Real talk. Preservation of historical items is wonderful and necessary for future generations. But often when people want something to be preserved, they don't consider the astronomical cost in doing so. As a result of the expensive side of preservation, there are a number of orphaned books at libraries and museums worldwide in need of adoption.
Adopting orphaned books actually has nothing to do with my previous post on orphaned works. Rather, adopting orphaned works involves libraries and museums with collections of historical value inviting people and organizations to donate on behalf of the historically valuable work to support its upkeep. It's basically the same principle as when you "adopt" a kid in a developing country by sending a nonprofit $20 a month.
I know what you're thinking. But why can't the libraries and museums just allocate enough money to take care of this stuff if it's so important?
If you think I might be exaggerating by my use of the word "astronomical" in reference to the cost of preservation, hear me out.
There are a few things to consider with preservation.
- For starters, there's the cost of acquisition if the library/museum doesn't already own the item they want.
- Then there's the thorough cleaning of it, which, if the item is a book, means going over every inch of every page.
- There's the cost of specialty cleaning supplies and tools.
- There's the cost of any repairs, if necessary.
- There's the cost of processing and cataloging, which includes writing up all the information about the item that a researcher might want to know (this info ends up in the institution's catalog, in the online database if there is one, on the outside of the box so the archivist can find it, and in the finding aid, which is how researchers determine if the item is useful to them).
- There's the purpose of the containers used to store the item in archival quality, whether that's a box, a humidity-controlled glass case, mylar sheets, etc.
- And there's the cost of a specialist's (or multiple specialists') time for completing all these tasks.
For this reason, libraries and museums with historically valuable holdings will offer the public a chance to adopt books and other materials in their collections. Of course, the materials stay on display at the institution where they can be properly cared for, but you might get your name on a plaque for your support. There's also the cocktail party factor of being able to say, "Oh, what do I do? I'm a purveyor of preserving historically valuable items such as XYZ." Let's be honest. That will get you immediate cool points!
Here are a few places with awesome holdings where you can adopt books and other items.
- The Smithsonian (you can preserve or help them acquire new materials)
- Duke University Libraries (I love their Adopt a Banned Book campaign, which includes many first editions of beloved classics)
- The British Library
- Your local library or museum or university alma mater
Who knows, your local library or museum or your alma mater might have an adopt-a-book program. And if they don't, your request just might inspire them to start one. Of course, there are tons of other places that have these programs, so research your favorite libraries and museums to see if they do.