Saturday, August 6, 2011

Libraries, Donations, and Collectors

I was recently flipping through the final volume of the New Colophon (1950), a sadly short-lived quarterly for book collectors, when I came across this image of a label in one of the articles.

The label had been designed by Elmer Adler, a Pynson Printer and the originator of the quarterly in 1930, for insertion into books donated to the libraries at the University of Michigan. The article by Randolph G. Adams, who, at the time, was the Director of the Clements Library at the University of Michigan, was entitled: "How Shall I Leave My Books to a Library?"
Like the majority of articles in the quarterly, this one is full of historical and literary tidbits, anecdotes, and asides, of great interest and amusement to bibliophiles and, of course, of no small interest to many librarians. One particularly entertaining quip that caught my attention, as we are in the midst of a major renovation at my library, states: "Librarians are, after all, people, and in recent years even the architects who design libraries have taken to consulting them."
The bulk of the article is devoted to an explication of six rules for potential book donors, the first of which is to select the proper library, whether public, private, academic, or what have you. Next is to select the appropriate librarian, here tellingly referred to as the curator - the one who will cherish and protect your books. Third is to consult a lawyer and "get your wishes translated into the cold language of the law."
The fourth rule, and the one that provides the context for the label pictured above, concerns the proper use and exploitation of donated works, with an emphasis on two points - adding new works, and eliminating duplicate holdings. Regarding the latter, Adams suggests that any potential curator must possess adequate "knowledge of provenance, binding, and association." However, the cautionary label suggests that this is not always the case, and the label was deliberately inserted in books not only to give librarians pause but to give potential donors a sense of comfort. Risk always abounds and as Adams observes: "There is no protection in a rare book library against disloyalty or stupidity on the part of the staff."
Coverage of the final two rules is woven into the discussion of the other four, emphasizing the timeliness of donating (don't leave the handling of such a delicate and weighty matter to the executors of your estate), and the importance of providing an adequate monetary gift to facilitate "the intelligent arrangement, handling and administration of your collection," even to the extent of "endowing your curator."