It’s a rare event to see a museum put some of its collection up for sale, but that’s what’s happening in Banff for three days starting Oct. 27.
More than 1,400 books, maps, magazines and pamphlets dating from the late 1800s to the mid-2000s will be available for purchase.
They’re duplicates of items already in the collection that need to go.
It took Kayla Cazes, the museum’s librarian and reference archivist, well over a year to sort through the vast collection totalling close to 20,000 pieces.
“I’ve been handling every single book in the sale. I’ve entered it into a database, compared it to the ones we’re keeping, making sure that we have that book instead of just getting rid of it,” she said.
“You could keep everything, but then you won’t have any room for anything else and I think that’s really important to keep that perspective in mind.”
When in doubt, Cazes turns to the museum’s mandate to collect the human and cultural history of the Canadian Rockies.
The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies has accumulated a massive collection of books, magazines and maps since it opened in 1968.
Many were donated by prominent historical figures in the community like Bill Peyto, Pearl Brewster Moore and museum founders Catharine Robb Whyte and Peter Whyte.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about what we want,” she said.
“It’s about what our mandate has said and we just can’t justify keeping things like Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, as much as I would love it.”
Elizabeth Kundert-Cameron, director of archives and special collections, says there is a large collection of vintage sheet music up for sale that she enjoys looking at.
She says it’s surprising to see multiple copies of the same item that have accumulated over the years.
“In the olden days, we didn’t have the internet,” she said.
“So we used to keep two copies of everything, a lot of times, because if something went missing or (was damaged) through use, we wanted to have an extra copy.”
Kundert-Cameron says the team turned to the internet to determine the pricing of the books up for sale.
“We aren’t appraisers. We looked at what the going rate was for a lot of things,” she said.
“But we’re lowballing it, quite frankly, because we want it so that the community, just every man can afford it and have a little piece.”
Money raised through the sale will support preventative conservation measures needed for the archival and library collections as well as collection development.
“So it’ll be for the Special Collections Library,” Kundert-Cameron said.
“But it’ll also be for the archives and probably for art and heritage as well, so it’s basically going back to the collections for collection management.”
Archivist Kate Nielsen says Cazes consulted her any time there were signatures or writing found in the books to determine if they needed to stay at the museum.
“It’s a constant battle between wanting to keep amazing materials because they’re amazing and trying to focus on how exciting and interesting and maybe rare they are,” she said.
“Is this something that researchers are going to use — that the public is going to be accessing a lot? Or is this something that we’re just personally really excited about?”
Nielsen says there are many poetry and story books that are recognizable but you wouldn’t expect to see in a Rocky Mountain-based historic archives and library.
“We’ve got all sorts of materials,” she said.
“There’s something for everyone, even if you’re not necessarily looking for that book to add to your collection. We’ve got just about everything, so it’s worth coming for a look.”
Items range from $5 up to $100 for the more rare books.
“So ethically, I can’t shop the sale and neither can Elizabeth (or Kate), since we were the ones deciding on what stays and what goes,” Cazes said.
“Staff as well don’t know what’s in the sale. They don’t even know what’s on the tables right now and they have to wait in line like everyone else.”
The sale is open to Whyte Museum members and donors only on Oct. 27, and then to the public on Oct. 28 and 29.
You can learn more about the sale at www.whyte.org/events.
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