Thursday, June 25, 2009

What Rare Books Mean to a Library without Them

So I lied... the newspaper rant is not ready to go, but in the mean time... Rare Books!

In my opinion, there is little that the library world has to offer that can match the thrill I had as an intern in the Grand Rapids Public Library Special Collections. Yes, that sounds ridiculous and stupid, the more so when you discover that they had very few rare books - none of particular note.

It was that perfectly environmentally controlled room that I fell in love with!

A recent blog post from Wynken de Worde about rare book patrons, started me thinking about the role these book-care techniques play in smaller libraries that have few, if any, rare books to worry about.

My summer task is to shift our sub-standard, basement storage up three inches. Recently we had a flood that, were it not for the willingness of the librarians to wade ankle-deep in questionable water, almost claimed the bottom row of our archived periodicals, uncatalogued photos, and, most importantly, our modest collection of antique to old Bibles and Torahs. (Please don't tell anyone that I am really, really excited about working down there this summer!)

All libraries have one or two books that are precious and, if they are anything like my library, they are never used. That is the greatest shame!

If we could promote our ownership of the items while protecting them, we would have to worry about their preservation. Unlike many people, I think this is a good problem to have.

What use are the books in the basement if there is no one to read them?

This is where the post in Wynken de Worde comes in. The author writes:
What does it mean to us, as readers in libraries, to be a reader of rare materials? What are our responsibilities to those materials, to the library, and to the other readers?

These are good questions that even smaller institutions should be asking themselves.

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