An uneven Keele

January 14, 2000

In a revealing interview Simon Finch ("Library joins Keele criticism", THES, December 24/31 1999), the purchaser to whom Keele University secretly sold the Turner collection of rare mathematics books makes very clear the fundamental misunderstanding under which this tragic sale took place.

You report him as saying "there are far greater collections that have been sold and split" and that the collection was "not special enough to warrant the level of controversy".

He completely misses the point, as I suspect does the vice-chancellor of Keele and her fellow conspirators: by evaluating the Turner collection on antiquarian booktrade criteria of expensive bindings and condition and rarity and cost, he fails to understand that the collection was unique and special in another way altogether.

It was the only place in the country where students at all levels could sit surrounded by the great mathematics texts of the past and access such a range of classic works just by stretching out a hand. A whole variety of educational and research purposes were served, in accordance with the donor's wishes.

The history of mathematics is a small area with no other national resource centres of this welcoming kind. To destroy all this for ever, for a very transient financial advantage, is the unforgivable aspect of a truly sordid affair.

John Fauvel

Senior lecturer in mathematics

The Open University

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