What happens to dead library books
In my current project (images of Roman emperors in Renaissance and later art) I am using a different variety of books from those that I am used to. And this means, in particular, that they are spread across different libraries in Cambridge and/or, in the case of art books, that they are available only in the 'non borrowable' section of the University Library. This has meant that I have tended to look more carefully at the books that might be available to buy. The savings in time might well be worth the exenditure in cash. And I have had quite good luck in finding some pretty arcane things quite reasonably. I tend, I confess, to use AbeBooks, owned by Amazon.
Over the last couple of weeks I found 4 books I really needed on the website: a reprint of the festival book of The Entertainment of Charles II -- 1662; an importantant study of an historic house and collection in Nürnberg, Der Hirsvogelsaal in Nürnberg; a collection of essays edited by A. MacGregor on The Late King's Goods (on the sale of Charles I's collections); and another reprint of a festival book, commemorating the Ceremonial Entry of Ernst Archduke of Austria into Antwerp, June 14, 1594.
Although it was actually made clear on the website, it was only when these turned up that I realised they were all ex-library books.
Now, I realise that libraries do have to weed books. And the two festival books might be thought surplus to requirements, given the excellent British Library website that 'publishes' many of these festival books, including this particular pair (though I still couldnt help wondering what Birkbeck College Library and Toronto Central Library had actually got for their surplus books, as I bought each one for not mch more than £20). I guessed that I could forgive whatever Essex County Library it was that let The Late King's Goods go (it might be a bit of a niche market and my explorations suggest thst it is widely held in UK research libraries). But the same could not be said for Der Hirsvogelsaal in Nürnberg, which I bought for £12.70 plus p and p.
This had been let go by the library of "Historic England" for a song presumably (else I wouldn't have bought it so cheap). And, so far as I could see, it is a book that otherwise in the UK is only in the library of the Courtauld Institute (it may lurk elsewhere, but that's what my quick researches sugest). If so there is something to worry about.. did noone at Historic England realise what a rare book they were flogging for so little? did they not offer it to a major research library (or was it turned down)?
Whatever, it does suggest to me that, while deaccessioning may sometimes be necessary, it might be done with a little more care for the holdngs of the country as a whole, with valuable books not just being made (as I suspect, but dont of course know) part of a job lot to a second hand book shop (excellent as the shop might be).
I guess I have it in my hands now, and probably when I have done with it I should give it to the Cambridge University Library.