Thursday, September 04, 2008

Plan to Deaccession Cardiff Books Panned

The BBC reports that a plan by library administrators in Cardiff, Wales to sell off various rare books has led to the formation of a group (Cardiff Heritage Friends) to oppose the move. The library council plans to review as many as 18,000 items (some dating back to the 15th century) for possible deaccession, with proceeds going to fund technological improvements across the library system. An initial 139 items, said to be the most valuable portion of those to be sold, is up for appraisal currently.

Cardiff University special collections librarian Peter Keelan said he was in talks with the city library council about possibly purchasing some of the books, "but the prices they could fetch at auction would be beyond what we could afford. Nothing has come of the discussions yet but we have the capabilities of looking after books of that age - we have books going back to 1508 - and so if the council says they cannot afford to keep them and care for them, we could. It would also mean people from all over Cardiff could see them." Describing the city's collection of early printed books, Keelan said "There is nothing else here in Wales as the library in Aberystwyth concentrates more on Welsh texts. Students would have to go to London for their research. If these books disappear from Cardiff, research will grind to a halt."

This is the dilemma increasingly faced by libraries like Cardiff's: great and important rare books, but insufficient funds to adequately house, maintain, catalog or secure them. An injudicious deaccessioning process, though, is just cutting off the nose to spite the face (what good are improvements when there is no reason left for researchers to come to the facility?). It is possible that some arrangement can be made with the University to keep the books in Cardiff for research purposes, which would be ideal - if it becomes entirely necessary to sell certain items, I hope it will be carried out through an open and deliberative process, taking into account the views of researchers and residents.

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