COLUMN: The 55,000 NUC library books have little value

Local historian and former college librarian Ron Welwood weighs in on the discussion about the fate of 55,000 books.

by Ron Welwood

In his sensationally headlined “Despoliation of the Library and Saving the Collection,” (Nelson Star, Nov.18) Dr. Arthur Bartsch indicated that Nelson University Centre (NUC) “… will present a request to Council that the City of Nelson store the library collection and seek ways to put the collection to an appropriate academic use.”

Unfortunately, the 3,000 boxes of remainders (“55,000 books”) consist of a random selection of dated undergraduate books with very little or no use to any serious academic researcher in today’s technical world.

These tomes may be of sentimental value to a nostalgic few, but the City of Nelson should not be involved with storing multiple boxes of unidentified books for an undefined “academic use.”

Although the city has been more than generous in its position regarding NUC and the book collection over the years, it is time to “close the book” on a situation that has lingered far too long.

As the University Librarian from 1969 to 1984, I was responsible for building and administering the NDU/DTUC undergraduate library collection, so I write with more than a little authority.

Unfortunately, in his article Dr. Bartsch neglected to mention a number of very important events that took place since the demise of DTUC in 1984.

The more valuable and useful sections of the collection were dispersed as follows:

1984: when DTUC’s Graphic Design, Photography and Creative Writing programmes were relocated to Selkirk College, appropriate resources supporting these disciplines were also transferred to the College Library

June 1992: the unique Kootenaiana collection was relocated to the Nelson Municipal Library, now Nelson Public Library (1,650 books and 450 reels of microfilm) and Nelson Museum, now Touchstones Nelson Archives (archival documents, photographs, clipping files, etc.)

September 1993: 200 boxes of art books and periodicals along with shelving transferred to the Kootenay School of the Arts

July 2005: City officials offered the first opportunity to choose books, etc., to Nelson Municipal Library, Nelson Museum and Selkirk College. The librarians/archivist from these public institutions selected appropriate materials to complement their own collections

Nov-Dec. 2005: various Nelson community groups including public and private schools, were invited to select and remove materials for their own use. These groups included Nelson School District, St. Joseph’s School, The Christian Community School, Association des Francophones des Kootenays Ouest (AFKO), etc.

Dec. 2005: BC post-secondary libraries were provided with lists of bound journals and periodical indexes available for the cost of shipping. 32 boxes were packed and shipped to BC educational facilities e.g. SFU, Malaspina College (at that time), Camosun College, etc.

Dec. 2005: regional antiquarian and used book dealers purchased selected books. The revenue was used by the City to defray NUC’s unpaid utility bills

2005: City administration was informed that the most valuable asset remaining in the building was the library’s steel shelving and that it should be given to the Touchstones Nelson Archives where it now serves an essential purpose.

In August 2015, the Selkirk College librarian was contacted for advice and he responded, “My suggestion is going to be that they [NUC] might try to get Better World Books to take the collection off their hands. I used them for Selkirk discards, and they will pay shipping and then resell or recycle books, and we get a small commission, and a literacy charity gets a smaller donation.

“I was just happy they took the stuff away…. I got through a few boxes of DTUC books a few years ago…. It seems to have been a good collection circa 1985…. I will meet with Arthur next week and give my opinion that, difficult as it is, sometimes we just have to let books go.”

NUC proponents have believed that the library collection would provide a significant base and rationale to re-establish a university in Nelson.

This dream continued for decades ending with NUC’s recent petition for the city to “store the library collection and seek ways to put the collection to an appropriate academic use.”

Ron Welwood of Nelson is a history researcher who worked as the librarian at Notre Dame University, the David Thompson University Centre, and Selkirk College from 1969 to 2000.

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