Senate House Library, University of London: Reconsider the proposed sale of its first four Shakespeare Folios
  • Petitioned Mr Christopher Pressler

This petition was delivered to:

Director, Senate House Libraries
Mr Christopher Pressler
Vice-Chancellor, Senate House
Professor Sir Adrian Smith

Senate House Library, University of London: Reconsider the proposed sale of its first four Shakespeare Folios

    1. Petition by

      The Bibliographical Society

  1.  
  2.   
September 2013

Victory

Bibliographical Society President Christine Ferdinand has just issued this statement expressing our pleasure that the University of London has decided not to sell its four Shakespeare folios. We are very grateful to everyone who supported the campaign, either through signing this petition or through expressing their opinions directly to the University.

The Director and Trustees of the University of London’s Senate House Libraries are proposing to sell copies of the Library’s first four Shakespeare folios. Although a “public consultation” is planned, it is understood that the books are already with Bonhams the auctioneers, with a sale scheduled for November.

These folios form a critical part of the collection left to the University of London by Sir Louis Sterling in 1956—less than 60 years ago—on condition that they remain permanently in the University Library. In order to ensure their future security, Sterling also provided a generous endowment to support the collection. Until now, the University of London has been proud to provide “an unusually integrated resource for research on the transmission of English literary texts from the 14th century to the present”. The folios are first on the list of these resources in the Sterling Library’s current website.

One of the excuses for the sale is that the folios are “duplicates”. That is bibliographically unsound, for books printed in the handpress era are full of variants caused by human intervention and mistake. Furthermore, modern academic research is as likely to focus on the copy-specific features of the book (its binding, annotations, and provenance) as on the text itself. The catalogue for the Senate House folios actually notes that these copies are not duplicates.

The Director hopes that the proceeds of the intended sale can be used to create an endowment fund that will attract more readers and strengthen Senate House’s case for the restoration of HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) funding as a National Research Library. Selling off the Library’s heritage is no way to impress HEFCE, or anyone else. Rather the sale of these volumes is likely to:  

- damage the reputation of the Senate House Library as one of the UK’s leading humanities research collections;

- result in the transfer of these four iconic and unique books from public access to private hands;

- jeopardize future benefactions, not just to Senate House but to other UK research libraries;

- raise questions about the management of the funds left by Sir Louis Sterling.

The Bibliographical Society therefore urges the Director and Trustees of the Senate House Libraries to reconsider and reverse this misguided initiative.

Please help us to emphasise the strength of feeling which exists in the public and research communities, by signing this petition.

The Bibliographical Society, founded in 1892, is the leading UK learned society for the study of book history and brings together an international community of scholars and professionals with interests in this area.

To:
Mr Christopher Pressler, Director, Senate House Libraries
Professor Sir Adrian Smith, Vice-Chancellor, Senate House
We urge you to reconsider the proposal to sell the copies of the first four Shakespeare Folios left to the University of London by Sir Louis Sterling.

Sincerely,
[Your name]

Recent signatures

    News

    1. Formal statement from Bibliographical Society president Christine Ferdinand

      Bibliographical Society President Christine Ferdinand has just issued this statement expressing our pleasure that the University of London has decided not to sell its four Shakespeare folios. We are very grateful to everyone who supported the campaign, either through signing this petition or through expressing their opinions directly to the University.

      http://www.bibsoc.org.uk/news/bibliographical-society-petition-key-preventing-senate-house-sale-statement-president

    2. Further coverage

      The Telegraph also reports on the story, referring to "vociferous backlash" from the international academic community:

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/william-shakespeare/10290378/University-backs-down-over-stupid-plans-to-sell-Shakespeare-folios.html

      University backs down over 'stupid' plans to sell Shakespeare folios

      Senate House Library estimated that it could make £5million by selling the set of four folios at auction - despite being given them on the condition they are permanently housed in the library. Academics described the suggestion "an act of stupidity of the highest order", and claimed the plan would damage future bequests and the University's reputation.

    3. News coverage of the abandonment of the sale

      This report in the Guardian cites "outcry by senior figures in theatre and academia" as part of the justification for the cancellation of the proposed Shakespeare sale.

      http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/sep/05/university-of-london-shakespeare-folios

      University of London abandons plans to sell Shakespeare folios

      The University of London has abandoned its proposal to auction a rare set of early printed editions of William Shakespeare's plays following an outcry by senior figures in theatre and academia.

    4. Senate House Libraries announces that the sale has been called off

      The Bibliographical Society is delighted to report that the Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, Prof. Sir Adrian Smith, has called off the proposed sale of the four Shakespeare folios. He is quoted as saying: "The university has decided to focus its attention on examining alternative ways of investing in the collection. The money raised from any sale would have been used to invest in the future of the library by acquiring major works and archives of English literature." We are very pleased that the University has taken into account the opinion of the international academic community and members of the public, and preserved these volumes in accordance with Sir Louis Sterling's bequest.

      We are very grateful to everyone who signed this petition, contacted the University directly, and made their opinion known through other media. The Bibliographical Society will be issuing a formal statement in due course which will be published on our website.

    5. Reached 2,500 signatures
    6. Letter by Prof. Henry Woudhuysen

      This letter by Professor Henry Woudhuysen, circulated on rare books mailing lists, was the first many in the academic and bibliographical communities had heard about the proposed sale. If you would like to know more about the reasons the Bibliographical Society is opposing this sale, please read it:
      http://www.aba.org.uk/news/565-senate-house-library-four-folios-sale

    7. Arts Council England comment

      In this report by Channel 4 News, a spokesman for Senate House says "We already own other copies of the folios, and we want to raise money in order to be able to increase other areas of the historic collections".
      This comment from an Arts Council England spokesman, however, seems to be in agreement with our petition: "It is of great importance that the public retain trust in museums, libraries and galleries to look after the collections held in their name. We are concerned that trust in these institutions may be undermined if disposals from collections are seen to be driven by financial considerations."

      http://www.channel4.com/news/shakespeare-folio-sale-senate-house-auction

    8. Further press coverage

      A summary from the Times Higher Education Supplement, including comment from Christine Ferdinand, President of the Bibliographical Society:
      http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/shakespeare-first-folio-sale-plan-criticised/2007095.article

    9. Reached 2,000 signatures
    10. Comment from Dr Paul Ayris, Director of UCL Library Services

      Paul Ayris has added his backing to the campaign to prevent the sale:
      "We completely oppose the attempt by Senate House to sell this material and urge the University of London to think again."
      http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0913/04092013-Shakespeare-Folios

      UCL opposes sale of Shakespeare Folios

      UCL News RSS Feed: The latest news from UCL.

    11. More press coverage

      The Telegraph has also reported reaction to the sale, quoting Sir Brian Vickers, a visiting professor at University College London, who describes the proposal as "an act of stupidity of the highest order".

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturenews/10285369/Universitys-plan-to-sell-Shakespeares-works-branded-act-of-stupidity.html

      University's plan to sell Shakespeare's works branded 'act of stupidity'

      Senate House believes it could make £5million by selling the set of four folios at an auction later this year - despite being given them on the condition they are permanently housed in the library.

    12. Reached 750 signatures
    13. National press coverage of the proposed sale

      The Guardian has reported on the story of the proposed sale: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/sep/03/university-of-london-plan-sell-shakespeare-plays
      The Times writes (behind a paywall):
      - A spokesman for the university said that plans for a November sale have been postponed, and may be dropped if academics continue to protest. "So far the feedback has been vociferous and clear," he said.

    14. Reached 250 signatures

    Supporters

    Reasons for signing

    • Linda Parker HAVERFORDWEST, UNITED KINGDOM
      • about 1 year ago

      Enough of our heritage has been sold and these folios are an integral part of our heritage it is a sin for them to be sold to another country as undoubtedly they will be. Especially as funds have been provided for their upkeep. What will happen to that money?

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Dennis Hamley OXFORD, UNITED KINGDOM
      • about 1 year ago

      Breathtaking vandalism: appalling ignorance.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Peter Wright OXFORD, UNITED KINGDOM
      • about 1 year ago

      I rely on high quality research for my degree, and selling off Shakespeare folios will only lead to less quality research.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Boika Sokolova LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM
      • about 1 year ago

      I am a Shakespeare scholar and user of senate House Library.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Sandra Horn SOUTHAMPTON, UNITED KINGDOM
      • about 1 year ago

      Left to the university 'on condition they remain PERMANENTLY in the library...and it's our heritage.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:

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