Libraries at odds over documents

The Pequot Library, owner of a 1493 letter written by Christopher Columbus, is currently trying to reclaim it from the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library where it has been housed for the past half-century — but negotiations were stalled last month and have yet to resume.

Trustees of the Pequot — based in nearby Southport, Conn. — have postponed further court action in order to get Yale’s official stance on the loan, Pequot Executive Director Dan Snydacker said. The Pequot is trying to reclaim the 1,800 documents it loaned Yale and sell 38 of them to raise funds for library renovations, but Snydacker said Yale’s response will affect their ability to do so.

“The dialogue with Yale is continuing as we speak,” Snydacker said. “We want to meet at least one more time to see what their position is. [The Pequot has] delayed going to court primarily because they are requesting clarification of Yale and the Beinecke’s position on the loan.”

But Yale’s position has always been that the Pequot has a right to reclaim the documents, as long as they give six months advance notice, said George Miles, curator of Western Americana at the Beinecke Library.

“I’d be terribly disappointed if Yale lost the collection,” Miles said. “[But] we fully recognize that it is within the Pequot Library’s right to take the documents back.”

Another issue surrounding the case is the Pequot Library’s claim that Yale is refusing to continue housing the documents.

“They said that Yale didn’t want to hold the collection any more, which Yale did not say,” Miles said. “Yale feels that we’re being misrepresented and that this statement may affect our reputation.”

Snydacker did not directly comment on the alleged misrepresentation.

The Pequot lacked the proper resources to care for their rare collection, and made an agreement with Yale in 1952 to loan them the Mary C. Wakeman collection, which includes the esteemed Columbus letter, Snydacker said. But when Wakeman donated her collection to the town of Southport, she said she wanted the documents to remain together and be insured. The Pequot board of trustees went to the Fairfield Probate Court last month to obtain permission to sell parts of the Wakeman collection.

While he is grateful to Yale for taking care of the collection, the Pequot is ready to take back the documents because it can now take care of them, Snydacker said.

“Before, we didn’t have the resources to take care of the collection,” Snydacker said. “Now we do, so it’s time to say thanks very much to Yale.”

Snydacker said he is happy that the Yale community has had access to the documents since they were loaned, but he is looking forward to having the works back in Southport.

“The special collection would serve these people, too,” he said. “These books were given to the library in its founding moment and are an essential part of what makes the Pequot Library special.”

Erica Davis ’07, an American Studies major, said she is glad Yale students will continue to have access to the collection until the trial begins, but at the same time thinks it is better overall to resolve the issue.

“As long as the trial is postponed, it is to Yale’s advantage, but I feel it will be better to have things settled and reach some sort of conclusion,” Davis said.

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