More on the Cardiff Heritage Case

Update to ?s=cardiff

Received from the Cardiff Heritage Friends:

A number of people have been asking what has happened regarding the proposed sale of Cardiff Public Library’s rare-books collections. The following is an update on the situation as of 13 December 2008.

Following intense public and political pressure, Cardiff Council agreed in late September to enter ‘round-table’ discussions regarding the future of the special collections of rare books it was going to sell. The discussions were to be chaired by CyMAL (the Welsh Assembly Government’s museums, archives and libraries division), and to include representatives from Cardiff University, the National Library of Wales and Glamorgan Record Office.

The first meeting of that group was held on 7 October, when all parties agreed (according to a press release issued by the Welsh Assembly Government on 8 October) to “work together to identify which items from the collection should be recommended to be retained in Wales”.

The Cardiff Heritage Friends have produced a statement responding to that press release, welcoming the ‘round-table’ discussions and emphasising the importance of retaining these special collections intact as collections in Cardiff, rather than ‘cherry-picking’ individual items.

As a result of that ‘round-table’ meeting of 7 October, the first auction of books, scheduled for 4 November at Bonhams, London, was postponed, and Councillor Nigel Howells (the Executive Member of Cardiff Council responsible for libraries) informed a Council meeting on 16 October that the ’round-table’ parties had “agreed to meet again shortly to discuss the proposals in greater detail. Until this process has been finalised and implemented it has been agreed that no books will be sold.”

Despite agreeing “to meet again shortly”, there have been no further formal meetings to date. The next meeting is to be held on Monday, 15 December. There are, therefore, at present no definite proposals in the public domain to which to respond.
The perception among the public at large – judging from comments in the press and those received from individuals – is that Cardiff Council has ‘seen reason’ and that the books have been ‘saved’. This is far from being the case as yet! Indeed, as far as one can gather, it still seems to be the Council’s intention to sell a substantial number of these rare books as soon as possible.
It appears, from what one hears down the grape-vine, that Council officials are actively planning to auction the first batch of books at Bonhams in February/March 2009. The reason seems to be that they need to raise the monies allocated in this year’s Council budget from the sale of the books in order to meet the Public Library’s current financial commitments (and this despite the fact that Cardiff Council, according to the Western Mail of 25 October 2008, has £40 million in reserve funds, and almost £10 million of that unallocated!).

Much will depend on the outcome of the second ‘round-table’ meeting on 15 December, but as things are developing at present, it is quite possible there will be need for a second round of campaigning early in the new year – which will be a particularly unfortunate time for Cardiff Council to attract further bad publicity, since a spring auction in Bonhams will coincide quite closely with the opening of Cardiff’s new Central Library building!

***

Statement by Cardiff Heritage Friends in response to the ‘way ahead’ announced following round-table discussions on 7 October 2008

regarding the Cardiff City Library’s Special Collections

Cardiff Heritage Friends warmly welcomes the decision of Cardiff Council to enter round-table discussions with CyMAL (the Welsh Assembly Government’s museums, archives and libraries division), Cardiff University, the National Library of Wales and Glamorgan Record Office regarding the future of its special collections of rare books, and to postpone the sale of these books while discussions are in progress.
We wish to take this opportunity to thank all those who have helped bring about this encouraging development, including politicians from all parties. We are particularly grateful to the hundreds of Cardiff citizens who have contacted the Council and their elected representatives to express their opposition to the sale, and to the numerous individuals and organisations across Wales, and indeed much further afield, who have raised their voice in protest at the proposed destruction of a heritage collection of national and international significance.

While welcoming the current round-table discussions, there is one matter of concern arising from the press release of 8 October 2008 which announced the ‘way ahead’ that was agreed at the first round-table meeting.

The emphasis in that press release seems to be upon collaborating to ensure that ‘items’ of national and cultural significance are retained in Wales, rather than on ensuring that these important collections are retained intact in Cardiff.

The vast majority of the rare books in question were obtained by Cardiff Central Library, not as individual items but either:

(a) as part of a collection donated to the Library by a prominent figure in the life of Cardiff/Wales; or else:

(b) purchased through public subscription in order to build up specialist collections (e.g., the collection of representative items from rare Continental presses; the collection of early printed Bibles, etc.).
If, as the press release seems to suggest, the importance of individual items will be the paramount factor in deciding their fate, such cherry-picking of items will destroy the Library’s special collections as collections, with all the prestige, ‘critical mass’ and research potential such collections afford.

More and more emphasis is being placed in our day on the importance of ‘collections’, and on the way a book which may be fairly unimportant in and of itself, gains considerably in significance because of its place within a collection.
It is interesting to see, for example, the British Library’s website making this point forcibly:

“Determining the previous history of a particular item now in the British Library is becoming increasingly important to researchers, for example when attempting to reconstruct the library of an historical figure or identify the authorship of manuscript annotations.”

Neither is it without significance that an auctioneer such as Bonhams includes details of provenance in the descriptions of volumes in its sale catalogues.
We would, therefore, encourage the round-table partners, together with the experts that are brought in to advise them, to take full account in their deliberations of the importance of Cardiff Central Library’s rare books collection as a collection and of its significance as a collection in the cultural history of Wales.

In this context it is important to emphasise that all the books in question are ‘Welsh’, whatever their content or authorship, since they form part of the historical national heritage collection of the Welsh capital’s Library, most of them donated by Welsh/local benefactors or purchased through public subscriptions.
Cardiff Central Library’s special collections include, among others:
almost 200 incunabula from the early printing presses of Europe,
an extensive collection of early printed Bibles
over 800 volumes of 17th century Restoration drama
over 300 atlases published between 1590 and 1850
a fine collection of Civil War tracts
the 5,000 volume collection of D. L. Wooding (1828–91), the important book collector from Beulah near Builth, which includes significant Shakespearian items
a wide-ranging collection of illustrated books from the 16th to the 19th century, including Emblem books and 400 volumes and 300 prints illustrated by the major 19th century caricaturist, George Cruikshank
collections of theological books from Pontypool Baptist College and Llandaff Cathedral
a cross-section of volumes illustrating English and Continental bookbinding from the 16th to the 19th centuries
a major collections of limited editions of volumes printed and finely bound by private presses of the late 19th and early 20th centuries

In our opinion such collections are of national and international significance as collections, and should be retained intact. These special collections were carefully built up in Cardiff Central Library over many decades. Dispersing them would destroy an important heritage collection and significantly deplete the nation’s intellectual resources.

We, therefore, urge the round-table partners to take full consideration of the following in their discussions:

that the vast majority of the special collections in Cardiff Central Library were donated by benefactors for the long-term cultural and educational benefit of Cardiff and the nation; it was not their intention that their donations be sold and the collections dispersed.

that a key element in the value and importance of these books is their combined prestige and research potential as part of a carefully-formulated national heritage collection.

that full consideration be afforded to the importance of a collection as a collection; of the enhanced significance of individual items through their being part of a collection; and of the ‘uniqueness’ of many of the items because of the nature of early printing and binding, their previous ownership, marginalia and other manuscript additions, etc., etc.

that there are strong arguments for retaining all Cardiff Central Library’s special collections intact in Cardiff and in the public domain. If the Council is not in a position to house them at the new Central Library building, it would seem to us that Cardiff University’s offer to care for them, free of charge on long-term loan, offers the opportunity for this to happen at no cost to Cardiff council-tax payers.

that all the special collections – including the Welsh books, the manuscript collections, the prints and maps, etc. – should be adequately catalogued and curated (including the appointment of an archivist and a rare books specialist to look after such books and manuscripts).

that these special collections should be regularly promoted by way of thematic exhibitions (in the new Cardiff Museum?), through displays on the internet, etc., in the same way as city libraries such as Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow exploit their special rare-books collections for educational and visitor-attraction purposes.

The world-wide publicity given to the proposed sale has brought much attention to the special collections at Cardiff Central Library, with many realising, for the very first time, the wealth and importance of the collections at Cardiff. Although the publicity has been adverse to date, ironically – if the decision to sell them is reversed and these collections are retained intact in Cardiff – the current spotlight on Cardiff’s rich library holdings offers a golden opportunity to promote these collections and Cardiff’s place as an international city of learning.

CARDIFF HERITAGE FRIENDS

http://www.cardiffheritagefriends.org/contact.htm


Autor: Klaus Graf

Historiker und Archivar, Blogger

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