Chapter 409 Libraries and Universities and Economic Realities

I’ve got some thoughts on this, and I’d like to share them but I have to finish getting ready to leave for the Gold Rush Book Fair. Here are the details, received today via the Ex-Libris email list from Terry Belanger, University Professor, Honorary Curator of Special Collections, and Director of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. Full disclosure: Professor Belanger will be teaching the course I am planning to take at Rare Book School this summer. Also, USF President Stephen Privett worked at my alma mater, Santa Clara University, before moving on to USF. I did receive permission from Professor Belanger to reprint his post to the Ex-Libris list in its entirety:

From Professor Belanger:
“The following, just in from a source I trust:

‘During his tenure at the University of San Francisco (USF), President Stephen Privett has been devoted in giving all his time and energy to its benefit. In the current economic crisis, he is tasked with painfully difficult, thankless, and unpopular decisions: to identify academic programs to discontinue and assets to sell, if necessary, to stabilize USF’s finances. On Sunday, 10 May 2009, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story on the cancellation of USF’s M.A. in Theology program amid protest. Earlier, on April 30th, the lead story in the campus newspaper, The Foghorn, told of assets identified for possible sale, primarily USF’s renowned rare book collections, but even including the possibility of the Lone Mountain campus. The story may be accessed here (or search Google for “foghorn rare books”).

Faculty and library donors and supporters have been appalled and dismayed that the Library could be stripped of its collections, virtually all of which were donated to the Library or purchased with donated funds. In the last 50 years, under the visionary leadership of Fr. William Monihan, S.J., Bay Area families and others worldwide have generously contributed books, manuscripts, artworks and funds to create the Gleeson Library and its Donohue Rare Book Room which, together, State Librarian emeritus Kevin Starr has described as “an epicenter of Jesuit Humanism” and “a library second to none.” Donors reasonably anticipated that their collections might have a permanent and secure home there.

Unfortunately, President Privett, has not only identified library treasures for sale, he has already quietly and anonymously
started to consign them for sale at auction. He recently stripped from the Timken-Zinkann Collection, an early founding core collection of the Library, a series of original woodcuts and engravings – mostly iconic images of Catholic and Christian tradition – by leading Renaissance artist and author, Albrecht Durer, in effect destroying the integrity of the collection. Together with an early, original Rembrandt etching, the Durer prints were anonymously offered for sale at auction Tuesday morning, 11 May, at Bonhams, despite a valiant last-minute effort on the part of faculty and library supporters to persuade Privett to suspend the sale.

See this link to the Bonhams website for a record of the sales.

In a down market, only the Rembrandt and a few of the Durers sold. Those of us who support the integrity of the Library’s collections, hope the unsold items may be returned to their home of many years for the continued benefit of students, researchers and faculty.

According to the Foghorn Online story cited above, Privett insists that, if the items compiled from the Rare Book Room were ever sold, they would be “non-book items, duplicate volumes, or single volumes, not part of a series or collection.” As for the Durer collection, Privett said, “They (the prints) were discovered by accident. We have an art gallery, not a museum. We didn’t have a place for them.”

Sadly, one of the Durer engravings sold (for $67,100 including buyer’s premium) is “St. Jerome in His Study,” an image which noted author Stephen Mitchell has described movingly in his writing. St. Jerome is the patron saint of librarians whose feast day is September 30th. Traditionally, every September his engraving was exhibited in the Gleeson Library to bring blessings and protection to the Library itself, to the librarians who selflessly work there, and to all those who research and patronize it. Whose or what image will now bless and protect USF’s Gleeson Library? Perhaps, come next September, some one will hang black mourning cloth where once the image of St. Jerome was displayed.

Ironically, President Privett has stated that money made from the sale of Rare Book Room items will go towards the renovation of the room itself. Once collections are compromised and books, manuscripts, artworks, ephemera and related items have been cannibalized from them, for what pupose will the Rare Book Room be renovated?

Both history Professor Martin Claussen, claussenm@usfca.edu, and Gleeson Library Associates Co-President, Walrave Jansen, wallyj@ix.netcom.com, have written eloquently about saving USF’s rare book collections and are actively working to do so. President Privett has agreed to meet with faculty tomorrow (Thursday 14 May), to discuss the situation.

President Privett emphasized in the campus newspaper that he was only making worst case scenario contingency plans. The fact that he had already quietly and secretly consigned items from the Library for sale at auction – courageously uncovered and exposed by history Professor Martin Claussen – belies the contingent nature of his plans. Contingencies have a way of becoming realities all too quickly!

When one thinks of Gleeson librarians Father William Monihan and D. Steven Corey, and all the collectors and donors who
contributed to make the rare book collections of USF what they are, it is dismal to recognize what is happening today.
In addition to Prof. Claussen, Walrave Jansen, Gleeson Library Associates Co-President, has been doing remarkable work to attempt to staunch the bleeding of the Donohue Rare Book Room holdings. One thing that amazes me is that the University President seems to have taken over and is attempting to micromanage deaccessioning, something that I would think should be the responsibility of the Library Dean and Library staff members.

Should you wish to express yourself to USF President Stephen Privett, or Library Dean Tyrone Cannon, they can be addressed respectively at privett@usfca.edu and cannont@usfca.edu.’

I have not yet been able to verify all of the details of this story, but (for openers) it’s clear that the prints were indeed auctioned off. The most offensive part of this sad tale is that the sales were conducted surreptitiously.

I think that the first order of business is to alert journalist friends and colleagues; there’s an important story percolating here.”

-Terry Belanger

It sounds to me like more details may be forthcoming from various sources. After writing about a recent experience at the library of my alma mater, I was graciously invited to visit with the Vice Provost for Information Services and Chief Information Officer and the University Librarian at Santa Clara University. Having done so, I am now well aware that many libraries and universities have to address the current economic challenges the best they can. That means that sometimes painful decisions (but why secret?) have to be made. That said, there’s no reason that those of us who love and use the printed book (especially rare books) shouldn’t make our advocacy for the accessibility and primacy of that media known. Wish I had time to say more now, but family and book fair demands mean it will have to wait until sometime next week.

{UPDATE: Jeremy has been able to post about this with the commentary I wish I had time to write. Click here to read.}

UPDATE #2: More commentary from Book Patrol.

2 Comments

Filed under Libraries

2 responses to “Chapter 409 Libraries and Universities and Economic Realities

  1. Pingback: Chapter 414 Odds and Ends « Book Hunter’s Holiday

  2. Pingback: Chapter 481 Larry McMurtry on Libraries « Book Hunter’s Holiday

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