I'm with Nate the Great. I think this is despicable.
Museums and libraries were supposed to have a mission of providing books, art, and cultural heritage to the public. It is really too bad that you can't go onto the internet and go to the Louvre.com or MetropolitanMuseumOfArt.com and see detailed images of all the artwork. But instead of providing access to this material they are trying to be the gatekeeper to cultural treasures, and trying to find ways to enrich themselves even at the expense of restricting the publics access to the material they are supposed to preserve.
There are several books in the British Library Sloane Collection I'd love to see. I know they are available in microfilm from Adam Matthew Publications, but they aren't available online, and they are prohibitively expensive. Now I can understand if a rich collector charged exhorbarant rates for access, but it really pisses me off to see governments, public museums, and public libraries doing it. Even worse is when they want you to sign some licensing agreement that requires you to recognize their "copyright" and prevents you from disseminating what is obviously work in the public domain. The same applies to public universities that pull this crap -- like the Early English Books Online (EEBO) at the University of Michigan. (I wonder what would happen if you sent them a Freedom of Information request for a digital copy of William Caxton's illustrated Aesop's Fables).
When a public entity has a work in the public domain and prevents access to that work then I view it as theft. I hope I'm not being overly dramatic, but this really does piss me off.