The Critic Magazine

Balancing the books

RICHARD OVENDEN, librarian of the Bodleian in Oxford, recently published an impassioned account of the importance of collections of the written word. In Burning the Books (John Murray, £20), he examines the way in which libraries have been pillaged throughout history, from the (exaggerated) destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria to the Nazis systematically laying waste to priceless manuscripts and documents. Ovenden writes: “Throughout history, libraries and archives have been subject to attack. At times, librarians and archivists have risked and lost their lives for the preservation of knowledge.”

It is hard not to be stirred by this. Yet at a time where libraries find their finances ever squeezed, the threat of deaccession for necessary financial gain looms large over many collections. The Royal College of Physicians recently found itself mired in controversy for its reported plans to sell off a historic bequest of rare books,

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