Denny Anspach <danspach@...>
Chuck Yungkurth is dead right in his understanding of where responsibilities and accountability lie in publicly owned or non-profit museums. The "owners" are the public at large, and the trustees hold the contents of the library in trust for the owners- a pretty hefty concept if you think about it. In the case of the California State Railroad Museum, all of the contents belong to the State of California, and as such they cannot be sold or transferred without a pretty stiff and well defined due process- rarely invoked if only because of the expenditure of time and effort. I may be mistaken, but the hurdle may even be higher because the contents fall under California Cultural Resources.
Quite a few acquisitions actually come in the CSRM through its affiliated Foundation, which is NOT subject to the museum and state rules- a situation made very clear to the donor. This allows the museum in the open and up front, to transfer, return, or otherwise dispose of duplicated or out-of-field materials with the full knowledge of the donor that this may be done.
The report that a particular library casually allows the visitor to simply take what he or she needs off of the shelves, handle and copy at will is pretty scary. It obviously might be great for the person involved, but it poses an inevitable disaster a some point for those who follow, not to mention posterity. IMHO, this is a library that either innocently, or carelessly is probably breaking its trust.
Now, after all of this talk about the necessary safeguards that libraries have to go through to make certain that materials are preserved and conserved, they also have an equal inherent obligation to make the contents available to the public in any reasonable way that they can possibly do so. These requirements are often in deep conflict, as you might well imagine.
Denny S. Anspach, MD