Thursday, 8 October 2009

How to deaccession properly

After my last blog post, here's news of one library that's deaccessioning properly. The Natural History Museum, South Kensington, has consigned a quantity of books, mainly runs of periodicals and journals to Christies South Kensington's sale of Travel, Science & Natural History onThursday 15th October.

The items chosen to be sold are duplicate material or titles outside the scope of museum collections. All the books were offered free of charge to other research and academic libraries before being identified for sale. Any money raised from the sale will be used to purchase new items for the NHM Library collections.

All the lots (225-245) are being sold without reserve, with all faults, and not subject to return.

Their provenance is indicated externally by the Museum's various departmental library gilt stamps to the spines and small archival classmark labels, and internally by the usual ink stamps (together with their deaccession counterparts.) These latter are usually confined to just the preliminary leaves, titles, and versos of plates, are not greatly obtrusive, and are only mentioned in the following descriptions if they greatly affect condition.

Some of the lots display provenances other than the Museum. For example, there are a number of books (especially the microscopical lots) from the Heron-Allen collection. Edward Heron-Allen (1861-1943), lawyer, classicist, musician, historian of the violin, cheiromancer, linguist and translator of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, military intelligence officer and foraminifera expert, built a library containing some 12,000 volumes at his home at Large Acres, Selsey Bill, Sussex. After his death, the natural history portion was bequeathed to the Natural History Museum, together with his slide collection 'one of the two most important type slide collections of recent foraminifera extant in England' (ONDB).

Lots with a Heron-Allen provenance include three scarce runs of microscopy: 234, an extremely rare and extensive run of the Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club; 235, Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society; and 236, Transactions of the Microscopical Society of London.

There's also the oldest scientific periodical in French, Annales de Chemie (with 10 papers alone by Pasteur, including his landmark experiments on fermentation), a very rare set complete set of Lorenz Friedrich von Crell's periodical publications, the sought after Entomologist, an extensive run of Nature (including the Crick & Watson DNA papers), as well as Obituary Notices and Biographical Memoirs of the Royal Society, which includes Alan Turing's obituary.

There's much more in the same sale, not only NHM material, but a also a wide range of other books, including some rare geology. I'll save that for another post.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

How not to de-accession

Many apologies not not posting lately, but some very interesting devlopments have been happening at work. One of these includes coming across a very rare book indeed. It is Henry Bradbury's first nature-printed work from 1854, and includes 21 colour-printed nature-printed plates in a printed portfolio wrapper. I will be posting more details on this book later, but in the course of researching it I came across some rather unsettling (to put it mildly) library news.

The book itself seems to be related to a patent application by the publishers Bradbury & Evans, and thus I contacted Steve van Dulken at the British Library (see his excellent blog on patents here) for more details. He said that for conservation reasons the British Library no longer permits photocopying of patent specifications pre-1900, but that I should contact Leeds Patent Library.

Thus I duly did, and it turns out that in 2004 Leeds Patent Library had to move offices and were unable to hold their hardcopies of patents. Therefore they gave them away (for free!) to Univentio, a Dutch company mainly interested in current British patent applications, with the proviso that the older ones would eventually be digitized. In 2005 Univentio was taken over by LexNexis, who had no interest in this at all, and apparently all of the hardcopy Leeds patents have now been dumped.

As a tax payer I cannot quite believe financial incompetence of giving away public assets for free; as a researcher and historian I cannot believe that we gave away our heritage for free.

Unbelievable - especially as it is possible to make a living by selling such a collection; just ask Maurice Stroh.

Of course one shouldn't necessarily be surprised. Nicholson Baker has documented at length what he calls "Libraries and the Assault on Paper" in his excellent book (and must read for anybody interested in books) The Double Fold.

There is a happy ending. Leeds referred me to Sheffield Patent Library There, an extremely helpful lady by the name of Paula told me that Sheffield still had all their patents in hardcopy. They are stored offsite, and library staff make a journey twice a week to get the relevant material. They will photocopy the relevant patent application for you for the princely sum of £1.50 handling fee and 20 pence per page. I will be receiving my requested photocopies of Bradbury & Evans' nature-printing patent application in the post in the next day or two (Royal Mail strikes permitting). Now that is a public service well worth paying for and well worth keeping.