Summary of Topic Talk on Gifts / Mary Seem

The Topic Talk on Gifts – which occurred on July 18th, 2019, and was open to members of the Collection Development SIG and the larger ARLIS/NA community – was an opportunity to discuss issues and concerns surrounding gifts and donations of library material. Approximately 16 people were on the call and they represented libraries in several states. 

The call focused on institutional policies for accepting gifts, processing of gift material and gift acknowledgement, and on the disposal of unwanted gifted material. Different libraries had different policies for accepting gifts – several acknowledged that material donated by trustees and major donors could not be dismissed but that stipulations were put in place for other donations to prohibit people from unloading unwanted material. One library stipulates that the gift must be delivered, another requires endowments for the processing of the material to accompany the gift. When these rules can’t be enforced, stating upfront that material will not be kept if it is not in scope may deter donors from giving material.

Many libraries stated that the assessment of a gift requires the time and effort of volunteers and library staff. Several libraries use volunteers to search for duplicates against their holdings but then rely on library staff to assess the content of the gift for scope and value. Library staff are also often required for the processing and accessioning of the gift into the collection. Most libraries attempt to integrate gifts into their normal workflows – although almost all acknowledge that it is a considerable strain on available resources.

The issue of disposing – or finding new homes – for unwanted gift material has always been a hot topic. Some libraries suggested annual book sales, though they require a fair about of staff labor and are not an option for every type of library. A list of potential resources was compiled during the call (and can be found in the meeting notes: There was general disagreement about the legal retention policy for gifted material – however Kathy Edwards, a librarian at Clemson University, has delved into the topic and will present her findings in an upcoming Collection Development SIG blog post. 

Overall, the call was a great opportunity for Collection Development SIG members to discuss issues that plague all libraries. It was encouraging to have such active discussion. The next call, which will be scheduled for the fall, will be about eBooks especially the constant emergence of publisher-run platforms and packages. I look forward to another great discussion!

Mary Seem is Assistant Acquisitions and Cataloging Librarian at the Frick  Art Reference Library

Detail from The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Domenico Tiepolo (1773), inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid

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