Friday, December 28, 2012

What Becomes of the Personal Libraries Scholars Leave Behind?

Andrew D. Scrimgeour, the dean of libraries at Drew University, explains:

I have been here many times before. Not to this particular library but to others like it. Some have been on college campuses, others in private homes. Some have sprawled through many rooms, including the bathroom; others were confined to a single space. One had no windows; another overlooked a lake. Most were crowded. All were dusty.


Each was the domain of a scholar. Each was the accumulation of a lifetime of intellectual achievement. Each reflected a well-defined precinct of specialization. But what they also had in common was that each of their owners had died. And by declaration of their wills, or by the discernment of their families, I had been called to claim or consider the bereft books for my university library.

One of the little-known roles of the academic librarian is bereavement counseling: assisting families with the disposition of books when the deceased have not specified a plan for them. Most relatives know these books were the lifeblood of their owners and so of intellectual value if not great monetary worth. But they remain clueless about how to handle them responsibly. Some call used-book shops. Some call the Salvation Army. Others call a university library. Many allow friends and relatives to pick over the shelves before bringing in a professional. 

Read the rest here.


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