February 12, 2016

Deaccession Gems: Ranganathan’s Third Law of Library Science

By Roberta Gebhardt, Library Manager Montana Historical Society Research Center
I loaded my cart with a group of books and was curious about the two leather bound volumes.  They appeared to be quite old, but I didn’t think too much about them.  When I got to my desk things got interesting.

Photograph by Roberta Gebhardt
One of my responsibilities as Library Manager is to compile a quarterly list of deaccessions.  These are books, documents and posters that are duplicates of our collection or things that were accepted here at one point, but no longer fit our collection or our collection management policy.  The stacks hold a treasure trove of items and you never know what you are going to find.

Photography by Roberta Gebhardt

The smaller book was a law text published in 1846.  There was a note attached to the front cover that stated that the book was “formerly the property of the law firm Lincoln and Herndon, of which the senior member was President Abraham Lincoln.”  It goes on to say that the 3 signatures in the book are in the handwriting of President Lincoln.   

Photograph by Roberta Gebhardt

I immediately took the book and showed it to the Senior Archivist, Rich Aarstad.  I wanted another opinion and to talk about what we might do with this book.  After looking at the signatures and comparing those to several found on-line, we decided that this probably wasn’t signed by President Lincoln.  He suggested that I contact the Lincoln Presidential Library to see if they knew anything about the book or if they would be interested in it.  I sent an e-mail to James Cornelius, Curator of the Lincoln Collection, at the Presidential Library. I included a scan of the note and the signatures.  I received a very quick reply from Mr. Cornelius.  He stated “We would be delighted to receive this if it is being deaccessioned. Herndon’s signature on the Lincoln & Herndon law books is pretty recognizable to us – we have several, including vol. 1 of the Greenleaf title.” 

Even though this item is very cool it doesn’t fit within the scope of our collection policy and it doesn’t have a tie to Montana.  We are very excited to be able to reunite this book with its mate.  It is very humbling to think that I have been able to hold in my hands a book that Abraham Lincoln held. 
The second book was even older; it had a publication date of 1791.  It was the Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, being the first session of the Second Congress, begun and held at the City of Philadelphia, October 24th 1791; and in the sixteenth year of the sovereignty of the United States.  It also included a note inside the cover.  This item had been donated to the library at the

Photograph by Roberta Gebhardt

Montana State School of Mines in Butte.  How it arrived at the Montana Historical Society we may never know.  The book had been found by the donor’s family in the attic of a house in Alexandria, Virginia. 
This book will be sent to the Mansfield Library at the University of Montana.  The Mansfield Library serves as the Regional Federal Depository Library for Montana.  This means that they have the most complete collection of federal documents in the state.  The Government Documents librarian, Susanne Caro, stated that if they could not use this volume at the Mansfield Library she would find it a good home.  She is connected to a large network of Federal Depository Libraries and will offer the volume to them if it will not be kept in Missoula.
There is something very gratifying about reuniting a set of books.  This experience reminded me of Ranganathan’s 5 laws of Library Science.  Especially, the third law: Every book its reader.  It’s nice to know that these items will have homes where they will be utilized more appropriately then if we had kept them in our collection or included them on our deaccession list.  I’m ready to head back to the stacks and see what other treasures I can find.