The congregation of Old South Church in Copley Square, Boston voted to auction one of its copies of the Bay Psalm Book described by antiquarian book experts as the "rarest and most valuable published books in the world, in private hands." This particular book, is expected to bring up to US$25 million. The proceeds of the sale are earmarked for critical building maintenance and outreach programs at the 343 year old church.
The decision to sell the book was not without controversy. One of the arguments against the sale was that to do so would be to "break faith with donors from the past." On the other hand, Nancy Taylor, the senior minister said "We want to take this old hymn book, from which we literally sang our praises to God, and convert it...into doing God’s ministry in the world today.” In the end, the congregation voted by an overwhelming majority to sell the Psalter as well as some colonial-era silver.
Even though the Psalter was not part of a circulating library collection there are issues for church librarians to consider. Most church libraries receive donations of material as well as memorial gifts. Creating and using clear policies about what to accept and how it is to be used, as well as how to dispose of gifts will, make life easier for library staff.
I find that most donations are simply from people who say "I want to share these resources; I cant just throw them out." It's up to the librarian to acknowledge the gift and explain that the material will be:
- evaluated for suitability to the needs of the library (in keeping with the library's written collection development strategy.) Then,
- kept and processed. Or,
- passed on to others who may be able to use the material (this includes other libraries, the used bookstore, or the recycler.) Or,
- returned to the donor within a reasonable time-frame.
Think of the memorial gift as a tombstone, not a "millstone around your neck" and develop policies that can be sustained over the life of your library and congregation.
For more on the Old South Church story read here and here.
How does (will) your library respond to memorial gifts?
Use the comment box below