--- In firstname.lastname@example.org
, Jim West <jwest@...> wrote:
> Roger Pearse wrote:
> > Sitting on manuscripts and preventing
> > anyone but a tiny handful of professionals seeing them
> > is unethical by this standard, surely? (Not to mention
> > stupid, when you consider the losses of mss in the last
> > 100 years, nearly all unphotographed).
> This is an important point isn't it? After all, isn't it
> simply a fact that in truth only a small handfull of
> individuals ARE interested in these artifacts? And can
> make use of them? To others, aren't they
> merely museum curiosities?
Indeed so. This is why manuscripts remain the province of either
the wealthy collector, or the state.
> If museums didn't charge admission, how could they maintain the
> artifacts entrusted to them?
Most museums that I come across are funded pretty heavily by the
poor hard-pressed taxpayer, actually.
But frankly I think that this argument is a digression, or perhaps
means that we are at cross-purposes. Do we really believe that
property ownership extends as far as chopping up the heritage of
mankind on the basis that "this is private property"? Now I am
pretty right-wing in my politics, and the evils of interference with
private property are plain enough to me, but I don't think that this
right extends so far. Once we accept that the owners have certain
duties to the community, isn't the rest of the argument moot? But
perhaps I have misunderstood where you are coming from.
You see, I'm not opposed to reasonable charges for things, that help
institutions work. What I am opposed to is preventative charging
that ensures that work isn't done, ensures no-one can see things,
ensures that books perish. When a library declares that it will
demand $230 to make a monochrome microfilm of an ms, which I could
photograph for free in colour, this means that the ms is not filmed,
and the ms is destroyed in the next civil commotion. When that same
library declares that it will not allow any portion of that ms to
appear online unless it is paid, this is not drawing an income: this
is preventative charging. The library makes no money -- because
manuscript scholars don't HAVE any money! So they just do without.
How does that benefit the library? Or anyone?
None of this is theory, I'm sorry to say. My own experience may be
relevant. The British Library owns 3 medieval mss of works of
Tertullian. I want them online. The British Library will not
photograph them. It will not place them online. It will not permit
me to photograph them. The most it will do is photograph them if I
pay them $12,000 to do so (I could do it myself for nothing in a day
and a half), and it will only permit the results to appear online if
I pay them $800 a year for the rest of my life, and bear the hosting
fees. Since, of course, I can't do anything of the kind, the mss
sit on a shelf, unexamined, unseen, and waiting for Al Qaeda to blow
the place up.
Is that sort of thing acceptable? I suggest that in Dante's Divine
Comedy these people -- all paid by the taxpayer to preserve in order
to make available for study -- would end up in the lowest hell, with
those who betrayed their trust.
All the best,