Saturday, May 01, 2010

A Gentle Rejoinder

This Chronicle article by Todd Gilman on what he describes as a "not-so-pleasant encounter" at a special collections library is already making the rounds on the relevant listservs, as it should. But after reading it, and thinking a bit about it, I feel compelled to offer a few words in response.

What bothers me about this is that he seems to have simply expected to be able to wander in and browse the shelves of "the largest private collection of Handel memorabilia" (he does not name the library, but clues from the article reveal it to be the Foundling Museum). He'd seen an ad for the museum in a concert brochure; the ad mentioned the library collection, so he went to check it out. Fair enough. But when he was asked if he had an appointment, or if he'd consulted the online catalog (and he had not done so), the librarian seems to have given him something of a brush-off.

I looked at the museum's website this morning. On the page for the George Coke Handel Research Library, it reads, quite clearly, "In addition to the public exhibition room, open during normal Museum hours, The Gerald Coke Handel Research Library is open Wednesday-Friday for research purposes by appointment."

Let me just reiterate that. "Research purposes by appointment."

This is not to defend overzealous librarians who would wall off their collections from the public. I'm not a fan of them, and I do my darnedest to make sure anyone who comes to the institution where I work leaves having seen what they want to see. But, especially in these post-Bland, post-Blumberg, post-Smiley days, special collections libraries do, and must, have policies in place to protect the materials they hold (including providing access to collections on microfilm, setting hours, and even requesting appointments, depending on the situation). Mr. Gilman, as a librarian himself, ought to be aware of that.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

I'm with you, Jeremy. Although once I was unnerved by a visit to LOC's Rare Books room (where a staffer stared at me the entire time I was looking at a particular work), I received nothing but prompt assistance when I needed to use the Edna St. Vincent Millay papers in LOC's Manuscript collections (which were being recatalogued at the time, but I was still able to see various crucial items). And I had a wonderful experience at London's Imperial War Museum, where everything I wanted to see was waiting for me on my arrival. The museum's detailed online catalog is a marvel.