Promoting collections take time, expertise, an understanding of what you've got.  But it's enormously worthwhile in the long-run, and provides benefit to institutions and communities far beyond the special collections corner of the library. 

Other public libraries (Manchester springs to mind) are doing great things in using their special collections in exciting ways as part of " a relevant modern library service". Yes, Manchester library is bigger and more obviously historic than Wigan. Dustiness and neglect isn't the natural state of old books: the responsibility to sweep away the dust lies with councils and library managements.


*It's worth nothing that £5,000 is quite a lot of money for a 16-page book, but it's not necessarily all that much money for a 500+-year-old book, and it's only a drop in the ocean of money required to implement self-service machines in one or more libraries.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Special Collections Links 1 October 2012

This week's links from the world of special collections have been corralled together for your perusal over on the Special Collections Librarianship page.  Highlights include some good news about the Women's Library, a pretty picture or two, some new exhibitions and a new reading room in Scotland.