Save the paper collection of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Den Haag)

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In early 2020, the management of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Den Haag) made the decision that its famous paper historical collection will no longer be a “core domain” and thus be terminated in terms of curatorship. Starting in January 2021 the second largest paper collection in the world will be without an active curatorship and without further collection development, i.e. no more acquisitions of relevant objects and specialist literature. While the collection will be stored and available, ongoing and future research will be frozen.
 
The KB collection holds materials that are unique and unparalleled in the world. If the KB has any pretensions to being a world-class institution, it would be partly because of its world-class collections. The paper collection is undoubtedly one of these.  Removing the curator and stopping all acquisitions for that collection is essentially leaving it rudderless.
 
As a researcher of the historic Dutch paper trade I am astonished that such a decision could have been made. The Netherlands have been at the forefront of papermaking and trading for centuries, and the wind-powered mills are still considered part of the rich cultural heritage. It is hard to understand how a national library can have a world class collection and still decide to freeze it. At a time when interest in the materiality of communication flows, within a larger field of book history, is growing and expanding, such a decision is disappointing to many researchers dealing with paper questions. As a reminder: a great deal of our premodern and modern most important communication flows are done on and with paper.
 
I believe that cutting of all acquisition activity for the paper collection is short-sighted and a very poor management decision. This decision will do damage to the reputation of the KB. The collection needs an active curator, a full-time position, and it deserves an ongoing active acquisition program to keep it in the forefront of world paper collections. In consent with scholars from all over the world, I urge the KB’s management to rethink its decision, and appoint a full-time curator of the paper collection.
 
Thank you for your support! 
Daniel Bellingradt
Professor at the Institute for the Study of the Book (at Erlangen-Nürnberg university, Germany), and co-founder of the research network "The paper trade in early modern Europe".