The Case of the Mysterious Appearing Books

I have already written about the way books mysteriously disappear from the Yale Club; that is a problem I still spend some of each day addressing, and I still hope as members get used to the check out system the problem will decrease.

However, books also have a tendency to mysteriously appear at the library too.  Debbie, the Library Assistant, warned me of this when I started. “Some days,” she said, “you will come in and there will just be a pile of books on your desk.”  Worse, there were rumors that such anonymous donors would sometime return many years later to the library to see their donations on the shelves and would be aghast because their books were not there.

Books, of course, can feel like friends – like connections to one’s past, to the person one was, or wanted to be – and needing to pass them on to someone else when moving or downsizing can be difficult.  However, the effect on our collections is clear.  When I described the state of the library collections in an earlier post – the books falling apart at the seams – it was clear that many such books were gifts to the collection, stamped for accession 20-30 years after their publication, and probably long past proper circulating condition event then.

The worst offenders were the Yale books and memorabilia.  Boxes would turn up, with only the sparest of return addresses to indicate their point of origin, filled with the contents of someone’s deceased relative’s attic.  As librarians, it was the instinct of my predecessors to keep these potential treasures.  It was their instinct to keep 2 or even 3 copies of each Yale Classbook and Banner, no matter how tattered, just in case.  The Yale Publications Collection in the Yale Library Manuscripts and Archives, which has far more storage space, will keep two copies, at most.

I confess; it is also my instinct to keep everything – to save books from the trash bin and to have extras, just in caseto preserve history!  The result, unfortunately, is two sad closets worth of backlog – unprocessed books that are unavailable for research and make new donation offers for our Yale Publications Collection difficult to evaluate.

The librarian who held this position before me took steps to prevent such wanton book abandonment.  She drafted the Club’s first formal Collection Development Policy.  When I started here, I worked with Debbie and the Library Committee – the panel of club members that oversees the work of my department – to expand the policy.  We further outlined the way our collection serves the Library Mission and put together terms for deaccession of materials as well as accession of materials.  We also developed a donor form and formal deed of gift, agreements that we now require all donors to complete before we consider any materials for the collection.

By developing such policies, and by talking to members who wished to make donations, we succeeded in an unexpected way: we extended the club’s network of possible homes for Yale Publications – finding among club members many who have their own small Yale Publications collections and who sometimes could take donations we found ourselves unable to accept.

Of course, I still receive the occasional call from the Front Desk telling me that mysterious persons have left “donations” for the library — usually of books we already own.  Sometimes, I arrive at my desk to find unmarked enveloped containing partially intact of issues Yale Alumni Weeklies. Now, however, when such materials appear, and there is no donor agreement in place, I have the documents to back me up when I make the decision to place such books on our small (and already overcrowded) Book Sale carts, or give them away to staff, or – in the saddest cases – cut the covers off hopeless, moldy and tattered texts and send the pages to the recycling bin.

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