Disposals Policy for Rare Books and Manuscripts

The sale of rare books or manuscripts from libraries will take place from time to time and inevitably can attract widespread public attention. The principles outlined here can assist in managing such sales.

  • The selection of books and manuscripts for sale
  • Implementation
  • Publicity and public relations
  • Security

1. The selection of books and manuscripts for sale

1.1 Authority to sell

1.1 Authority to sell

1.1.1 The library should first establish that it has a full legal title to the property proposed for sale.

1.1.2 It must be established that the library has authority to sell under the terms of any donations, benefactions or grants concerning funded material.

1.1.3 Libraries are encouraged to have a clear disposal statement in accepting material and funding.

1.2 Disposal policy

1.2.1 Libraries are encouraged to have their own documented policies on collection management which include statements about disposals.

1.2.2 Libraries should identify core collections which would not normally be considered for disposal - to include the following categories:

  • Foundation collections
  • Special collections assembled for a specific purpose
  • Annotated copies
  • Copies listed in standard bibliographies
  • Copies with a significant local provenance
  • Bindings of special interest

1.2.3 Libraries are encouraged to be aware of published records of their books and manuscripts.

1.2.4 Libraries are encouraged to pay particular attention to alleged duplicates where a closer inspection reveals differences between copies, or where provenance and association with a collection are significant.

2. Implementation

2.1 Reasons for the sale

2.1.1 Libraries are encouraged to make clear statements about the reason for the sale.

2.1.2 The cost of the disposal process should be recognised in the expected proceeds from the sale.

2.1.3 If financial gain is not the primary objective, consideration should be given to transferring the books or manuscripts to other locations.

2.2 Advice

2.2.1 Libraries are encouraged to consult widely on the material under consideration, within the library and academic community, with particular reference to the users of the material itself.

2.2.2 It is particularly recommended that independent commercial advice be taken about the value of the material. The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ABA - phone: 020 7421 4681; email:admin@aba.org.uk) will generally be able to recommend a local dealer or one with specific expertise in the type of material in question.  

2.2.3 Different methods of sale should be considered - such as:

  • auction
  • tender
  • arranged
  • purchase through national or private funding
  • division of the material into individual lots to be sold separately, in the most advantageous way

3. Publicity and public relations

3.1 Benefactors

3.1.1 Close relations concerning the sale should be maintained with the following communities:

  • Friends organisations
  • Past benefactors, and their descendants, both individual and institutional
  • National organisations and funding bodies, particularly those funding bodies being approached for grants concurrently with the sale
  • Users of the material

3.2 Publicity

3.2.1 Publicity relating to the sale should be framed in such a way as to emphasise positive outcomes from the disposal of material.

3.2.2 Where financial gain is the primary objective, the consideration given to alternative sources of financial assistance should be acknowledged.

3.3 Public relations

3.3.1 Staff should be designated to deal with all enquiries relating to the sale.

3.3.2 A written public relations statement about the sale should be available.

3.3.3 The effects of the sale on potential benefactors should be considered.

4. Security

4.1 A full record of the material sold should be kept by the library.

4.2 Deaccessioned books and manuscripts should be marked as such, so that the fact of their legitimate sale and their provenance are clearly recorded in the artefact itself.


Revised January 2015