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RIBA to 'give away' library collections to good home

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The riba has devised a radical new plan to sort out its fast-deteriorating special collections, of drawings, photographs and models, by gifting them to a new 'sister' trust it wants to set up independently from the Institute by the end of the year. The moves are set out in a paper prepared by riba director general Alex Reid to be dicussed at the next council meeting in July, and could mean some of the collections being installed in a new building, possibly in King's Cross alongside drawings from other institutions.

President David Rock told aj the idea stemmed from a working group and the Institute's realisation that it had insufficient funds. 'The trust would get a lot of people sharing in the task and these organisations - perhaps 10-20 - are yet to be defined,' he said.

The new trust, with the working name of the 'Archive of Architecture', would include the riba as a member alongside a mixture of private- and public-sector trustees and 'quangos' such as English Heritage, all dedicated to the maintenance and care of the collections. Beyond that trust there would be a 'safety net' of around 50 bodies charged with nominating individuals to vote at annual general meetings of the archive. Further bodies still could pay to set up partnership agreements so their members could obtain free access to the archive. riba members should maintain such free access.

Rock said that a report on the future of the collections by kpmg and l&r Consulting said the drawings ought to be better looked after than the riba could manage - the institute budgets £300,000 per year on its upkeep. A full report by the riba's consultants, to be published in July, is likely to say that the institute could never have secured the kind of money needed to maintain and expand the collections in the way it wanted.

Under the plan, the riba's collection of books and periodicals would not form part of the new trust but would remain in the institute's ownership at Portland Place. But the institute wants to house its Special Collections probably in a new building 'relatively close' to Portland Place, such as the King's Cross area. As to paying for the building, Rock said private sponsors here and abroad would be asked for funds, though it was unlikely that the archive would end up being named after a private donor.

Other institutions may also agree to deposit their collections in the new King's Cross Resource. 'And a national centre of drawings doesn't have to be just architectural drawings,' said Rock.

British Architectural Library Trustees will be asked to ratify an immediate expenditure of £12,000 for project work at the next meeting of the Library Board on 17 June before an open debate about the library's future that evening, but start-up work for the new sister trust is likely to cost £500,000 in all.

Rock said he was 'very hopeful' of finally relieving the Institute of the 'burden' of the collections and putting an end to 'decades of procrastination and handwringing' whileforging a solution to continuing their upkeep. 'You get a sense of what's possible, and this has got a good feel,' he said. 'It's more than a sixth sense - it seems to be the best answer to all our problems.'

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