Rules updated on sale of rare books

July 23, 1999

The Library Association has issued new guidelines for the sale of rare books and manuscripts by institutions, writes Kam Patel.

The move follows an acrimonious dispute at Keele University over the sale of rare mathematics books for Pounds 1 million.

The association said that for an institution to have the authority to sell books, its library should first establish that it has a full legal title to the works. It must also establish its right to sell works under the terms of donations or grants relating to the holdings.

Libraries should be more transparent about their disposal policy, and identify core collections that would not normally be considered for sale, the association said. These could include special collections, annotated copies, and those with standard bibliographies and bindings of special interest.

When libraries decide to sell they should make clear public statements as to the reasons. If financial gain is not the primary objective, consideration should given to transferring the books or manuscripts to other locations.

Toby Bainton, chair of the LA's rare books group, said the policy statement updates one drawn up ten years ago. "The association recognises that sales of rare material are sometimes necessary or desirable, but we are concerned that they should be carefully monitored," he said.

"Hurriedly arranged sales can result in poor outcomes for the scholarly world as a whole and even institutions hoping to gain from the sale. Bad publicity for the institution is an obvious possible outcome."

Before making sales, libraries should consult widely within the library and academic community, with special reference to users of the works to be sold. "It is particularly recommended that independent commercial advice be taken on the value of the material," the association said.

Disposal methods include auction, arranged purchase through national or private funding and the division of material into lots to maximise returns.

A full record of material sold should be kept by libraries.

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