Library Material Gifts: Unrecognized Treasure or Trojan Horses?

All collection development librarians have found themselves facing the acceptance of materials into the collection that they know will be under-utilized and we’ve also all been in the position of having to turn down material gifts. Donated gift materials are such a fine line for all of us. We want to make sure we do not pass on something that could be a significant addition to our collections but at the same time we’re trying desperately to not be saddled with materials that will have little to no use and end up in storage or potentially being weeded within a decade. Apply the three “w” rule to gift acceptance to give yourself the wriggle room for making your library material gift acceptance or denial.

First off and probably most importantly, WHO wants to make the donation/receive the donation? If the person making the donation is a well known public official either within your organization or within your local environment, accept the gift materials graciously. Even when you have twenty other copies lurking in various places within your library, accept these materials. Annotate the notes on the records for the copies currently available or replace current copies available with the donated titles and make it clear these material were provided by distinguished person X. It is not unheard of for a long time distinguished donor of library materials to follow up with a monetary donation and or bequeath to your library. At academic institutions this situation can be applied to prominent and distinguished faculty and administrators. There is also a corollary to this type of library material gift acceptance. If a prominent and distinguished faculty, administrator, or public official wants your library to accept a particular material gift, then accept it. Acceptance does not have to mean retaining in the collection. You can still make your local decisions regarding the condition of the material received and/or number of copies held locally or within your consortium. For the material that shows up unannounced and unsolicited, feel free to reject readily. You are under no obligation to add library material just because someone has taken the time to send it in your direction.

Secondly, consider WHAT is being donated as potential library material. Sometimes that quirky phone call you receive from the timid voice on the other end of the phone line is worth following up on and investigating. If possible, ask all cold call donors to provide you with a list of material they are considering donating. People with material worth personal interest will take the time to do this and you can avoid accepting the gift at this point if a list is not provided. People not willing to make lists have already boxed up the material and have made a mental break with it and just want to move it out of their space now. Seven out of ten times, the person will make you a basic list, author title of what they want to donate in part because they feel a connection to these resources and want them to go to a good home. The list gives you the ability to either spot check and/or go through the entire collection in a remote way to see how much you would want to accept. If the person calling with the library material donation sounds particularly frail but the person has an interesting story to tell of their collection or due to a connection to a particular department or professor, offer to go to them to review the material being offered. Yes, this takes some time but this is where the treasure is found and how special collections get built. Again, the unsolicited library material donations that show up at your desk for the most part are not things you will want to add. However, every now and again, there are things of interest that appear this way so always open up these packages to give a cursory review.

Lastly, consider WHERE the library material gift is located. Is it a departmental library that is being abandoned on your campus or within your local government? If so, taking a cursory look at what is there is not difficult or too terribly time consuming. A good rule of thumb is the fifty mile radius. Is this material gift located within fifty miles of your library; usually, then it is not a problem for retrieval or acceptance. For gifts residing more than fifty miles away, the decisions regarding WHO and WHAT may over-ride the location or need to pay for shipping. In which case, you work out how best to delivery the material to your processing units. Most call-in donors are willing to delivery their collections to you and it is always best to state upfront that you do not have a policy for picking up gift material early in your conversation.

One last caveat, it is also good to relate to any given donor that since their library material donation was unexpected and potentially of a large size, that the material will not be processed or added to the collection immediately upon acceptance. This allows you any extra time to review duplicate copies for retention, determine the best location for the material, and work into processing queues or quotas in a thoughtful and strategic way.

There has been quite a bit of library news over the past five years about libraries stopping the acceptance of library material donations but we all know that it is impossible to not accept some library material donations. In all honestly, the best any library can do is to minimize the amount of effort that goes into accepting library material donations. By applying the three “w’s” of ready evaluation to each donation call, you can speed up both the decision making process and material donation process.

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