Quotations from an article by Professor David McKitterick, Librarian, Trinity College, Cambridge, entitled ‘Cardiff: An End or a Beginning?’ in The Book Collector, Winter 2008.
“All too often, the result of de-accessioning [of library books] is an impoverishment. It can be little short of theft from those who might otherwise benefit. It is frequently a failure to meet the expectations of past benefactors, who have entrusted their books or money to educate, entertain and enlighten future generations. It is frequently driven by librarians’ neglect, where lack of use can be made an excuse for disposal. […] These are strong words, and they do not apply universally. But they reflect the fact that, again and again, a library’s governing authority that decides to dispose of its books will do so in a way that cannot be to the best advantage either of its immediate community or to the wider public. It is virtually inevitable that this will happen once books are seen as nothing more than their cash equivalent.”
“The City of Cardiff library has been throwing out nineteenth- and twentieth-century books for years. In that, it is no different from dozens of other local authorities. It has been resented by some, but the clearance has continued nonetheless. A moment or two with the Web shows a few of those that have made their way to booksellers. In the summer [of 2008] they included books on late nineteenth-century Brazil, on the medieval heraldic floor tiles at Neath abbey excavated in 1848, and a description of the Britannia and Conway tubular bridges (1849): relics from a wide-ranging late nineteenth-century library. They ranged in price from a few pounds to £500. The point about these offerings is not necessarily that they are spectacularly or notoriously valuable in the way that early printed books are. Nonetheless, they have high prices set upon them, and they are scarce. Of the three other obviously recorded copies of the book on Brazil, for example, a work that has much to say about late nineteenth-century attitudes to leisure, commerce and politics alike, one is in Brussels and the others are in the United States: none is easily discoverable in Britain. In the casting aside of such resources there is a more general point, regardless of price. However they came to leave Cardiff, the fact is that they are now lost to public use.”
“The ways in which [the sale of Cardiff City Library’s special collections] was pursued offer examples worthy of a textbook on disparities between public policy and public practice, and of the failure of public bodies to work together.”
“There is, apparently, not adequate room [in the new Cardiff Central Library building] for most of the special collections, including the very collections that brought the library to international prominence a hundred years ago.”
“On 11 January 2007 an Executive business meeting of Cardiff Council received a report from the Corporate Director, Steven Phillips, proposing the disposal of ‘surplus’ library stock. Phillips concentrated on what he called ‘the major part of the stacks collection’. The impression was given that these ‘small special collections’ were all that needed to be considered. He was right in that there was no occasion to mention the many nineteenth- or twentieth-century books that had already been disposed of in recent years. But it was misleading not to mention what had already happened, and so to minimise discussion of what had once been a much greater collection. [… The report] is a damning indictment of lack of care over many years. The reality was worse still, for Phillips himself went on to acknowledge that the majority of these collections had not been catalogued, and ‘as a result are not (or very rarely) accessed by members of the public’.”
“Taken together, these [special collections at Cardiff Central Library] have the makings of a research library in its own right, quite apart from the thousands of post-1800 books that have been discarded separately. And the emphasis must be on collections. Of course there are high spots, such as the first edition of the first herbal to be printed in England, by Richard Banckes (1525): the STC records just one other perfect copy, in the British Library. But Cardiff public library was much more than a home for a few high spots. It was created so as to be of a sufficient depth for serious lines of enquiry to be pursued.”
“Cardiff University Library is, by wide consent, inadequate. […] While there is a modest group of special collections, its lack of a serious historic library collection puts it on the edge of the Russell Group of established universities. […] It is impractical to imagine that the University Library can ever catch up in its bookstocks with the larger university libraries in England, but [… the acquisition of the Cardiff public library’s collections] by the University would immeasurably strengthen the potential for teaching and research, providing a core of primary source material of just the kind that is lacking at present. It would also ensure that Cardiff as a city does not lose what has been gathered for its benefit.”