Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz
Should one lend? Can one afford to lend? What good does it do? This paper looks at the experience of a small Library and Museum which has an important and varied collection of manuscripts which are in heavy demand for loans to exhibitions internationally and draws upon lessons learned in the process. It is often said that lending to large exhibitions in major centres enhances the status of the lending institution and makes its collections more widely-known. This is challenged in the paper - experience tends to show that small lenders are unnoticed in the hype surrounding blockbuster exhibitions - and any benefit is outweighed by the costs to the lender in risk to valuable material, in precious staff time, in writing catalogue entries, photography, condition-reporting, packing and accompanying the shipment. If an economic fee were to be charged for all this work for every loan item, exhibitions might well become unaffordable. Benefits are close to nil in many cases and often the exhibition display is less well-presented than at home. Moreover, smaller institutions are almost never invited into the consortia running major shows and thus the only reciprocation that counts, major exhibitions for their public, is denied to them. In addition, as the museum world competes for attention and money and increases the number of exhibitions, there appears to be some devaluation of themes - one suspects the influence of chapters of aspiring curators' PhD dissertations. If you want to raise the visibility of an institution by lending, then you should lend the entire contents of the exhibition and the contract should be written so as to maximize the benefit to the source institution. The death of the blockbuster exhibition has often been predicted but somehow it just won't lie down.
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