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Denny Anspach <danspach@...>
Thorny subject, for sure. Do not be so hard on the libraries, which are almost universally under-funded, and at the same time have to exercise a legal and ethical stewardship over collections that may not be of their choosing. They have an inherent responsibility for the integrity, safety, and preservation of their materials- in addition to any other requirements peculiar to any particular gift document (which the average observer may know nothing about).
Libraries being given large donated archives are akin to impecunious persons being given a donated herd of elephants. The troubles can and do start at the moment of arrival. This is why many institutions have been forced to cloak themselves in a policy of "no acceptance" without side monies to underwrite basic storage costs, not to mention cataloguing, and the application of basic conservation and preservation. Only after these fundamental things are done can the materials be made safe for public access.
In these regards, sadly, many libraries shy from the use of volunteers because of bad behavior and experiences- i.e. pilfering and deliberate or careless mishandling of photos and documents.
Having said this, I do agree that many libraries and collections should make much more effort to use adequate use of motivated volunteers, and then actually do so. This does require some fundamental professional training in document conservation and preservation (including the basic ethics and etiquette of handling historical documents), and on-going hands-on supervision. This requires (guess what!)- manpower and money. Full circle.
Copying documents: A hot issue. Many libraries will no longer routinely copy bound volume pages because of the inevitable damage done to the bindings in the process. This is especially so with bound documents like the ORERs and Official Guides where fragile binding (not ever intended to last) is coupled with rapidly disintegrating paper. In these instances, copying might only be performed from designated "sacrificial" duplicates- if such are available (this is the current policy of the California State Railroad Museum Library).
As to the important ICC holdings, be thankful that they are in at least protected storage (and, I would hope, climate controlled). Most libraries are service adjuncts to a parent institution. In this regard, hypothetically, the UofD library may have had absolutely no interest in or plans for funding for the collection, but hold them because they are dependencies of other obligations negotiated by the University administration on behalf of other donations or political favors devolving to the university as a whole. In this regard (and probably in any case) the president of the university (not the library) is where one would begin any negotiations for de-accession or access. Be prepared with a convincing plan for professional management and handling, public access, and that you have the money to take it on- for the long haul.
If the CSRM had the money, the personnel, and the space I would be urging them to pursue the matter. They do not beyond current obligations; and I won't.
Denny S. Anspach, MD