…and it is filled with me having difficult conversations.
While I get phone calls about donations from time to time, a recent reunion on campus allowed me to connect with a number of wonderful alumni who are downsizing and eager to find a new home for their considerable book collections. These are tremendously supportive members of our school community – how to respectfully respond to these offers, considering our responsibility to maintain a current and appealing collection that fits 2016 curriculum and reading interests?
As I’ve shared before, with the exception of my dog-eared Lucy Maud Montgomeries, I am not sentimental about print books, so I have to step away from my perspective and appreciate the intent behind these offers, despite the fact that unfortunately, many of these books are not a good fit for our collection.
Wanting to handle each situation with grace and sensitivity, I have been trying to relinquish my anxiety about the outcome of these conversations (“very sorry, but we can’t accept 15 boxes of 1970-era political science texts”) and focus on the following: –
- Gratitude > Thank them for their thoughtfulness and generosity
- Curiosity > Ask about reading interests, how the collection developed, which books are favourites…this usually leads to an interesting conversation, and both potential donor and I enjoy the chance to chat about something about which they are so passionate
- Commiseration > “I know, isn’t it a shame that the Grade 10 Canadian History curriculum begins at WWI?” (which is why, in the interest of shelf space, we have to maintain a small section of pre-1914 Canadiana; suggest that perhaps a university library may be a better fit)
- Careful consideration > “I’d love to take a closer look at our needs in this area, may I follow up with you by phone at the end of this week?” Sometimes a bit of time allows me to feel more confident about my decision, and better able to frame a proper response
- Spirit of sharing > Some of our faculty have been grateful to receive uniquely subject-specific texts that aren’t a good match for the library, but are wonderful to have in class or office
My hope is that the potential donor feels valued and appreciated, even we aren’t able to accept the donation: we are truly fortunate to have people in our midst who so love the printed word, and want to share a lifetime of treasures with us.
Great observations, Shelagh. I would also recommend having a gift policy as part of your collection development policy. Print it out separately and have copies available so that you can hand it out to donors; having your policy spelled out in print makes it less of a personal snub and more about the institution’s priorities/needs. And if you’re a US librarian (not sure of the relevant tax law in Canada), you can’t provide a value for donations but only a letter stating what has been donated (12 hardcovers and 36 paperbacks, for example).