Please join us for our second plenary, which will feature a broad examination of special collections in the marketplace. There will be something for everyone in this session as we hear from three individuals who can speak with authority on the sale and acquisition of rare materials, and on the role of the library as both buyer and seller of content. I am privileged to be moderating this session and find myself growing ever more excited to hear from our speakers.
My own institution, the Library Company of Philadelphia, has been buying books for nearly 300 years. Benjamin Franklin started us off by taking requests from members and working with agents in London. Details of those acquisitions were recorded in the minutes, and the development, use, and protection of our holdings can be readily examined in our own archive. But despite this documentation, and our strong traditions, we still find ourselves asking that perennial question when viewing today’s marketplace: What Would Franklin Do? Would his view of the value of the book as carrier of text be fundamentally changed by technological advances? How would he work with literary agents in the acquisition of materials? What would be his response to, or role in, the sale of digital surrogates of our materials? Alas, we will never know, and so we, and all libraries, must manage to navigate the ebb and flow of the sometimes choppy waters of the marketplace on our own. We look to our esteemed colleagues for guidance, and that is what we will find in this plenary.
We will start the morning by hearing from Nina Musinsky. Nina is the proprietor of Musinsky Rare Books in New York, which specializes in European books and manuscripts in the humanities from the hand-press period. In her talk, Nina will focus on the overarching factors she sees governing the rare book trade today, in the context of American institutional collecting. These include the scarcity of material; the internet and digital media; and the general cultural shift from the word to the image, along with changing fashions in scholarship. Nina will share with us her thoughts on the ramifications of these factors, which include rising prices; increased globalization of the market; and the enhanced marketability of items and types of materials deemed “unique” or particularly rare, including manuscripts, archives, and ephemera. Nina will also examine how these factors are tied to a diminished interest in the book as textual vehicle, but also new interest in less-explored areas of printed book genres, and the “artifactualization” of the book.
Citing the continued importance of American institutional buying in the international rare book market, Nina will discuss the pressures faced by special collections librarians and curators from the perspective of their effect on booksellers and the rare book trade.
Our second speaker will continue the discussion of the current state of the marketplace for rare materials, shifting our focus from hand-press era books to contemporary manuscripts and archives. Stephen Enniss was formerly Librarian at the Folger Shakespeare Library and Director of Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. Currently Steve is Director of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, which holds one of the greatest collections of literary and cultural archives in the world. These holdings include the archives of such seminal figures as David O. Selznick, Norman Mailer, Doris Lessing, and Tom Stoppard. Most recently, the Ransom Center acquired the archive of internationally-acclaimed writer Ian McEwan.
In his talk entitled “Priceless,” Steve will speak generally about the growth of the manuscript market, with ever-higher prices realized, and will address misconceptions about that competitive environment. Steve will also discuss the nature of the manuscript record in a post-personal computer world, as well as the increasing involvement of literary agents, as opposed to book and manuscript dealers, in brokering archive sales. We can look forward, too, to hearing Steve’s dream of what a more cooperative market might look like.
Our final speaker will be Michelle Light, Director of Special Collections at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She will take our conversation in another direction, by examining the developing role of the library as vendor. Michelle has seen the high demand for digital images of UNLV’s truly special collections push the limits of her department in terms of staffing, procedures, and mission, leading her to rethink our role in the marketplace as content providers. She will share some of these thoughts with us, with a particular focus on the history, current trends, and possible futures of permissions and use fees.
Michelle will seek to address a number of recurring questions many libraries have grappled with in recent years. How do permissions and use fees fit with our missions and professional values as librarians? Do they serve to protect libraries in regard to copyright law, or do they create more risk? Are use fees a necessary way to exercise control over the marketplace for special collections content, or are they an unnecessary barrier to scholarship? How do use fees and permissions impact our impetus and ability to digitize holdings? What are the actual costs and benefits of managing permissions? And are there other models for revenue generation that might serve better to foster the use and appreciation of our collections?
Librarians, a tribe that might gently be described as civic-minded ideologues, have to come to terms with their role as vendors of content and with acquisition budgets meant to purchase both material and electronic content, We need expertise, guidance, and discussion to move forward in the marketplace, and that is what this plenary seeks to provide.
Rachel A. D’Agostino
Curator of Printed Books
Library Company of Philadelphia