Friday, May 15, 2009

Difficult Choices

One of the arguments Lee Rosenbaum likes to make against deaccessioning is the following:

"Perhaps an analogy might help them understand what's really at stake. If someone were to suggest that funds be raised by selling important books from the library, that (one hopes) would be a non-starter: Books go to the core of the college's educational mission."

(To which I once responded:

"Would we really object if a university decided it was in the best interest of the school to sell off some books -- presumably because they thought the proceeds from the sale could be put to better use in other ways (like funding athletic programs, or preserving the anthropology department, or supporting additional need-based scholarships, and so on)? ... Do we really want to say that university trustees and administrators can never, under any circumstances, sell off an asset that 'goes to the core' of its educational mission, even if the funds raised from the sale would be used to acquire other assets (or fund programs etc.) that also go to the core of its educational mission?")

Well, here we go: The University of San Francisco is reportedly considering selling items from the rare book room of its library. And it draws the usual responses. One bibliophile says: "Any way you look at it, this is a nasty business .... [D]eaccessioning - legitimate deaccessioning - is a necessary part of an institution's business, but doing so in this form and fashion is completely beyond the pale. Not only is selling off prize items from the collections just cutting off your nose to spite your face, it's also an incredibly short-sighted way to deal with financial difficulties." Another responds: "The financial peril USF faced must have been acute. ... Is it unfortunate that the Library has had to sell a few items? Indeed. Is it a catastrophe? No."