Secret Destruction of Cardiff Heritage Collection

Presse Release, September 1, 2008

[Update to http://archiv.twoday.net/stories/5165325 ]

[Update: Some links at

http://www.phil-hum-ren.uni-muenchen.de/W4RF/YaBB.pl?num=1220427275/#1 ]

A last ditch attempt has been launched to stop Cardiff City Council from breaking up and selling off a national heritage collection of Cardiff Public Library’s rare books dating from the 15th century. Sales lists are now being drafted by the auctioneers Bonhams in London and the first sales will probably take place before the end of the year.

A new action group, ‘Cardiff Heritage Friends’, which includes local Cardiff residents, academics, solicitors, historians and librarians, is calling for world-wide support from specialists in this field, demanding that the Council stop the sale of some of the greatest treasures in one of Wales’ great libraries. The group will also be seeking legal advice on the Council’s actions and exploring the case for stopping the sale.

It is thought insufficient funding has been earmarked by the Council to complete the new public library building in Cardiff, and that a decision has been made to sell at auction their most important British and European historical research collections in order to plug the financial gap.

There has been no consultation with local people, academics or other libraries, to discuss the wider value of the collection for Cardiff, Wales and beyond. It’s believed many new Councillors on the City Council are not aware that Cardiff’s heritage is being sold in their name!

Academics at Cardiff University have estimated that they could recruit between 15 to 20 postgraduates per year to the city if they had access to the collections for teaching and research; this would bring in around £150,000 to £200,000 per year in student fees and related spending to the city – not to mention the spending by people coming to Cardiff to consult these rare collections.

One Cardiff resident, Mr Siôn Tudur, said on behalf of the action group: “The idea of selling a heritage collection such as this is a national scandal, and brings shame to the City and its Councillors. In short, this is a classic example of cultural incompetence.”

Dr E. Wyn James, Secretary of the Cardiff Welsh Bibliographical Society, added: “It is ironic that the City Council intends selling this collection of international significance now, in the year Cardiff had aspired to be the cultural capital of Europe! The Council appears to be ignorant of the cultural and heritage importance of this unique collection, and of its prestige and potential use. Selling the Public Library’s rare books would be a disaster to Cardiff and Wales comparable to the National Museum selling its French Impressionist art collection.”

Notes

Contacts:
Dr E. Wyn James, Cardiff Welsh Bibliographical Society, 029 2062 8754, e.w.james@talk21.com.
Mr Siôn Tudur, Cardiff Heritage Friends, 07974 382 550,
siontudur@hotmail.com
Cardiff Heritage Friends, c/o 13 Wyndham St., Tongwynlais, Cardiff, CF15 7LN.

In 2007 Cardiff City Council decided to sell the historical British and European collections in the Public Library, due to the shortfall in the budget to build the new public library building in the city. It is understood that they intend buying a computer system to loan library books with the profits from the initial sales of rare books, for £500,000. The intention is to sell in the region of 18,000 books dating from the 15th century to the 19th century, covering literature, history, religion, geography, natural history and politics.

Cardiff is the only capital city in the British Isles without either a National Library or a National Archives in the city – key institutions for supporting academic research and the resulting economic benefits. However, it is generally recognised that Cardiff Public Library’s outstanding humanities collection is one of international significance, befitting a capital city. That collection will be irreparably damaged if this sale proceeds.

If the Council continues with plans to sell the heritage collections in the Public Library, that step will substantially damage the City Council’s hopes of attracting further public funds or private grants for heritage projects. It could also jeopardise its applications for grants for the new Museum of Cardiff which it wishes to establish.

Because of the failings in the Council’s case for selling the collections, and the damage to the reputation of the City Council that will come in the wake of its decision, it is quite possible the Council will lose other rare and historical collections which are on loan or deposit at the Public Library, since owners will have no faith their collections will be preserved. There is already evidence to suggest the Council intends to sell collections it does not fully own.

The report recommending the sale of the collections is published on the Council’s website:
http://www.cardiff.gov.uk/objview.asp?object_id=7331 . The report is entitled: ‘Disposal of Surplus [sic] Library Stock’ (11/01/2007).

We attach a copy of a letter which ‘Cardiff Heritage Friends’ are encouraging its international network of specialists to send to Cardiff City Council.

SAMPLE OF LETTER TO THE COUNCIL

To: c.c. ‘Cardiff Heritage Friends’

Councillor Nigel Howells
Executive Member Sport, Leisure, Culture
Executive Support Office
Cardiff City Council
County Hall
Atlantic Wharf
Cardiff, CF10 4UW
Wales, UK
(Tel. 029 2087 2598 / Mob. 079 7011 9619)

Date:

Re: proposed sale by Cardiff City Council of national heritage rare books research collections in Cardiff Public Library

Dear Cllr Howells,

We view the proposed sale of rare historical research collections by Cardiff City Council with grave concern. There is a real danger that a short term financial issue in the city undermines forever the long term benefits that can accrue from these collections, and sets an extremely worrying precedent.

The collections, ranging from 15th century continental incunabula, to 17th century English civil war tracts, plus key 18th and 19th century historical, literary, religious and geography sources, are a spectacular international research resource, befitting a European capital city library.

If these research collections were sold and dispersed, probably well beyond Europe, the people of Cardiff and Wales, and researchers in the UK and EU, would lose a rare historical heritage resource forever, and the city would be culturally poorer permanently.

We would urge you to support the efforts to retain in Cardiff and preserve, develop and promote one of Wales’ great literary and historical treasures, so as to enhance the cultural, educational and economic benefits in which we can all share in the international research community.

However, we also see this as a major opportunity to turn around an embarrassing situation, to one which benefits all the parties involved, in Cardiff and beyond, and we request the sale proposals are abandoned while all party talks in Cardiff seek a mutually beneficial outcome.

Yours sincerely,

***

An Open Letter to Cardiff City Councillors and

to the Assembly Members and Members of Parliament for Cardiff

Destruction of an Important Part of
Cardiff and the Nation’s Heritage

I am writing to you in my capacity as Secretary of the Cardiff Welsh Bibliographical Society.
It has come to our attention that Cardiff City Council intends to sell many of the rare books in Cardiff Public Library, in order to furbish the new library building in the centre of Cardiff. We understand that Bonhams of London are at present preparing lists of the Library’s books for sale by auction.
From the end of the nineteenth century until the Second World War, an enlightened Cardiff City Council created in the City Library a research collection of national and international status – a collection befitting a capital city.
The City Library holds one of the most important collections of Welsh books and manuscripts outside of the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth; but it also has many thousands of rare books from the 15th to the 19th centuries, together with manuscripts from the Middle Ages, which are not ‘Welsh’ as such, although many of them have strong Welsh connections.
These truly remarkable collections include a notable collection of rare atlases; a good cross-section of ‘incunabula’ (i.e. early books printed in Europe pre-1501); an important collection of early printed Bibles; key English and European texts from the Protestant Reformation; a substantial collection of scarce political tracts from the Civil War; rare books on natural history, geography, and so on, and so on.

In other words, Cardiff City Library has a rich research collection of international prestige and importance.

It is probable that Cardiff is the only capital city in Europe without either a National Library or a National Archives. But at least it had the magnificent collection of the Cardiff City Library. That collection is now in danger of being damaged irreparably as a result of a little-publicised decision by the Council made in 2007.

The decision to sell many of the Library’s rare books was made following the recommendations in a document entitled ‘Disposal of Surplus [sic] Library Stock’ (11/01/2007). The document contains such statements as: ‘they [the rare books] are unsuitable for use by anyone other than academics and specialists’ – as if Cardiff did not have a substantial academic community and aspirations to be an international city of learning!
As the document admits, most of these valuable books – especially since the Library was moved from it old building in the Hayes in 1988 – have been lying in stores, uncatalogued, and their existence almost unknown to all but a few specialists. Who knows but that Cardiff would have been the cultural capital of Europe in 2008, if these rare books had been treated and promoted as they deserve!
But rather than ensuring that these valuable collections be catalogued, and exploiting these assets in a way that would substantially enhance Cardiff’s prestige as a city of culture and learning, the Council has decided to sell them, thereby losing the substantial long-term benefit – both cultural, academic and cultural – that would come to the city through their presence there.

It is true that many of the approx. 18,000 rare books the Council intends to sell are not ‘Welsh’ as such; but as a collection they are a significant part of the cultural history of Wales. And of course, all libraries which aspire to ‘national’ status include a good cross-section of books from outside their country, in order to place their culture in an international context. Indeed, selling the rare English and Continental books in Cardiff City Library would be a cultural disaster to Cardiff and Wales comparable to the National Museum selling ‘La Parisienne’ and the rest of its French Impressionist art collection!

Many of the items to be sold were gifts, donated to the City Library by benefactors for the long-term welfare of Cardiff, its citizens and the nation. Although the Council may (perhaps) have the legal right to sell these treasures, it certainly does not have the moral right.

We urge you, therefore, to do all in your power to overturn this shameful decision to sell an important part of the heritage of Cardiff and Wales, an act which will damage irreparably Cardiff’s standing in the world of culture and learning, both nationally and internationally.

Yours sincerely,
E. Wyn James

Secretary, Cardiff Welsh Bibliographical Society
16 Kelston Road, Whitchurch, Cardiff CF14 2AJ

We urge readers of this open letter to write to their Councillors and to their Assembly Members and Members of Parliament, pressing them to do their utmost to prevent this disgraceful sale of rare books and to ensure that the Council promotes it rich library collections in a way befitting of the capital city of Wales.


Autor: Klaus Graf

Historiker und Archivar, Blogger

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