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Thursday, 5 September 2013

O O O Shakespeherean Rag

Yet more depressing news about a major library of a major educational institution selling off rare historical items for short term profit: The Director and Trustees of the University of London’s Senate House Libraries are proposing to sell copies of the Library’s first four Shakespeare folios

This is a very disturbing trend: what next, cherry-picking over collections of archives for letters signed by Famous Names that can be flogged off as autograph letters for immense sums? That's really not what care of a collection means.

It seems particularly egregious in the above case since Sterling provided an endowment when leaving his rare book collection to Senate House. As an archivist I thoroughly concede that cataloguing, storage and general collection maintenance are not insignificant invisible costs to accepting a collection. And that potential bequeathers should probably engage in discussions with the place they're intending to leave their stuff before they write the will. But Sterling appears to have done the right things.

Nor can I imagine that these folios are somehow not a good fit with the Library overall. I have certainly come across instances of collections in places which are perhaps not the most appropriate home - where they are one-offs, isolated from related special collections. The importance of the synergy between related materials cannot be over-estimated. Thought should always be given to whether a given repository is really suitable for any particular collection. But the Sterling Library at Senate House is 'an unusually integrated resource for research on the transmission of English literary texts from the 14th century to the present day.... an acknowledged international resource in its area'. How getting rid of well-known gems of the collection will add to its reputation I cannot imagine.

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