Assessing Risk and Safeguarding Rare Library Materials During Exhibition Loans

Assessing Risk and Safeguarding Rare Library Materials During Exhibition Loans

Patti Gibbons
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6195-8.ch074
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Rare book and archival materials on loan to libraries and other cultural heritage institutions are very often historically significant, highly valuable, and frequently irreplaceable. Lenders minimize risks present during exhibitions loans of these valuable materials by identifying and addressing possible threats during the loan review process. This article provides information on specific ways special collection libraries assess and limit risks presented during exhibition loans to better safeguard important cultural heritage materials.
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Special collection libraries are the keepers of cultural heritage treasures. First edition books, medieval manuscripts, and troves of archival documents sit safely on their protected shelves. As an outreach strategy, special collections libraries develop exhibitions to highlight the bibliographic and historic significance of these materials. Yet, no matter how extensive a library’s collections, exhibitions regularly prompt libraries to borrow materials from other organizations to complete exhibition storylines, or to participate as a lender for exhibitions at other libraries or museums. Through loans, institutions promote their collections while supporting scholarship and appreciation of cultural heritage holdings with a wider audience.

Protecting collection holdings is always important, but it is of paramount significance when displaying materials, especially those on loan, because of the potential public relations implications losses would have during the run of an exhibition. Moreover, in the context of a formal exhibition loan, safeguarding materials is legally compulsory, and failing to protect materials has lawful ramifications in addition to any media repercussions. Additionally, libraries insure materials on loans differently from their main holdings, and loan materials may present legal indemnity issues. Librarians managing exhibition loans must understand these concerns and know how to address them.

Varied cultural heritage management sources and legal texts such as Art Loans (Palmer & Bently, 1997) and MRM5: Museum Registration Methods (Buck, Gilmore, & American Alliance of Museums, 2010) provide instruction and document professional best practices on how to manage effectively the specialized needs of materials borrowed for display. Furthermore, the growing body of fine art-focused disaster management literature, such as Disaster Response and Planning for Libraries (Kahn, 2012) and Handbook of Research on Disaster Management and Contingency Planning in Modern Libraries (Decker & Townes, 2016), documents how librarians address proactive contingency planning needs, prioritize response, and prescribe detailed response procedures specific to loaned materials.

While not a panacea, thorough loan registration policies and comprehensive contingency planning help libraries and other cultural heritage institutions care for materials, including those borrowed for exhibition loans. This article outlines proactive ways libraries incorporate loan registration policies and contingency planning principles into the management of exhibition loans to safeguard rare and valuable library materials.

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