Accessioning a donated personal library collection

This month’s theme of donate proves the perfect opportunity for me to cheat and combine “donate” with last months theme “what I learned last year and/or what I want to learn this year” and therefore pretend like I didn’t miss the first hurdle on my new year’s resolution list. Winning!

Last year I had the opportunity to work on a project accessioning a collection donated to the library on the passing of a prominent academic and architect who had a long affiliation with my place of work. The collection consists of approximately 3000 monographs and 6000 serials and contains many special collection treasures. The project is ongoing and I hope I get to see it through to the end.

In this context donate meant that the resources were gifted to the library, yay free things! But of course free rarely means without cost. The cost of compiling the initial collection inventory; packing, delivering and storing the collection until processing could commence; time spent negotiating terms of donation and making decisions regarding the fate of the collection; assessing, accessioning and physically processing the collection; as well as sending the collection off to it’s final home plus the long term storage of the collection all have to be factored in.

Although I’m sure receiving bequests is not an unusual occurrence for Australian university libraries, it was difficult to find professional reading or case studies on processing a large donated collection like this in the Australian context (two articles I did find particularly enlightening are listed below). I was looking, of course, because I’m a new grad and my imposter syndrome symptoms were in overdrive. When I began on the project I had exactly three weeks worth of cataloguing experience from placement, plus five weeks of casual acquisitions experience post-placement. I needn’t have worried, I entered a supportive workplace who provided me the tools and opportunity to learn as I went.

And I have learned A LOT from working on this project, including but not limited to:

Special collections: the collection contained some pretty awesome special collection items. Special collections was not something I had prepared for while I was studying, so I really had no idea what I was doing. I’ve learned about how to identify special items; the difference between presentation or association copies; how differently items are physically processed for special collections; how to handle rare/valuable/fragile items and more.

Cataloguing: sooo much about cataloguing. One cataloguing subject at uni does not a cataloguer make. Although there is still so much to learn I can now read MARC and not go totally cross-eyed, so there’s that. In addition I’ve worked only on the monographs so far, so have barely even touched the sides of serials cataloguing let alone realia or other non-book items.

Alma: my colleagues keep telling me that Alma is quirky and unlike any other LMS. I’ve never used the tech services modules of any other LMS so I can’t compare, but I think I almost understand what a collection, service and portfolio is….I’ll get back to you on that one. I do however now understand how bib, holdings and item level records fit together and how that translates to the discovery layer.

Decision making specific to this project. Working on a large donated collection requires so many decisions, including:

Will the collection stay together? If so will it be housed in its entirety in special collections or just the rare/valuable/fragile items? Will non-rare/valuable/fragile items be housed together in a separate location or will they circulate in the general collection?

How is it best to differentiate collection items so they are findable in the catalogue?

How to catalogue why an item is in special collections? Bib record or item level notes?

How to track the collection items to provide evidence to donor or for creating a collection bibliography/catalogue?

Will duplicates within the collection and within the general library collection be kept or discarded?

Can decisions made regarding monographs also be applied to serials?

And sooooo many more!

I’ve had such a great time working on this project, and delight in working in my first library job since graduating. I’m a librarian now. Yes it’s allllll about the books. Mwahahahaha. Sorry, I can’t help myself, it’s just that I know how much we as a profession dislike that bookish stereotype! Of course it’s not just about the books 😉

Extra reading if you’re interested in why my head almost exploded trying to initially understand the decisions required, and their implications, on this project

Nicholson, J. R. (2010). Making personal libraries more public: a study of the technical processing of personal libraries in ARL institutions. RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage, 11(2), 106–133.

Kennedy, R., & Macauley, P. (2015). Large-scale Acquisitions: The Story of Ian McLaren’s Collection. Australian Academic and Research Libraries, 46(1), 39–51.


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