I do like Sarah’s idea. It also seems only fair for the nation to expropriate the chap’s own collection (since he seems already to be unable to distinguish his own private collection from those of others, how could he object?)
It makes you realize just how unlikely a thing a library is. This week, on the strength of my Illinois driver’s license, more or less, I got to handle Trotsky’s fascinating didactic letters to the editors of Partisan Review from 1937, and a remarkably nasty note from Ezra Pound to Dwight Macdonald, among about five thousand other things. Why the hell would anybody spend very good money collecting and preserving such things only to let the likes of me walk in off the street and look at them? The aura of the objects is nothing compared to the trust and generosity of those who possess them, especially in the face of assholes like this.
I mostly agree with Patchen (regarding private libraries): but the point of these things is appreciation. If no one knows you have the treasure, it’s pretty much worthless. Also there’s a very good record of the well-behaved public. People do walk in off the street and inspect works of art across the world. Mostly, it works.
As for public, or taxpayer funded, libraries, his objection doesn’t apply. These were collected and preserved by us, and deserve to be inspected and handled by us.
Dave, you mistook my tone. Nothing in what I said was meant to be an objection to anything, although this being a blog comments box I suppose the presumption has to be that we’re all looking for an argument. I was simply trying to ventriloquize, a bit, the sort of attitude one might expect the holder of any very valuable object to take toward a stranger who asked to use (not just appreciate!) it, in order to emphasize how wonderful, but also how fragile, library culture is. I don’t think we disagree.
The BFI National Archive has a policy of only permitting access to its holdings if it has more than one copy – which is very sensible on archival grounds, if frequently frustrating to regular researchers like me.
I thought it was very funny this September when I wanted to look at three poems in their unique medieval manuscripts in the Huntington Library. Having flown all the way there, been interviewed, shown my credentials, and ordered the things up, the librarian on the desk patiently explained to me that these were very rare documents and seemed to question whether I wouldn’t rather look at a common-or-garden bound copy of some 19th century periodicals instead. I felt like saying: no one knows how precious they are better than me! But that’s the only time my intentions have ever been questioned. Normally I marvel at the generosity and trust people show you.
Simon Armitage had a lovely story about his first visit to the British Library to look at the Gawain manuscript (he’d been commissioned to do a new verse translation, or rather rendering into modern English). He was intercepted by a nice but firm librarian who explained kindly that the Gawain MS was Very Rare and Very Valuable and Very Very Fragile, and if he Just Wanted to Read the Poem then there were Lots of Very Good Modern Editions… He was so overcome by the nice-but-firm treatment that he turned round and went home – it didn’t even occur to him to say but I’m Simon Armitage the award-winning poet! and I’ve been commissioned to do a new verse translation! well, not translation, but you know, modern English, thing!