History for Sale

Deaccessioning is a polarizing issue for archivists and special collections departments. Making a decision to sell part of an institution’s history is a sensitive topic. Now in Little Falls, New York the issue has caused a rift between the library board and the director who resigned over some perceived mishandling of collection items.

Especially vexing is the fact that the rare items in the Little Falls collection were sold to raise money for the library. Coupled with some possible mishandling of items, some of which may have ended up in a board member’s home, the deaccessioning situation spawned a great article in the New York Times on December 28, 2010.

To me, the most interesting quote in the article is that “We don’t have the space to take care of some of these items,” said Chester P. Szymanski III, the library’s president. “We’re not a museum. We’re a library.”

In my opinion, any collection whether in a library, archive, or museum should be handled with care and every organization should set up ground rules for collection management specific to deaccessioning before it happens. Also, the lines between museums, archives and library special collections are blurry, but the processes should be similar. After all, historical significance remains no matter who owns the items.

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