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Disappearing and shifting historical collections

The apparent closure of the United Kingdom Temperance Alliance library (or at least less access) makes me reflect on disappearing and shifting historical collections. The decline of the temperance movement has resulted in many teetotal societies closing down or shrinking so badly that they can't maintain their old headquarters. The restructuring of the alcohol drink trade in the United Kingdom has brought about the end of trade organizations over a century in age, as well as the end of historic breweries. Sometimes their libraries and manuscript collections have gone to academic libraries or public record offices and sometimes they seem to have disappeared. Who owns copyright is a mystery.

As I work slowly and get diverted to other projects, I am still processing research that I did in the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, for research in private records this means deciphering my hurried scrawl, as copying services weren't available. An exception was the now defunct Livesey-Clegg temperance library; when I expressed interest in a photocopy of something in a rare periodical, I was advised to remove it from the library and carry it down the street to a commercial copy service.

Of course, there is sadness about what has been pulped or has disintegrated or otherwise lost. I tended to locate important collections in the UK on the eve of returning to the USA. For instance, I found at an organization of London publicans a continuous series from the 1830s of fat volumes containing every multi-copy item distributed by the society, everything from banquet menus to circular letters, low-grade ore but invaluable for a researcher with sufficient time. The next time that I could visit the organization it had lost its long-term, low-rent lease and so had moved to new and much smaller quarters. The volumes that once had been prominent in the library had not survived the move.

Posted by David Fahey on November 22, 2007 at 11:23 AM in Academia | Permalink