John Scally speech

RBiS workshop on 3 September 2003

[SLIDE 1: Title]

Building and Safeguarding the Nation's Printed Heritage

[SLIDE 2: Overview]

  • Introduction
  • Acquisition and Disposal of rare books in Scotland
  • Collaborative Collection Development now — some examples
  • Collaborative Collection Development &mdash a possible way forward
  • Tangible Outcomes


All of what I say in the next half hour or so should be seen as a proposal, a suggested way forward &mdash it can be amended, clarified and improved in the light of discussions that we have today. It is not a prescription, merely a suggestion that needs consensus to get off the ground. At its most ambitious, the purpose of this short discussion is for us to agree the establishment of a mechanism to ensure that important printed books or collections of books relating to Scotland that become available through purchase, gift or deposit are retained in Scotland. That they remain a part of the printed heritage, or the distributed national collection, and are available for public consultation. The chronological period that I am speaking about is even broader than ESTC 1475-1800, and the CERL HPB database 1455-1830, because in the Rare Books Division here in the National Library we acquire material from the earliest period of printing right up to the present. And just to illustrate that point:

[SLIDE 3: Duns Scotus related 1501 post-incunable]

This is a rare early 16th-century edition of Etienne Brulefer's Formalitates in doctrinam Scoti by the Basel printer Jakob Wolff. You can see here his attractive printer's device &mdash an angel holding the Basel coat of arms and the printer's mark. It is one of the many wonderful books that came on to the market as a result of the dispersal of the Donaueschingen Court Library in Germany.
NLS Shelfmark: RB.s.2067(2)

[SLIDE 4: Moser Bible 1999]

This book has been described as the last great private press book of the Twentieth Century. It is a folio edition of the King James Bible, illustrated with 235 engravings by Barry Moser and published by the Pennyroyal Caxton Press in the USA in 1999. In both its design and layout it recalls the famous Doves Press Bible of 1903-1905.
NLS Shelfmark: FB.l.281

Five hundred years separate these books. So in terms of our operations here in the Rare Books Division, this is the widest chronological sweep that we have. In practice, however, the trunk of our collection building takes place between the dates 1640 and 1939.

[SLIDE 5: COPAC & Checking Holdings]

Both ESTC and HPB database, and now COPAC, which contains the merged catalogues of 23 of the biggest libraries in the UK and Ireland plus the BL, are indispensable tools for checking holdings. We use these on a daily basis to help us make our purchasing decisions. But here's the difficult part, you have to have your holdings on there in the first place, and I know that putting records of non-current items into the local OPAC is a labour intensive and time consuming task. So let's leave aside that issue, while accepting that cataloguing what we have is a vital activity in the area of joined-up collection development.

[SLIDE 6: Bookseller/Auction Catalogues - Acquisition and Disposal]

Acquiring rare books at one end of your operation and rationalising them at the other end is not an exact science, nor is it something that occupies librarians on a daily basis. As far as I am able to tell from anecdotal evidence, it is a peripatetic exercise that can be squeezed out all too easily by more pressing matters, often in the form of a demanding user. Librarians do not have time to read every bookseller and auction catalogue that arrives in their inbasket. Things are missed regularly, perhaps even on a daily basis. We know that items are lost to private collectors, or have gone abroad. We also know that libraries sometimes deaccession books, and a few items can end up on the list that are heritage items. Apart from the internal pressures and competing demands of running a library operation, both big and small, alluded to above, there are a number of reasons why acquiring and disposing of books can be time-consuming and fraught with difficulty.

[SLIDE 7: Acquisition & Disposal &mdash Some Issues]

We have insufficient information available about who collects what in the Libraries across Scotland. However, the information on subject strengths in Scottish library collections available in SCONE (Scottish Collections Network) and RCO (Research Collections Online) developed by the Centre for Digital Library Research at Strathclyde University is helpful, but it is aimed at supporting teaching, learning and research in Scotland, and not collection development per se. Also useful is A Directory of Rare Books and Special Collections in the UK & Ireland 2nd edition 1997, but again this was conceived, as the editor Barry Bloomfield states in the introduction, so that the collections 'could be better known and exploited for scholarly purposes' (p.ix). So I would argue that these valuable tools, whilst useful, tend not to fit what we need to support acquisition and disposal.

So there is a gap here in Scotland. Because, other than through personal, and often informal, contacts, there is no system to allow us to alert colleagues that a rare book or rare book collection is in the marketplace, or being offered for donation or deposit. In terms of disposal, the Scottish Books Exchange (SBE), overseen by Inter Lending Services here at the National Library, and soon to go electronic with its sharing of lists of books that libraries wish to dispose of, tends to contain modern books that are low in rarity and value. And for that reason, the SBE falls outside our concerns today.

Moreover, there is a lack of information, and indeed a lack of clarity, about what the National Library of Scotland, and the Rare Books team in particular, can offer in terms of support, advice and practical assistance in the area of collection development. Are we the library of last resort in this case? Or, to put it another way, a safety net to guarantee the acquisition of important items or collections? I hope that I can go some way to answering all of these questions, but first let's look at a few examples of collaborative collection development that have worked.

[SLIDE 8: Class Thesis Printed on Silk]

This is an unrecorded philosophical class thesis by the students of Marischal College, Aberdeen. It was printed on silk in that city probably in [1675] and its survival reinforces Aberdeen's status as a pioneer of this form of printing. We found out on the morning of the sale that it was in a country house auction in the South of England, one of the Lloyd's Names Sales, as they were known unofficially, together with furniture, paintings and carpets. Within a few hours, we consulted with Aberdeen University Library, who we thought should have a claim to acquiring this item, but they realised they could not raise the funds in time, and we secured the item for Scotland by placing a direct bid with the auctioneer just before the sale started.
NLS Shelfmark: FB.el.126

[SLIDE 9: The Edinburgh Calotype Club Album]

The Edinburgh Calotype Club Album was acquired in December 2001. It was a lost album of the club - the first photographic society in the world. It contains 206 calotypes by various members of the club &mdash a mixture of portraits, landscapes, and views. The background is that a consultant arrived at Edinburgh Central Library, across the road, carrying the album in a plastic bag. This led to a meeting of curators from ECLIS, NLS, NAS and NGS, and to a partnership bid between NLS and Edinburgh City to acquire the album at auction in December 2001 for just under a quarter of a million pounds. If Ann Nix at Edinburgh Central Library had not phoned around a few institutions, then the album would have almost certainly gone abroad. The album that was purchased, and the sister album already held in Edinburgh Central Library, are now digitised and on the NLS website — the home page is on the screen at the moment. The full album can be viewed at

[SLIDE 10: Moray Bible, Aberdour]

This is a donation from St Fillan's Church, Aberdour. The Bible, which was printed in London in 1627, was owned by James Stewart, 4th Earl of Moray who died in 1653. It has the names and dates of birth of his children on the front pastedown, and a record of his reading of the bible, and which parts, on the rear endpapers and pastedown. What you see on the left is the final leaf of the psalms printed in 1628. The Bible came to us through the church committee at Aberdour after a period of indecision and uncertainty about what to do with it. Eventually someone suggested that the National Library be contacted for advice. It has had extensive conservation work done on it over the past year.
NLS Shelfmark: RB.s.2166(1-4)

[SLIDES 11 & 12: A Volume of Legal Petitions (made-up title-page)]

Let's go to New York for the final example. John Drummond, the 17th Lord Perth, who died last year at the age of 95, was visiting the Hans Kraus bookshop in NY in 2001 and he saw a collection of Scottish printed legal petitions bound in a volume with a made up title-page. He suspected that they were rare, and suggested that a description was sent to the National Library. [SLIDE 12: Example of one of the petitions] The point is that these items were fairly inexpensive and relatively unassuming, but they are valuable additions to our national bibliography nevertheless.
NLS Shelfmark: ABS.10.202.03(1-149)

I have neither the desire nor the inclination to give examples of items that we know have been lost, but I am sure that we can all exchange stories over the course of the day. The point is that today we can start to do something about it.

[SLIDE 13: Some suggestions for possible ways forward]

  1. the National Library to clarify its role in this area and to state what support it can offer in collection development — this could cover a number of areas that we can discuss and agree: for example, to offer advice and assistance on acquiring material in the marketplace, information on trusts and charities that can be approached for funding, look over deaccession lists and perhaps even buy items that are rare — there are many more areas
  2. NLS to make available a summary of our rare books collection development policy on our website
  3. NLS to host a summary of the collection development policies of all other partner libraries on the same pages, with contact details and links to websites/opacs (also, in due course, to have this mounted on SCURL/ SLAINTE websites, or at least have a link)
  4. [SLIDE 14:] NLS to clarify what guidelines are available on retention and disposal, following the CILIP guidelines provided by the Rare Books Group — copies have been distributed.
  5. [SLIDE 15:] NLS to restate its willingness to be a hub for the building up and safeguarding of the printed heritage of Scotland through collection development.

Let's look at the suggested areas to be covered in a summary of a collection development policy

[SLIDE 16: Key Areas for a Collection Development policy summary]

  • Overview — the background to the current holdings, commenting on breadth and depth
  • Collection strengths — what are the particular distinguishing features of the rare books, e.g. Perth imprints, local history material printed 1800-1950, bindings, emblem books, etc
  • Cataloguing information — is the material mostly catalogued in the OPAC, and/or is listed in xxx bibliography, or is it on cards, or in guardbooks
  • Budgets & trust funds — general comments on capacity to purchase, perhaps commenting on internal trusts, which may be set-aside for particular categories of books
  • Contact information: address, telephone number, email, plus library URL.

Invoking the spirit of Blue Peter, let's look at a draft summary I prepared earlier, for Rare Books here in NLS, following the proposed headings we've just looked at:

[SLIDE 17: NLS Rare Books Summary of Collection Development Policy]

Essentially, this is a cut down version of our 20 page official document, but it captures the salient points. It is also short and can be read in a few minutes. There is also a link to our full Collection Development policy document and to our Special and Named printed collections directory, describing nearly 150 of our principal printed special collections.

I am not going to labour the point because, as I said at the beginning, the objective is something that I hope we all agree with and I feel that with a little effort on all our parts we can ensure that building up the distributed national collection goes from being a spasmodic and slightly disorganised activity to something much clearer and simpler for all of us. We are keen to take a lead in this important area, if that is what people want. We are willing to commit time and resources to make it work, but we need a couple of things from you to get started - though all of this can be altered or changed as a result of discussions today:


Step 1. Agree to the general principle of having a joined up approach to collection development
Step 2. Supply us with a one-page summary of your collection development policy within the next 3-6 months.

[SLIDE 19: Tangible Outcomes]

  1. Save time and effort by supporting each other
  2. Share information and experience, including summary collection development policies
  3. *Having a written, and publicly available, collection development policy summary is often a requirement for funding applications
  4. Remove some of the uncertainty about retention and disposal
  5. NLS to host summary collection development policies - which means your policy is known and understood throughout Scotland
  6. A clear and simple network of support, advice, and information is established — with NLS at the hub — if, of course, that's what you want.

Thank You.

*This important additional benefit emerged during discussion at the Conference.
John Scally, 4 September 2003


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