Friday, 5 September 2008

2006 & 2007 News Stories

Destruction of Cardiff Central Library

The BBC reports that the Cardiff Central Library is planning to sell in the region of 18,000 books dating from the 15th century to the 19th century, covering literature, history, religion, geography, natural history and politics so they can "buying a computer system". Details here.

An action group, headed by Dr E. Wyn James, Cardiff Welsh Bibliographical Society states, in a press release:

"Cardiff is the only capital city in the British Isles without either a National Library or a National Archives in the city – key institutions for supporting academic research and the resulting economic benefits. However, it is generally recognised that Cardiff Public Library's outstanding humanities collection is one of international significance, befitting a capital city. That collection will be irreparably damaged if this sale proceeds"

(And I note, that a "library name" search on ESTC brings up details of 180 books published before 1800 that are presently in the collection.)

The report recommending the sale of the collections is published on the Council's website. It is titled Disposal of Surplus [sic] Library Stock. Dr James encourages those who object to this action to send a letter saying so to Cllr Howells at the Cardiff City Council.

Councillor Nigel Howells
Executive Member Sport, Leisure, Culture
Executive Support Office
Cardiff City Council
County Hall
Atlantic Wharf
Cardiff, CF10 4UW
Wales, UK

[or online here or send an email to or]

Coincidentally, I read this last night:

"Yet what persists in the mind from perusing Fabian's volumes is above all the endless series of disasters that have befallen libraries over the centuries—it is a sorry saga of mischance and of barbarism and cultural philistinism, against which librarians and book-lovers have resiliently put up a valiant fight."

John L. Flood, "Varieties of Vandalism," Common Knowledge 8:2 (2002): 367. [available here, and well-worth reading]

UPDATE 17 September 2008

Ian Gadd, from Bath Spa University, posted the following links from the Welsh media to the SHARP-List:

Minister hits out at rare books sell-off

Academics ‘outraged’ by council’s book sale

Row over secrecy of planned rare book sell-off

Libraries go self-service

A campaign group has been established (Sion Tudur, Peter Keelan, Andrew Prescott, Helen Nicholson, David Skilton, Wyn James, Judi Loach, and Helen Phillips) and a website is in preparation. In the meantime, Andrew Prescott's blog provides fuller details of the campaign.

Ian writes: "The Council cites the cost of maintaining the collections as its main reason for sale but I understand from Helen that Cardiff University Library is willing to house the collection. (See also the story of 15 September, cited above.) The Council is also making making much of the collection's apparently narrow 'readership': its own report claims that the books are 'unsuitable for use by anyone other than academics and specialists' and 'would only ever be used by a very narrow group of interested parties.'"

Helen Phillips would be grateful if copies of any letters or e-mails sent to the Council be forwarded to herself ( or Peter Keelan (

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Giles Mandelbrote on Booksellers' Catalogues

I am pleased to announce that on Thursday 18 September 2008 at 5.45pm Giles Mandelbrote will present, in the McArthur Gallery (Rare Books), off the Redmond Barry Reading Room at the State Library of Victoria, a paper on Booksellers' catalogues in the collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753).

This is the third Melbourne Bibliographical Circle event for 2008, jointly organised by The Centre for the Book and the Melbourne branch of the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand.

The wealthy London physician Sir Hans Sloane formed a vast encyclopedic library of some 4,000 manuscripts and 45,000 printed books as the core of collections which also included several thousand natural history specimens, prints, coins and medals. At his death in 1753 his collections were acquired for the nation, leading directly to the foundation of the British Museum. As President of both the Royal Society and the College of Physicians, Sloane's interests and contacts extended through scholarly and scientific networks across the whole of Europe.

Sloane was relatively unusual among his contemporaries not simply because he kept for reference purposes the booksellers' and book auction catalogues which he had used to form his library, but also because he purchased and collected other examples for their own sake. He pursued this on a scale and with a degree of perseverance which makes him unique in the history of English book collecting in this period. One notable example is his purchase, in about 1707, of a group of fourteen auction catalogues dating from the 1680s and 1690s which had belonged to the auctioneer himself, Edward Millington (who had died in 1703), and were annotated with the prices fetched and with the names of all the purchasers.

While it was not uncommon for other collectors to keep auction catalogues of libraries, as a record of an informed selection of books, it was much more unusual for them to take the trouble to retain publishers' or secondhand booksellers' catalogues, which were generally slighter and more ephemeral and were often intended primarily for the use of the trade rather than private customers. Then, as now, these were usually swiftly thrown away.

Sloane's collection reflects his correspondence with booksellers all over Europe and is unquestionably the most important made by any collector in England in this period, as well as one of the most important such collections made anywhere in Europe. Examples of late seventeenth-century booksellers' catalogues in his library range from northern Germany and the Baltic to Venice and Florence. Several of the French examples are unrecorded (as far as is known) in any French library today and this pattern is repeated for other countries.

Sloane's collecting of bibliographical ephemera also extended to the proposals which were issued for publishing books by subscription - a category of material which does not seem to have survived so well among Sloane's books now in the British Library, although they are documented in his own acquisitions register. Some of these prospectuses advertised books which seem never in fact to have been published at all. A detailed study of them might significantly alter our view of the financing of publication in England in the early eighteenth century.

Giles Mandelbrote is Curator of British Collections 1501-1800 at the British Library. He is joint editor of the "Publishing Pathways" series and joint editor of volume 2 (covering 1640-1850) of The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland (Cambridge University Press, 2006).