Thursday, December 27, 2012

Donations: Tombstone or Millstone?

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:
  1. evaluated for suitability to the needs of the library (in keeping with the library's written collection development strategy.) Then,
  2. kept and processed. Or,
  3. passed on to others who may be able to use the material (this includes other libraries, the used bookstore, or the recycler.) Or, 
  4. returned to the donor within a reasonable time-frame.
A memorial or commemorative gift usually comes from someone with particular expectations. The gift is intended to remind others of some significant person or event and so, the item itself should be of some lasting value.  Therefore a gift of furniture,  or a well-bound "classic" title is a better choice than the latest Amish romance or "hot topic" tome.   It's wise too to record the gift in some lasting way, not just on a plaque or bookplate but also in a Memorial book or wall hanging; that way, when the gift is gone, the memory remains.
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?
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1 comment:

  1. We have a gift policy for our church library but I really liked this: "Therefore a gift of furniture, or a well-bound "classic" title is a better choice than the latest Amish romance or "hot topic" tome." It's an excellent concept as a popular book of today will find itself outdated and in tatters in five years time.
    Thanks for the great idea!


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