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The British Museum—Duplicate Books—Question

Volume 217: debated on Tuesday 29 July 1873

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asked the Right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, Whether it is possible for the Trustees of the British Museum to furnish for the information of the House and the public, a Return of the number of Duplicate Books in the Library of the Museum; and, whether there would be any objection to such Duplicates being distributed among the Free Libraries of the Country?

in reply, said, there was in the Question an ambiguity as to the meaning of the word "duplicate." The Trustees of the British Museum had always rightly considered that there were three particulars in which what might be termed duplicates in a private gentleman's library would not be superfluous in the Library of the British Museum. In a great National Library it was a matter of primary importance for literary people to have the means of referring to variations in the different works, and time variations in different editions. Again, there were in the British Museum three collections at least which had been given to the nation as integral collections—namely, the King's, the Grenville, and the Bankseian Libraries; and there might be in those collections duplicates which must be preserved distinct from the general library books in the Museum. Moreover, it was for the general advantage of readers that there should be duplicate copies of some books which were in great demand, as it often happened that more than one student required to consult them at the same time. Roughly estimated, the duplicates in the Museum amounted to between 10,000 and 12,000 books, subject to deductions on account of each of the categories to which he had referred. To compare all the books in the British Museum for the purpose of ascertaining whether they were duplicates or not would be a labour of months, if not of years. Under these circumstances, it would not be possible for the Trustees to furnish a Return of' the superfluous duplicate books in the British Museum with a view to their distribution among the Free Libraries of the country.