The interview I conducted last week introduced me to a few aspects of archival and special collections librarianship that I hadn’t considered before. Although only a little part of the discussion made it into my post, Melissa talked quite a bit about how difficult it can be for people to part with their collections and that’s where building good relationships comes in—it’s important to make sure donors know that you’ll be a good steward of their material. And that involves not just making sure researchers know about, have access to, and make use of the collection, but also having formal policies and procedures in place to govern how people interact with the material—no eating, drinking, or writing in pen, for instance. One thing we didn’t specifically talk about, but which certainly falls into this same realm, is having adequate security for the material in the archives.
This point was brought home to me when I opened up my copy of Washington State Magazine’s Summer 2012 issue, which also arrived last week. The issue contains a fascinating article about the Regla Papers, how WSU (then Washington State College) acquired them in the 1940s, how parts of them disappeared in the 1980s, and how they (and as it turns out, lots and lots of other incredibly valuable items from universities and colleges all over the US) were recovered. I loved this part: the thief—the infamous Stephen Blumberg—“later told a writer that he believed he was protecting the books and manuscripts from neglect or worse in the hands of the libraries.”
It’s an extremely interesting article and worth checking out. As the article notes, because of this case, many libraries “have changed the way they house and use their rare materials.”