News from the Cardiff Library Case (1)

‘Disposal of Surplus Library Stock’:

A Rebuttal of the Report presented to
Cardiff Council Executive Meeting on 11 January 2007

There follows a copy of the Corporate Director’s Report to the Cardiff Council Executive Business Meeting of 11 January entitled ‘Disposal of Surplus Library Stock’, together with a detailed rebuttal of every main point of that report.
The rebuttal is included in square brackets after each section of the report.

We wish to make three initial statements:
1. It should be obvious, not only from the title, but also from its many questionable statements and omissions, that this report is a most misleading document. As the report itself admits, the books it recommends for disposal are in no way ‘surplus library stock’ in the normal understanding of the term, but rather extremely valuable special collections of rare books.
2. A key omission in the report is that it makes only very general assessments of the costs of retaining these special collections and no mention whatsoever of the considerable benefits to the city – economic, cultural and educational – of retaining these books in Cardiff.

3. A very significant omission is that there is no mention in the report of a prior offer by Cardiff University Library to house such special collections on long-term loan and to take full responsibility (financial and otherwise) for them, thus ensuring that these books would remain in Cardiff, in public ownership, at no cost to the Council.

It is also worth noting, that the report is coming under strong criticism from many quarters, and has brought considerable disrepute to Cardiff on the international scene. One website in Germany, for example, quotes extracts from the report, describing it thus: ‘I can’t remember to have ever read a text dealing as callously with cultural heritage matters and scholarly interests.’ A September 2008 issue of Private Eye describes it as ‘extraordinary’.
It should be obvious to any reasonable person that Cardiff Council Executive made the decision to sell these prestigious collections of rare books based on a misleading document and without being in possession of the full facts.
We would argue, therefore, that the Council Executive has a moral duty, and possibly a legal one, to reconsider its original decision.


c/o 13 Wyndham St., Tongwynlais, Cardiff, CF15 7LN

September 2008





[Rebuttal below by Cardiff Heritage Friends of every main point; in [ ] brackets].

[“Surplus Library Stock” is totally misleading. They are widely acknowledged as internationally important historical research collections of rare books.

“We are concerned about the sale of these important books” – Heritage Minister spokesperson, South Wales Echo, 05/09/08.

Also, the Council admits in a Freedom of Information answer that there is no full listing of these collections, so how can they know if they are ‘surplus’!]

Reason for this Report
1. To obtain authority for the disposal of certain collections that are held in

the library service.
[‘Disposal’ could have meant placing them in the care of an academic library in the city. Selling these books by auction, as proposed, means that the collections will be scattered, probably worldwide, and with a high proportion probably going into private hands. The Council Executive have opted therefore to deny the people of Cardiff, the general public elsewhere, and the academic community, access to these important historical collections, built up over many decades by gifts and purchases. It is morally wrong and totally irresponsible to transfer public resources in this way into the hands of private collectors.]


2. Central Library houses a large number of volumes in the stacks area. The

main run of books and periodicals is a standard collection of library books,

and as such can be housed in a warehouse environment and used by the

general public.

[A ‘warehouse environment’! Is this the new iconic public library being built for Cardiff for over £15m. Do they understand what a modern library is: a hub for information, inspiration, study, IT access, leisure, education and social activities, such as the public libraries in Glasgow and Birmingham for example. ‘Modern’ libraries are a hybrid of the best of old and new; rich historical collections and wide access to IT resources.]
3. There are some small special collections which, despite their age and

condition, are extremely valuable, but which require special storage

conditions if they are to be preserved. They are unsuitable for use by

anyone other than academics and specialists. The anticipated move to the

Library for Cardiff requires decisions to be made about these smaller,

valuable and potentially lucrative individual collections.

[‘Unsuitable for use by anyone other than academics and specialists’: why is this group excluded from the Public Library’s remit? This is a very strange statement for a Council in a capital city with a high percentage of graduates among its population and with three universities, one of which is a major international research university. The general public are actually very interested in history and heritage, whether via original research in historical library collections, visiting ancient monuments or museums, or family/local history research. In the past the public benefited significantly from major exhibitions of these very collections. The Council is being condescending (and is incorrect) in assuming the public are not interested in these magnificent rare books collections.]

4. The major part of the stacks collection was gathered by Cardiff Libraries in

the latter half of the 19th century when Cardiff aspired to house the

National Library of Wales. When the decision was made in the early 20th

century to house the National Library in Aberystwyth Cardiff was left with a

major collection but inadequate resources to maintain it.

[This is an extremely misleading statement. The entry of the Cardiff Librarian, Harry Farr, in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography, provides a full rebuttal of this paragraph ( Cardiff developed a pioneer reference library (the first in Wales) long before the campaign to establish the National Library of Wales. Although the National Library went to Aberystwyth in 1907, Cardiff City Library continued a vigorous policy of acquiring and exhibiting rare books and manuscripts, because of its desire to be a great city library and because of its key demographic location. In the mid twentieth century Cardiff was being described a ‘one of the great municipal libraries of Great Britain’, on account of its excellent public services and its great research collections. It is true that in recent decades Cardiff Council has failed to fund the library service adequately. In the 1970s/80s the old Central Library became dilapidated and this caused a major controversy; in November 1997 the South Wales Echo had to run a campaign to keep open branch libraries across Cardiff; and now in 2008 another campaign is required to keep major research collections available to the public in the city.]

5. The collections are made up of the following:

_ Private press editions of books

_ Early printed bibles

_ Rare atlases

_ Historical government publications

_ Some incunabula (books published before 1501)

_ Civil War tracts (early propaganda)

_ Bute and Scott manuscript collections

_ Early printed Welsh language materials (to be retained)
[Together, these materials form one of Wales’s great historical collections of rare books, of which there are only a few across the whole country. For example, Cardiff holds one third of Wales’ total incunabula – Cardiff’s collection of these pre-1501 books was gifted to the Central Library by John Cory in 1902 and is designed to show a good cross-section of early European printing. It is said that Welsh language books, and those of Welsh and local interest, will be retained. What is the rationale behind that rather parochial decision, and what criteria determine ‘Welsh interest’? The truth is that these collections are all ‘Welsh interest’, since they form part of a great Welsh national library collection. Indeed many of the books proposed for sale are not in the National Library in Aberystwyth, and are probably the only copies in Wales. Many of them also belonged to significant persons in Cardiff and Welsh history before arriving at the City Library. Major new trails of Welsh-related research will ensue from studying these collections in detail. They contain the first printed map of Wales, Welsh-related Shakespeare volumes, the original works of the Cardiff Farmers Club collections, and a great deal more. Again, if Glasgow and Birmingham can have access to major historical collections, consisting of much more than local Scottish or English works, why not Cardiff?]

6. Initial work carried out by Auctioneers and Valuers suggests these

collections have significant value even when manuscripts and items of

Welsh interest are excluded
[They are talking here only of ‘monetary value’; they ignore totally the educational, cultural, and heritage value to the nation of these works. If they sell these collections for the estimated £3m, they will need to give about £600K of that to the auctioneers. Their supposed ‘windfall’ from these assets will be wiped out within ten years. They will also lose at least £150K per year from potential student/academic spending in the city, not to mention the visitor-attraction value of regular exhibitions of these treasures.]

7. Experts have also indicated that “Overall they are dirty and in poor

condition, and… the cost of re-housing these books in state-of-the-art

conditions (which long-term conservation requires), combined with repairs

to bindings and other remedial work, could easily match the commercial

value of the books”.
[What experts were consulted? There seems to have been no meaningful consultation and discussion with stakeholders and relevant professional bodies and institutions prior to the preparation of this report. In June 2006, six months before this report was prepared, Cardiff University had presented the Council with a detailed offer to house the City Library’s special collections, to catalogue them, and make them available to the public in Cardiff and beyond – and that at no cost to the Council; all the other costs the Council suggest are purely speculative and unsubstantiated.]
8. The majority of the collections outlined in paragraph 5 have not been

catalogued and as a result are not (or very rarely) accessed by members

of the public. They also contain duplicate and, in some cases, triplicate

copies of the same item. Items of local or national interest would be


[Many of these books were catalogued, but the old card catalogue was discarded when the Public Library moved buildings two decades ago; and disgracefully these important collections have never been listed on the Library’s online catalogue. As the report points out, since the public and academics have not been able to discover most of what rare books the Public Library holds, it is not surprising that they do not make use of the collections! However, a number of the titles are listed in various standard catalogues (both print and electronic), noting the fact that there is a copy in Cardiff. These catalogues are regularly consulted by academics world-wide, who can at present see and appreciate (to some extent, at least) the wealth of material in Cardiff Central Library. Cardiff would disappear from such lists if these sales proceed, with the resulting loss of prestige. Mention is made of ‘duplicat’e copies. This demonstrates a basic ignorance of the nature of early rare books, since not only may different editions of books have different contents, but because of the nature of printing and binding in that period, all copies of the same edition of pre-1800 books are unique in various ways. These may therefore need to be consulted by specialists from time to time even if other copies of the same edition are available in other libraries or in digitised form. As under Section 5, what criteria will be used to determine items of ‘local or national interest’?]


9. The main issue is whether the Council should invest approximately £2-3

million to save the collections, which would only ever be used by a very

narrow group of interested parties, or free the resource tied up in these

items by selling them through auction to individuals or institutions that can

afford the upkeep.
[This is not true, it is also not the main issue, since Cardiff University had already offered to house the collections for free, and can afford their upkeep. There is NO NEED for this sale. The main issue is what sort of public library service policy should be followed in the capital city of Wales – should it be a narrow, ‘popular’ policy, or a comprehensive one which truly embraces all sections of society. Note that the ‘very narrow group of interested parties’ really includes all Cardiff residents with an interest in history, a shamefully misleading comment from the Council. The question of use by a ‘very narrow group’ also belies ignorance of the purpose of special library collections. By definition, rare books are only accessed infrequently – indeed there are usually restrictions on their use, partly for reasons of conservation. Rare books collections are important in order, among other things:

(a) to allow academics and others to consult them whenever it is really necessary to inspect the original volume in order to carry out detailed, specialist research;

(b) to give prestige to a library – especially to a library in a capital city which is home to a leading international research university;

(c) to provide regular public exhibitions of these special collections, in order to educate and instil pride in the citizens of the city and to act as visitor attractions.

(d) to attract more students and fees to the city, and to attract grants for cataloguing, digitising etc., to open up the collections world wide.
How did the report reach the very imprecise figure of £2-3 million? And why is there no assessment in the report of the long-term economic and cultural benefits of retaining these collections in Cardiff? Furthermore, since the Council intends keeping its Welsh rare books and its manuscript collections, what investment is envisaged in order for them to be kept appropriately? The fact that the Council has at present no archivist or rare-books specialist at the Central Library shows its serious neglect of valuable assets. Does the Council intend employing such people to care for the Welsh rare books and manuscripts? In other words, will not much of that £2-3 million have to be incurred in order to give proper care to the special collections remaining in the Central Library?]
10. If these collections are retained a commitment must be made for

investment in their conservation as without this the collections will be

worthless in another 50 years.
[‘Worthless in another 50 years’: this is not true and is a ridiculous statement, made by someone who knows little about historical book collections. Many of the books have survived for 500, 400, and 300 years; they would survive another 100 years in ordinary conditions, even without conservation. Also they become more useful as they get older, being one of the few historical sources we have for the 1400s, 1500s, and 1600s. If the Council employed a professionally qualified Chief Librarian with responsibility for managing the Library, or a rare books specialist, it would have received this advice a long time ago. The city has not employed a Chief Librarian for a decade. How many other major library authorities are there in Wales where the libraries are managed by non-librarians?]

11. Council policy would normally pool receipts from land or property sales.

However, in this case it is proposed that proceeds should remain within the

Library Service and be used to increase access to present libraries by a

much wider community – 19th century investments paying dividends in

terms of 21st century service delivery. Priority projects which could be at

least part-funded over the next 3 years include:

_ RFID across all libraries in Cardiff allowing self service and a

refocus of libraries
[It was interesting to note that when the South Wales Echo reported this new self-service development (10.09.08), it could find no popular support for the development. Indeed, to the contrary, it was pointed out that ‘one of the great advantages of visiting a library is the personal advice and assistance from staff’. Compare that ‘muted reaction’ to the purchase of this RFID computer system with the petitions being signed the very same week by hundreds of ‘lay’ people in various parts of Cardiff, expressing their outrage at the sale of Cardiff Library’s rare books collections!]
_ Virtual library provision in areas without static library provision
[‘Land or property sales’: this is how they perceive one of the major heritage collections in Wales, just as property to be traded! Any computer book loans system will need replacing in 5-10 years, and how will they fund the next computer system, since the rare books collections will be gone forever. Yet elsewhere the Council says it has sufficient funds for the new Cardiff Library building; so why this sale at all, one wonders, especially at the time of economic slump, when prices will be at their lowest? ‘19th and 20th century long-term investments being sold off for short-term gain’ is a more accurate description of what is happening! ]

12. The process proposed is to approach at least 3 expert auctioneers and

seek tenders from them for the disposal. Fees of approximately 15-20%of

the proceeds could be payable with auctions staggered over 2-3 years in

order to maximise possible sale value. Items of special interest to Cardiff

and Wales would be retained.
[No liaison, consultation, or agreement has been sought from the relevant stakeholders in Cardiff about this sale; no surveys of public opinion, no consultation with experts in the academic field. No agreement was sought with specialist libraries in Wales who could provide the public and academics with a first-rate library service based on these research collections. The fees for depositing the collection with Cardiff University Library would be zero, the auctioneers fees could amount to £600K of public money. These British and international rare books ARE items of interest to Wales, as they help to understand Wales in the wider historical and social context and give international prestige to our capital city. This was a collection developed FOR Cardiff and Wales by the City’s benefactors and enlightened councillors in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It belongs in Wales, in Cardiff!]

Reasons for Recommendations
13. The disposal of the proposed items represents the best course of action in

dealing with these collections.
[Not one other course of action has been properly explored. The professional librarians’ organization, CILIP, has guidelines on disposal of historical collections, these have all been broken: see, The best course of action would have been to pursue the offer made by Cardiff University in June 2006, which would have meant that these valuable assets would have remained in Cardiff, the property of Cardiff Council and in the public domain, at no cost to the Council. Why was this offer not explored fully and mentioned in the report of January 2007?]

Legal Implications
14. The Council as library authority is under a statutory duty to provide a

comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make

use of it and whose residence or place of work is within the authority’s area

or who are in full-time education within the area (section 7 of the Public

Libraries and Museums Act 1964). Subject to this duty, there is no

general statutory restriction over disposals of library stock (save for

‘manorial documents’ transferred to the library authority under the Manorial

Documents Rules 1959; and subject to public lending rights which may be

applicable to books loaned out from the library). Assuming there are

no applicable statutory restrictions, the Council may dispose of the stock in

question provided it has first verified that it holds legal and beneficial

ownership of the same. If any stock is held on trust, then the provisions of

the governing trust will need to be observed and complied with.

[“Provided it has first verified that it holds legal and beneficial ownership”: In a Freedom of Information reply of June 2008 the Council could not confirm it held legal title to all the books proposed for sale. There is published evidence to suggest that the Council does NOT own some of the books intended for sale, e.g. rare Bibles loaned by the Bute family. No sale should proceed unless the Council can prove it has legal title to the books it proposes to sell. We have already seen that the Council is not providing a ‘comprehensive’ service, because it omits ‘academics and specialists’ from its services (see Section 3 above); this is especially serious in view of the specific statutory duty to provide for ‘those in full-time education’. It has also failed to provide an ‘efficient’ service, by not contracting for free Cardiff University to hold and make the collections accessible, to and on behalf of Cardiff residents.]
15. It is noted that the proposed method of disposal is by the engagement of

specialist auctioneers, and that it is estimated that such auctioneers may

charge fees of approximately 15-20% of the sale proceeds. The

appointment of auctioneers will need to be undertaken in accordance with

the Contract Procedure Rules, and depending upon the value of the

contract to be awarded, potentially also in compliance with the EU

Procurement Rules. Under the Contract Procedure Rules the procurement

process must be managed in accordance with guidance issued by the

Operational Manager – Procurement and Supplies and must be referred to

him to determine in consultation with the relevant Chief Officer, the

process to be followed. The Scheme of Delegations contained in Part 3 of

the Constitution sets out in detail the persons who are authorised to make

decisions on the invitation of tenders, and the tender evaluation criteria,

depending on the value of the proposed contract. In considering the

selection of auctioneers, the authority must have regard to its duty of best

value. Legal advice can be provided on the form of the proposed contract

and the procurement process, if required. The decision maker must be

satisfied that the proposal is within the Policy and Budget Framework, and

if it is not then the matter must be referred to the Council.

[“The decision maker must be satisfied…”: Clearly this matter should have been referred to the full Council, and the decision not to do that has led a major, and now international, embarrassment for Cardiff Council. No mention is made of any ‘losses’ if the sale proceeds, such as the £150K per year from potential research student income, lost future grant funds for work on the collections (such as Cardiff University Library obtains for online cataloguing, conservation work, and digitisation projects), lost cultural benefits, loss of heritage tourism revenue, etc., etc.].

Financial Implications
16. Council policy is to pool capital receipts to assist in the general funding of

the Council’s capital programme. The windfall nature of this particular

capital receipt has provided the opportunity for the resource to be, as

an exception, set aside for specific capital library projects.

[This totally ignores the ‘windfall’ that can be obtained by keeping the collections in Cardiff. For example, it is estimated that Cardiff University could attract an additional 15 extra research students per annum to work on these collections if they were retained in Cardiff and readily accessible – or in monetary terms, £150,000 per annum, or £1.5m each decade brought into Cardiff’s coffers. It also totally ignores the other benefits of retaining the collections in the city; the cultural boost, the research and grants that will flow from academic use of the collections, the international prestige, etc.]


16 [sic]. If these items are not disposed of considerable investment will need to be made by the Council for their conservation.

[This is false. If Cardiff University’s offer of 2006 to house them and catalogue them for free had been explored by the Council, no further investment by Cardiff Council would have been required. If the sale proceeds, Cardiff Council will reap huge, worldwide bad publicity; it will struggle to obtain any future grants for heritage projects due to its reputation for selling off collections, it will stifle scholarship in the city’s world-class university; it will lose millions of pounds over the new few decades, and these magnificent collections will be lost to the Cardiff public for ever.]


The Executive is recommended to agree that :

(1) at least 3 specialist auctioneers are asked to tender to conduct staggered

sales of specific items based on a fee calculated as a percentage of sale


(2) the proceeds from the sales are re-invested in specific library projects

which would be a departure from the Council’s policies to the extent

detailed in paragraph 11 above
[These contradict the Council Policy, as outlined in their publication: ‘Cardiff: a Proud Capital’ strategy 2007-2017. This states:

“Cardiff needs to take advantage of the benefits of scale (big is beautiful)”, p.12;

Support a “First Rate University”, p.12;

“New measures to strengthen Cardiff’s position as a centre of culture”, p.15;

“Creation of alliances between schools, colleges, and other providers”, p.20.

The Council seems determined to sell these rich collections for short-term gain, rather than consider retaining them cost-free on long-term loan in Cardiff University. It is rather ironic that in 1905 Cardiff University reported to Cardiff Council that “in the event of the National Library being located in Cardiff, they [the University] will…transfer to the [Cardiff] National Library the collection consisting of over 16,000 volumes…known as the Salisbury Library.” A century later sees the City Council intent on selling their collection of 18,000 British and European rare books rather than co-operating with Cardiff University to retain these books in Cardiff. These collections are of international significance. Through disposing of them in this manner, the Council will not only bring Cardiff into great disrepute but will demote the Welsh capital irreparably as an international centre of learning and culture.]

[Concluding quotation: Barry Bloomfield, ‘Where Are They Now’, Rare Books Newsletter (CILIP),

Spring 1998, pp. 37-50.

“There is as yet no national coordination or policy for the research library collections in this country…The general picture is of a steadily shrinking reservoir of rare books available for research.”]


Part Two see

Autor: Klaus Graf

Historiker und Archivar, Blogger

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